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Title: Attila. - A Romance. Vol. II.
Author: G. P. R. James (George Payne Rainsford)
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.

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Transcriber's Notes:
     1. Page scan source: Vol. II  from Harvard College Library
        "https://books.google.com/books?vid=HARVARD:32044090344110"
     2. The diphthongs ae and oe are represented by
        [ae] and [oe] respectively.



                               ATTILA.


                              A ROMANCE.


                           BY THE AUTHOR OF
              "THE GIPSY," "ONE IN A THOUSAND," &c, &c.


                           IN TWO VOLUMES.
                              VOL. II.


                              NEW YORK:
                 HARPER & BROTHERS, 82 CLIFF-STREET.
                                1838.


                             A T T I L A.



                              CHAPTER I.
                           THE RETRIBUTION.


Shift we the scene, and return to the kingdom of Attila! It was the
fourth day after Theodore had left the country of the Huns for that
sweet distant land where happiness, as we have seen, awaited him, and
a bright gleam of sunshine was destined to checker his dark fate,
when, at a short distance from the bank of the Tibiscus, two
barbarians, who had left their horses with their followers by the
stream, walked slowly on among the trees, wading through the long
grass and tangled bushes. At length, suddenly, from a spot before
them, came the flapping of heavy wings and a hoarse arid scream from
many a foul beak, while five or six large vultures rose up, crashing
through the branches above, and leaving open to the sight all that
remained of the unfortunate Arab, Cremera. From some cause, a nail,
which had fixed one of the hands, had fallen out, and the skeleton,
for to such a thing was the corpse now nearly reduced, hung by the
other palm; but two arrows were still seen hanging amid the fleshless
ribs, and telling the manner of the freedman's death.

"Lo!" said the shorter of the two strangers--"lo! I have now seen it
with mine own eyes! And this man's crime was but that he had obeyed my
commands, and saved the life of the man that I loved! Shall this be
suffered, Ardaric? Shall it last another hour, to ring in the ears of
my people, to sound in their inmost hearts, that Attila avenges not
his own, that Attila cannot protect those who perform his bidding?
Think you it was really Bleda's doing?"

"Doubt it not, oh king!" answered Ardaric. "Was not the Roman carried
to his village? Would not death have been the stranger's portion, too,
had he not escaped? Some one bore thy brother the tidings of the
youth's journey, and they waylaid him, to cut the thread of life on
which they fancied thine depended."

"Ay! It is even so!" answered Attila. "Therein is it that the Roman
sinned in their eyes. But they shall find that I can rid me of mine
enemies and avenge my friends! To horse, Ardaric! we will to our
horses quick. The cup of vengeance is full and flowing over. He whom
no warning could deter shall drink it to the dregs. The leaders we
ordered must by this time have crossed the mountains."

"They must have done so, oh Attila!" replied the King of the
Gepid[ae]; "but what is thy will to do now? Thou wilt not surely
ravage a part of thine own people's lands; or, by waging war against
thy brother, give new heart to the pale Romans!"

Attila stopped as he was advancing, and fixed his dark eyes full upon
the countenance of Ardaric. "Hast thou known me so long," he said,
"and canst not yet guess what Attila will do? Am I not king over this
man also, to punish him for his evil deeds when they are directed
against myself. No, no! I will not ravage mine own land, nor slay mine
own people. But the son of Paulinus will I protect, and even yon
freedman will I avenge; and I will crush the worm that raises its head
against me, even though it call me brother. Ardaric, dost thou not
know what I will do? Bleda and I are no more for the same earth: I
have borne with him long, but I bear with him no longer, and he dies!
now thou understandest!" and, with a quick, firm pace, every footfall
of which seemed to crush the earth it trod upon, he returned to the
spot where the horses had been left.

About five hundred horsemen waited him there, and, at their head,
Attila took his way towards the east. After two hours' riding, some
three thousand more joined him on the road; and at the end of two
hours more he paused, and sent messengers in different directions to
chieftains whom he named. Night fell, and with the first star of
evening the monarch resumed his way.

The autumn moon rose large and full, pouring over the wide plain in
which the dwelling of Bleda was placed with a yellow, tranquil light:
the voice of nature was all still; and not a sound was heard but the
sighing of the wind through the branches, or the falling of a withered
leaf amid those that had gone down before it. A shooting star
traversed the blue fields above, outshining, for the brief moment of
its being, the moon herself, and then ending in emptiness. A heavy
bird of night glanced across the moonlight, and, with a faint scream,
disappeared.

It was about midnight, and then from the neighbouring woods came
forth, in dead, deep silence, troop after troop of shadowy forms; and,
leaving the village on one side, they drew a circle, fatal and sure as
the unerring bowstring of a kindred race, around the dwelling of
Bleda. They were all now on foot; and when they had reached the
distance of about two hundred yards from the building, the circle was
complete, and they paused.

"Now, Onegisus!" said Attila, "what hast thou to tell of the inquiries
thou hast made. Speak, and if thou hast aught to say which should
induce the king to spare his kindred blood, I will take thee to my
heart, and give thee kingdoms! Speak!" and he clasped his hands
together, and wrung the sinewy fingers hard, under emotions that even
his iron soul could not restrain.

"Alas! oh king!" replied Onegisus, "I have naught to say which may
mitigate thy wrath. I had hoped that it would be otherwise; but I
find--and I must speak truth unto the king--that even across the
mountains the followers of thy brother pursued the Roman youth, and
ravaged a village, killing several and driving away the herds of all,
because they lent the son of Paulinus a horse to fly when he demanded
it in thy name. Their dwellings are in the dust, and their blood
stains the grass, and the widows and the children cry to Attila for
vengeance."

"They shall have it!" replied Attila. "Let those appointed follow me!"
and he advanced to the portico of Bleda's house.

The chief door opened at once to the monarch's hand--"And can treason
and treachery sleep so securely?" demanded Attila, in a sad tone, as
he turned through the first passage of the noiseless dwelling to the
large hall in which banquets were usually held. It still smelt strong
of the feast; and the monarch paused in the midst, folding his arms
upon his chest, and gazing bitterly upon the ground.

"Uldric," he said at length, "Uldric, where art thou?"

A man of powerful frame, and countenance more than usually ferocious,
advanced before the king, saying, "I am here, oh Attila, and ready."

"Is thy sword sharp, and thy heart strong?" demanded Attila. The chief
bent his head in token of assent, and the monarch went on: "Go, then,"
he said, "and do the deed which none but a noble and brave hand should
do! But slay him not in his sleep, for that would seem as if thou wert
a murderer, and he a coward afraid to die. Wake him! Tell him his
doom! Tell him the cause! Say he was warned, and would not hear; and
that the cup has overflowed! Ardaric, do thou see it done! Take
warriors enough with thee that there be no resistance. Go! go! Yet
stay!" continued Attila: "stay! Oh ye gods! why have ye put this upon
me? Is there none here who can speak a word in favour of my brother?
none who can say aught to stay the anger of the king? All silent? Go,
then! go, Ardaric! It is time that it were done."

Attila waved his hand; then, bending down his eyes again, he remained
motionless in the midst of those who stayed with him. But the only
moment of indecision that he had ever shown throughout his life had
passed away; and, as the moonlight streamed on his dark countenance,
no trait of wavering doubt could there be seen. All was firm and calm,
though stern and gloomy; and the knitted brow, the compressed lip, the
clinched hand, told that there were pangs, but no hesitation within.

The last of those sent upon the mission of death left the hall, and
with steps which were scarce heard even by waking ears, they went upon
their errand. A minute elapsed, and then there came a murmur of
voices, and then two or three loud shrieks from a woman's voice,
mingled with sobbing, prayers, and sad entreaties: then a dead heavy
fall--and then the tones of lamentation. Distant sounds succeeded, and
the noise of steps in various parts of the building; cries of grief
and terror followed, and some signs of contention were distinguished.

"Bid them shed no more blood!" said Attila, turning to one who stood
near: "cut off the head, but mangle not the body!"

Almost as he spoke, however, a slave rushed in with a lighted torch of
pine in one hand, and a drawn sword in the other; but when the light
glared upon Attila, he stood suddenly motionless before the king, as
if petrified with fear and astonishment. "Oh king, they have slain thy
brother!" he cried at length.

"It is well!" answered Attila: "get thee on one side, so shall no harm
befall thee." The next instant there came the sound of footsteps
running quickly; and Neva, with her hair dishevelled, and her feet
uncovered, ran into the hall, and cast herself at the feet of Attila.

"Oh, spare him! spare him!" she cried; "spare him for the memory of
thy father! Spare him for the remembered days of infancy! Spare him,
because of his weakness and thy strength! Pour not out thy kindred
blood upon the dust! Remember that thou wert a brother ere thou wert a
king! Spare him; forgive him if he have offended thee! But it cannot
be! They have lied unto me; thou canst not seek thy brother's life!
Thou wouldst never slay him who has slept in the same cradle, eaten
the same food, and stood by thy side in battle! Yet what dost thou
here? Oh, spare him! spare him!" and she clasped the knees of the dark
monarch in the agony of apprehension.

Others had followed her, women, and children, and slaves; and at
nearly the same time the chieftain called Uldric stood in the doorway,
and held up before the eyes of Attila a naked sword, along the blade
of which a drop or two of a dark red hue was seen to trickle in the
torchlight.

"Maiden!" said Attila, laying his hand on Neva's head, "cease thine
entreaties; they are now vain. Yet have not I done this thing. His own
hand it was that pulled the ruin on his head. He it was that cast
himself upon my sword, knowing that it was drawn, and that the hand
was firm that held it. Weep, if thou wilt! Go to thy chamber and weep!
it is the right and the weakness of woman. Go! but entreat no longer;
thou hast none now to save!"

She heard not, or heeded not his words, but still clasped his knees,
and with wild looks and streaming eyes she poured forth her
supplications. They were interrupted, however, by her mother's voice,
who passed through the crowd like a spectre, and, with spots of blood
upon her garments, stood before the king. "Ask him not to spare, my
child," she said, in a voice as calm as death; "ask him not to spare!
He knows no mercy! Ask him rather to give us our own doom quickly. Thy
father is dead already; why should we be left alive? Or is it thy
will, oh king, that we be sold as slaves? We are ready; but we would
rather die if the choice were left to such as us. We are but thy
brother Bleda's widow and children, and therefore have no claim upon
the conqueror of the world: no, not even to choose between death and
bondage. He that spared not his own brother will not spare the women
and the babes."

"Woman, I did spare him!" answered Attila, solemnly: "three times did
I spare, when any other man on earth, had he been monarch or slave,
had died for so offending Attila. Woman, I spared him so long as his
deeds affected but myself; but when he forgot all law and justice to
my people, when he made ready the spear and sword to raise up
contention in the land, when he slew the innocent and the noble,
Attila forgot he had a brother. Neither bondage nor death await thee
and thy children; thy husband's crimes have not affected thee; honour,
and wealth, and peaceful possession of all that he possessed shall be
thine; thy children shall be as my children, and I will defend them
against their enemies. Attila sought not his brother's wealth; he
sought but to do justice, and justice has been done. Take them hence,
Ardaric! take them hence! she is privileged to reproach and murmur;
but Attila would not that his ear should have any words that might
offend him. Take them hence!"

They were removed without resistance; and, after pausing for a moment
in thought, Attila demanded of those who had been present at his
brother's death, "What men have ye found in the house?"

"But few," was the reply; "and they were slaves."

"Was the deformed negro, Zercon, among them?" asked the monarch again.
"No," replied the Hun to whom he spoke; "we found him not."

"Let him be sought," said Attila, sternly. "He it was, he it must have
been who betrayed to Bleda the young Roman's journey. Accursed be all
they who supply to kings the means of gratifying bad desires! Let him
be sought, and, when found, scourge him from hence to Margus, and give
him up to the chief whom they call bishop of that town. I promised him
to love, defend, avenge his nephew; and I would that he should know I
keep my word. Onegisus, thou shalt remain here. Keep the land in
peace; assuage the grief that thou findest; and see that no evil
spirit rise among the tribes, to call for the hand of Attila, and
divide the power of the Huns. Ardaric," he continued, turning to the
King of the Gepid[ae], "I could wish, too, that messengers were sent
to meet the son of Paulinus as he returns from the banks of the
Juvavus: let them be despatched, and tell him to return by Margus.
That good priest of the new God of the Christians will see him
joyfully, as this matter may have reached his ears, and he may be
fearful for his nephew's safety. I would," he added, laying his hand
upon the sleeve of Ardaric's tunic, "I would that friends and enemies
should see and know that the word of Attila, be it for good or be it
for evil, is never broken; and that any one who finds a promise of the
king unfulfilled, should boldly say, Attila is dead."

Thus speaking, he turned, and leaving the hall, issued out into the
portico before the house of Bleda, over which the same calm moon was
still shining; while round about, in awful silence, stood the dark
circle of the Hunnish troops, waiting the conclusion of the fatal
deeds enacting within that low and quiet-looking abode. Attila paused
for a moment, and raised his hand to his eyes as if the moonlight
offended his sight. Then, striding forth into the open space, he
turned and gazed for a few moments on the dwelling of Bleda. That
contemplation was probably bitter, for as it ended he exclaimed,
"Alas, my brother!" And that was the only regret to which, throughout
his life, the lips of Attila gave voice.

There were old men who had known him as a boy, and who lived to see
his death, but they declared that within that one night was comprised
the whole that Attila had ever felt, either of indecision or regret.



                             CHAPTER II.
                              THE NEGRO.


The wind blew keen over the plains through which the Danube wanders,
ere, in approaching Orsova, it rushes between the giant mountains,
through which it seems to have rent its onward course. Barbed with
sleet, that cold wind dashed in the faces of the young Roman and his
followers as he led them onward towards the city of Margus, according
to the directions which he had received from Attila by the way. He
passed by Singidunum, and he rode through Tricornium. When last he had
seen them, they were full of busy life, garrisoned with numerous
troops, splendid with all the profuse luxury of old and corrupted
civilization. There was now a broken wall, a pile of ashes, solitude,
silence, and the whispering grass--already, like the world's
forgetfulness, grown up upon the grave of things once bright. From the
gate of Singidunum started away a wolf as the young Roman passed; but
under the wall of Tricornium, a solitary hovel, raised from the massy
ruins of a gate, and thatched with the branches and the leaves of
trees, showed that either accident or old attachment had brought back
some human being to dwell in that place of desolation. Theodore
approached, but he found it was no other than an old half-crazy woman,
who, when she saw him, shrieked forth, "The Huns! the Huns!" and fled,
stumbling and tottering amid the piles of ruins.

What a strange contrast was it when, the next day, he approached the
gates of Margus! Gradually the desolation ceased; the country resumed
its appearance of fertility; cultivated fields and rich gardens
appeared; the villa, the palace, and the church crowned the summits of
the gentle hills; and everything betokened uninterrupted peace, and a
place of splendour, luxury, and repose. As he entered the gates were
seen the Roman soldiers, fully armed and equipped; but his Hunnish
garb, and the barbarian features of those who accompanied him, seemed
rather as passports to secure his entrance than impediments in his
way. No opposition was offered, and the soldiers gazed upon him with a
smile.

In the market-place, which was crowded with people as gay, as lively,
as splendid as any city of the empire could display, a number of Huns
were loitering about among the rest; and a Greek flower-girl,
mistaking him for one of the barbarians, ran up, and while she fixed a
garland of myrtle, mingled with some of the latest flowers of autumn,
to his saddle-bow, addressed him in a few broken, mispronounced
sentences in the Hunnish dialect, desiring him to buy her flowers with
some of the spoils of the enemy he had slain in battle.

Theodore could have wept; but he answered the girl in Greek, telling
her to place her wreaths on the tombs of those who had died in defence
of their country; and he was riding on, when suddenly his eye was
caught by a train crossing the market-place, and his ear almost
deafened by the acclamations of the people. While slaves and
attendants, in extraordinary numbers, both followed and succeeded, in
the middle of the group which attracted so much attention was seen a
chariot of ivory and gold, drawn by four white horses; and in it sat,
bowing his head to the people, and scattering benedictions as he
passed with his hands extended wide in graceful dignity, Eugenius,
bishop of Margus.

Loud and repeated were the vivats of the multitude; and Theodore heard
nothing on every side but warm and joyful praises of his kinsman. "Our
good bishop," cried one. "Bless him for ever," exclaimed another. "He
alone saved us in peace and prosperity, when all was death and
desolation round," said a third. "Ay," rejoined his neighbour, "and
Theodosius himself, who would have given him up to death, is now
thankful enough to him for having saved the town of Margus." "And well
he may be," said a fifth, who overheard what was proceeding; "well he
may be thankful to him for saving the finest, if not the largest city
of his empire." "I have heard," said another, "that Theodosius has
vowed to put him to death, but that he is forced to dissemble for fear
of Attila." "He had better dissemble," answered one of those who had
spoken before; "put to death! we would sooner give ourselves
altogether up to the Huns." "The Huns are very good people," continued
another, seeing Theodore and his followers endeavouring to make their
way past them. "I love the Huns; they are honest, and keep their word,
and are only terrible to their enemies."

Theodore could not but smile, although his heart was full of
bitterness; but he thought, at the same time, "If all these people
judge thus of the bishop's conduct, how many arguments may he not find
in his own bosom to justify the acts he has committed." Thus thinking,
he pushed on his horse, and made his way through the crowd towards the
dwelling of the bishop, whither the chariot of the prelate seemed to
have proceeded before him; for a crowd of men and boys, who had
accompanied it with loud acclamations, were now gathered together
round the gates, the janitor of which had much ado to keep them from
pushing their way into the building. Theodore demanded to see his
uncle, and told his name, on which he and all his followers were
instantly admitted.

He found the bishop seated near the centre of the hall, with a crowd
of attendants near him, while before him stood several Huns in their
barbarian garb, one of whom had his hand upon a chain, which was
attached to the neck and hands of the miserable, deformed, and
mutilated negro, Zercon. He was nearly stripped of his fantastic
clothing, and with bare feet, bloody with long journeying, he stood
with a haggard but a tearless eye, venting, even at that hour of
misery, one of those wild jests which had procured him favour with his
former lord.

"Faith, sir," he said, speaking apparently to the bishop, "you had
better order me death if you intend to punish me properly; I have
tried all other punishments but that, and therefore you have no choice
left; as for the horrid prison that you talk of, I once inhabited for
fifty years a prison more horrible than any you can devise."

"For fifty years!" exclaimed the bishop, "for fifty years! Say, where
was that?"

"Here!" said the negro, striking his hand upon his breast; "here!
Match me that, if you can. Let the greatest tyrant that ever cumbered
earth show me a prison that will equal this; and herein has dwelt, for
fifty years, a being not less sensible of pain, not less alive to
kindness, not less capable of gratitude than any; but more patient,
more enduring, more courageous than you all. Here, in this loathsome
and abhorred prison, has he dwelt, scorned, buffeted, contemned,
accused, condemned, and punished without guilt, the sport of fools,
and scapegoat of the bad. Everything has been tried upon me that human
wickedness could frame or man's endurance bear. Try death, at last! I
cannot lose by the exchange."

The eye of the bishop had remained fixed upon the deformed negro,
while he poured forth, in an eloquent tone, the words which we have
repeated, and only wandered for a moment to the group of strangers who
entered the atrium, observing nothing more than that they wore the
common garb of the Huns. He was evidently moved by the man's speech,
and was about to reply, when Theodore advanced, addressing him by his
name. The bishop started up, and, after gazing at him for a moment,
folded him in his arms.

"Theodore!" he exclaimed, "now can I welcome you to Margus; a Tadmor
in the wilderness; a prosperous city in a land of desolation. But how
came you hither?"

"I will tell you shortly, sir," replied Theodore; "but, in the first
place, let me ask you, why stands this poor man before you thus?"

"He was sent hither," replied the bishop, "by Attila, that great and
mighty king, whose words are as true as his arm is powerful. He
promised me long ago to protect and defend you; and this slave, it
seems, betrayed your purposed journey into the mountains to the ear of
Bleda, your enemy. Therefore is it that Attila sends him hither, to
receive what punishment I will. I doom no man to death; but I was
about to sentence him to solitude and chains, in the tower by the
water side."

"God has spared you a great crime," replied Theodore. "This man
betrayed me not. Far from it. He aided to save my life, when, ere
another evening sun had set, my fate would have been sealed. Twice has
he contributed to deliver me from danger. Oh! set him free, my uncle.
Take off that chain! it is not fitting for him. His mind is noble and
generous, though his body is as thou seest. But what have we to do
with that? God, wise and mysterious, has made him as he is; let us not
trample on God's handiwork."

The negro sprang forward, dragging his chain after him; and casting
himself at the feet of the young Roman, he dewed his hand with tears.
"It is not," he cried, "it is not that you come to save me, but it is
that you speak as if I were your fellow-man."

"Far be it from me, my son," said the bishop, "to treat any one
possessed of our common nature otherwise than a Christian should do.
We are all worms in the eyes of God, the greatest, the proudest, the
most beautiful, as well as the lowly and the distorted. Take the chain
from him, and let him go free. Now, tell me truly, man, I adjure thee,
by whatever thou holdest sacred, tell me, was it thou who bore to
Bleda the tidings of this youth's journey, and if so--"

"There is no if!" interrupted the negro, with solemn vehemence: "I
opened not my lips. Was I not the first to warn him that Bleda hated
him? Did I not convey to the ears of Attila himself timely notice of
his brother's purpose, when Bleda whetted the sword against him
between Viminacium and Cupp[ae]? Did I not hear Bleda vow, that, till
age palsied his arm, or death closed his eyes, he would pursue that
youth with vengeance, and seek the destruction of that bold Arab who
dared to struggle with and overthrow him? Did I know all this, and do
all this, and yet betray to the tiger thirsting for blood the track of
the deer that he sought to overtake? Did I know all this, and do all
this, and yet tell to Bleda that he who had shown me pity and
sympathy, came, as it were, to offer his throat to the knife within
eight hours of that fierce man's dwelling-place? Oh no! I opened not
my lips. There were whole tribes of Bleda's people round when the boy
Ernac told me that the Roman was about to depart from the land. They
bore the tidings to the king; and he gained from Ellac, the eldest
son, the course of his whole journey, and the number of people whom
they supposed would follow him. The number proved ten times more than
they expected, and Bleda had too few with him to attack them all. He
took vengeance on the Arab, however: and the Roman youth, after
Bleda's departure, fell into a trap baited with his freedman's blood.
I betrayed him not, but I aided to save him, and he knows it."

"I do," answered Theodore; "had it not been for thee, and for one whom
I will not name, I had ended my life long ere now. But say, how am I
to return to the dwelling of Attila when the tribes of Bleda lie
across my way?"

"Did not those who told thee to come hither tell thee more?" demanded
the negro.

"They told me nothing," answered Theodore, "but that it was the will
of Attila I should pass by Margus as I returned. Of Bleda they said
nothing."

"Bleda, oh Roman," replied the negro, "the powerful, the revengeful,
the unforgiving, is like a dry stramonium bush in the desert, whose
bitterness is parched up and gone, whose very thorns are withered and
powerless. His name, his mighty name, is like the whisper of the wind
among the rocks, speaking of tempests that we feel no more, of blasts
from which we are sheltered! Bleda is dead, oh Roman; his arm is in
the dust."

"Dead!" said Theodore, a presentiment of the dark truth coming over
him, even before it was spoken; "dead! How did he die?"

"Those who told thee to come hither," said the negro, "were right to
tell thee no more. Over the name of Bleda, and over his fate, there
hangs a cloud: the Huns speak of it not, and are wisely silent; but of
this I am sure, that there are not twenty men throughout all the land
who do not feel that they are more at ease since there has been one
great and unquiet spirit less in the world."

"But his children!" exclaimed Theodore, now fully convinced by the
dark hints of the negro that the death of Bleda had been of an unusual
and a bloody kind. "His family? his children? what has become of
them?"

"They are safe," replied the negro, "they are safe and well; and one
fair maiden, good, and gentle, and kindly as thou art, would fain have
saved even me, lowly as I am, from a fate that she knew I deserved
not. But her intercession was of no avail; and to say the truth, for I
am wellnigh wearied out with this sad life, I grieved more that she
should plead in vain than that I should be the object for which she
vainly pleaded."

"My nephew shall try to make life more supportable to thee," replied
the bishop. "Thou shalt go back with him, and he shall clear thee
before the king. For well thou knowest, that when Attila has resolved
the destruction of any one, no land can prove a shelter, no distance a
barrier, no time an impediment, till he be avenged or appeased."

"I know it well," replied the negro; "and I know also, and willingly
will say it, that fierce and stern as that great king is sometimes
called, no one is more easily appeased for personal offences, no one
more attentive to justice where truth can be made plain. Even with his
brother Bleda, did he not forbear to the very last, though he well
knew that his designs were pointed against Attila, not against the son
of Paulinus?"

"How so?" demanded the bishop; "thy words are dark, my brother; I know
not, and cannot even divine the cause of Bleda's hatred to my nephew.
He injured him not."

"I could make my dark words clear," answered the negro in Greek. "But
I love not to talk of things that do not concern me when there are
many ears around."

The bishop paused for a moment, and giving the attendants of Theodore
and the Huns who had brought the negro thither into the hands of one
of his own officers, he bade him entertain them well, and return to
conduct the unhappy Zercon thence in a few minutes. The attendants of
the bishop easily divined his wishes, and the hall being instantly
cleared, the negro was left alone with Eugenius and Theodore.

"Now," said the bishop, "now explain this mystery, why a man in
command of reason should hate and seek the death of another who had
never injured or offended him, and that, too, at first sight."

"Speak, Zercon," added Theodore, "and let us know the whole, for I
have heard from Ardaric and others a part of the story, yet much
remains unexplained. Was it not some prophecy that--"

"Listen, and you shall hear," said Zercon. "When Attila first heard
that this noble bishop had carried off some treasures--"

"I carried off no treasures!" exclaimed the prelate, "and so I proved
unto the king."

"But he heard that you had," answered the negro, "and that cause--with
many another offence committed by the Romans, together with some
idle time on his part, and no other object of conquest before his
eyes--made him resolve to pour the tide of war upon the Eastern
empire. When Attila, then, first determined upon war, he gathered his
myriads together on the first plain beyond the mountains; and while
messengers came to and fro, in order to avert hostilities which were
already resolved, the king went up to the mountains to ask a holy man,
who dwells there, the issue of his enterprise. So has he done in all
the wars of the last five years, and the words of the hermit have ever
proved true; for he promised Attila victory, and to those who know him
it needs not be a prophet to foresee that. Now, also, he assured him
of success, but upon one condition. He told him that if he would ride
down towards the Danube with but few followers, he would meet a Roman
on the Hunnish bank of the river, whom he should spare, and protect,
and love. If wrong befell that Roman, or any of his family, the old
man told him, either from the hand of Attila himself or any of his
people, and if, for seven years, he, Attila, did not secure and
protect him against all his enemies, not only his course of victory
would cease, but death itself would cut him off in his return to his
own hearth. 'His fate,' said the hermit to the king when he told this
tale, 'his fate is bound up with yours! See that no evil happen to
him, for worse will instantly fall upon yourself. You shall do him no
wrong--you shall show him all favour. Go now and seek him!' Such were
the old man's words."

The Bishop of Margus smiled as the negro proceeded, but Zercon went on
with his tale: "Attila rode on from that spot; but, ere he had reached
the banks of the great river he was met by some people posting inland
to say that a Roman had ventured across the stream but slenderly
attended, notwithstanding the daily feuds that already gave notice of
the coming war, and to ask what they should do with him. At those
tidings, Attila and Bleda both saw the first part of the old man's
prophecy fulfilled, and from that moment they doubted not one word of
the rest. Attila went on without his brother, and found this youth. Ye
yourselves know all the rest."

"Still we see not why Bleda should seek his life," replied the bishop,
"unless, indeed, he sought to take his brother's also; and then he
might have taken it at once."

"He sought not to take his brother's life," replied Zercon: "he dared
not, or he would; but he believed the prophecy, and thought that if
this young Roman, on whom his brother's life and fortunes depended,
were away, a hundred accidents in the course of war might lay the head
of Attila in the dust. Ever through life did he covet whatever Attila
possessed, and therefore was it that he sought at first to take a life
on which that of his brother depended. Afterward revenge was added to
the same ambition; but his plans had gone still farther. His daring
had increased with impunity; and day by day he was nerving his heart
to contend with Attila himself, vainly hoping that many of the great
king's chiefs--perhaps even some of the monarch's children--would join
him. But his life and his plots ended together."

"Wert thou with Bleda?" demanded Theodore, to whose ear the prophecy
of the old man, and its partial accomplishment, appeared strange and
interesting; "wert thou with Bleda and Attila when the hermit told him
to go down to meet me?"

"I was!" replied Zercon, showing his white teeth with a wild
laugh--"I was! Attila, when he set out, chose Ardaric and Onegisus to
go with him; and Bleda asked the King of the Gepid[ae] whom he had
better choose, for they made a solemn ceremony of it. Ardaric, who
believes in no such things, replied, 'Why, take your black jester!'
and whether Bleda thought that too a prophecy or not, I cannot tell;
but certainly he took me, and I stood in the mouth of the cave while
they conversed within."

He was interrupted by a woman entering to draw water from the tank in
the midst of the hall; and, ere she was gone, the bishop's officer
returned to conduct Zercon from his presence.

"Use him well," said the bishop, "and kindly. Put him among the most
favoured slaves; give him water to wash his feet, and food, and wine.
Nor must any one make a jest of him. It is forbidden in my dwelling to
mock any of God's works."

The slave and the negro retired, and Theodore was left alone with his
uncle, round whose lip a somewhat doubtful smile had hung during the
whole of Zercon's account of that prediction which had obtained for
his nephew security in some respects, and brought him into danger in
others.

"The words of the good hermit, I rather think," he said, as soon as
the negro departed, "have led even the mighty and clear-sighted Attila
into error."

"Indeed!" exclaimed Theodore, in some surprise; "then you do not
credit his pretensions to be a prophet?"

"He is better than a prophet, my son; he is a wise man," replied the
somewhat worldly prelate; but instantly seeing, by the mounting colour
in his nephew's cheek, that his profane words had shocked the
sensitive mind of the youth, he added, "Far be it from me to say that
the gift of prophecy is not excellent; but it is better to be a good
man, and wise unto God, than to be a prophet and offend. This hermit
is a man of all great qualities and Christian virtues; austere unto
himself, charitable towards others; holy in life, spending his years
in meditation and constant prayer! There is much reason to believe
that to such a one the gift of prophecy might be extended. So much did
I think of his wisdom, and so far did I trust in his advice being holy
and good, that, ere the Huns poured down upon the Roman empire, I sent
messengers to ask his counsel as to mine own conduct in such a moment
of trial. He loves me well; and for many years I have profited by his
wisdom and experience, till I am what I am. To show him and all men
that personal fear was unknown to the bosom of Eugenius, I told him
that on a certain day I would cross the Danube myself, and advance
towards the mountains, if he would come down to meet me; and I doubt
not that his prophecy referred to me and not to thee. Attila came down
sooner than was expected, and encountered thee on the way: thy sudden
coming delayed me for a day; and, ere I crossed the river, the myriads
of the Huns were pouring down from the mountains. I obtained a promise
of security, however, from Attila himself; saw him, found him mild to
treat with, and easily appeased. The wiles of the Byzantine court he
abhorred: but I told him truth. I offered to show him mine own
treasury and the treasury of the city, and that we should purge
ourselves by the most solemn oath of all share in taking that treasure
which his people declared they had lost; but at the same time I
proposed to repay it with fourfold its value as amends. He received
the proposal well; swore to me, solemnly, that he would protect thee
and Flavia, and all her household; and, upon some other conditions
which he made, he promised to give the citizens of Margus peace. Thou
seest how he has fulfilled his word."

"I see it, indeed, my uncle," answered Theodore; "I see that Margus,
like an oasis in the Libyan sands, is fresh, and bright, and
luxuriant, in the midst of ruin and desolation. But, alas! alas! would
it have been so if Margus had not opened her gates to the invader? If
the first city of the Roman empire had made a stand against the
barbarians as they poured upon the frontier?"

"The only difference would have been," replied the bishop, his brow
growing dark, "that Margus would now be in the same situation as the
rest. What troops had we to resist? What means of defence had
Theodosius given us? None! He thought but to appease the evil spirit
of the war by drawing a line in my blood between himself and the wrath
of Attila; and he took no measure to defend his territories, made no
effort to protect his people. How did Viminacium stand, which had ten
centuries within its walls? how did Tricornium resist? how Singidunum,
how Naissus, Sardica, Ratiaria, and all the cities of the Illyrian
border? Singidunum resisted for a day; Viminacium saw the Hunnish
myriads with the dawning light, and was a heap of ashes ere nightfall.
So was it with all the rest! Theodore, I am satisfied. In the midst of
the desolation of the land, where many hundreds of thousands have
fallen, where every trace of cultivation and of sweet domestic peace
has been swept away, I have saved a Christian people in peace and
prosperity, without one drop of blood shed, either of our own or
others."

Theodore thought that this was one of those few accidental cases where
good had sprung from evil; but his heart, as a Roman and a man, told
him that his uncle's reasoning was false. He replied not, however, and
the prelate went on. "I have done all this, Theodore, and I am
satisfied. Is it not enough for the shepherd to save his sheep from
the wolf, though the monster be obliged to seek his prey in some other
flock? Would it not be enough for me to have delivered from peril and
death those whom God has given to me, without any consideration of
others? But when I know, and did know, that nothing I could have done
would have saved myself or benefited them who have since fallen, ought
I not to be satisfied? Whenever in my own heart a weak doubt arises,
one shout of the glad multitude who owe their lives to me is
sufficient to put all at peace within my breast. Yes, I can look back
to every circumstance, and say, this have I done, and I am satisfied!
But I have done more, oh Theodore?" he added, his mind seeming
suddenly to turn into another path, and a different expression coming
over his countenance--"I have done more! The weak, pale, cowardly
Theodosius, who, trembling on his throne, would have spilt my blood,
out of the true tyrant's vice of terror--the heretical wretch, led by
the subtle Eutyches to persecute all those who hold the pure and
orthodox faith--dare no longer wag a finger at Eugenius, or talk of
punishing the citizens of Margus for submitting to an enemy they could
not resist, and from whom he refused to defend them. He dare not dream
of striking a hair from the head of one of the citizens of Margus.
Nor, since Attila is thy protector, would he dare to lay hands
upon thee, even if thou wert to cross the courts of his palace
to-morrow--no, not for his very throne!"

Theodore was unconvinced; but he refrained from reply, and turned the
conversation to another part of the same subject, by relating to the
bishop the kindly offers of protection which Flavia had received from
Valentinian.

"He has kept his word," replied the bishop, "for such was the tenour
of a promise that he made to me. Think not that I went rashly and
hastily into even that act which I knew would save Margus. To
Theodosius I had applied for aid in vain, and I then applied to
Valentinian. He could not aid me, but he justified my conduct, and
promised me personal protection in case of need. I sent him messengers
when all was secure, and he engaged to give both to Flavia and
yourself justice, protection, and support, in the empire of the West."

Theodore felt that his uncle was kind, far more kind than he could
have expected or hoped; he felt, too, that his mind was powerful, and
his heart not without high and noble feelings; but, alas! the threads
of cunning selfishness ran hither and thither through the whole, and,
like the veins of some inferior substance in a precious stone,
rendered nearly valueless the better part. Theodore felt that he could
love Eugenius; but he would not have been Eugenius for the world.

Thus passed the day; but the next morning, as Theodore sat at meat
with his uncle, it was announced that Edicon, one of the favourite
officers of Attila, together with Maximin, ambassador from Theodosius,
approached the city of Margus in their way from Constantinople to the
country of the Huns; and when Theodore beheld the reverence and
respect which the ambassador himself, and those who accompanied him,
evinced towards the prelate who had first received the barbarians into
the empire, he could not help feeling how brilliant a thing in the
eyes of man is successful evil. During a whole day the ambassador and
his train sought repose in Margus--and Theodore determined to
accompany him on his onward journey. His uncle forced upon him a
casket of gold ere he departed, conquering his aversion to receive it
by declaring that it was a debt he had owed Paulinus; and Theodore,
feeling that it might be needful, made no further resistance.



                             CHAPTER III.
                        THE WIDOW'S DWELLING.


Near a bend of the Tibiscus, on a meadow that might have refreshed the
weary eye in summer by its beautiful verdure, the Romans pitched their
tents at the close of their first day's journey in the land of the
Huns. The night was dark and gloomy; no golden sunset had cheered the
world on the departure of the light; and covering all the heavens, in
long wavy lines from the horizon to the zenith, stretched out a canopy
of heavy clouds, like waves of molten lead rolled over the sky.
Maximin, struck and pleased with Theodore, had invited him to his
tent; and there, by skilful and kindly inquiries, he won from the son
of Paulinus a sketch of all the events which had affected him
personally since the death of his father. There was much that Theodore
omitted, because he trifled not with the confidence of others; but
Maximin learned enough to show him that the youth was held by Attila
in a state of honourable, but unwilling captivity; and he resolved to
use his best efforts to redeem him from such a situation.

While they thus conversed by the dull lamplight, the pattering of some
heavy drops of rain was heard upon the tent, and, mingled with the
rushing murmur of the Tibiscus, came the low sobbing of the rising
wind. Their conversation, however, was too interesting to allow them
to give much attention to the storm without; for, besides the feelings
of sympathy which Theodore had excited in the bosom of the noble
Maximin, he had much information to communicate concerning the manners
and habits of the Huns, and the character of Attila himself; all which
the ambassador knew might prove most valuable to him at an after
period.

The rain increased while they talked; the river roared and raged; the
wind rose into fierce gusts, and the poles of the tent were seen to
quiver under the violent blasts, while the trickling drops began to
welter through the tent, and threatened to extinguish the light. At
length, after a long moaning sound, a fiercer gust than all the rest
swept the sky; the tent-poles shook, bent, gave way, tearing up the
earth into which they were driven; the cords and pegs which stretched
out the covering were broken or loosened in a moment, and the tent,
with all that it contained, was dashed with fury to the ground.

As soon as Maximin and Theodore could disentangle themselves from the
fallen mass, they found that the whole of their little encampment had
shared the same fate. All was confusion and disarray. Every light had
been extinguished: the torches, drenched with the fallen deluge, could
not be lighted. The night was as black as the jaws of Acheron; and all
that could be distinguished was a glistering line of water, every
moment approaching nearer, as the Tibiscus, filled by a thousand
mountain-torrents, began to overflow the meadow in which the Roman
tents had been pitched.

While engaged in removing, with difficulty and haste, the horses and
baggage to a more elevated situation, a number of lights were seen
coming over the nearest hill; and in a few moments forty or fifty
Huns, bearing torches of resinous pine, which neither the rain
extinguished nor the wind blew out, came down to render assistance to
the party of whose encampment in the neighbourhood they had heard
before the storm. While some remained to aid in saving the baggage
from the encroaching Tibiscus, others led Maximin, Theodore, and their
companions towards the village, which they said was not far off; and
as they went, Theodore saw several of the new-comers sporting, as an
old acquaintance, with the negro Zercon, who had returned with him.

Calling the unhappy jester to him, Theodore asked who were to be their
entertainers; and a feeling of pain, as well as interest, passed
through his bosom, when he heard that their steps were bent towards
the dwelling of Bleda's widow.

"I knew not that the village was so near the river," said Theodore,
"and yet I know the country well."

"She dwells not where she did dwell," replied Zercon. "When gall is
mingled with hydromel, we abhor the sweet drink that we used to love,
and its very sweetness makes the bitter more nauseous. Scenes that we
have loved, when associated with painful memories, like honey mixed
with gall, are more repugnant to us from the remains of sweetness. She
has never dwelt where she did dwell since her husband's death. It was
in visiting that spot, after having been hidden for many weeks, that I
was found by the soldiers of Attila, and driven on foot to Margus."

Theodore made no reply, but walked on thoughtfully by the side of
Maximin. In a few minutes they saw before them the village towards
which their steps were bent, and the porch of the widow's dwelling,
from the windows of which streamed forth many a light to guide them on
the way; and gladly the Romans approached the hospitable walls which
promised them shelter from the inclemency of the weather.

As they entered the wooden portico, the widow of Bleda, and a number
of other women, came forth to meet them, but Neva was not among the
rest. With a calm but somewhat sad demeanour, the widow welcomed
Maximin, and his companion Priscus, and Edicon, who followed next. But
when her eyes fell upon Theodore she paused for a moment, and gazed on
him with a dark and melancholy look. At length the tears burst forth
in large drops from her eyes; and, casting her arms round the young
Roman, whom in his illness she attended as her own child, she
exclaimed, "It was not your fault, my son! it was not your fault! Be
you welcome also!"

The table was already spread for a banquet in the great hall. Three
blazing fires of odorous pine were lighted to dry the garments of the
guests, and everything bespoke rapid preparations made to exercise the
kindest rites of hospitality. No sooner were their vestments dry, than
large portions of venison, and various kinds of game from the
neighbouring woods, were set before them; and while the widow stood by
to see that nothing was wanting to their comfort a fair train of
girls, followed by several slaves, came in to hand the cups of rich
and excellent wine, which flowed abundantly around. At their head
appeared Neva, the daughter of the house. She was clad in deep gray
cloth, with broad furs of sable bordering her robe. Her arms, up to
the shoulders, were bare, and the snowy whiteness of her skin, beside
those dark furs, looked like Indian ivory contrasted with ebony.

Theodore saw her enter with feelings of deep agitation, for he feared
lest she should be pained and grieved by the sight of him for whom she
had done and suffered so much. It would appear, however, that some one
had prepared her for his presence, for she looked not upon him when
first she entered, but went round with the rest, and only raised her
eyes once to his countenance ere she approached him in turn. That one
glance showed Theodore that she recognised him, but was nevertheless
quite calm; and when she approached him, and took a cup of wine from
one of the attendants to give it to him, she stood by his side, and
looking in his face with a melancholy smile, she said aloud, "How art
thou, my brother? Art thou well after thy long journey? And hast thou
seen the friends thou lovest? And are they happy?"

Theodore could have wept; there was something so sad, and yet so
resigned under her grief, in the tone of that fair young creature,
who, if ever sorrow spared a human breast, should surely have been
sheltered from the arrows of adversity. He strove against his
feelings, however, and replied calmly, thanking her for all her
kindness and all her generosity. Maximin gazed with some surprise to
see the tender interest which the family of the dead king seemed to
take in his countryman, but he made no remark aloud; and retiring soon
from the banquet, the whole party of journeyers sought repose.

Weariness made most of them sleep long; but Theodore was awake and up
by the dawning day. Sleep would not visit him in that dwelling; and
with the first gray light of the morning he left the chamber which had
been assigned him. He found Zercon the jester stretched, sleeping, on
a skin at his door; and the moment the passing of the young Roman woke
him, he started up, and ran away through some of the passages of the
house. Theodore went on into the porch and gazed out, and in a moment
after Neva was by his side.

"I bade poor Zercon watch for you, Theodore," she said, "because I
wished to ask you, ere you went, to wander for an hour once more with
Neva in the morning woods. Will you not, my brother? I have many a
question to ask you, and I cannot ask them here, where everybody may
hear them or interrupt them. Will you not come, my brother?"

"Willingly, sweet Neva," replied Theodore, still holding the hand she
had given him in his. "Let us go." And they wandered forth together
along a path which, winding in among the trees, turned at each step of
the hill, showing the woody world below under some new aspect every
moment. The wind had cleared the sky, and the day was fine; but Neva
seemed more sad than on the night before. She said but little for some
way as they wandered on, but asked him questions about his journey in
a wild, rambling way. At length, however, with a forced smile but a
trembling tone, she said, "And of course you saw your promised bride?"

"I did," said Theodore, "and I told her that I twice owed my life to
you, in sickness and in danger."

Neva, however, seemed to take but little notice of his reply.
Continuing, apparently in the same train of thought in which she had
begun, "And did you think her very beautiful?" she said--"as beautiful
as ever?"

"More so," answered Theodore, "far more so."

Neva smiled. "May you be happy!" she said; "may you be happy!
Doubtless the time since I saw you last has been a happy time to you
and her, but it has been a terrible time to me and mine. You know that
they came and slew my father, even on his couch of rest?" and she
fixed her full bright eyes upon him with a look of painful
earnestness.

Theodore saw that she waited his answer, and replied, "I heard so, for
the first time, three days ago, at Margus."

"Did you not know it before?" she cried, eagerly. "Did no one tell it
you? Did you not know that it would be so?"

"Never!" answered Theodore. "How could I guess that so fearful, so
terrible a deed was so near its accomplishment?"

"Thank God for that!" she cried; "thank God for that! That is peace
and balm indeed. But let us sit down here," she added, pausing at a
rocky bank, where a break in the woods snowed the country stretched
beneath their feet, and the Tibiscus wandering in the distance--"let
us sit down here, and talk over it all. Oh, Theodore! my heart has
been sad since I saw you. They came and slew my father in the night,
and I knelt at the feet of his terrible brother and begged for his
life in vain; and afterward they said that it was for what he had done
against you that he was slain. I feared and fancied that you had
stirred up Attila against him, and I remembered that I had set you
free, and that I--I might thus have had a share in my father's death."

She paused for a moment, terribly agitated; but, ere Theodore could
find words to comfort her, she went on rapidly: "But think not," she
said, "think not, for one moment, that, even had it been so, I would
have wished what I had done undone. I saved the innocent from the
cruel death they meditated against him. I saved the good and the
innocent, and I had naught to do with the rest. Yet it was terrible,
Theodore--oh how terrible!--to think that I had aided to spill my
father's blood, by saving him that I love;" and, leaning her head upon
his shoulder, she wept long and bitterly.

"Weep not, Neva!" said Theodore, "weep not, my sister! You did but
what was generous and noble, and that deed had no share in your
father's death. All my own followers but one or two had escaped when I
was taken, and they, not I, bore to the ears of the king the tidings
of what had happened. I did nothing to provoke him against thy father;
but, had I been slain, the wrath of Attila would have been still
greater. Weep not, dear Neva!" he continued, as her tears, having once
more burst forth, flowed on apace; "weep not!" And, holding her in his
arms, he called up every argument to console her. He held her in his
arms; he used many a tender and endearing epithet; he even pressed his
lips upon her cheek; and yet no feeling but one, pure, noble, and
generous, was in his heart at that moment. There was a being that
loved him with the most devoted affection which the human heart can
feel, clinging to him in her deep distress, weeping on his bosom,
pouring out her griefs and apprehensions to his ear; and though he
could not return her love as love, yet his heart told him that he
would be ungrateful if he felt towards her otherwise than as a
brother. The kiss that he pressed upon her cheek was not cold, because
it was kindly; and the arms which encircled her held her tenderly,
because gratefully: but it was with the embrace of fraternal
protection. Shame upon those who cannot comprehend such feelings! That
kiss and that embrace seemed but to say, "Neva, you have lost your
father, but you have yet one in the world who, if he cannot, if he
ought not to feel for you as you feel for him, will protect, will
console, will sympathize with you--nay, will love you dearly,
tenderly, though with but a brother's love."

Neva felt that it was so. She would have started from his arms with
fear had there been aught of passion in their touch; she would have
fled from him for ever had there been aught of fire on his lips; but
it was all kindly tenderness, and she laid her head upon his shoulder
to weep as she would have done upon a brother's.

After a while her tears ceased, and she looked up. "You have taken the
thorn from my heart, Theodore," she said; "I shall now sleep at
nights. My fancy had conjured up many strange things; for though I
knew you to be kind and generous, yet I knew you had been greatly
wronged, and that the poor Arab, who had watched you with me through a
long, sad sickness, had been slain by my father's commands; and I
thought that, in your anger, you might have gone back to Attila and
demanded blood for blood. Then I, by saving you, might have slain my
own father; and I was afraid to ask my own heart if I would not have
done so even if I had known how it was all to end. But you give me
peace by telling me that the end would have been the same, even had
you been slain."

"The end might have been worse, my sister," replied Theodore, "for
Attila's wrath might have known no bounds; and besides, his anger
against your father was of no new date. I heard him warn him months
before, that the cup of his indignation was full, and that another
drop would make it run over. That drop was certainly the death of the
poor Arab, Cremera, but of that Attila was aware ere I reached his
dwelling after my escape, and the vengeance he took was all unasked by
me."

"Oh, thanks be to the gods!" replied Neva, gladly, "for I have felt as
if a rock had fallen upon my heart and crushed it ever since that
thought crossed my mind. But now, Theodore, now I am happy."

"And happy, entirely happy, should I too be, dear Neva," replied
Theodore, "if I could find any way of showing to you my deep gratitude
and regard. Oh, Neva, that I could be a brother to you, and protect
you against danger and sorrow, and wipe every tear away from your
eyes!"

"And so you shall," she answered, with a smile which had still its
share of sadness; though, as soon as the bitterness of her tears was
over, she had withdrawn herself gently from the young Roman's arms,
and now sat apart. "And so you shall. You shall wed your fair bride,
and I will come and dwell near you, and see your happiness, and find
pleasure in it too, Theodore, and never be envious; and you will be
kind to me; and she will too, I am sure, for your sake. All the time
too, that you dwell among the Huns, I will watch for moments to help
and befriend you, so that I shall have a right to share in your regard
and in hers too; and then, perhaps, the end of our days may glide by
in peace. Oh, how gladly will I devote a whole life to guard and care
for you! Remember, too, your promise! Send to Neva when you need aid
or counsel. Aid, strong and powerful, she can procure you even yet;
counsel, if she cannot give it wisely, she can obtain from those who
can. And now let us return, my brother. You will be glad to know that
you have made poor Neva as happy as it is possible for her to be."

Thus saying, and with one of those blander and more beaming smiles
which Theodore had often seen upon her face, ere yet a grief had
shaded it, she turned and led the way down the hill. The world were
now all abroad; but she took her way on through the midst by the young
Roman's side, seemingly careless of all attempt to conceal an
attachment for which she felt no shame.



                             CHAPTER IV.
                         THE FEAST OF ATTILA.


Splendour and feasting reigned in the halls of Attila. Round the
immense hall of his cottage palace were spread tables on every side;
and the wooden walls, quaintly carved and ornamented, were further
decorated for the festal day by large green boughs torn from the fir,
the laurel, and the ilex. These, gathered together in a knot with
cords of woven rushes, were fixed against the panels as high up as a
man could reach; and, bending over like a plume of feathers, each
nodded above some trophy of barbarian arms, the shield, the bow, the
spear, the corslet, which, tastefully grouped together, hung, not
without poetic meaning, in the midst of the evergreens. Above all
waved a thousand banners, and between the trophies enormous torches
shed a light redder than that of day, but scarcely less bright than
noon.

Below, six long tables were covered with an immense mass of gold and
silver. Cups, vases, bekers, of every form and shape, glittered on
those boards; while round about, seated at easy distances, appeared
all those bold and ruthless chiefs who, under the command of a greater
mind, led on the myriads of Attila to battle. There might be seen
every garb, from the furs of the extreme North to the silks and linen
of the far East; and there, upon the persons of those daring leaders,
blazed gems and precious stones of which the voluptuous monarchs of
Persia and of India might have been envious. There, too, were all
faces, forms, and complexions, from the small-eyed Tartar of remote
Thibet to the fair-haired Northman and the blue-eyed Goth. There were
the splendid features of the Georgian and Circassian hordes; the
beautiful Alani, who brought a race of loveliness from the side of the
Caucasus and the shores of the Caspian, and the hard-featured Hun, or
the frightful Ougour, glittering with jewels and precious stones above
the unwashed filth of his native barbarism.

All was splendour and pomp: cushions, of which luxurious Rome itself
might have been proud, covered with crimson and lined with down, were
spread over the seats and supported the arms of the guests; and the
bright gleam of the torches was flashed back on every side from some
precious or some glittering object.

In the middle of the side opposite to the windows was placed a small
wooden table bearing a single dish, formed of oak, and a cup of
wild-bull's horn: a dagger, that served for a knife, lay beside the
dish, and a drawn sword of enormous weight stretched across the table.
That table, with a seat of plain, unadorned whitewood, was placed for
the use of the lord of all those around; and there he sat, the plain
dark Hun, covered with no jewels, robed in no splendour, clad in the
simple habit of the Scythian shepherds, but with more of the monarch
in his looks than gems or diadems could have given, and with the
consciousness of indisputable power sitting proud upon his towering
brow. What were rubies or diadems to Attila? They were parcels of the
dust on which he trod!

At the tables on either hand sat Ardaric, king of the Gepid[ae],
Valamir, king of the Ostrogoths, Onegisus, Ellac, Edicon, Maximin,
Priscus, Theodore; and at tables farther off were placed Constantius,
the Latin secretary of Attila, and Vigilius, the interpreter of
Maximin's embassy. Many another king and many another chief was there;
and nearly five hundred guests, almost all leaders of different
nations, showed, by their different features and their different
garbs, the extent of Attila's dominion. In the same hall, also, were
collected the ambassadors from several distant countries; and there
appeared humble envoys from Valentinian, emperor of the West, as well
as Maximin, whose coming from the Eastern empire we have already
noticed.

Viands in profusion were placed upon the table, and delicacies of
every kind gratified the palate of the most luxurious: rich wines, of
many a varied sort, circled in abundance; and barbaric music, wild,
but not inharmonious, floated through the hall, mingling with, but not
interrupting, the conversation of the guests. A multitude of slaves
served the banquet with rapidity and care; and no one had cause to say
that, in the hospitality of Attila, he had been at all neglected.

At length, an elevated seat was placed in the midst of the hall; and
an old but venerable man, with long white hair and snowy beard, slowly
ascended and took his place thereon, while an attendant handed him up
a small rude harp. In a moment, all the Huns were silent, while, with
careful hand and bent down ear, he put some of the strings of his
instrument into better tune. The next moment, he looked up for a
single instant, with the natural glance towards the sky which almost
every one uses when seeking for elevated words and thoughts; and then,
running his hand over the strings, he produced a wild and somewhat
monotonous sound, to which he joined a rich, deep voice, a little
touched, perhaps, but scarcely impaired by age. It was more a chant
than a song; but every now and then the plain recitation ceased, and
he burst forth into a strain of sweet, of solemn, or of majestic
melody, as the subject of which he sung required.

The matter of his song was war and glorious deeds; and though the tale
referred to former times and other countries, when Ruga first led the
conquering Huns to triumph over all other nations of the earth, yet
ever and anon, with dexterous skill, he alluded to some late exploit
in which the warriors around him had had a share. The noble, reckless
daring of Ardaric, the keen, sagacious wisdom of Valamir, were
mentioned with loud applause; and many another had his share of fame;
but still, when wonderful policy, or heroic courage, or warrior skill,
required some more striking and extraordinary comparison, the deeds of
Attila still rose to the poet's tongue, and a new inspiration seemed
to seize him when he borrowed his illustrations from the life of the
mighty man before whom he sat.

While gazing upon him, as he struck the harp, with his white beard
mingling with the strings, Theodore could have fancied that he beheld
the great master of the epic, singing, amid the isles of Greece, the
marvellous deeds of her primeval warriors; and for the first time he
could guess what had been the enthusiasm, what the inspiring interest,
with which the voice of Homer had been heard, and which, graving each
word deep on memory, had served to transmit the great first model of
the poet's art to after ages from his own rude and early day.

Breathless silence hung listening to the song, except when, on some
more powerful appeal to the passions of his hearers, a loud and
approving shout of gratulation burst upon the poet's ear. Even the
slaves paused in their office; and, when the song was over--after one
moment during which not a voice was heard--some lip broke the charmed
quiet with a word of applause, and one universal cry of admiration
completed the triumph of the verse.

A slave filled hastily the wine-cup for Attila, and, as the monarch
rose from his seat, gave another to the bard.

"Father of song," said the king, "I drink unto thee--may thy hand
never lose its strength, nor thy voice its sweetness, nor the footstep
of time wear the memory of mighty deeds from the tablet of thy brain!"

The cup was filled again, and to each of his most famous warriors,
calling upon them by name, Attila drained the cup with some words of
thanks and praise. To Maximin and Priscus also he drank, and then with
ready celerity the slaves cleared the dishes from the table, and
another service as splendid as the first supplied its place.

At every course Attila thus drank to his guests, and song and music
went on, but not with the effect that they produced at first. The
merriment grew higher and more loud; and Attila at length despatched a
slave across the hall to bid Vigilius, the interpreter of the Eastern
embassy, to advance and speak with him.

With a bending head and air of profound reverence, the cunning
Byzantine approached the king. The monarch motioned him to come
nearer, and then addressed him in a low tone, laying at the same time
one finger of his sinewy hand upon the blade of the naked sword that
lay beside him. What he said no one heard; but the effect upon the
countenance of Vigilius was strange and fearful. The rose at no time
flourished very luxuriantly upon his cheek, but now that cheek turned
pale as death. A green and ashy hue, something even beyond the tint of
death itself, spread over all his face. His eyes opened wide, his jaw
dropped; and both Maximin and Theodore, whose looks were fixed upon
him, thought that he must have fallen to the ground. Attila, however,
bowed his head, as a signal that the interpreter might retire; and
then perceiving that he could scarcely walk, the king beckoned to an
attendant, saying coldly, "Lead him back to the table, or from the
hall, if he prefer it."

But Vigilius returned to the table, and drank cup after cup of wine.
Attila looked round to Ardaric with a meaning glance, and then he bade
one of the slaves send in the jesters. A moment after, two of those
miserable beings entered the hall, and one of those scenes of rude and
dissolute merriment ensued which makes the heart ache for human
nature. Laughter rang from every part of the hall; but the face of
Attila was unmoved even by a smile. He sat and heard with calm and
thoughtful gravity; and though he looked round from time to time, and
noticed with careful consideration his various guests, yet it is
probable his mind was far away, occupied with more important
interests.

At length, gliding in among the slaves, who, with their busy services,
occupied the greater part of the space which the tables left unfilled
in the centre of the hall, appeared the boy Ernac, and took his way
towards the table at which his father sat. The first smile that
crossed Attila's lip beamed on it as the boy appeared; and greeting
him with many a fond caress as he hung at his knee, he spoke with him
for a few moments in a low tone, with an expression which showed how
that stern heart was melted at the sight of tender youth. After a
while, lifting his eyes, he looked towards the part of the hall at
which Theodore was seated, and at the same time spoke a few words to
his son. The boy's eyes instantly followed those of his father; and
bounding away as soon as they lighted upon Theodore, he was at the
youth's side in a moment, and greeting him, with eyes radiant from
pleasure, upturned towards his face, while his lips poured forth words
of gratitude and gladness.

"I thought thou hadst gone away, and left us for ever," he said,
"though my father said that thou wouldst return. Yet I remember, when
I lost a young wolf that I had tamed, they all told me it would
return, but it never came again. It was too wise," he added, laughing,
but with a gleam of intelligent light beaming from his eyes--"it was
too wise, when it had got back to its woods and to its own way of
life, to come back to captivity and strange customs."

Ardaric, who sat near, laughed at the boy's simile; and Theodore,
smiling also, answered, "And so I suppose, Ernac, because we Romans
say the great founder of our city was nourished by a wolf, you thought
I must needs follow the example of your wolf's whelp. But did it
promise you it would return before it went."

"No!" answered the boy, laughing; "and you did promise my father to
come back: I know that is what you mean; and I did not intend to say
that you were wrong to keep your word. If my wolf had returned, I
should have loved it better, even though it made no promise, because
that would have showed it loved me."

"And do you love every one who loves you, Ernac?" demanded Theodore:
"if so, love me, for I love you."

"And so I do, noble Theodore," answered the boy: "ungrateful should
I be if I did not love you. I always love those who are brave and
generous, and I shall ever love you, because you saved my life, and
risked your own to save it. So I will try in return to love you better
than myself, and I will ask my father to make you a king instead
of me."

"But would you not wish to be a king, Ernac?" demanded Ardaric. "Power
is a great thing, boy! Power and command, to a brave and wise man, are
not to be despised. Would you not wish to be a king?"

"Not I!" answered the boy: "I will be a chief under my father or my
brother, and lead men to battle; but I never saw that kings were
happier than other men. I would rather have some one to tell me what
to do, and to make sure that I did not do wrong, than have no one to
guide me, and be obliged to blame myself every day. Even you, noble
Ardaric, you are a king, and yet you come to fight under my father's
standard, and are willing to do what he commands."

A slight flush came over Ardaric's cheek; but he replied, without
anger, "True, Ernac; but we have not every day an Attila. The wisest,
and the noblest, and the bravest may be proud to obey him; but a
weaker king might find a foe in Ardaric where Attila finds a friend.
With pleasure we obey those that we respect, but we spurn from us
those that we despise."

"That is what I mean," said Ernac: "I would sooner obey some one whom
I could love and reverence, than take all the trouble of making others
respect and yield to me. No, I would rather not be a king; but I would
fain see Theodore a king, and striking down enemies beneath his arm as
he struck down the wild urus."

Both Ardaric and Theodore smiled, perhaps to think how readily that
unambitious spirit might learn in after years the lesson of aspiring;
but if they thought so they were wrong; for such as it then showed
itself was the natural moderation of the young chiefs spirit; and it
never became contaminated, even in mingling in scenes of strife and
contention, where every one strove for dominion except himself.

They looked up, however, at the same moment; and both remarked, as
their glances accidentally wandered over the opposite table, that the
eyes of Ellac, the eldest son of Attila, were fixed upon them and
Ernac with a look of jealous malignity, as the boy stood by them and
prattled of all his fancies.

Ardaric turned to Theodore, saying, in a low tone, "Were all as
moderate as this fair boy, a bitter strife might be averted from the
future."

But as Theodore was about to answer, Maximin and the rest of the
Romans rose to withdraw; and knowing to what a pitch of excess the
revels of the Huns were often carried, the son of Paulinus followed
his countrymen from the hall.

Late and long the intoxicating juice flowed in the banquet-chamber of
Attila; but early on the following morning Maximin was admitted to the
presence of the king, and a long audience terminated as favourably as
the Roman ambassador could wish. Even Vigilius seemed to forget the
fear that some casual words of Attila had called forth; and, at the
end of a few days, the envoy and his train took their departure from
the Hunnish village, bearing with them rich presents. Several Roman
captives also had been liberated at their request; but, alas! though
Maximin tried eagerly to persuade Attila to free Theodore from the
promise he had made to remain among the Huns, the monarch was, on that
point, inexorable.

Some months passed by in the sports and occupations of winter, and
Theodore became more and more accustomed to the manners of the
barbarous nations among which he lived. The favour of Attila towards
him was unbounded; and the commanding mind of that great conqueror was
not without its effect upon the heart of Theodore. He became fond of
the proximity and conversation of the Hunnish king, and felt a sort of
strange and exciting pleasure in the vague sensation of awe with which
Attila inspired all those who approached his presence. The monarch's
kindness attached him, and his greater qualities gained the young
Roman's reverence, even while the strange excess of his worse passions
mingled a degree of regret in the sensations which he felt towards
him.

At the same time, the favour in which Theodore stood with Attila,
though it caused him some enemies, gained him many friends and
courtiers; and kind-hearted, liberal, bold, skilful, and active,
possessing all those qualities, in short, which barbarous nations most
admire, united to the graces and accomplishments of civilized life,
Theodore won the love of many for his own sake; so that the halls of
his dwelling were far more frequently filled with the noblest and
greatest of Attila's chiefs than those of Ellac, the monarch's eldest
son.

At length, as spring began again to blossom over the earth, the
interpreter Vigilius once more appeared at the court of Attila,
accompanied by his son. But then came forth the secret of his former
journey, and of the words that Attila had spoken. The base intriguer
was instantly seized and brought before the king, on whose right hand
stood Edicon as his accuser. Around were placed the chieftains of the
Hunnish nation, and, in their presence, Edicon charged the interpreter
Vigilius with having endeavoured to seduce him, during his embassy to
the court of Constantinople, to take the life of Attila on his return.
Seemingly yielding to the entreaties of Vigilius and Chrysapheus, he
had feigned, he said, to enter into all their plans; but immediately
on reaching his native land he had revealed the whole to Attila, who,
with noble magnanimity, had suffered the suborner of his subjects to
come and go unarmed under shelter of the character of Maximin the
ambassador, who had been kept in ignorance of the base designs of
those who sent him. But when, after having been warned that his
treachery was discovered, the interpreter dared again to show his face
in the country of the Huns, bearing bribes to the officers of the
king, vengeance might well be demanded, and Attila determined that the
accusation should be publicly made, and the crime fully punished.

Vigilius, of course, denied his crime; but when the very purse which
contained the bribe he brought to Edicon was laid before him, and
death--bitter death--was awarded by the assembled chieftains, both to
himself and to the son who was the companion of his journey and the
sharer of his guilt, his courage failed; and, confessing his crime,
but laying the burden thereof upon the eunuch Chrysapheus, he
petitioned for life and pardon with all the eloquence of terror.

Attila gazed upon him as he would upon a writhing worm in his path;
and, scorning to tread on so pitiful a thing, he sent his ambassadors
to demand of Theodosius the head of the chief instigator of the
treason meditated against him. Theodosius bought the pardon of his
minions with gold wrung from his people; and Attila continued to treat
with the monarch of the Eastern empire, while he prepared to turn his
arms against the West.

These things, however, have been related on an eloquent, though not
impartial page; and to that I must refer those who would go deeper
into the history of the time. This is but a story of a narrower
sphere.



                              CHAPTER V.
                             THE LETTERS.


He stood alone at the door of his dwelling, gazing forth upon the
summer sunset, as--reflected in rays of gold and rose colour from the
summits of the mountains where the snow still lingered--it spread in
floods of brightness over the western sky. During the day there had
been in the royal village of the Huns a certain degree of silent
activity, the coming and going of messengers here and there, the
frequent gathering together in small groups, the examination of horses
and arms, and the arrival of strangers from distant lands, which
betoken, in general, some approaching expedition. As Theodore stood
and gazed out on the splendours of the dying day, he thought that ere
now, on such an evening as that, he had drank draughts of deep
enjoyment from that well of sweet sensations, unpolluted nature; but
yet, before the sun had risen again, the bright hopes to which that
exciting draught gave rise had been trampled, like flowers before a
war-horse, beneath the feet of fate. Perhaps it was that the
indications of some near-coming change, which he had beheld during the
day, had occasioned such feelings, and called up such memories; but,
as he stood and gazed, a slave from the dwelling of Attila approached
with rapid steps, and put into his hand some small leaves of vellum,
rolled carefully up, and tied with waxed threads.

"From the land of the Alani," was all that the slave said, as he
delivered them, and then departed without waiting for any questions.
With a beating heart Theodore opened the packet, and, sitting down on
a seat before his door, he read as long as the light of the declining
day would permit, and then entering his dwelling, concluded his task
by the lamp.


                             THE LETTER.

"You have not come, oh Theodore! You have not written. And yet to come
was impossible, neither could any messenger bear me a letter hither,
for the snow has lain upon the mountains deeper and more terrible than
ever I thought to behold. Why, then, should I think of things that
were impossible for you to do? It was because I longed for that which
was impossible; it was because love would not be persuaded of
difficulties in the way of gratification.

"Oh how weary have been the hours, how dull, how tedious, since you
left us to return to your barbarian home! Each moment has seemed to
linger on the way, longer and more tardily than the rest; and the
wintry year, as it went along, seemed to creep with the laggard steps
of age, slowly and more slowly, as every new hour was added to the
burden that it bore. Neither have the objects around me been such as
to give my mind any means of withdrawing itself from that on which it
dwells. The white robe of winter has covered all; clouds have hung
upon the sky, and obscured the sun; the forests have disappeared
beneath mountains of snow; and the grand features of the Alps
themselves, softened and rounded by the same monotonous covering, have
lost those fine and striking forms which we looked upon and admired
together when you were here.

"During the summer, I found a thousand objects to take--no, not to
take my thoughts from you, but by recalling sweet moments and
beautiful scenes which we had enjoyed together, to create a bright
illusion for my heart, and make me think the past not so
irretrievable, the present less painful, the future more full of
hopes. Then I could gaze over the lake, and mark the sinuosities of
the shore, till I could have fancied myself at Salona, and mistaken
that small water, with its tiny waves, for the grander and more
splendid Adriatic. I could sit upon the little grassy promontory
beneath the clump of pines, and think of the mound of cypresses by the
banks of the Hyader; I could gaze upon the mountains, and remember
blue hills that rose between us and Sirmium; and with all, and each,
and everything, one beloved idea would mingle like sunshine, giving
light and beauty to the whole, one dear form would wander by my side
through the world of imagination, rendering all harmonious by the
music of his voice.

"During the summer, I could gaze upon the flowers, I could listen to
the birds, I could taste the fresh breezy air of morning, and think of
you. Nothing that was sweet to mine eye, nothing that was dear to my
heart, nothing that was melodious to mine ear, could I see, or know,
or hear without remembering you. But, since then, the whole has
changed: ere you had been gone ten days, the snow came down, covering
the whole country round, even to our very door. The flowers are gone;
the air of summer breathes no more; the birds are mute; no objects
that we have seen together strike mine eye; no sounds that we have
loved to listen to salute mine ear; and yet, day and night I think of
you; but not with bright hopes or roused-up memories: rather with a
sad and longing regret that you are not with me, to cheer the darkened
prospect, and be the sunshine of my wintry life.

"Oh, if it be possible, come to us soon, my Theodore; come and sooth
us by your presence, and direct us by your advice. There are rumours
abroad among the nation with which we dwell, which add difficulty and
uncertainty to the heaviness of exile and the pain of being separated
from you. They say that the king of this land has offended Attila, and
that the implacable monarch threatens vengeance. All hear the tidings
with fear and horror; for his wrath is as unsparing as the breath of
the tempest, which with one blast overthrows the weak and the strong
together. Messengers are now sent to propitiate him, and they bear
this letter; but Heaven knows, and Heaven only, whether any excuse
will be received, any atonement permitted.

"Come to us then, my Theodore, if you can; and if you cannot come,
find means to write to us speedily; inform us what we are to expect;
tell us what we ought to do, for terrible, indeed, would be our
situation, in the midst of a strange land, and of a people who, though
kind, are but the friends of yesterday, if war were to be added to all
that is already painful in our situation.

"My mother says that you will warn us of any danger, and inform us
what is the best course for us to pursue. She declares that she has
the most perfect confidence in you, and that at the court of Attila
you will soon learn, and be able to warn us of the result. But still I
perceive that she is anxious; still I see that she sits alone, and
thinks with care over the future; still I mark that she listens
eagerly to every tale and rumour concerning the approaching events.

"Ammian is as thoughtless as ever, thinking justly and wisely when he
does think, but seldom giving himself the trouble to reflect at all;
and yet, Theodore, it is time that he should think, for every day the
change that is working itself in his form strikes me more and more;
and though but a few months have passed since you saw him, I think you
would say, could you behold him now, that he has made no small
progress towards manhood. Nevertheless, his pleasures are still as
wild, as roving, as uncertain as ever; he seems to find delight only
in perils and dangers; in the rough exercise of the mountain chase, in
springing from rock to rock, where even the mountain hunters tell him
to beware, or in traversing the turbulent streams, bridged by the ice,
when the footing is scarcely solid enough to bear him as he passes.
Then, again, when he has roamed far and wide for many a day, he seems
wearied with one kind of sport, and sits down to weave wreaths of
evergreen for Eudochia's hair, or to sing us the songs that he
composes in his wanderings, to the tunes that he catches up from the
pipe of the mountaineers, as they sit watching their flocks in some
sunny spot upon the hill-side.

"Often, too, Theodore, when I see him and Eudochia sitting together
with all that fond affection which they have shown towards each other
from infancy, I think how strange, and yet how happy it would be, if
the same feelings, which have sprung up in your heart and mine from
the same childish regard, should with them also arise to bind them for
ever to each other. He loves her, certainly, even now, as much as he
loves anything, and he has, too, the power of loving deeply,
notwithstanding all his wildness.

"How he loved your father, Theodore! how deeply! how lastingly! Even
now, seldom a day passes but he thinks or speaks of Paulinus; and
making his javelin quiver in his hand, longs to plunge it in the
breast of Chrysapheus.

"Such feelings are strange, and I know not whence they arise; yet,
when I think of them, I feel as if I too could experience them with
the same intensity. If I picture to myself any one injuring you, oh
Theodore! I fancy that I too could hold the dagger or cast the spear.
Think you not that we ought all to have been born in the old times of
Rome, when men sacrificed everything for their country, and even women
shared in the same patriotic devotion. Always, Theodore, when my mind
rests upon you, I imagine you overthrowing tyrants, hurling down the
Tarquin, driving Appius from his polluted seat, or leading armies for
the defence of Rome; and I believe that I could have stood by your
side, have shared your dangers, consoled your cares, enjoyed your
triumphs, or died in your defence.

"But whither am I wandering? Far from the present scene and present
dangers, into the wide land of imagination, to encounter the chimeras
of my own brain. Dangers enough and perils now surround us, without my
dreaming of others; and your Ildica will show, beloved, that she can
bear with firmness, if not act with energy, in difficulties, perhaps,
as great as those which her fancy paints.

"I will not say, Come to us, my Theodore! for that may be impossible
for you to do; I will not say, Write! for that may be equally so; but
come if you can, write if you are able. Tell us how we ought to act,
and we will do it. Show us if there be really the danger which rumour
teaches us to apprehend, and say what you think the best way of
avoiding it!

"My mother will not write herself, but she bids me ask, had we not
better now accept the invitation of Valentinian, and retire to Rome?
We have gold enough remaining for a long time to come, and in the
Western empire we have powerful friends--but then we are farther from
you, beloved. Nevertheless, what you advise, that we will do.

"Already, one of those weary seven years of your captivity has passed
away; but oh! if I look back to the time when we parted after the
terrible days we spent by the Danube, the space between seems
interminable. Many and many a year appears crowded into that one; and
yet it is vacant, filled with nothing but the tedious passing of empty
hours, absent from him I love. It is like looking over the sands of
the desert, one long, unvaried, interminable waste, with but one
bright spot of verdure in the midst of the desolation, the few short
hours that you passed with us during the autumn. Blessed and happy,
indeed, are those hours, ever embalmed in memory. They were in their
passing a dream of delight, and now, even in recollection, they serve
as an antidote to all the cares and sorrows of the present!

"Yet those seven years will reach their end: and I shall see you
again, and once more lean my head upon your bosom, and hear your
voice, and tell you all my thoughts. Let them fly, let them fly
quickly, though they may be taken from the brightest season of our
life; yet if the spring be without sunshine, well may we long for the
summer. Farewell!"


Theodore pressed the letter to his lips, to his heart. Her hand had
touched it, her spirit had dictated it: and the very sight of those
beloved characters was balm to his bosom. The news she told, however,
was painful; the danger that she apprehended great, if the rumours on
which her fears were raised had themselves any foundation in truth.

Without hesitation, Theodore took his way at once to the dwelling of
Attila, and was admitted to the presence of the king.

The monarch's brow was gloomy, but he received the Roman youth with
tenderness. "What wouldst thou, my son?" he said. "Thou hast had
letters, I find, from the land of the Alani. Do they bear thee good
tidings? Thy face is sad."

"They say that the chiefs of the Alani fear the wrath of Attila,"
replied Theodore, boldly.

"They have cause!" answered the monarch, sternly--"they have cause!
but, if thou wouldst send any letters back, prepare them quickly, for
by to-morrow's noon the messengers return, and some of mine own
accompany them."

"I would fain ask a boon," replied Theodore, anxiously. "In the land
of the Alani, as thou well knowest, oh mighty monarch, I have those
whom I love better than life itself. If thine arms, victorious as they
ever have been, are now destined to be turned against the Alani, I
would fain visit those dear friends, and provide for their safety.
They are but women and children, and cannot protect themselves."

"Thou canst not go, my son," replied Attila. "Thou goest with me
wherever my steps are directed. Thus have I resolved for thy sake, as
well as for mine own. When last thou wert absent, dangers, and
wellnigh death, befell thee! The same may occur again. Bleda is dead;
but even for thy sake Attila could not slay a son. Thou understandest
well that which I mean. While thou art with me, thou art safe; but
among distant tribes, such is not the case. There, thy death might be
accomplished without leaving a trace to tell me how. I know not yet
whether the Alani are to be crushed as a swarm of wasps, or hived as
bees. It depends upon themselves. Let them obey Attila, and they are
safe; but, at all events, I go towards the western seas; and though
Italy will not be visited, some of my hosts may sweep the mountains as
they advance. It were better that they were not encountered by
women--women such as these, who, I have heard from those who went with
thee thither, are exceeding beautiful. Bid them remove to some other
land. They dare not, I think you tell me, return to Illyria on account
of the base, weak Theodosius; but, if thou wilt, I will issue my
commands to that throned slave to receive them with friendship and
favour. He dare not disobey!"

"Thanks, oh great king!" replied Theodore; "but willingly we will not
tread that land again so long as he is emperor. Valentinian, however,
in the West, offers them peace and protection. Thither will I send
them, if, indeed, I may not see them ere they go. I fear not any
danger to myself."

"It must not be," said Attila, in a tone that left no reply. "Thou
must go with me; but I promise thee that, this expedition over, thou
shalt have permission to visit them in that great pile of stones which
you Romans call the capital of the world, and shall abide with them
longer than thou didst before. In Rome thou wilt be safe; but I could
not trust thy life in barren mountains and passes which would defy our
search. The word of Attila is given: thou shalt visit them in Rome!
and my promise, like thine, my son, can never be violated."

"I thank thee, oh Attila," replied Theodore--"I thank thee, and feel
that thou art generous. So they be safe and free from harm, I am
content to abide with thee."

"They shall be safe," replied Attila; "for my messengers to
Valentinian shall command him to respect them as the children of his
master; and the Alani shall have orders to guard them on their journey
into the Roman state. Now hie thee hence and write thy letter--a weary
task, I should think it! What need have men with letters? Was not
speech enough? But they must still add to what the gods give them; and
all their additions do but spoil Heaven's gifts."

Theodore took his leave and withdrew; and going back to his dwelling,
he called one of his attendants, saying, "Haste thee to Constantius,
the Roman secretary of the king; ask him to send me parchment, and
reeds, and ink, or, if he have no vellum, let him send papyrus."

The materials for writing were soon brought to him; and sitting down
by the fresh-trimmed lamp, Theodore spent the next four hours of the
night in pouring forth to Ildica all the feelings of his heart.


                              THE REPLY.

"I have not come, oh dearest, and most beautiful, I have not sent,
because to do either was impossible; and even now, my prayer has been
refused, when I petitioned Attila to let me go, in order to guard thee
from difficulty and danger. He gives me the means, however, of sending
thee this letter; and although it will soon cause the distance between
us to be increased, yet gladly and eagerly do I seize the opportunity
of bidding thee fly from the land of the Alani ere it become dangerous
for thee to tarry. Fly, my Ildica; bid our mother fly as speedily as
may be; for although the anger of Attila towards the nation with whom
thou dwellest may be appeased, yet the myriads of the Huns are arming
for some distant expedition, and he himself has said that a part of
the host take their way by the Norican Alps. On their course is danger
and destruction; and even where they come as friends, perils not
small, to all whom they approach, precede and accompany their march.

"Oh that I could be with thee, to guide and guard thy footsteps! Oh
that I could be with thee, to shelter thee in my arms from every
danger and from every injury! But it must not be: and I must bid thee
go farther from me, leave the calm retreat where, even in exile, we
have known together some of our brightest hours of uninterrupted joy,
and plunge into the crowd of a wide, vicious, luxurious city, where
thousands will strive to efface the memory of the absent from thy
heart; where thousands will strive to win the hand that has been
promised unto me; where thousands will deem thy beauty and thy love
prizes to be won by any means, conquests to be made by any falsehood.

"Yes, my Ildica, thou must fly to Rome; and yet I bid thee do so
without one fear that any thought or any feeling of her I love will be
estranged from me by absence, that her affection will be diminished by
any art of others to win it for themselves, or that her heart will not
be as wholly mine when next we meet as when last we parted. If I know
my Ildica aright, and judge not Rome too harshly, the capital of the
empire will be but a wide desert to her, who has no feelings in common
with its degenerate and voluptuous inhabitants. Ravenna itself would
be worse; and I grieve that it is so, for my Ildica's sake, knowing
well that, even were the best and the brightest of other days
assembled round her, they could not steal one feeling of her heart
from the first grateful object of her young but steadfast love.

"Go, then, to Rome, my Ildica! and, amid the best of those who still
remain, thou mayst, perhaps, find some who will cheer thine hours
during our separation, some whose example and advice may be necessary
and salutary, both to Eudochia and to Ammian. Long, I fear, alas! too
long, will be that separation; for although Attila has fixed a time at
which I may once more fly to see thee, yet that time is named as the
end of the expedition on which he is now about to set out; and it is
only in the knowledge of one all-seeing Being how long that expedition
may continue, or whither it may lead.

"Still, however, it is a bright hope, a hope that will cheer me and
console me, though it may make the day seem long and the hours fly
heavily, till they dwindle down to the moment of my glad departure. Of
what may intervene, I will think the best: dangers may happen, sorrows
may befall; but I will not anticipate either the one or the other, and
will only think that every hour which passes only serves to bring
nearer the time of our reunion.

"What I most fear is, that the arms of Attila are about to be turned
against some part of our native land; for where, indeed, could he lead
his hosts, without meeting some portion of the Roman empire? He
demands, too, that I should accompany him; but be assured, sweetest
Ildica, that the hand of Theodore will never be armed against the land
of his fathers; and though, as a Roman, I feel that I should be
justified in striking to the earth the head of a tyrant, or of a
tyrant's favourite, by whom my father was unjustly doomed to die,
there is a difference between the country and its oppressor. I might
be a Brutus, but I would never be a Coriolanus. If I go with Attila,
and if his arms are turned against the empire, I may go as a spectator
to the war; but let it be remembered--and oh, Ildica, make it known,
wherever a Roman ear will listen--that I go against my will, and as a
captive; that I leave my sword behind me in these wars; that my shield
is hung up by the hearth I leave in this barbarian land; and that, if
I fall amid the events which may now ensue, I fall without dishonor.

"Let me turn, now, to sweeter thoughts; let me think of some dearer
theme. I have dreamed, I have fancied, that after this expedition is
over, perchance Attila may abridge the period of my captivity, and
permit me to return, and at the altar of our God claim my Ildica as my
own for ever. Oh, beloved! how my heart beats even when I think of
that hour, when I think of the moment that shall make thee mine--mine
beyond the power of fate itself--mine through life and through
eternity--united unto me by bonds that nothing can sever--wife of my
bosom--mother of my children--one, one with me in every thought, in
every feeling--in hopes, in fears, in joys and sorrows, one! Oh,
Ildica! what were heaven itself, could we but think that dear bond,
that tie which binds the soul itself, could be burst even by the hand
of death. Oh, no! I will not believe it, that even in another life I
shall not know, and see, and love thee still; that purified, perhaps,
and elevated, calmed down and tranquillized from the agitating fire
that thrills through every vein when I but think of thee, the same
intense affection which I now feel shall not survive the tomb, and
become one of the brightest parts of a brighter state of being. Yes,
Ildica, yes, it shall be so! Those who doubt it know not what love is;
for oh, surely, if there be feelings in this life at all that deserve
to be immortal, it is those which would make us sacrifice life itself,
and all that life can give, for another.

"Thou thinkest of me, Ildica; yes, I know thou thinkest of me. My
heart is a witness for thine, that not an hour of the dull day passes
without some thought of those we love; and it is strange, oh, how
strange! that out of objects which have no apparent connexion with
such images, the idea of her I love is brought before my mind, and my
heart, like the bee, draws the honey of those sweet associations from
everything it finds. If, when hunting in the neighbouring woods, the
sweet breath of the wild cherry blossom is wafted past me by the wind,
the image of Ildica, I know not why, rises up instantly before my
imagination; and every sweet perfume of the odorous flowers seems to
gain an additional fragrance from the associations that they call up.
If the singing of the spring birds strike mine ear, do not the tones
of that dear voice come back upon memory, and thrill through my inmost
heart? Everything is lost in thee; nothing that I admired, or loved,
or delighted in before, seems now to have any separate existence in my
eyes, but is all beheld with some reference to her I love.

"Oh, Ildica! do we not love each other better for all the anxieties
and cares which have surrounded the first days of our affection? If
so, let us not regret them, for they have been stern but kind-hearted
friends, who may have chastised our youth, but have left us an
inestimable treasure ere they departed: yes, inestimable, indeed, for
there are gems to adorn existence as well as to ornament the body; and
the brightest of all the diamonds of the heart's treasury is love such
as I feel for thee.

"Tell Flavia that I love her as her son; and tell her all I feel for
thee. It will be more pleasant unto her ear than aught I could say
unto herself. Bid her not mourn more than needs must be to return to
Rome--the city which she knew in days of happiness--now that so much
of that happiness has passed away. Bid her cheer herself with hope,
for the clouds are beginning to break away; and the sun may soon shine
once more, if not for her as bright as ever, yet with a tranquil
splendour that will refresh her heart.

"Cast thine arms round Eudochia, and kiss her with love for her
brother's sake, telling her how deeply and bitterly he regrets that he
is not permitted to guard her youth, and foster her beauty and her
virtues, till a husband's hand took from his own the task. Greet
Ammian, too, with love, telling him that he must curb his wild spirit,
and keep all his courage and all his energies to protect those whom
God has placed under his charge, and left without other safeguard.

"One word more, my beloved, to end this long epistle. Doubt not that
at Rome you will find protection; for you have it from one whom you
have seen, but hardly know--from one so mighty, however, that, alas!
experience shows, even Rome herself must tremble at his frown. Attila
protects you; and unto Valentinian he has sent a message to respect
you and yours as if you were his children. The weak and corrupt
monarch that Rome must obey dare as soon neglect this warning as fall
upon his sword. The Alani, too, have orders to conduct you safely to
the Roman territory. Oh that every step should thus bear you farther
from me!

"As I cannot see thee, as I cannot embrace thee, I would willingly
write to thee for ever. But it must come to an end. Farewell, sweet
Ildica! farewell, my beloved! Remember me still, as heretofore! Love
me ever! Love me as well as I love thee! I ask--I can have--no better
love. Farewell, again and again farewell!"



                              CHAPTER VI.
                             THE BATTLE.


We must pass over the events of some months, and change the scene to
the heart of France.

In the vast plains between the Seine and the Marne, where the eye can
roam unobstructed over many a mile of open country, runs a brook of
the clearest water, which, wandering on through vineyard and
cornfield, joins the latter river not far from Soulanges.

At the time I speak of, however, no corn spread over that wide plain,
no vines obstructed the progress of the eye, and nothing but thin low
grass, which had sprung up where wheat and oats had been cut down or
burnt, covered the brown surface of the earth with a robe of autumnal
green. A wanderer, who stooped down to bathe his weary brow in that
rivulet, had gazed, before he bent his head, upon the wide scene
before his eyes, and over the whole plain not a living creature was
seen to move. A raven winged its slow flight across the sky, but that
was the only sign of life which the keenest eye could discover. When
the wayfarer raised his head, however, and gazed again, a brown shadow
seemed to lie upon the land near the horizon, and, mounting upon the
base of a ruined landmark, he saw that dull shade creeping onward
towards him. He looked up to the sky to see if it were a cloud, which,
borne by the wind, might interrupt the light of the sun; but over the
whole heaven was spread a thin, filmy vapour, which intercepted all
the stronger rays.

He gazed again, and the shadow seemed to assume the form of a wide
range of heathy bushes blown about by the air. Still the cloud
advanced, and gradually spreading, like a high wave, seen rushing in a
long bending line over the shore, it came forward across the plains,
stretching out as far as the eye could reach. Distinct and more
distinct at length the brown masses raised themselves above the earth,
and in the end innumerable horsemen might be seen advancing with a
slow pace from the westward. A cry of terror burst from the weary
wanderer, and he fled as fast as his limbs would bear him. Ere half an
hour had passed, the war-horse of Attila pawed the ground beside the
fallen landmark, and the myriads of the Huns spread out over all the
plain.

"Let the ground before me be cleared," cried the king; and then,
poising his javelin above his head, he cast it forward with prodigious
force. A hundred cubits farther than any other arm could throw, it
still sang on through the air, then touched the earth, and quivered in
the ploughed-up ground.

"There pitch my tent," continued Attila; "there fix our camp. Turn all
faces back towards the west, for Attila has retreated far enough, and
here we have space to wheel our horses on the foe. Oh Theodoric!
Theodoric! thou hast deceived and betrayed thy friend. I offered to
make thee a king indeed, instead of a puppet in the hands of Rome; but
[AE]tius with his loud promises, and Avitus with his fair flattery,
have seduced thee to the side of Attila's enemies, and, ere two days
are over, either he or thou must die. Had it not been for thee and thy
Goths, the Romans of Gaul, like the Romans of the East, had been now
crouching in trembling terror at the feet of Attila. But they shall
still tremble! Shall it not be so, oh Valamir? Will not thy subjects
die their hands in the blood of their degenerate kinsmen? Shall it not
be so, Ardaric? Will not thy Gepid[ae] smite the heads of the vain
loquacious Franks? Attila will beard the Roman, and even here shall be
the spot. Make the camp strong, and let no one sit apart from the
rest. Let the wagons be placed around, and the spaces beneath them
filled up, and leave no entrance but one; for if we destroy not this
Roman army in the field, we will wait it in our camp, and by the head
of my father I will not leave the land till it is dispersed. Bid the
wise men and the diviners sacrifice, and consult the bones of the
slain, that I may know what will be the event of to-morrow. Tell them
that we fight, even if we die. Let them speak the truth, therefore,
boldly. Ha! Theodore, my son, ride hither with me."

The young Roman spurred on his horse at the monarch's command, and
rode on beside him while he surveyed the field. Theodore, however, was
not armed, and he only feared that Attila might be about to ask him
some question in regard either to the Roman discipline or the
arrangements of his own troops for battle, to answer which he might
feel incompatible with his duty to his country. But Attila, as he
proceeded, gave directions to the various leaders who followed him,
interrupting, from time to time, for that purpose, his conversation
with the young Roman, which turned to a very different theme.

"Those diviners," he said, "I have no trust in them. Would that we had
here that holy man from the mountains beyond the Teïssa! Then should
we have some certainty in regard to the result of to-morrow's battle.
Dost thou know, my son, what are the means which the Christian augurs
use to learn the future as they do? Valamir, my friend," he continued,
turning to the King of the Ostrogoths, "seest thou yon mound, the only
one which interrupts the eye as it wanders towards the east. Though
that mound be scarcely bigger than a great ant-hill, much may depend
upon it--even the fate of the battle," he added, in a low voice. "We
will range our host along this brook, at the distance of two hundred
cubits; the hill will be before us, but let it be seized ere the
strife commences. Say, Theodore, knowest thou how the Christian augurs
are accustomed to divine?"

"The Christians have no augurs, oh Attila!" replied Theodore. "There
have been, and there are, prophets among them to whom is revealed by
God himself some of the events that are to come."

"That is but a pretence," answered Attila. "We judge by the bones of
the victims, other nations by their entrails. Some divine by the sand,
some by the lightning, some by the flight of birds; but all who have
any knowledge of the future gain it from some manifest sign. So must
it be with the Christian augurs; but they conceal their knowledge,
lest others should learn it and be as wise as they are. Ardaric, my
friend and wise counsellor, place thyself early upon the right. Thou
wilt never fly nor bend, I know, but let us all be calm in the hour of
battle. Let not rage and rashness make us forget that victories are as
often won by calm and temperate skill as by impetuous daring. Lo!
yonder come the Romans! I would fain that they should not live another
night on the same earth with Attila; but it is too late to destroy
them to-day. I will not look upon them, lest I be tempted overmuch.
What say the diviners?" he continued, turning to an attendant who came
running up from a spot where a large fire had been hastily lighted.

"I know not, mighty king!" replied the slave; "but the sacrifice is
over, and they come to seek thee."

Attila paused, and waited, while a crowd of Huns and slaves, all eager
to hear the announcement, came forward, accompanying the diviners.
They, unlike the Roman augurs of a former time, were dressed in no
graceful robes; but, covered simply with the rude garments of the
Scythians, they were only distinguished from the rest of the Huns by a
wilder and fiercer appearance. As they came near, however, Attila
dismounted from his horse; and the diviners approaching with less
reverence than the rest of his people displayed towards him, the elder
of the party addressed him boldly.

"Hear, oh Attila!" he said--"hear what the gods pronounce by the bones
of the victims! Of the result of the battle we know nothing, and
therefore we cannot promise you the victory; but we know that the
leader of your enemies shall die in the strife. To-morrow's sun shall
rise upon him living, and set upon him dead. We have spoken what we
know."

"[AE]tius shall die, then!" said Attila. "So let it be! But can
ye say nothing farther! Can ye not tell which will be successful in
to-morrow's strife!"

"We had no answer," replied the diviner, with a gloomy look; "the gods
left it doubtful."

"They left it to our own valour, then!" cried Attila, in a voice of
triumphant confidence. "Our hearts and our arms shall make it no
longer doubtful. Lo! yon Romans still advance over the plain. They
must not come too near us. Ardaric, let thy Gepid[ae] recross the
stream, and ensure that the enemy do not approach within a hundred
bowshots. Theodore, wouldst thou leave me, my son?" he added, seeing
the young Roman's eyes turned with a look of natural interest upon the
advancing legions of [AE]tius--"wouldst thou leave me, my son? If so,
Attila gives thee leave to go. I fear not that there should be one
brave man added to yon mighty host of cowards. I have saved thy life,
I have loved thee well, I have treated thee as my child; but if thou
wouldst leave Attila at such a moment as this, thou shalt go in
peace."

Theodore sprang to the ground and kissed the hand of the monarch. "I
will not leave thee, oh Attila!" he said--"I seek not to leave thee,
and of all times I would not leave thee now. Fight against my native
land I cannot; but through to-morrow's field I will ride unarmed by
the side of Attila, and defend him, as far as may be, from every
danger in the strife. I am grateful, oh mighty king! for all your
favours: I love you for all your kindness and all your noble
qualities; and doubt me not, I beseech you, for though I fight not on
your part, none will be more faithful to you than I will. Oh, doubt me
not!"

"I do not doubt you," answered Attila; "but let us to our camp."

Difficult were it to describe, impossible to convey any adequate idea
of the scene of tumult, din, and confusion which the camp of the Huns
presented during that night. The circle of wagons placed in a double
row, and forming in reality a strong fortification, was nearly
completed, when Attila led the way thither, and turned his steps
towards his own tent. Fastened to strong stakes driven into the ground
between the inner wheels, the wagons were immoveable from without, but
easily turned or withdrawn from within; and embracing an immense
extent of ground, they afforded space for the mighty host which Attila
had led into the plains of Gaul.

During that night, and comprised in a space of a few miles, more than
a million of human beings, either in the Hunnish or the Roman army,
prepared for battle and panted for carnage. No still quiet followed in
the train of night: the blows of the hammer and the mallet, the
ringing of armour, the voices of guards and commanders, the tramp of
thousands passing to and fro, the murmur of innumerable voices, the
loud and ringing laugh, the war-song shouted high and strong, the
sounding of trumpets and of wild martial music, the neighing of
several millions of horses,[1] raised a roar through the whole air, in
the midst of which the sounds of an accidental conflict that took
place between the troops of Ardaric and those of Theodoric, the Gothic
ally of [AE]tius were scarcely heard; though so fierce was the
struggle for the bank of the rivulet, that fifteen thousand men were
left dead within a stone's throw of the Hunnish camp.


---------------

[Footnote 1: The armies of Attila were always followed, we are told,
by an immense number of spare horses, besides those which bore his
warriors and those which were attached to the wagons.]

---------------


Thus passed the night; and early on the following morning Attila
appeared at the door of his tent, and was soon surrounded by the
different leaders of the nations under his command. His countenance
was serene and bright; and the attendants who had passed the night in
his tent declared that he had slept as calmly as an infant, from the
moment that he lay down his head to rest to the moment that he woke to
battle. Calmly and tranquilly he asked the tidings of the night; and,
in a brief conversation with the leaders, assigned to every one his
proper post, and pointed out the great objects to be striven for in
the coming conflict. Towards the third hour after daybreak, one of the
watchers before the camp of the Huns announced that they saw movements
in the Roman camp; and Attila, instantly springing on his horse, led
forth his troops himself through the single aperture which had been
left for that purpose. Two hours more elapsed ere the whole of that
mighty host were in array; but then to any eye looking along over the
wide plain, strange and fearful must have been the sight, yet grand
and magnificent.

On one side of that little brook, running pure and clear between those
hostile armies--like the bright stream of divine love, pouring on its
refreshing waters of peace amid the strife and turbulence of human
passions--stretched forth the host of Attila, nearly seven hundred
thousand horsemen from every land and every nation of the North.
There, in the centre, under his own immediate command, appeared the
dark line of dusky Huns, little embarrassed with defensive armour, but
bearing the strong and pliant bow upon their shoulders, and at their
side the quiver, loaded with unerring arrows; the large heavy sword,
too, was in the hand of each, and at many a stirrup of the wilder
tribes hung, as an ornament, a gory human head. Far on the right
appeared the Gepid[ae], fairer in complexion, more bulky in limb, and
more splendid in arms and apparel, but generally reputed less active,
less fierce, and less persevering than the Huns. On the left, again,
were seen the Ostrogoths, tall, fair, and powerful; and the
intervening spaces were filled up with a thousand barbarous
tribes--the Rugi, the Geloni, the Heruli, the Scyrri, Burgundians,
Turingians, and those called the Bellonoti. A thousand tongues were
spoken in that host, a thousand varieties of face and garb were seen,
but all were actuated by the same feelings--hatred to the Romans, and
reverence for the mighty Hun.

On the other side of the brook, again, appeared, not less in number,
and not less various in appearance, the vast army which [AE]tius had
collected from the different nations that inhabited Gaul; the
long-haired Frank, the blue-eyed Goth, the sturdy Armorican, the
powerful but doubtful Alan; and there, upon his right, appeared
Theodoric, the wise and valiant monarch of the Visigoths, with his
white hair, speaking the passing of many a careful year, and his three
gallant sons, ready to obey, with the activity of youth, those
directions which the wisdom of his age might dictate. In the centre
were placed all the more doubtful allies of the Roman empire, mingled
with such as might act as a check upon their wavering faith. On the
left of the line appeared the Roman eagles, under the command of
[AE]tius in person. There, too, might he be seen, in the eyes of the
whole army, riding from rank to rank, and with bold and cheerful words
encouraging his soldiers, and exciting them to great exertion. Small
in person, but graceful, well proportioned, and active, with the lion
heart of the hero and the eagle glance of the great general, the whole
aspect of [AE]tius breathed courage and inspired energy. Wherever he
rode, wherever he appeared, a cheerful murmur greeted him; and when at
length he galloped his splendid battle-horse along the line, and,
riding up to Theodoric, embraced the old chieftain without dismounting
from his charger, a loud and universal shout burst from the army, and
seemed to the ears of the Romans a presage of victory.

Calm, grave, and immoveable sat Attila upon his black charger, a
stone's throw before the line of the Huns. On him every eye in his own
host was turned; and in that moment of awful suspense which precedes
the closing of two mighty powers in the first shock of battle, the
barbarian myriads seemed to forget the presence of their Roman
adversaries in the intense interest with which they regarded their
terrible leader. Armed, like themselves, with a bow upon his shoulder
and a sword in his hand, Attila sat and gazed upon his forces, turning
from time to time a casual glance upon the Romans, and then looking
back along the far extending line of Huns, while a scarcely
perceptible smile of triumphant anticipation hung upon his lip.

He sat almost alone, for his nearest followers and most faithful
friends remained a few paces behind; while, with that stern, proud
glance, he ran over his often victorious bands, and seemed waiting
with tranquil confidence for the approaching strife. At length, all
seemed prepared on every side, and the stillness of expectation fell
upon the field. It continued till it seemed as if all were afraid to
break it, so deep, so profound grew that boding silence.

Slowly turning his horse, Attila rode back towards the centre of the
Hunnish cavalry, and then, with a voice so clear, so distinct, so
powerful, that its deep rolling tones are said to have reached even
the Roman lines, he exclaimed, "Unconquerable race, behold your
enemies! I strive not to give you confidence in me or in yourselves.
Here is no new leader, no inexperienced army. Well do you know how
light and empty are the arms of the Romans. They fly not with the
first wound, but with the first dust of the battle! Fearing to meet
you unsupported, and remembering that where Romans have encountered
Huns the Romans have fallen like corn before the reaper, they have
called to their aid degenerate tribes, who have taken shelter in the
vicious provinces of Rome, after having been expelled from among the
native Goths, from the Gepid[ae], the Heruli, the Alani. These, whom
we have driven from among us--these, weak, corrupted, degraded as they
are--form the bulk, supply the strength, afford the courage of the
army before you. Behold them as they stand! are they not as one of
their own fields of corn, which we have a thousand times trodden down
beneath our horses' feet? We are no weak husbandmen, that we should
fail to reap such a harvest as that. On, warriors, on! Pour on upon
the Alani! Break through the degenerate Goths! At the sound of our
horses' feet, the Roman eagles, as is their custom, will take wing and
fly; and yon dark multitude shall disappear like the mist of the
morning! Why should fortune have given unto the Huns innumerable
victories, if not to crown them all with this successful day? On,
warriors, on! Drink the blood of your enemies! Let the wounded, in
dying, strike his javelin through his foe, and no one dare to die ere
he have brought a Roman head to the ground. I tread before you the way
to victory; and if any one follow not Attila, he is already dead!"

A loud acclamation burst from the nearer ranks, and ran along all the
line of the Huns, while even those who had not heard poured forth
their own clamorous applause of the words which they fancied had been
spoken; and the clang of arms dashed violently together, mingled with
the deafening shout that rose up from the barbarian host.

"Seize on yon hill, Valamir!" cried Attila, while the roar continued:
"it should have been done before."

The monarch of the Ostrogoths hastened to obey; but scarcely had his
troops been put in motion, when a corresponding movement was seen upon
the part of the Romans; and the terrible strife of that day--the most
fierce, the most sanguinary that Europe ever has seen--was commenced
by the struggle for that low hill, between the two rival tribes of
Goths.

For a time the rest of both armies remained unmoved, as if spectators
of the combat; but rage and emulation increased in their bosoms every
moment as they gazed, and at length it became impossible for the
leaders on either part to restrain in their troops the burning thirst
for battle. On poured the Huns upon the Romans: on rushed the Romans
on the Huns. The whirling masses of the Scythian horsemen, enveloped
in a cloud of dust, from which shot forth a hail of arrows, passed
through and through the ranks of the enemy, casting themselves in vain
upon the firm legions of [AE]tius, scattering the Franks and the
Sicambres, sweeping down whole ranks of the Alani and the Goths. On,
in heavy line, with their long spears lowered, poured the multitude of
the Gepid[ae], bearing slaughter and confusion wherever they came.

But still Theodoric and his Goths maintained the hill; still [AE]tius
and his legions fought unconquered on the plain; still the Franks and
the Alani, knowing that valour could alone save them, continued the
combat against the Huns. Hour after hour passed by; rank after rank
was mowed down; the rivulet, late so pure and clear, flowed onward one
unmingled stream of blood; and the feet of the Hunnish horses, as they
charged again and again the confused but unsubdued masses of the
Romans, splashed up a gory dew from the pools that lay unabsorbed upon
the loamy soil. So great, so terrible was the slaughter, that the
horses could scarcely keep their feet among the bodies of the dead and
dying. Each waving sword dismissed some erring spirit to its last
account; each footfall trampled on the writhing limbs of some mangled
fellow-creature.

In the foremost ranks of battle, wherever danger was pre-eminent,
wherever the foes remained unbroken, wherever the carnage was most
intense, there was seen Attila; and wherever he appeared, there for
the time was victory obtained. Through the whole of that day, too,
Theodore was by his side; and for the second time he saw upon him what
his followers not unaptly called "the spirit of the battle." Though
prompt and clear in every command, keen and ready to seize every
advantage, the calm and moderate sternness of his demeanour was gone;
and, fierce as the lion of the wilderness, rapid as the leven bolt of
heaven, remorseless and unsparing as the hurricane, he swept on. No
one stood before him for an instant; no one was struck a second time;
but, wherever an adversary crossed his path, there was left, at a
single blow, a disfigured corpse upon the ground, or else his horse's
feet trampled out the faint sparks that his sword had left.

Death seemed to march before him against his enemies, nor ever turned
to approach himself; and only twice, when surrounded almost on every
side by the foe, could Theodore interpose to parry with an iron
truncheon, which was the only weapon that he bore throughout the day,
the blows of a spear and a javelin, which were aimed at the monarch's
throat. The young Roman knew not that he had seen the service
rendered; but at length, when the day was far spent, Ellac, his eldest
son, crossed the path of the monarch, saying, "Ride not in the battle
with the Roman, oh my father! He is of the country of our enemies, and
may kill thee when thy back is turned. Let me slay him even now, lest
the traitor destroy thee!"

"He has saved my life twice this day!" cried Attila, urging forward
his horse. "Out of my way!" he continued, seeing that his son still
stood before him. "Out of my way! or, by the god of battles, I will
send thee to the land of spirits! Out of my way!" and he raised his
sword over his son's head as if about to cleave him to the jaws.

Ellac saw that the moment was not his; and, reining back his horse, he
sought another part of the field, while Attila pursued his career, and
strove, but strove long in vain, to obtain possession of the hill. At
length, as the closing day waxed faint and dim, and the gray shade of
evening falling over the whole bloody scene, announced that the battle
must soon close or be prolonged into the night, Attila for a moment
gained the summit of that long-contested eminence, and slew with his
own hand the last of the Gothic warriors, whose especial charge had
been to defend that post. Up to that instant he had rushed on like a
devouring flame, leaving nothing but ashes behind him; but there he
suddenly paused, gazed forth upon the confused and mingled masses of
the Huns and Romans, that, with equal success, and very nearly equal
numbers, were seen spread over the plain for many miles around. He
then lifted his eyes towards the sky, marked the dim gray that mingled
with the blue, and the bright star of evening betokening that the
brighter sun was gone; and with a sudden calmness said, in a low,
tranquil voice, "It is too late for victory to-night! It is too late!
Let the trumpets be sounded!" he continued, to some of those who
followed--"let the trumpets be sounded, to recall all men to the camp!
Gather together the ten nearest squadrons upon this slope! The Romans,
I think, have had enough of strife to-day, and will not seek it
further; but they have fought well for once, and Attila must defend
his own, while they seek a place of repose for the night."

He added some further orders; and in a few minutes was heard, from the
Hunnish camp, the sound of trumpets, giving forth the peculiar notes
of recall with which the Huns and other barbarous nations were
acquainted; and, separating themselves gradually but securely from the
masses of the Romans, the various tribes which had followed Attila to
that bloody battle were seen moving, in firm and regular order,
towards their camp.

What would have been the result of this movement under other
circumstances, it is difficult to say, had the eye of [AE]tius marked
the proceedings of the Huns, or the mind of Theodoric directed the
movements of the enemy; but trampled under the horses' feet, not far
from the spot where Attila then sat, lay the disfigured body of the
Gothic king, and the Roman general was far away, embarrassed with a
party of the Gepid[ae], by whom he had nearly been taken.

The inferior commanders of the Roman host gladly perceived that a
battle, of which they were beginning to despair, was not entirely
lost; and seeing the dark cloud of Huns, with which Attila on the hill
covered the man[oe]uvres of his troops, they dared not act any very
vigorous part, with thinned and exhausted troops, against so bold and
well-prepared an enemy. The trumpets of Attila continued to sound for
two hours after nightfall: his forces entered the camp unmolested, and
the last of the host who left the battle-plain was the monarch of the
Huns himself.[2]


---------------

[Footnote 2: Such I believe to be the real history of this famous
contest. We derive all our knowledge of the particulars from the Goths
and Romans, as the Huns were not historians, or, at least, did not
write their own version of the events in which they were engaged. Even
in the present age, when both parties do not scruple to render their
pretensions to success on such occasions permanent, how often do we
see a battle lost claimed by the loser as a battle won! and, of
course, it is more likely to have been so when there was no check
found in a counter statement. The historians, however, suffer one or
two important facts to appear, which prevent us from believing that
[AE]tius and Theodoric obtained a victory over Attila on the present
occasion. In the first place, it is clear that the immense Roman and
Gothic army dispersed itself immediately after the battle in which
Theodoric was killed. Reasons have been assigned for this proceeding,
which are in themselves improbable and unsatisfactory; but which, when
coupled with the fact that Attila afterward sacked Langres and
Besançon, and with the strong reasons which exist for believing that
[AE]tius himself retreated at once into the Lyonnaise, render the
victory of the Romans somewhat more than doubtful. It seems to me very
clear that the battle may have had an indecisive termination, but that
[AE]tius, finding that the Goths and Franks could not be induced to
try the fortunes of another day against Attila, retreated himself in
haste towards Italy; while Attila, whose loss had been very great,
proceeded by a new road towards his own land, ravaging the country,
and taking several very important towns in his way. The very words of
Jornandes admit that Attila was but little depressed by the event of
the battle, and imply that his after-march was still as in a career of
victory. Nor is there the slightest proof, that I have been able to
discover, that [AE]tius, as some have declared, followed the monarch
of the Huns even at a distance.

If such were the way that the Romans and Goths employed a victory,
they must have been moderate and generous indeed; and, under such
circumstances, it might be doubtful whether they did not treat their
enemies more mildly than their friends. The character of [AE]tius is
represented by his panegyrists on the present occasion (probably to
screen him from the disgrace of defeat) in a very singular and not
creditable point of view. He cheated both the Goths and Franks, we are
told, in order to get rid of them; and then, when left alone with
Attila, escorted his great enemy quietly out of Gaul, sufferi2796ng him to
sack and destroy what cities he pleased as he went. Is this
reasonable? Is this probable?]

---------------



                             CHAPTER VII.
                             THE RETREAT.


"Let the dead be numbered!" said Attila, as he entered his tent--"let
the dead be numbered! I have lost many of my children! Let every
chieftain of every tribe count up their numbers, and tell me how many
are wanting. We are brave men, and can look our loss in the face.
Theodore, my son, I thank thee; and I give thee leave, as a Roman, to
rejoice that, for the first time, Attila has fought without winning a
victory."

Thus saying, he passed on, and Theodore turned to where his own tents
were placed. It had been a day of terrible excitement; and no man,
probably, in either army, had felt such strange and contending
emotions as the young Roman, who, riding by the side of Attila through
that terrible conflict, exerted every energy to defend the monarch's
life, and yet from his heart wished success unto his enemies. Though
every moment his own person had been in danger--the more, perhaps,
because he sought to take the life of none himself--yet, during the
day, he had not felt even that slight exciting shade of apprehension
which is rather pleasing than otherwise. His whole thoughts had been
divided between Attila and the Romans. He had sought most eagerly, and
he had found completely, an opportunity of proving his gratitude to
the monarch of the Huns for all the great and singular favour which he
had displayed towards him.

That gratitude had indeed been great. It is true, he had discovered
that Attila had a personal object in the first signs of forbearance
which he had shown towards him; but Theodore was not one to scan
narrowly the causes of gratitude, or to weigh it out in very fine and
accurate scales; and yet, though he would willingly have given his
life to save that of the mighty king who had protected and befriended
him, he could not find in his heart to wish his fellow-countrymen
defeated. Thus he had watched the wavering progress of the fight with
an anxious and a beating heart, longing every moment to spring forward
and rally the legions when he saw them shaken, or to form again the
cohorts broken by the Hunnish cavalry.

The same feelings continued, and agitated him still after he had
re-entered the camp. Throughout the night a low and moaning murmur
went up from the plain between the two armies; and when Theodore,
raised upon one of the wagons, gazed over that bloody field, as it lay
in the tranquil moonlight, he could see among the piles of dead, which
now broke the flat line of the land, a number of objects moving
slowly, and darkening, here and there, those spots where the beams of
the calm, bright planet were reflected from heaps of corslets and
shining arms. The whole camp around him, except a few solitary
warriors keeping guard, seemed now to have fallen sound asleep,
wearied out with exertion, and none of the noises of the preceding
night broke the stillness of the air. Horses and men, equally tired,
uttered no sound; and that low moan, not unlike the sighing of a
melancholy wind, was all that interrupted the silence. As Theodore
gazed, a step near him made him turn; and the next moment, mounting
upon the same part of the rampart on which he had raised himself,
Ardaric stood by his side, and gazed out in the same direction for
some time without speaking.

"What can that faint moan proceed from?" said Theodore, at length.
"You hear it, do you not, noble Ardaric? The stream is too small to be
heard here!"

"I hear it well," answered Ardaric. "It is the groaning of the many
wounded, I suppose, though I never listened to such a sound before."

"Nor ever, probably," said Theodore, "saw such a field?"

"The world never has seen such till this day!" replied the King of the
Gepid[ae]. "The number of the dead is fearful. I alone have lost
seventy thousand men: so say the leaders of the tribes. Did you not
think the enemy seemed to have suffered as much as we had at the close
of the day?"

"Fully!" answered Theodore. "But is it possible that the sound we hear
can proceed from the wounded and dying? It is horrible to think upon!"

"It may be the spirits of the unburied dead mourning over their fate,"
replied Ardaric. "But what are yon moving objects? They must be either
the Romans come to seek for their friends, or the wounded crawling
about among the slain. Hark, that cawing! and see, they fly up for a
moment into the air! It is the ravens already at their repast. The
carrion-eaters in all lands, the vulture, the worm, and the crow, have
cause to be grateful to Attila. On yonder field, I should guess, must
lie, either dead or wounded, some half million of men. What a banquet!
See, they settle again! and now some wise crow, perched upon a Roman
corslet, shall peck, unreproved, the throat of one of those who used
to call themselves the masters of the world."

"Cannot we go forth and aid the wounded?" demanded Theodore. "It is
dreadful to think of leaving them to die."

"Why so?" demanded Ardaric. "They will be at rest all the sooner.
Those who had any strength left have crept into the camp long ago;
those who had none are as well where they are, for neither can they
serve us nor we them. It is only a pity that those ravens are not
vultures, such as we have in the East: they speedily make the dead and
dying, one. But, doubtless, there are wolves here too, out of the
great forest behind us. They will soon clear away the carrion. I
should not wonder if that moaning, which I took for the groans of the
wounded, were the well-pleased murmur of the wolves over their
unexpected feast."

"Nevertheless," said Theodore, "I should much like to take a small
body of men with me, and pick out those we can aid among the wounded."

"What! and have the Romans or the Visigoths upon you, declaring that
you were pillaging the dead!" replied Ardaric; "and then I should be
obliged to go out to defend you. More Goths, more Huns would come up,
and a night-battle would finish what a day-battle has so well begun.
No, no, my young friend; by my counsel and good-will, not a man shall
stir forth from this camp either to-night, or to-morrow, or the day
after, so long as yon army lies before us. Our loss is nearly equal
now. We are in an enemy's country, where we cannot hope to increase
our numbers by a man: they are at home, and probably, ere to-morrow,
may receive re-enforcements. Could we have crushed them in the battle
of yesterday, the whole country would have been ours at once; but, as
we failed to do that, we must no longer leave them the advantages they
possess. Here, in our camp, we must await them, where our defences are
as much as half a million more warriors. They cannot starve us, for we
have food enough for months, what with our horses and our cattle; and
if they attack us boldly, they must be utterly defeated. No, no,
Theodore, my friend, no one must leave the camp. Attila, I know, will
seek to go forth and destroy them in the open plain; but all voices
will be with me if he asks counsel of any one; and, having asked it,
he will take it if we all agree. Now let us to our tents, my friend.
After all, these tents are convenient things, though when we first
entered the Roman territory as enemies we had none, and despised them
as idle luxuries, unworthy of a warrior. Now, not a leader among us
but has many."

"So would it be, Ardaric, with every other Roman luxury," replied
Theodore. "What you contemn now, you will learn to tolerate, and at
length to like."

"The gods forbid!" answered Ardaric. "Then will we cut our beards, and
call ourselves women."

"The Romans have not fought like women this day, my friend," replied
Theodore.

"True! true!" replied the other. "A fair reproof, Theodore! They have
fought well, and I did them injustice. Now, good-night, and sleep you
well. I was heated, and, to say the truth, somewhat anxious; and I
came forth for the cool air, and for something else to think of than
_to-morrow_. I have found both, and have also made up my mind, even
while gazing upon that plain. Sleep you well!"

Sleep, however, was not known to the eyes of Theodore during that
night. He was not yet sufficiently habituated to the mighty trade of
war to see thousands perish, and know that thousands more were lying
around in agony, with a calm and unconcerned bosom. He lay down to
rest his limbs, but sleep visited not his eyelids. Shortly after dawn,
he rose and went out before his tent; but the host of the Huns was
already up and stirring, and multitudes covered the tops of all the
wagons, gazing out over the plain and towards the Roman encampment.
Attila was still within his tent, though his battle-horse stood
caparisoned by the side of the standard which was planted at the
entrance. But Theodore was told that six or seven of the chief leaders
were in council within the tent; and, joining himself to a party of
Hunnish chiefs who stood in the open space hard by, he remained
waiting, with no slight anxiety, the result of the conference.

At length the curtain of the tent was raised, and Attila, followed by
his chief leaders, came forth. But little alteration was visible in
his countenance, and yet that alteration had rendered the expression
more harsh and severe. He was speaking when he came out, and the deep
tones of his powerful voice reached to where Theodore stood.

"If it must be so," he said, "why, let it be so. Nor do I say that
your counsel is not wise and prudent, though I feel within me the
power to crush yon swarm of insects as I would emmets beneath my feet.
Still I would spare the people, if it may be so. But let it be
remembered that Attila must never be defeated! It is sufficient not to
have been victorious; we must die here or conquer! Let my Huns, with
their unerring bows, mount upon the ramparts of the camp. Let the
other nations, my friends and allies, stand by to support them; then
raise me up a funeral pile before the entrance of this tent. There
shall be the bed of Attila, if fortune and the god of battle should
desert him! To the ramparts, my friends, to the ramparts! Let no man
say that Attila does not yield to wise counsels, even when they are
opposed to the most burning desire of his heart."

With extraordinary celerity and perfect order, the Huns immediately
spread themselves over the long line of chariots which formed the
rampart of their camp; and, intermingled with the Gepid[ae], and with
the spearmen of Valamir, stood prepared, with their bows in their
hands, and the arrow resting on the string, to send the winged death
among the Roman legions as soon as they should advance to the attack.

Several times during the course of the day bodies of the Roman and
Gothic troops were seen whirling about over the plain, and twice a
large division advanced very near the Hunnish camp, as if to feel
their way towards a general attack. But a hail of arrows, darkening
the sky, and carrying death and confusion into their ranks, caused
them to retreat even faster than they came; and day closed without the
expected attack.

Early the next morning a rumour became prevalent in the Hunnish camp
that the army was dispersing; and, on examining more accurately, it
was found that an immense body of Goths, and another of Franks, had
left the camp of [AE]tius before daylight that very morning. Infinite
were now the conjectures throughout the barbarian host as to what
would be the conduct of Attila under the present circumstances. It was
not soon decided, however. Scouts returning to the camp after having
been sent forth to ascertain the movements of the enemy, and reporting
that the Goths and the Franks had halted at the distance of a few
leagues after leaving the Roman army, the ramparts of the Huns
remained guarded during the whole of that day; and no one was suffered
to leave the camp, except some small parties sent forth to
reconnoitre.

Attila only once left his tent during the whole day, when the
unexpected appearance of a large body of cavalry, supposed to be
Goths, on the eastern side of the plain, led to the belief that a
general attack was about to take place upon the camp of the Huns. They
passed away, however, without approaching; and Attila, returning to
his tent, remained in solitude during the rest of the day.

By dawn of the next morning the Romans themselves removed to a greater
distance, and towards noon an order was given for the Hunnish army to
prepare to march. None knew the direction that they were about to
take, none knew what purpose was in the bosom of the king; and when he
himself rode forth among the troops, not even Ardaric, his most
familiar friend, was aware of the course they were about to pursue.

A few words announced the intentions of the monarch. "To the south,"
he said; "I will not be further bearded by these Romans, though they
be leagued with all the runaways from the hardy North. On to the
south, I say! Let them attack me, if they dare!"

The tone in which he spoke was such as showed no inclination to
receive counsel or follow advice, and his orders were instantly
obeyed. No obstruction was offered to his march: the Roman army, as a
whole, had disappeared; and though from time to time a few small
bodies of cavalry was seen upon the right of the Huns, showing that
[AE]tius either followed or accompanied the march of the invaders, yet
no attempt was made to bring on a general battle; and when, at the end
of a four days' march, the Roman cohorts approached somewhat too near,
they were speedily driven back by the Hunnish cavalry.

On the fifth day, towards noon, the towers of a large and important
city appeared, crowning the summit of some high hills, round the basis
of which the barbarian army had been winding since the morning. Massy
walls, close and elevated flanking towers, built from the bowels of
the rock on which they stood, announced a well defended fortress,
which, in the time of Rome's greatest glory, might well have been
looked upon as impregnable. Nevertheless, no sooner did the eyes of
Attila rest upon it, after gazing over the country round, as if to
ascertain its capabilities for military man[oe]uvres, than, stretching
forth his hand towards Langres, he exclaimed, "It must fall! Valamir,
my friend, lead the troops to the attack. I, with one fourth part of
the army, wait upon this gentle slope for the coming of the Roman, if
he dare to show himself. Let not the sun set, and see this city in the
hands of the enemy."

Langres fell, and [AE]tius struck no stroke to relieve it. Some of its
inhabitants found means to escape into the recesses of the mountains,
and some even hid themselves in various parts of the town, where they
were not discovered, but all the rest perished by the sword; and the
streets of Langres flowed with human blood. As was very customary with
the Huns, it was fired in several places ere they left it as night
fell; but the solidity of the buildings, and the incombustible nature
of the materials, saved it from anything but partial destruction, and
Attila passed on without waiting to see that it was utterly consumed.

Besançon shared the same fate as Langres; and on the morning after its
destruction, Attila gazed from the heights in the neighbourhood, and
exclaimed with a glance of triumph, as he beheld no force on any side
either to watch his progress or oppose his will, "We are not defeated!
Let them write it in their histories, that after a pitched battle, in
which five hundred thousand men were slain, Attila rode unrestrained
through Gaul, and sacked two of her finest cities before the eyes of
[AE]tius. But they will not write the truth--they will not, they dare
not, lest in after ages every boy should spit at their memory. Now we
may safely turn our steps towards our native land, lest the winter
again set in, as it did when we were coming hither, and bind us with
icy chains amid the fastnesses of the mountains."

The direction taken by the army was now towards the east; and leaving
Gaul, Attila plunged into the passes of the Jura, pausing from time to
time amid the sweet Helvetian valleys, as if he even hoped that the
Romans might follow him thither, and once more try the fortune of
battle. He who through his life had gone from victory to victory,
whose steps had been upon the necks of conquered nations, and whose
daily food had been success, had met with a check, had encountered
disappointment, had been unsuccessful, if not defeated; and he seemed
to thirst for an opportunity of wiping away the only stain, slight as
it was, which a thousand battles had left upon his sword. None of his
confidence had abandoned him; his reliance on his own mighty genius
and daring courage was unshaken; but yet the check received in that
undecided battle had wrought a change in Attila, and that change
unfavourable. Ever stern and unyielding, he had now become fierce and
irascible; nor was that all: many of the vices of the barbarian
character, which had been kept down, and, as it were, overawed in his
nature by the greater and more splendid qualities, so long as success
had attended him, now seemed, like slaves on the first reverse of
their master, to rise up turbulently in his bosom, and threaten to
usurp the supreme control.

It was remarked, also, that Attila--fearing, perhaps, that his first
want of success might have deprived him of some portion of his vast
influence over the minds and hearts of his followers--had become
suspicious, wily, exacting in regard to outward reverence,
occasionally violent, and often intemperate. He assumed, too, a
greater degree of pomp and external magnificence; as if the simple
splendour of his powerful mind was sufficiently tarnished by the one
slight reverse he had met with, to require the substitution of a
meaner sort of majesty, to dazzle the eyes where the heart was
unsatisfied.

The change, indeed, was not very great in any one particular, but
still enough so in each to attract the attention of a person who
remarked so closely as Theodore, and, in the aggregate, sufficient to
strike the eyes of others. This mood, too, increased in him daily;
and, as he marched onward, it drew the attention of Ardaric himself.

Through those wide beautiful valleys, clad in the everlasting green
with which a temperate climate and a happy soil has robed them, the
Hunnish cavalry wound on, feeding their horses by the banks of the
streams and lakes, which, scattered in bright confusion throughout the
free Helvetian land, have rendered it, in all ages, a country of
enchanted sights. Through those deep passes, too, clad with the fir
and pine, whose evergreen garmenture bore no token of the approaching
autumn, the long and dusky troops of barbarian horsemen poured on,
lifting, with wild enthusiastic delight, to the mountain, the rock,
the rugged precipice, the variegated foliage, and all the beauties of
uncultivated nature, those eyes which looked with scorn or abhorrence
upon all the productions of civilized art, and on the mighty master
works of the human mind.

Every now and then, however, where the beech, or the ash, or the elm,
or the oak was mingled with the unchanging trees of the mountain, the
sear aspect of the withering leaves, the tints of yellow and of brown,
told Theodore but too surely that the autumn was far advanced. The
expedition of Attila had now lasted a year and nearly nine months. It
was more than that since he had heard the slightest news of Ildica. It
was two years since he had seen her he loved: but time could do
nothing to diminish feelings such as his; and the longing once more to
clasp her to his heart grew daily stronger and stronger instead of
decreasing. He thought the rapid marches of the army slow and
tedious--the way seemed long and interminable.

At length began to appear the wide plains, the dark woods, the broad
rivers, which announced once more their approach to the land of the
Huns. Their last three days' march, however, was through fallen and
falling snow: but Theodore was not to be disheartened; and on the very
day that followed their arrival on the banks of the Tibiscus, he
claimed audience of Attila, and, reminding him of his promise,
demanded permission to set out on his visit to Italy.

The answer was stern and decisive. "It is impossible!"

The monarch said no more, and Theodore, grieved and disappointed,
waited on through a long, dark, tedious winter. With the first
blossoms of the spring, however, as the young Roman sat within his
dwelling, leaning his head upon his hand, and thinking of the past,
the boy Ernac, now growing up in splendid beauty, ran gladly in,
exclaiming, "My father calls for you! Come, Theodore, come! Attila
demands your presence; and he is in a milder mood than he has been
since his return from Gaul."

A glad hope passed through the bosom of Theodore, and, rising from his
seat, he followed to the presence of the king.



                            CHAPTER VIII.
                             THE REUNION.


Rome, immortal Rome! the capital of the greatest and most despotic of
governments, whether democratic, imperial, or clerical, that ever this
world has known; the fountain-head of the mightiest and most pervading
power that ever has been exercised on earth! Rome, immortal Rome! the
heart of the whole world during centuries of glory, from which issued
forth, poured through a thousand veins and arteries, the impulses of
civilization to the remotest points of her mighty limbs! Rome,
immortal Rome! wonderful in her rise, her duration, and her fall!
Wonderful in her splendour, wonderful in her decay! Even when the time
shall come that men pass the ploughshare over her walls, or that the
beasts of the field find grass in her desolate dwelling-places, still
shall she remain immortal in history and tradition; still shall she
walk the earth among the spirits of the past, exercising over the
destinies of unnumbered ages an unseen influence through the record of
her marvellous deeds! Rome, gigantic spectre, still haunting the ruins
of the greatest empire that the world has ever seen! Rome, from which
arts, and knowledge, and power, and religion have flowed to distant
ages as from a source; but which--oh, strange to say!--has ever
presented in herself the spectacle of anarchy, vice, and irreligion;
and which stood forth from the whole world as the darkest and most
polluted spot through many centuries and for many crimes. Rome,
immortal Rome! We must now bend our steps through Rome.

It was on a spring holyday, in one of the brightest months of the
year, ere summer had brought her burning heat, and after winter had
lost his chilling frown. The vegetable world was all in flower, and
nature, like an April bride, was crowned with garlands. The sky was
all in smiles; the air was all balm; and the whole of a soft and
pleasure-seeking population was pouring forth into the streets, or
thronging the public places of the city, which had once been, indeed,
the queen of empires, and was still majestic, though her reign was
over.

Some show or some amusement, some procession or some festival, called
the gay multitude forth towards the forum; and oh, how merrily, as
they went along, did the laugh ring up into the sky--did the gay song
or the loud jest echo through the streets.

Among the number who took their way onward through one of the long
narrow streets, were two girls carrying a basket of flowers between
them, and thus singing as they went of the sweet burden they bore.


                         FLOWER GIRLS' SONG.

     Oh, the flowers of spring! the sweet-smelling flowers,
     Gay-robed companions of life's happy hours:
     They have come again to visit us here;
     They have come hand in hand with the young bright year.
                                   Oh, flowers! Buy my flowers!

     Oh, the flowers of spring! the beautiful flowers,
     In garlands we twined them in infancy's hours;
     And every blossom we strung on the wreath
     Was like the sweet moments that flew beneath.
                                   Oh, flowers! Buy my flowers!

     Oh, the flowers of spring! the beautiful flowers,
     They have wreathed the door-posts of love's own bowers;
     They have given their breath to the lover's sigh,
     And their hues to the loved one's cheek and eye.
                                   Oh, flowers! Buy my flowers!

     Oh, the flowers of spring! the beautiful flowers,
     Fed with May sunshine and bathed with spring showers;
     When you have babes, as soon you may,
     Let them sport with flowers through their young bright day.
                                   Oh, flowers! Buy my flowers!

     Oh, the flowers of spring! the beautiful flowers,
     When manhood puts forth his mightiest powers;
     Each noble thing does its wreath require,
     The warrior's sword and the poet's lyre.
                                   Oh, flowers! Buy my flowers!

     Oh, the flowers of spring! the beautiful flowers,
     They are dear to us still when old age lours;
     We gaze on the blossoms that spring at our feet,
     And the perfume of mem'ry rises sweet.
                              Oh, flowers! Buy my flowers!

     Oh, the flowers of spring! the beautiful flowers,
     They have still their charm for all life's hours;
     And when at length in the tomb we are laid,
     Let our last bed of flowers be made.
                              Oh, flowers! Buy my flowers!

     Oh, the flowers of spring! the beautiful flowers,
     Where saw you flowers so fair as ours?
     They are sweet to the scent, and bright to the eye,
     Oh, take them before they fade or die.
                              Oh, flowers! Buy my flowers![3]


---------------

[Footnote 3: After writing the above song, a friend suggested to me
that it bore a resemblance to some other verses of which we could both
recall a part, but not the whole. We could neither remember the
author's name, nor where they were printed; but I have since found
that the poem alluded to is by Mrs. Hemans; and the author of Conti, a
work full of interest, enthusiasm, and high feeling, lately pointed
out to me that the stanzas are printed among the minor poems following
"The forest Sanctuary." They commence, "Bring flowers!" and in two or
three of the stanzas there is much similarity with the above.]

---------------


So sung the flower-girls, as, carrying between them their basket,
heavy with the rifled treasures of the spring, they walked on among
the crowd, selling from time to time a wreath or a nosegay. The
passers-by, however, unembarrassed with any burden, were more rapid in
their movements. The crowd became thinner and thinner as the more
early hurried on. Scattered groups succeeded, hastening forward with
an accelerated pace, lest they should be too late, or gain but bad
places at the show; and at length the numbers were so diminished as to
leave the street nearly vacant; while the girls themselves, finding
that they had been outstripped by their customers, hurried their pace
as fast as they could, in order to find a new market, where the
multitudes were assembled.

At the time when the street was the thinnest of people, however, the
trampling of horses, coming at a quick pace, was heard, and both the
girls turned round to look, the one exclaiming, "It is the bishop, I
am sure," and the other replying, "No, it is the qu[ae]stor by the
number of horses: the bishop always goes in his chariot, foolish
girl."

"Wrong, both of us," rejoined the first; "it is but a large troop of
barbarians."

"Oh, they will buy our flowers, then," cried the other. "I dare say
they are from [AE]tius's army; and the barbarians always spend their
money as fast as they get it."

As they thus spoke, the troop which called forth these observations
approached; and the two girls--one of them was remarkably pretty, and
the other thought herself so--turned their faces, with an air of
modesty which it is possible they did not really possess, towards the
point straight before them, and taking up again the burden of their
song, "Oh, flowers! Buy my flowers!" they went on carolling gayly as
the strangers came near.

He who rode at their head was a young man of about two-and-twenty,
dressed in the Roman costume; but those who followed were clothed,
though with some appearance of splendour, in the wilder garb of the
Huns. Riding up, the young stranger stopped his horse by the side of
the first flower girl, who instantly held up a bunch of very beautiful
blossoms, singing on, with an air of sportive coquetry, "Oh, flowers!
Buy my flowers." Theodore, for he it was, took the flowers, and gave
her a piece of money, saying, at the same time, "Canst thou tell me,
pretty lass, where dwells Julius Lentulus. His house used to be here,
methinks; but it is long since I saw it, and where I thought it stood
appears nothing but a high wall."

"True, beautiful youth," replied the girl--"true, his house stood
there: but Valentinian wanted the land to make a fishpond of; so he
pulled down the house, and Julius Lentulus was obliged to remove; and
now dwells farther up, at the side of the Aventine. The emperor,
however, betook himself to Ravenna; the fishpond was never made, and
the edile had the ground walled up; for he dare not give it back to
Julius Lentulus for fear of the emperor."

"Canst thou not direct me more exactly," demanded Theodore; "for I
wish to find the house instantly."

"Ay! now I warrant thee," answered the girl, "thou art seeking the
pretty Eudochia: often does she buy flowers of me when I go by the
Aventine. Ay! I warrant thee, some old lover of hers; for I remember,
when she came back from exile in the barbarian land herself, some two
or three years ago. But alas! fair youth, thou hast a rival--nay, not
one for that matter, but a hundred, though only one that is
dangerous."

"Pray who is that?" replied Theodore, with a smile, which encouraged
the girl to run on.

"As fair a youth as any in the imperial city," answered the girl: "she
calls him her brother Ammian; but once, as I rested in the gardens of
their villa without the walls, I saw their lips meet as brothers and
sisters rarely do meet; and I found afterward that there was no such
near blood between them."

Theodore's cheek reddened from feelings that would be difficult,
and are unnecessary to define. "Alas, poor youth!" continued the
girl--"alas, poor youth, I am sorry for thee! but these things must be
borne, sweet heart, and thou wilt soon find thee another bride."

"Thou art mistaken, pretty lass," replied Theodore: "Eudochia is my
sister, and Ammian I love as a brother; but have you no news of the
Lady Flavia and--"

"Ha, ha, I have thee now!" cried the girl; "thou wouldst ask after the
fair Ildica. Thou art safe, then, stranger, thou art safe. She lives
as a nun, and keeps her maiden beauties from the searching eyes of
admiration. Seldom have I even seen her, but she is very beautiful.
Thou wilt find her, too, by the Aventine; and if thou wouldst know
where Ammian is, I could tell thee too."

The girl assumed an air of mystery as she spoke, which excited
Theodore's curiosity; and, without appearing to be anxious on the
subject, he merely asked, "And where, pray, is that?"

"I do not know whether I will tell or not," answered the girl; "it
might cost the pretty boy his life; but thou wilt not repeat it, and
may keep him from such follies hereafter. He has gone out," she added,
approaching closer to Theodore's horse, and speaking in a lower
tone--"he has gone out to see secretly a great sacrifice which is to
be offered to Jupiter by the people who dwell at the foot of
Pincianus: I saw him going thither as I came along; for I heard that
the good old pagans--as we Christians call them--were about to risk
their throats for the sake of offering a sacrifice to a god in whom
they do not half believe, and I went thither to sell my garlands. As
we came back, we saw the young wanderer going thither for sport, and
we decked him and his horse out with flowers, as if he were verily to
be the sacrifice himself."

"God grant that it may not be so," thought Theodore; but he merely
asked, "Are not the laws against these sacrifices very severe here in
the West? They are so in the Eastern empire at least."

"Death to every one who beholds them," replied the girl; "but since
the emperor has dwelt at Ravenna, people have not been so strict, and
one may swear by Jupiter, or even by Venus, without danger. What it
will be, now that Valentinian has returned, I cannot tell; but I must
on to the palace to sell him flowers, for he will soon be going to
join the procession, and the pr[ae]positus always buys flowers of me
and Claudia for the emperor's own use, he tells us."

Thus saying, she tripped on; while Theodore turned his horse's head
towards the Aventine Mount: and, on inquiring for the house of Julius
Lentulus, he was directed to a stately but somewhat gloomy edifice,
enclosed within its own walls and gardens, and bearing an air of
majestic decay, which harmonized but too well with the state of the
city and the country. On reaching the gates he asked at once for
Flavia; but the old janitor considered him attentively for some
moments ere he gave him admission, for the person he inquired for
received but few visiters.

"What is your name?" he asked--"what is your name, young lord! I am
not going to admit you and all these barbarians to the Lady Flavia,
who rarely sees any one. Then that wild youth Ammian has gone forth,
and there is no one but the lady and her daughter within."

Beyond the great gates stood the house, with its long colonnade; but
planted in the space between were some bushes and low apple-trees,
which prevented Theodore from seeing anything but the two steps which
raised the portico from the ground, and the lower part of the pillars
which composed it. As he looked on, however, he saw a female figure
pass along the colonnade; and, though he could not see the face, yet
the sight of the small graceful foot that moved the full and floating
robe was enough to make his heart beat high.

"I am Theodore, Ancinus," he said. "Let me pass, my good friend. These
strangers can wait for me without. I am Theodore, son of Paulinus; I
say let me pass."

There was a cry of joy from within; for the tones of that voice had
caught the ear of Ildica, and she had paused to listen--there was a
cry of joy, a few steps, quick as those of the fawn bounding after its
mother over the morning dew, and Ildica was in her lover's arms.

"At length! at length!" she exclaimed, as, twined in his arms and
pressed to his heart, she raised those large dark lustrous eyes to his
face, swimming with tears sweeter than the happiest smile that ever
shone upon the human countenance. "At length, at length, my Theodore,
thou art come! Come after two long years and a half. Oh how weary has
felt my heart under the passing of that tedious time; and how busy has
fancy been with all the dangers and with all the horrors in the
storehouses, the wide, dark storehouses of possibility! How I have
tortured myself to think why my Theodore did not write; but thou art
come, and the clouds are all dispelled."

"Beloved, I did write," replied Theodore. "Twice have I written; but
it was under such circumstances that I could hardly hope thou wouldst
ever see the characters my hand had traced. Nor have I heard from
thee, my Ildica; but I fancied no neglect, no forgetfulness, no change
of affection."

"I too wrote, beloved," she answered; "but I wrote only once, because
no other occasion presented itself of sending letters to the country
of the Huns. Forgetfulness! neglect! change of affection! Oh,
Theodore! could anything in life change that which I feel sure death
itself can never alter? What have I thought of but thee since last we
met? But let us to my mother; let her share our joy."

"That joy will be greater, my beloved, when you hear all," replied the
youth; and, still circling her fair form with his arm, while her hand
remained clasped in his, he accompanied her back into the house where
Flavia sat, unknowing his arrival.

"Joy, dearest mother, joy!" cried Ildica: "here is our Theodore
returned."

"Ay, and returned," added Theodore, "never to quit you again!
Attila--though I saw that it gave him no slight pain--has freed me
from the rest of the term which I had bound myself by promise to
remain with him. He has but exacted that I shall never bear arms
against his people, nor provoke them to strife with me; for he has a
superstition that the first injury inflicted by any of them upon me
will be followed by his ruin or his death."

"Happy superstition!" cried Flavia, embracing him: "and so I trust our
long sorrows are over, my dear son. We have needed thee much; but now
that thou wilt not leave us more, my cares are at an end: and when I
have seen thee and my Ildica united for ever, I willingly quit a world
of which I have long been weary."

"Quit us not, my mother!" replied Theodore, "quit us not! but remain
with us, to behold our happiness and to share it! But oh, let that
happiness be made complete as soon as may be. Let no time elapse ere
Ildica becomes my own. Till I hold her to my heart, my own dear wife,
I shall fear lest every hour that flies may bring some new misfortune
to separate us again. Say, Ildica, say, when will you be mine?"

The blood rose in the beautiful girl's cheek, and neck, and brow,
spreading through that pure and ivory skin like the blush of dawn upon
the snowy heads of the mountains; and feeling how the crimson was
mounting in her face, she hid it upon her lover's breast, replying,
"When my mother thinks fit."

"To-morrow! oh, to-morrow, dear mother!" cried Theodore.

"Nay, nay," said Flavia, with a smile, "not quite so soon as that! Let
it be the following day. What say you, Ildica? Is that too soon?"

"Speak, beloved! speak!" cried Theodore; but she still hid her eyes
upon his breast, and yet the soft clasping of her hand upon his told
him that she gave no unwilling consent. Feeling that she was much
agitated, he sought some other theme to release her mind from its
happy burden, till custom should render it lighter to bear.

"She consents, my mother!" he said, "she consents! but where is
Eudochia? She must come and share our joy. I wonder she has not yet
heard of her brother's return."

"She has gone to the capitol," replied Ildica, raising her head:
"there is a splendid sight there to-day; and Ammian sent a messenger
to say he had found a place for her where she could see it all."

"Ammian!" exclaimed Theodore: "I heard, as I came along, that he had
gone out of the city towards Pincianus."

"Oh no," replied Flavia: "he went to the capitol, and sent both a
messenger and a litter for Eudochia, saying that he had found a place
for her at the house of Julius Sabinus, otherwise she should not have
gone."

But Theodore was not satisfied. Though the words of the flower-girl
might be idle words, yet they remained upon memory, and a cloud came
over him as of new sorrows approaching. At that moment they heard
voices at the door, and one of them speaking with the tones of a woman
in loud entreaty. Theodore listened: "I must see him, I must speak
with him," cried the voice: "it is not to sell my flowers: it is on
business of importance to him himself that I seek to see him. Only
tell him I am here, and see whether he will not let me speak with
him."

"That is the voice of the flower-girl," cried Theodore, "who told me
that Ammian had gone out to Pincianus. Some evil has happened, I
fear!"

"Again!" cried Ildica, "again!" and she cast down her dark eyes
towards the ground with an expression of deep despondency, as if she
asked of the dust from which we rise and to which we fall--"What is
this inscrutable fate, that dogs us through existence, never suffering
us to know a moment's happiness, without pouring into the cup the
bitter drop that turns it all to gall?"

Theodore had in the meantime advanced towards the gate, and was met
midway by the flower-girl, with whom he had spoken, and who had now
passed the gatekeeper and was hurrying in.

"You told me you were her brother!" she cried, as she met him--"you
told me you were her brother! If so, and if you would save her from
Valentinian, fly to the palace, quick! They have borne her thither. I
saw her carried to the inner court in a litter, and heard her cries
and entreaties when she discovered where they were taking her to. If
you are her brother, hasten thither quickly with your Huns! You may
save her yet; for almost all--guards, attendants, officers--have gone
to the show. You may save her yet, perchance--or at least avenge her!"



                             CHAPTER IX.
                             THE TYRANT.


In a room in the imperial palace, lighted from above, and far removed
from any of the chambers usually inhabited by the emperors, upon a
luxurious couch of down, covered with crimson, and strewed with the
flowers of the hyacinth, whose sweet perfume mingled with that of a
thousand other flowers, gave the whole chamber an atmosphere of
delicious but overpowering perfume, lay Valentinian, the weak,
luxurious, vicious monarch of the West, clothed in a light and
floating robe of silk, and with his odour-dropping hair bound
effeminate with a fillet twined with flowers.

He seemed to listen eagerly for some sounds; and in a moment or two
the trampling of feet, some sobbing cries, and a voice in the tone of
expostulation, were heard. The next instant the door of the room--for
it was one closed by a door furnished with locks and bolts--was thrown
open, and a litter was borne in and set down in the midst of the
chamber.

The slaves of Valentinian, for--though not habited in the usual garb
of the imperial household--they were but the ministers of his
pleasure, instantly withdrew, and, starting from the litter, a lovely
girl, terror in her aspect, and her eyes dewed with tears, stood
gazing wildly round the room, as if seeking some means of escape. She
was yet in her early youth, and modesty and innocence were written in
every line of her fair countenance. But neither modesty, nor
innocence, nor youth had any effect upon the corrupt and selfish man
before her, who, as soon as the slaves were gone, advanced, and taking
her hand, endeavoured to sooth her, pouring into her ear all the vile
but honeyed words of a consummate corrupter.

Snatching her hand from his, and shrinking back from him into one
corner of the room, Eudochia gazed upon him in silent terror, as she
would have gazed upon some poisonous serpent suddenly crossing her
path. But Valentinian still pursued, exclaiming, "But listen to me,
fair Eudochia. It is the emperor seeks your love. It is Valentinian
who commands your obedience. The wealth and splendour of a world shall
be poured out at your feet, the love of your sovereign shall encircle
you with all earth's choicest gifts;" and he went on with words on
which we will not dwell to wrong her innocent ear with evil
persuasions.

For a time Eudochia gazed in silence, as if terror and horror had
deprived her of the use of her intellect; but as Valentinian
concluded, and was again approaching her, she suddenly seemed to
recollect herself, and, with a quick start forward, cast herself at
his feet.

"Hear me, oh emperor!" she cried, "hear me, if there be one spark of
noble feeling left in your bosom. If you be a monarch, if you be an
emperor, if you be a man, hear me, and set me free! I cannot love you,
I ought not to love you, but as a subject loves an emperor. You are
already wedded; my heart is already given to another! Wrong not your
empress, wrong not me, by seeking love that never can be yours. Let me
go! oh, let me go! and show yourself really worthy of your high
station. You cannot--surely you will not be the first to violate the
laws which you are bound to maintain. How would you punish another
were he to treat me even as your slaves have done? Oh let me beseech,
let me entreat, let me adjure you, by all you hold sacred, to set me
free! Hear me, hear me! Oh, monarch, hear me!"

And with uplifted hands and streaming eyes she went on, urging him to
justice and compassion; but even her terror and distress had charms
for the base tyrant. He attempted to throw his arms around her; he
kissed her fair brow as she kneeled imploring at his feet. But at that
act Eudochia felt all the spirit of her race rise up within her, as
she saw her prayers unheeded and her appeals to justice only provoking
deeper insult. She sprang upon her feet, she freed herself from his
arms, she snatched from his girdle, even in the struggle to cast him
off, a small Eastern dagger which the weak tyrant wore. "Stand back!"
she cried--"stand back! or, by the memory of my father, who died to
save his country, I will drive this blade into thy heart, thou
Tarquin!"

"Girl, you dare not!" cried Valentinian, drawing back; "you dare not
raise your hand against your emperor!"

"All girl as I am, I dare raise my hand against any tyrant on the
earth," replied Eudochia, "let him clothe himself with whatsoever name
he will. Come not near me, or you die! Tyrant, I am resolved! My
honour is as dear to me as life to you! Let me go free, or Valentinian
shall this day cease to live and reign!"

"Well, well! thou shalt go!" said the emperor, in a softened tone;
"but I must call the slaves, to make them open the door from without.
Promise me that thou wilt not strike me as I approach the door."

"I will not," replied Eudochia, "so as you set me free."

"You shall be free," answered Valentinian, moving towards the
door--"you shall be free."

But when between Eudochia and the entrance of the room, within a
single step of either, he suddenly turned, sprang upon her, wrenched
the dagger from her grasp, and casting it on the other side of the
couch, exclaimed, "Now, girl! now! what punishment shalt thou undergo
for daring to hold a dagger to the breast of thine emperor?"

Eudochia gazed round in hopeless despair. But then came a sound of
hasty steps and angry voices; and, with sudden hope rushing through
her bosom, she uttered scream after scream, to attract the notice of
any one who might be passing near. Valentinian seemed not to have
heard or not to heed the sounds, for he pursued his evil course; but
while he endeavoured to silence the unhappy object of his passions,
the door of the chamber was shaken violently.

The bolts and locks resisted; but another and another blow came
crashing upon the woodwork. Valentinian, with a cheek as pale as
death, retreated towards the couch, and sought for the dagger, which
was the only weapon he had worn. The next moment the door gave way,
and the brother of Eudochia, followed by twenty or thirty of the armed
Huns, rushed into the chamber. His sword was drawn and bloody in his
hand; and stretched across the long passage might be seen the corpse
of one of the base instruments of the tyrant's vices, who had dared to
resist the passage of the Roman, hastening to the deliverance of his
sister.

Theodore caught her in his arms, and Eudochia wept upon his bosom. But
such thoughts as had inspired the bosoms of his ancestors were in his
heart at that moment, and he gave her little time to weep.

"Are you safe, my sister?" he cried, with his eyes still glaring on
Valentinian. "Are you pure! By the memory of our father, I adjure you!
are you unpolluted?"

"I am, Theodore! I am!" she answered: "thanks to God and to you, I
am!"

"Vile slave!" cried Valentinian, attempting to assume the air of
empire; "who are you? How dare you--"

But Theodore cut him short. "Base, effeminate, soulless tyrant!" he
answered, "well may you thank God that I arrived in time to save you
from the crime you sought to commit! Well may you thank God! for your
cowardly and pitiful life had surely been ended here had you succeeded
in injuring her; and your soul had been sent to hell burdened with the
sin it had just perpetrated."

Valentinian trembled and turned pale, the coward blood forsaking his
heated cheek at the stern aspect of the young Roman. He attempted,
however, though in a weak and faltering voice, to call for his guards
and his officers; but Theodore replied, with a look of withering
scorn, "You call in vain, tyrannical disgrace of Rome--you call in
vain. The means that you have taken to ensure that your crime should
be effected in silence and secrecy, have left you as powerless as the
lowest slave in your dominions. All the better and the purer part of
your court, sent forth to take part in the procession, have left you
alone in this wing of the palace, with none but the slavish ministers
of your pleasures near thee. They are in the hands of my followers,
except yon rash fool, lying there in his blood who attempted to stop a
brother flying to his sister's rescue. Thou art in my power," he
added, "to take or leave thy pitiful life as I will; and couldst thou
but see how contemptible a thing thou hast made thyself, as thou
standest there, quivering with fear and guilt before thine injured
subject, shame would surely supply the place of virtue, and thou
wouldst blush for the crimes that have degraded thee so low."

"Traitor!" exclaimed Valentinian, with the blood rushing up into his
face--"traitor, thou shalt rue this day!"

"Monarch, I shall not," replied Theodore, "were even your power as
extended as it is weak and circumscribed; were the Romans found base
enough to suffer a tyrant to oppress a citizen for defending a
helpless girl, and that girl his sister, you dare not, no, you dare
not openly raise a hand against my life. Know that in me you see one
whom Attila, at whose very name you tremble, looks upon as his son.
Letters are already in thy court announcing my coming, and bidding
thee do me justice in all things; and thou darest as soon raise thy
hand against me as thou darest offer thy neck to the axe."

"So," cried the base monarch, glad, like all weak minds convicted of
crime, to seek revenge in scorn, where they have no refuge in justice,
and no power of retaliation--"so thou art one of those degenerate
Romans who fight against their country in the ranks of the
barbarians!"

"Monarch, thou liest," answered Theodore, boldly. "I have never fought
against my country. My sword has never been drawn, my spear has never
been pointed against a Roman breast. I have saved the life of Attila;
I have saved the life of his son; but I have taken no part in his
wars, and defy thee to show that I have ever been guilty of one act
against my country. Little, too, would it become thee, oh emperor, to
reproach any one for betraying his native land. Hast thou not given
tribute to the barbarian? hast thou never sacrificed the innocent to
the fury of the Huns? hast thou never encouraged the hordes of Scythia
to invade the Roman territories. But I leave thee, oh monarch. My
sister is safe. Thy crimes are averted; and, as if clad in a panoply
of iron, my innocence defies thy power and scorns thy menaces. Come,
Eudochia, come. The litter and the slaves which brought thee hither as
the object of a base monarch's passion shall carry thee back as pure
as when thou camest."

Throwing his arm round her, but without sheathing the sword he carried
in his right hand, lest any opposition should be made to his retreat,
Theodore placed her in the litter; and, at a word to some of his
followers, the slaves of Valentinian who had borne her thither were
brought in, raised their fair burden from the ground, and obeyed at
once the young Roman in bearing her away homeward. The dark Huns who
had accompanied him surrounded them on every side; and Theodore
himself, after casting one more look of mingled scorn and indignation
upon the tyrant from whom he had just snatched his prey, followed his
sister from the palace without obstruction, and almost without notice,
so carefully had Valentinian removed from the precincts of those
apartments every one who might behold, or report, or interrupt the
commission of the crime he had meditated.

While his own slaves had been compelled to bear Eudochia away, the
weak monarch of the West had remained, with impotent fury burning in
his bosom, and eyes glaring angrily upon that which he could not
prevent. His features had worked, his hands had wrung each other, his
colour had varied under the influence of passion like the complexion
of a timid girl. He had more than once sought for the hilt of the
dagger, too, as if he would fain have struck it into the heart of the
bold youth who taunted him so scornfully. But fear had restrained his
violence; and, when Eudochia was gone, he remained for several minutes
motionless as a statue, gazing down upon the floor, without any
perceptible movement except a slight pressure of his hands together,
and the sterner knitting of his angry brow.

What were all the dark and the painful thoughts, the burning bitter
shame, the lowered but still fierce and venomous pride, that now raged
within, it matters not to inquire; suffice it, that so intense and
potent were they, that they seemed to absorb his whole soul and mind;
and there he remained, as we have said, for many minutes, without
speech or movement. At length, however, the imprisoned tempest burst
forth, and stamping violently upon the ground, he poured forth a
torrent of curses and imprecations upon himself, upon Theodore, upon
Eudochia, upon the whole world; and then, casting himself down upon
that flower-strewed couch, he raved and gnashed his teeth, in the
agony of anger, degradation, and disappointment. After a time,
starting up again, he leaned his brow for a moment or two upon his
hand, as if in thought, and then called loudly for his attendants.

"Ho, without there!" he exclaimed; "is nobody near? Is everybody fled?
Are ye all fools, or cowards, or traitors? Does nobody answer to the
voice of the emperor?"

As his voice ran along the passages of the building, with slow and
fearful steps a single eunuch crept out from some corner, in which he
had concealed himself; and stepping with evident terror over the body
of the fallen slave, who had been slain in attempting to prevent the
entrance of Theodore, he approached the door at which the monarch
stood, and cast himself at his feet.

"Pitiful, cowardly wretch!" exclaimed Valentinian, "why didst thou
abandon thy lord, to be insulted by that frantic boy; or, if thou
hadst not power to resist him and his barbarians, why didst thou not
fly, by the opposite passage, to the chief apartments, and call up the
chamberlain and his guards?"

"I had but time to hide myself in the bath, from which there is no
outlet," replied the eunuch. "My comrade was smitten to the ground in
a moment; and I should have shared the same fate, without serving
thee, oh great monarch! if I had not darted away where first I could
find refuge."

"Well, get thee gone quick," replied the emperor. "Call up hither,
instantly, the prefect of the palace, and also the chamberlain. Lose
not a moment."

The eunuch hastened to obey; and after having been absent some time,
which Valentinian passed sitting on the edge of the couch in deep and
angry thought, he returned with several inferior domestics, but
neither of the two high officers he had been sent to seek.

"Where is the prefect, where the chamberlain?" exclaimed Valentinian,
with his eyes flashing and his brows knit into a more bitter frown
than ever. "Do all my servants neglect and abandon me?"

"Both the prefect and the guardian of the secret chamber," replied the
slave, "as well as the count of the domestics, and all the other high
officers of the palace, are gone, by your own imperial order, to grace
the procession around the capitol."

Valentinian again stamped with rage; but, after a few moments'
consideration, he sent away the greater part of the attendants, and
calling to him one in whom he seemed to have more confidence than the
rest, he demanded, "Dost thou remember, Elius, whither we were told
that wild youth, Ammian Flavius, had gone this morning?"

"I know well, oh emperor," replied the domestic--"I know well; for the
men who lured him thither were sent by myself to get him out of the
way. The inhabitants of two of the villages at the foot of Pincianus
hold to-day, we hear, a secret sacrifice to Jupiter; and this wild
youth, whom anything that is strange or extravagant will mislead, was
easily induced to go out to behold it, notwithstanding the penalties
of death pronounced against all present."

"Hark!" said Valentinian; "as soon as the procession is over, send out
to Pincianus men enough to drown all these incorrigible pagans in
their own blood. Let them slay all they find. Jupiter shall have
victims enough; but on no account let them touch this Ammian. Take
especial care to save him. Let him be brought into the city guarded.
He shall be empaled alive! We will put down these sacrifices--but hark
thee again, there is more to be done! Get thee gone, eunuch. Thou art
a coward, and not fit to listen to the deeds of brave men. Elius, a
youth has been here and snatched the girl from my hands--her brother,
it would seem--that Theodore whom we have heard of. He has borne her
back to the Aventine. He has insulted me, the emperor. He has slain
one of the slaves, and he must die, Elius. But on account of this
Attila, it must be no public act. He must die, Elius! but it must be
by some chance accident, or in some casual strife. He must die, Elius,
he must die! Let not the sun rise upon him again: I leave it to thee,
my faithful servant--I leave it to thee to do justice upon the
traitor. There is a fair estate not far from Aricia. Thou knowest it
well--rich in wine, in oil, and corn--it is thine if this Theodore be
dead ere to-morrow morning. See to it!"

"I will find means," replied Elius, calmly.

Valentinian gazed in his face; and finding there a look of assurance
which had never failed him, he felt as satisfied as if the deed were
done, and with a slow step he sought the other part of the palace.



                              CHAPTER X.
                         THE PAGAN SACRIFICE.


There is even now--when the sweeping hand of ages has levelled with
the earth so many of the things which in the times we speak of were in
their splendour--there is even now at the foot of Pincianus a deep,
shady grove of tall trees, amid the stems of which the treacherous
sunshine of the Roman spring pours its mellow light with a peculiar
charm. This, however, is but a small vestige of the magnificent wood
that at one period covered the side of the hill, and swept over the
undulating country at its base, a wood consisting solely of high
upright trees, springing from a green and luxuriant turf, which their
own shadow kept cool and verdant. A bright stream, long since licked
up by the burning sun, then meandered round the foot of the hill full
of delicious water, brawling sportively with the stones which formed
its bed; and by the side thereof, every here and there an open space
appeared, as if left by the taste of some skilful planter, either for
wanderers through that enchanted scene to pause upon and gaze on the
cool wave, or for the gay and happy to meet in and prolong the hours
with feast and revelry.

At either end of the wood, nearly a mile apart from each other, the
one being situated half way up the slope, the other at its base, were
two villages, which, though not remote from Rome, had, from various
accidental circumstances, maintained in all ages much less
communication than might have been expected with the great city, and
which preserved with peculiar tenacity those old manners and customs
which the secluded and the rustic adhere to with such fond affection.
In vain had the customs of the city changed--the villagers of
Pincianus changed not with Rome. In vain had empire succeeded
republic, and effeminacy and luxury flowed in with demoralizing
power--the villagers retained their old simplicity, and, when they
carried their produce to the town, but shrugged their shoulders at the
strange and women-like men that they beheld. In vain even had the
emperors put down by severe laws the poetical religion of their
forefathers, and established a purer faith in its place--the villagers
still loved their old deities and served their old gods. Even more,
they resisted the words of truth when the ministers of truth visited
them in person; and driving forth from among them the preachers of the
Gospel, they returned to their old rites with persevering zeal.

Severe and more severe measures had been employed to put down
paganism. Temples had been changed into churches; altars had been
overthrown; the blood of the priest had been mingled with the blood of
the victim, and the lives of the worshippers had been taken in the
very act of sacrifice: but still the villagers adhered to their old
faith, and through nearly a hundred years of persecution and suffering
had retained, either openly or secretly, their reverence for the
things their fathers had revered before them.

A season of comparative tranquillity had succeeded; and though the
persecution of the idolaters had been cruel and virulent during the
first years of the reigns of Theodosius and Valentinian, yet for the
last lustre this rigour had been relaxed; and though still obliged to
conceal, as far as possible, the rites and ceremonies which they
practised, those who persevered in heathenism had suffered no very
severe inflictions.

It was in one of those open spots, by the side of the stream which we
have already described, that on a bright May day were assembled a
multitude of people, clothed in white garments, and met together,
apparently, for the purpose of offering sacrifice. The turf, out of
which no tree grew, covered a space of nearly a hundred yards in
diameter; but over a great part thereof hung the wide-spreading
branches of the large oaks around, giving shade to the sylvan
amphitheatre thus formed on the banks of the little river. The waters
flowed on clear and sparkling; the murmurs of a distant fall filled
the air with music; bright sunshine was pouring over all the scene and
dancing through the leaves upon the turf below; flowers crowned the
heads of all the assembly, and gemmed the verdant carpet on which they
trod. Everything was smiling and beautiful; and, if the mind could be
divested of the remembrance of the dark and sinful object for which
the idolaters met, the whole scene had in it something so graceful, so
poetical, so exciting, that one might well gaze with raised
enthusiasm, even if one took no part in the rite which was about to be
performed.

With such feelings stood Ammian Flavius, a little apart from the rest,
leaning against one of the trees, at a little distance from which two
servants held his horse. Four years had now passed since the period
which the reader first beheld him; and while Theodore had expanded
into a handsome and powerful man, Ammian, from the wild and beautiful
boy which we at first portrayed, had grown up into a tall, graceful,
manly youth. His fine features, his noble air, and his symmetrical
form, might well attract attention; and many were the eyes that turned
upon him among those who met to offer on that day a sacrifice to their
false deity. They gazed, however, without any mingling of
apprehension; for it was not uncommon for some of the wild youths of
the great city to steal out in secret to behold those rites to which
their concealment gave an additional charm.

The day had waned considerably, and the sun was approaching the west.
The flamen of Jupiter, as he called himself, though the office had
been long abolished, stood in his purple robe beside a small altar
raised in the midst, and strewed with flowers, and a number of gay
laughing boys led along, with sportive glee, a milk-white bull, its
neck wreathed with garlands, and its broad brow crowned with flowers.
Long nurtured for the purpose of the sacrifice, and rendered familiar
with the hands of men, which had never yet been raised against it with
violence, the noble beast, unconscious of its coming fate, walked
calmly in the midst, suffering itself to be led up to the altar with
an untightened rope. Beside the priest stood the cultrarius, leaning
on his axe, and all pressed near to behold the ceremony of immolation.

The invocation and the prayer had been pronounced; and the cultrarius,
turning to the priest, demanded in the accustomed form, "Shall I do
it?"

"Do it!" replied the priest, and swinging the axe above his head, the
stout peasant who performed that office laid the monarch of the herd,
at a single blow, dead at the foot of the altar. The priest was
hastening to apply the knife, when Ammian, hurrying forward,
exclaimed, "I hear coming horses, my friends, be upon your guard."

All looked up and listened, and some thought that they also heard the
sounds; but if it was so, those sounds ceased almost instantly, and
the ceremony proceeded, while Ammian, with his colour slightly raised
at the mistake he appeared to have made, retired again to the tree by
which he had formerly stood, and continued to gaze upon the
proceedings of the rest.

Before many minutes were over, however, a troop of Roman horsemen
appeared on the other side of the stream; dashed through its shallow
waters; and with their spears and swords carried slaughter and
confusion among the heathen worshippers. The priest was at once struck
down; but the cultrarius defended himself with his axe for some time,
and was at length slain by a javelin thrown from some distance.
Resistance was also made by several others, who had arms concealed
upon their persons; and if the whole body had taken the same
precaution, they might in all probability have resisted successfully
the force sent against them, which did not consist of more than fifty
or sixty men.

In the midst of the strife, five of the soldiers, leaving the others
to pursue their attack upon the heathen, cut straight across and
surrounded Ammian; who, seeing that no words were spoken, but death
inflicted indiscriminately upon every one, drew his sword, and
determined to sell his life dearly. He was overpowered, however,
before he could offer any effectual resistance, by one of the Romans
springing from behind the tree and clinging to his right arm. In
another moment he found himself tied with cords, and dragged away into
the midst of the confusion, where the soldiers were still, with
merciless activity, slaughtering the unhappy wretches whom they had
detected in celebrating the forbidden rites.

Without preserving any order themselves, the troopers pursued wherever
they saw a victim to strike; and the villagers, taking advantage of
the trees, in many instances kept their cruel persecutors at bay for
some time; while the shifting of the horses here and there; the
rushing of the crowd of victims, now driven into a body together, now
scattering wide to avoid their pursuers; the efforts of resistance;
the gestures of supplication; the shrieks of the women and children;
the groans of the dying, formed altogether a scene of agony and horror
such as the eyes of Ammian had never before beheld.

In the midst of it all, however, he suddenly perceived a horseman
clothed in the wild arms of the barbarians mingling with the Roman
soldiers. Another and another appeared as if by magic, urging their
swift horses through the trees on all sides. The Romans, accustomed
to see the barbarians in the emperor's service, seemed to look
upon all, except the villagers, as their friends, and took no
notice of those who appeared among them, till the number became
formidable--equalled--surpassed their own; and then he who appeared to
be the commander of the imperial troop suddenly drew up his horse and
gazed upon the strangers.

"The barbarian is striking a Roman," he exclaimed. "What is the
meaning of this? Fellow, art thou mad?"

The only answer which he received from the man to whom he shouted
forth those hurried questions was a javelin cast by an unerring hand,
which smote him between the eyes, and cast him lifeless beneath the
horse's feet.

All was now confusion tenfold confused. The well-armed barbarians,
hand to hand and man to man, drove back the Roman soldiers. The
villagers, mad with rage against their oppressors, and inspired with
hope by the unexpected aid they had received, became in turn the
assailants, and following the Huns among their retreating adversaries,
armed with the knives which they bore upon their own persons, or the
swords which they caught up from the dead or dying, cut the sinews of
the Roman horses, or gave the stroke of death to any one who fell
wounded from his charger.

For a short time the imperial troops resisted; but they were soon
driven across the stream into the open country. Ammian, whom they had
placed on his horse, was led along with them, his arms tied as they
were behind him, and unable to resist. But at length the rout of the
Romans became complete, and they fled precipitately towards the city;
while a small body of the Huns, urging their horses into double speed,
dashed with a furious charge into the midst of the fugitives; reached
the point where Ammian was borne along, slew the man who led his
horse, and, seizing his bridle-rein, hurried him away in the opposite
direction, leaving the Romans to pursue their flight without further
interruption.

So rapidly did the barbarians urge their horses on, that Ammian had
neither time nor breath to ask any questions. Only once they paused,
as, pursuing their course at full speed, they took their way towards
the ancient Umbria; and that was when they perceived that the adverse
force, recovered from its terror, had detached a small body to watch
their motions. Then, wheeling so suddenly upon it that retreat was
impossible, they left not one of its number to bear back the tidings
which it had been sent to obtain. Soon after, the sun set, and with a
short twilight night came on. The star of evening, however, shone fair
over the whole world, and light sufficient lingered in the skies to
show a small lake spreading out across their path. At the spot where
the road, taking a direction on either side of the lake, divided into
two, stood a barbarian dressed and armed like the rest, and apparently
waiting for them. A few eager and quick words were spoken in a tongue
which Ammian did not understand; but he guessed, by seeing the man
point down to one side of the lake with his spear, and by various
other gesticulations used on both sides, that he was directing the
Huns to some body of their comrades; and he ventured to ask whither
they were about to carry him.

"Fear not," answered the man who led his horse, in very good Latin,
while another took advantage of the pause to cut the cords that bound
his hands--"fear not, you are with friends, and you are saved from
death: we bear you to a place of safety, where you will hear more."

Thus saying, he took the road to which the other man had pointed, and
galloped on at the same quick pace as before. The moon was now rising
over the neighbouring hills; and at the distance of about a mile they
came to a number of tents, pitched in a meadow by the bank of the
lake. Several large flat boats were gathered together along the shore,
and eight or nine armed men were watching on the verge of the lake;
while round two or three fires, lighted at a short distance from the
tents, were seen a multitude of barbarians revelling as usual over
their evening meal.

The sound of the coming horses had no effect upon the Huns; but seemed
to call the attention of the persons, whosoever they were, within the
tents; for the hangings of two of them were pushed back as Ammian and
his conductors approached, and several people in the garb of Romans
came forth. By the moonlight the youth could not distinguish their
features, but there was more than one woman of the party; and as he
sprang from his horse with feelings of joy mingled with doubt, he was
clasped to the bosom of his mother, Flavia, and then pressed in the
arms of Theodore. Eudochia, Ildica, too, were there; and in a few
brief words he related to them all that had happened to him. At
length, shading his eyes from the light, he was led into the tent, and
found the whole of Flavia's household assembled as it had left
Dalmatia, with the exception of those whom the stern monarch of the
grave had taken as his allotted tribute during four years of
wandering.

"What is all this? how is all this?" exclaimed the youth, gazing
round: "are we about once more to try our fortunes on the wide world?"

"Even so, Ammian," answered Theodore: "circumstances compel us to it,
even when we fancied we were united once more, to dwell in peace
together for the rest of our days."

"Well, I care not," cried Ammian: "one land is the same to me as
another; and wherever liberty is, we may find or found a Rome for
ourselves. But hearken, Theodore! Listen to me, my dear brother! In
all our past wanderings some one of us has been separated from those
who were as dear to his heart as a part of itself. There wants some
magic link between us to bind us all together; so that, wherever we
go, we may, as slaves to our affections, be chained inseparably to one
another. I have a bond to propose, Theodore, which, though it be
formed of flowers, will yet prove as strong as adamant. You are to be
united to my sister by the dearest ties; why should I not be united to
yours by the same. Thus shall we become all, indeed, one family. What
say you, my beloved Eudochia? But you have said already, dear one," he
added, casting his arms round her, "and it is needless to ask you.
Theodore, Eudochia is mine--my promised bride! What say you, my
brother?"

"Nothing in opposition, Ammian," answered Theodore, with a smile;
"nothing, but that you are very young, and somewhat wild, my brother!"

"Out upon such buts!" cried Ammian, laughing. "I am young; but people
would laugh at me more if I married when I was old. Youth is the time
of love, and Cupid should surely be the only god that leads us to his
brother. As to my wildness, I own it has been so; but it is past.
To-day, for the first time, I felt it, and regretted it, and
whatsoever I regret the possession of, I cast away, from that minute.
When the imperial soldiers burst upon my poor friends with their white
bull, and seized upon me myself, slaying all around me, I thought of
Eudochia, Theodore; I felt I had done wrong; I regretted my wild
thoughtlessness; and resolved, if Heaven spared me, never more so to
offend again. I thought of Eudochia, Theodore; that thought cured me
of my wildness, and will be my safeguard against the same disease
again."

"Well may it be so, my son," replied Flavia; "and when you know all
that has befallen to this dear girl since you left us this morning,
you will still more deeply feel the evil of such heedlessness; you
will guard your bosom still more strongly against its recurrence."

"What has happened?" cried Ammian, his lustrous eyes flashing with
eagerness--"what has happened?--Valentinian? Ah, I know it all! I saw
him gaze, and sigh, and pass us ten times on the course the other day.
What has happened, my mother? Tell me! tell me!"

"I will," answered Flavia; but Eudochia clung to her, exclaiming, "Not
now! not now, my mother! Oh, not now! Oh, then I will go away!" and
hiding her blushing face upon Ildica's bosom, she hurried away with
her into another tent.

All was then told to Ammian of Eudochia's danger and her rescue, and
deep and sad seemed to grow his feelings as he listened. "Fool that I
was to leave her! Fool that I was to suffer myself to be seduced to
behold that idiot sacrifice! for seduced thereunto I was, doubtless,
by the agents of that imperial villain. Why did you not slay him,
Theodore? I would have slain him where he stood."

"And so would I," replied Theodore, "if he had committed the crime he
intended. He should have died that moment had my own death followed
the next; but Eudochia was saved; and I had still hopes of being able
to remain in Rome. When I returned to the Aventine, however, I heard
enough to make me resolve on flying. I found, too, that the Huns who
had accompanied me from Dacia bore the commands of Attila to all their
fellow-countrymen in the service of Valentinian to return instantly to
their native land. I had nearly a hundred with me, several thousands
more are at Rome and Ravenna; and I found that I could retreat from
the wrath of the tyrant without his power being sufficient to prevent
me. As we came hither, we saw a small body of horse go out from the
gates towards Pincianus, where we had heard you were; and, fearing
some danger, instead of merely sending a messenger to bid you join us,
I sent a sufficient body of my followers to defend you in case of
need. Their leader, who has been faithful to me for four long years,
pledged his own life to bring you to me in safety; and here at length
you are, though I hear with pain that Roman blood has been shed.
Doubtless we shall be pursued; but every hour fresh parties of the
Huns are coming hither to accompany us, and ere to-morrow morning we
shall be too strong for Valentinian to effect aught against us.
However, Heaven forbid that the time should come when I may have to
draw the sword against my fellow-countrymen even in my own defence;
and to avoid it, we will cross the lake an hour before daylight
to-morrow morning, then on through the mountains to rejoin Attila, who
has ever befriended me, and will, I doubt not, befriend me still."



                              CHAPTER XI.
                       THE UNEXPECTED MEETING.


In a mountain pass a little to the westward of the spot where now
stands the small town of Bassano, among the first shoots of the
Rh[ae]tian Alps, travelled onward the family of wanderers, whose
various course we have traced from the beginning of this tale, as,
compelled by circumstances, and dogged by misfortune, they were driven
from land to land.

They were no longer, however, alone and undefended amid all the strife
and danger of those perilous times: for the small body of Huns which
had guarded Theodore in his journey to the imperial city had formed a
nucleus, round which the Hunnish auxiliaries in the neighbourhood of
Rome had gathered, as he retrod his steps towards Pannonia; and a
little army of barbarians now accompanied him on the way. Those who
had been attached to him from his first arrival in the Hunnish
territory had not failed to magnify his deeds and reputation to every
detached troop who joined them. The favour in which he stood with
Attila was told and commented on; and his power and influence, as well
as his courage, skill, and conduct, were so highly represented, that
each party tacitly submitted to his authority; and in all great
things, such as the direction and general regulation of their march,
suffered the young Roman to retain the command of the whole force, as
well as of his own particular followers.

He was thus enabled to save the country through which he passed from
pillage; and though two or three times reports reached him of bodies
of the imperial troops following his path, and even rumours of
[AE]tius having returned, and being on his march across the fertile
plains of Lombardy with a powerful army met his ear, he was happily
enabled to reach the foot of the Alps without having recourse to one
act of violence against any Roman citizen whatsoever.

The spot where they now halted for the day was by the banks of one of
those small lakes, whereof so many fertilize and beautify the lower
passes of the Alps. On every side around rose up the mighty mountains;
and over their wooded sides the clear masses of light and shade flew
swift as the soft large clouds were borne by the quick wind through
the lustrous summer's sky. It was evening time; and in all the
thickets round about the nightingales--sweet untaught choristers, in
whose tuneful art no time nor cultivation can improve a tone or
sweeten a single note--were chanting their thrilling anthem to the God
of nature. In the clear mirror of the lake, deep down appeared the
inverted mountains, with the softened sky beyond, and every quick
change of light and shade.

It was a lovely scene; and though the hearts of Theodore and Ildica
had now become sadly learned in the lessons of frequent
disappointment, yet that spot recalled their sweet refuge on the other
side of those dark Alps, where, amid the friendly Alans, they had
enjoyed some brief, but never to be forgotten, hours of unalloyed
delight. It recalled that place of refuge, and the hopes which they
there had felt; and though those hopes had again been disappointed,
they blossomed anew, different, yet the same; changed a little in form
and arrangement, but not less beautiful, not less sweet--flowers of
another spring, but of the same kind, from the same stem, from the
same earth.

They had pitched their tents in a situation which recalled their
former resting-place the more strongly, as it was upon a projecting
point a short way up the hill. Below them lay the encampment of their
Hunnish followers, and around them the domestic servants of their
house; and as they sat there, and wisely encouraged once more the
happy feelings that were willing to return, Theodore urged that, as
they were now once more in safety, Ildica might give him her hand,
whenever they could meet with a minister of religion to sanctify their
union. Ildica said not one word against it; and as, with a slight
blush and downcast eye she gave no unwilling consent, Theodore thought
her far more lovely than ever, although a shade of melancholy,
gathered from frequent disappointment, anxiety, and grief, hung over
her as if it had been a veil, seldom, if ever, raised entirely, even
in her happiest moments. That shade of melancholy also was somewhat
darker now, inasmuch as her fair and beloved mother had shown signs of
failing strength under the long and weary journey which they had just
been compelled to take. Theodore hoped that the day's repose which
they were now enjoying in that calm scene might sufficiently restore
Flavia to proceed with comfort; but Ildica clearly saw that her mother
could bear no great fatigue; and from some casual words which had
fallen from her parent's lips, she had gathered that it was her
intention, as soon as the double union of her children with those of
Paulinus had taken place, to retire for ever from the busy world, and
pass her remaining days in one of those places of seclusion which were
at that time to be found in almost every part of the world. Ildica
could not contemplate such a separation without pain; and though she
shrunk not from her union with one whom she loved so deeply and
intensely, yet she feared the parting with her mother, whom she had
loved so long, and who loved her so tenderly.

Upon the brow of the promontory, Theodore and Ildica sat and gazed,
and thought over the future, with sweet hopes and dark apprehensions
crossing the expanse of thought, like the sunshine and the shade that
flitted across the mountains before their eyes; and ever and anon they
spoke over many things, with that unreserved confidence which is one
of the sweetest drops in the ambrosial cup of love. Since they had
last met, the tone of Ildica's mind had undergone some alteration. It
had become deeper, more intense, more enthusiastic. In everything that
engaged her--though there might be fewer things that did so--she took
a profounder interest; and, whether it was her love for Theodore, her
devotion to the bright faith in which she had been reared, her love
for her mother, or any other thing in which her heart was concerned,
there was a depth, a strength, an energetic eagerness in her whole
feelings which raised and ennobled her still more than ever in the
eyes of her lover.

They sat and gazed. Wide spread over the valley below, and up the
sides of the hill, even higher than themselves, might be seen various
parties of the Huns, seeking forage for their horses, or food for
themselves; and as the eye of Theodore was turned towards the entrance
of the valley, where mountain falling over mountain seemed to close up
the pass, he thought he saw a considerable degree of bustle and
movement in a body of about thirty or forty of the barbarians, whom he
had marked winding down in that direction by the banks of a small
stream that entered the lake hard by. It subsided in a few minutes,
however, and he took no further notice, pursuing his conversation with
Ildica, and looking on well pleased, while the Huns, in a spot void of
other inhabitants, engaged themselves in a thousand peaceful
occupations, as if they never sought for strife or dipped their hands
in blood.

Half an hour more had elapsed, or perhaps scarcely so much, and
Theodore and Ildica were deep in the business of their own hearts,
when suddenly a step sounded among the tents behind them,
which--wherefore he knew not--made Theodore start and turn round.

What was his astonishment when, not a spear's length from him, he
beheld Attila himself,[4] who, advancing with a slow step, looked
upon the young Roman with a smile as distinct as ever crossed
his stern, fixed countenance. The next moment, however, the
glance of the barbarian monarch turned upon Ildica; and the light of
suddenly-excited admiration shone forth from his eyes. It was but
momentary, however, and, addressing himself kindly to Theodore, he
said, "So, my son, thou hast left the bright court of Valentinian to
come back to the barbarian. Thou art welcome; for I may chance to have
much need of thee; and thou shalt find, as thou hast found, higher
honours and a kinder monarch in the land of the stranger than in thine
own."


---------------

[Footnote 4: The march of the armies of Attila in all his expeditions
is very doubtfully displayed by ancient historians; but that in his
advance into Italy he took and sacked the city of Augusta
Vindelicorum, or Augsburg, is clear, previous to the capture of
Aquileia, and therefore that he must have traversed some part of the
Julian or Rh[ae]tian Alps is equally certain. Any one who casts his
eye upon the map will see that his direct way into Italy, from
Vindelicia, was by the passes of the Tyrol; and any one who is
acquainted with the nature of the country will, if he take into
consideration that the army of Attila consisted entirely of cavalry,
conclude that the Brenner was the pass by which he conducted his
myriads towards the plains of Lombardy.]

---------------


Thus saying, he sat himself familiarly down upon the bank between
Theodore and Ildica. She, however, rose, and was about to retire into
the tent; but he stopped her, gently saying, "Do not depart! Fear me
not, fair one; I will not injure thee. Who is this, my son?" he
continued, addressing Theodore--"is this thy sister?"

"Not so, oh king!" answered Theodore, who had always found it best to
speak to Attila the straightforward truth, without the slightest
disguise or concealment. "Not so: she is my promised bride, and in a
few days will be my wife."

"'Tis well!" said Attila; "'tis well! She is beautiful, and doubtless
good. I will witness thy nuptials, and give thee the bridal present;
for I hear, from those whom I met but now at the end of the valley,
that thou needest a protector, and one shalt thou find in Attila."

Ildica still stood lingering, as if anxious to retire; and the monarch
of the Huns perceiving her embarrassment, added suddenly, "Well, hie
thee in, then, fair one; thou fearest the barbarian king; but Attila
can be gentle to those he loves. I will pass this day with thee, my
son; and this timid girl shall see that he whom she has been taught to
look upon as a cruel tyrant, can sit him down as peacefully to a calm
and humble board as the most polished and effeminate Roman of them all
can cast himself on his couch to gorge upon a thousand dishes. Hie
thee in, fair one; I will speak with thy lover alone."

Ildica obeyed; and after she was gone Attila remained for several
moments in a deep fit of thought. Then, raising his head, he turned to
some of his attendants who stood near, saying, "Get ye gone, and bring
up hither the roe deer that the men took in the forest as we came
along, with what fish ye can find in the stream. Here will I take my
evening meal. Get ye gone, all of you."

The attendants departed as they were bid; and Attila again fell into a
deep fit of thought, after which he turned to Theodore, and said,
abruptly, "I am glad thou hast come back. This Valentinian, this
woman-emperor, is insolent, and must be punished; and I am well
pleased that thou dwellest not among those who will soon feel the
sword of Attila. Knowest thou what has happened in the East?"

"I heard as I went to Rome," said Theodore, "that the base murderer of
my father, Theodosius, is no more; but I have heard no further
tidings, and only guess that the empire has fallen to his sister,
Pulcheria."

"And that Pulcheria has taken unto herself a husband," added Attila,
"on whom she has conferred the rule of the land. We hear that he is a
brave man and a wise man. If he be wise he will pay our tribute, or he
will have to do with a braver than himself."

"Doubtless he will pay it," replied Theodore, with a sigh. "Hast thou
sent to demand it, oh mighty king?"

"I have," answered Attila. "For if it be not paid after conquering
Rome, I march to Constantinople. But doubtless he will pay it."

"Is this new monarch's name known?" demanded Theodore: "I know most of
those who were in favour at the court of the East; but I know none on
whom Pulcheria was likely to shower such gifts."

"His rise has been sudden," answered Attila. "He had gained some
renown as a soldier, and was a military tribune; but enjoyed no great
favour with the empty Theodosius: his name is Marcian."

"Marcian!" exclaimed Theodore, with joy sparkling from his eyes: "he
was the dearest friend of my dead father, and since my father's death
has been equally the dear and considerate friend of his friend's
children. He is, indeed, great as a warrior--noble and wise as a man."

Attila's brow grew dark, as if he loved not to hear such praises of
the Eastern emperor.

"Think you," he demanded, harshly, "that he will pay the tribute?
Think you that he will yield obedience to our commands?"

"I think," replied Theodore, firmly, "that he will yield to no demand
urged in a haughty tone. Were the greatest monarch on all the earth, I
would rather have Marcian for my friend than for my enemy."

"Ha!" cried Attila: "he had better set his naked foot upon an asp than
cross my path of victory. Ha! what sayest thou? will he dare to raise
himself up against Attila?"

"Perchance not, oh great king," replied Theodore, "perchance not; but
it will depend upon Attila's demeanour towards him. Marcian is no
Theodosius. Bred in arms from his youth upward, his birthplace was the
battle-field; the camp his cradle; war and strife the sport of his
youth; command the employment of his manhood. He is no silken reposer
on soft couches, but a hardy soldier, for whom the palace will
scarcely afford a pillow hard enough to prop his head. If Attila
entreat him fairly, Marcian is one to reverence and to love the high
qualities of that mighty monarch, and to grant him the friendship that
one great man is fond to feel towards another; but if Attila declares
himself the enemy, and seeks to become the master of the emperor,
Marcian will draw the sword, and it will never be sheathed till one or
the other lie in the cold grave. Oh Attila, you have never yet met
with Marcian. Better, oh king, better far to have him for your friend
than for your enemy!"

Attila rolled his dark eyes fiercely as Theodore spoke; but for some
minutes he answered not, and then, gradually resuming his stern
calmness, he said, "We shall see! We shall see! I seek not to wrong
him--but we shall see! So this Macian was your father's friend; and
you know and love him yourself?"

"I do, oh Attila!" answered Theodore, "and I have cause. After my
father's death, Marcian sought out, protected, befriended me; enabled
me and mine to pursue our flight in safety, and risked even the
emperor's wrath in order to favour our escape. I love him dearly, and
he, for my father's sake, loves me. He is one of those men who, like
thyself, oh king, are hard and firm as some fine gem, which nothing
but a gem will cut; but upon which, the lines once engraved no power
will afterward remove; and there they last, as clear and definite
under the wearing power of time as if nothing but a soft stream passed
over them. My father's love will never be forgot."

"The tribune might remember," said Attila, "what the emperor may
forget."

"Not so, oh king!" answered Theodore: "Marcian changes not. The same
was he as a common soldier in the Roman ranks, as when a tribune,
possessed of vast power. When in the lowest military station in the
state, his conduct, his manners, his mind, showed him worthy of the
highest; and when midway to power and dignity, unlike the changeful
herd of ordinary men, authority sat as lightly on him as obedience.
What he was as a soldier he was as a tribune, and will be as an
emperor. Though not born in that high station, he was born for it; and
not only his virtues and his talents, but many another more marvellous
indication showed that one day God would place in his hand the
destinies of the Roman people."

"Indeed!" cried Attila, fixing his eye upon the young Roman with a
greater expression of surprise than he ever manifested on any ordinary
occasion. "Indeed! What were these portents?"

"They have been many, as I have heard," replied Theodore. "Escapes
from danger almost miraculous; and twice, when sleeping in the open
field, an eagle has been seen to hover over his head, and shade him
from the scorching sun. These I report but on hearsay. Once, however,
I can speak myself to an event of the same kind. After a great
earthquake, some four years ago, he was coming from Salona to
Aspalathos, and was met by us upon the road. He pitched his tent
where we encountered him; and while we were still with him, an eagle,
which had followed his troop all day, came down and rested on the
tent-pole."

Attila started up and seemed troubled. "This is very strange," he
said: "you were present yourself?"

"I was," answered Theodore. "There is no more doubt of it than that I
stand here."

"An eagle!" exclaimed the monarch: "so wild and fierce a bird to
alight and rest amid a troop of men!"

"It is strange, indeed, oh king!" said Theodore, "most strange, but no
less true; and its very strangeness made all men but himself believe
that it was an indication of some future greatness."

Attila replied not, but remained several minutes with his eyes bent
upon the ground; and then, starting somewhat abruptly, he exclaimed,
"Let us into thy tents, my son; I will eat with thee and drink with
thee this night; and then leave thee till to-morrow, when thou shalt
go back with me to Tridentum. There my own ambassadors and those of
Marcian come to seek me; and as I will not ask thee to bear arms
against thy country, instead of taking thee with me to sweep away
Valentinian and tread upon Rome, I will send thee to this noble
monarch of the East. Thou mayst do more with him, perchance, than a
mere stranger."

The heart of Theodore beat high, for he saw before him a prospect of
better things and happier days. The hope of a journey to
Constantinople, where he might place Ildica, and all who were dear to
him, under the generous protection of Marcian, was in no slight degree
joyful, and he at length beheld, or imagined that he beheld, a certain
and permanent refuge for the future, and a happy termination to all
his wanderings. Gladly, then, did he express his willingness to accept
the office which Attila proposed to confer upon him; and though there
was something dark, and even gloomy, in the countenance of the king as
he followed the young Roman into his tent, yet the eyes of Theodore
were lighted up with joy and satisfaction, which spread itself to all
around.

He found no opportunity of relating what had happened, or of
explaining the hopes and prospects which had cheered his breast, yet
Ildica saw sufficient in the glad smile of Theodore's lip to feel sure
that some new source of joy had been opened out for them all. At
heart, indeed, she was anxious for her mother, who, ill at ease, and
reposing in another tent, entered not that in which the king partook
of the evening meal with her children; but still the demeanour of the
monarch himself, and the satisfaction which he saw upon the
countenance of Theodore, banished the darker apprehensions which had
mingled with her former hopes.

The dark monarch of the Huns, retaining all his simple habits,
drinking from the cup of horn, and served on no richer materials than
wood, unbent in the tent of the young Roman, as far as his own stern
nature would suffer him to do, from the rigid gravity of his usual
demeanour. He spoke kindly and gently to Theodore and the rest, whom
he made sit around him, and from time to time his lip almost relaxed
into a smile at the wild, light spirit of Ammian, which would have
way, notwithstanding the overawing presence of that mighty and
terrible man. On Eudochia he gazed as on a beautiful child; and though
he but seldom turned his eyes towards Ildica, yet when he did so there
was in them an expression which showed that her exquisite beauty,
however graceful and refined, was appreciated by the barbarian monarch
as much as it could have been by the most delicate sculptor of ancient
Greece. Theodore, however, felt no alarm; and as soon as Attila had
mounted his horse and departed for his own camp, which was at the
distance of but a few miles, the young Roman hastened to communicate
to Ildica and her mother his hopes and wishes. He told them the
prospect of his being sent on a mission to Marcian; and he besought
her he loved to give him her hand, and to go with him as his bride to
the city of Constantine. Flavia's countenance lighted up with joy at
the thought, and Ildica said not nay. Again the time of their union
was named, with but an intervening day, and Theodore lay down to rest
with as much happiness as hope can pour into the human breast.



                             CHAPTER XII.
                      THE PURPOSE OF INJUSTICE.


It was in a vast hall in the ancient city of Tridentum, hanging over
the Adige, where, rushing through the mighty rocks of the Rh[ae]tian
Alps, that river pours on to fertilize the plains of Lombardy, that
Attila stood alone, on the evening of the day following his meeting
with Theodore. He had sent on messengers to demand the peaceful
surrender of the city; and he had promised, in simple but direct
terms, that if no resistance were shown, no violence should be
offered. The citizens, without any means of defence, gladly embraced
the chance of safety; and Attila, entering with a few thousand men,
occupied the public places and buildings; while the innumerable army
that followed him lay encamped upon the mighty hills that sweep up
round about the town, and the trembling inhabitants, shut up in their
houses, waited in terrified expectation, hoping that the monarch's
promise might be kept, but fearing lest it should be broken.

Attila stood alone; and little could he have brooked that any eye
should behold the unwonted emotions that then shook his firm unbending
nature. To all his host it had become evident, indeed, that since his
encounter with [AE]tius a great change had come upon him; that his
mind had lost a portion of its mighty calmness; that his strong
passions had been gradually triumphing over the powerful intellect
which had alone sufficed to rule them. But none had ever beheld him
moved as he now was moved; and Attila himself, finding that he was
shaken by the tempest within his breast as he had never before
suffered himself to be, grew fierce at his own weakness, and added to
his own emotions, by his very anger at not being able to suppress
them; and yet those emotions were not displayed like the passions of
ordinary men.

He stood in that hall alone, and remained for many minutes with his
eyes bent sternly on the ground, while over his harsh features passed
a thousand shades of varying expression. But his form at first seemed
calm; and the only movement perceptible through his whole frame was
the clasping and the unclasping of his left hand upon the hilt of his
massy sword. At length, however, he broke from that quiescent
attitude, and strode quickly up and down the hall, then paused again,
and once more gazed upon the marble pavement, enriched by the
beautiful art of ancient Rome with a thousand flowers and fruits
smiling up out of the cold stone.

But the eye of Attila saw not the rich mosaic over which it wandered;
and, after another deep, long pause, he exclaimed, "Why should I not?
Is he not my slave, my prisoner? Is not his life and all he has mine
own? That which I left to him upon sufferance, can I not resume when I
will? By all the gods I will do it! He has had favours enough at my
hands already. He may well sacrifice something to gratify Attila!" And
again he fell into a fit of musing, which was at length broken by the
door of the hall being slowly opened, and Onegisus, one of his most
attached chieftains, entering with a cautious and apprehensive step.

"So," said Attila, speaking to himself--"so--so I will do it. I would
not see his grief, nor hear his complaints--Ha! Onegisus! What seekest
thou?"

"Pardon me, mighty king!" replied the chieftain; "I come from thy son
Ellac. He finds not food enough for his troops upon the mountain, and
he would fain force these dronish citizens to give up the stores they
have concealed from us in their houses."

"Thou meanest he would fain plunder the city," replied Attila,
sternly. "But it must not be: Attila has pledged his word. Tell him to
seek for food in the valleys, or, if his troops be women, who cannot
bear an evening's hunger, let him lead them down into the plains
beyond. There shall he find food enough! Yet stay, Onegisus, I would
speak with thee on another matter. Ellac was busy at mine ear to-day
with the beauty of this maiden, this Roman girl, who, some people say,
is to be the bride of Theodore. Thinkest thou," he continued, putting
on a tone of indifference--"thinkest thou that Ellac covets her for
himself? That cannot be, you know, unless she herself be willing; for
I have promised protection both to him and her."

"Not so, oh mighty king!" replied Onegisus, casting down his eyes,
and, to speak but truth, appearing pained and embarrassed--"not so:
Ellac has but lately taken unto himself a bride, as thou well knowest,
and he seeks no other. He did but think that this maiden was too
beautiful to be cast away upon a stranger. Perhaps he fancied that she
were fair enough even to attract the love of such a king as Attila
himself."

"Vain talk!" cried Attila, sharply. "She is very beautiful, it is
true--as fair, perhaps, as the eye of man has ever seen--but Attila
has other thoughts before him. Conquest! Victory! Onegisus, they shall
be the brides of Attila. Bear Ellac my message, and tell Ardaric I
would take counsel with him."

Onegisus retired without reply, and Attila remained waiting the coming
of Ardaric; but the monarch had, with the words he had spoken, resumed
his habitual self-command: the sound of his own voice had recalled him
to himself; and no trace of the varying passions which had lately
agitated him could now be seen upon his countenance.

But, alas! Attila was not what Attila had been. The firm immoveable
nature which he now assumed had then been really his own. He had
formerly been what he now appeared. A change, a sad change had come
over him since he had fought without conquering. He felt fallen from
that height of irresistible power which he had once possessed: he felt
irritated at its loss; angry with himself for the very irritation that
he felt; and obliged to have recourse to duplicity to conceal the
change from himself and others. For that duplicity again he contemned
himself, and gave way to many a wilder passion, which had formerly
been controlled, in order to relieve his thoughts from irksome
contemplation. He conquered almost all external appearances, however;
the victory of his internal enemy was within. With him it was like a
sudden strife in a banquet hall, where contention raged fiercely in
scenes that had once been calm, and where few signs betrayed to those
without that fury and wrath struggled within those halls, from the
windows of which the lights beamed calmly, except when a passing
shadow, flitting rapidly across, told of some violent movement, the
nature of which could hardly be divined.

Thus seating himself in an ivory chair that stood at the farther side
of the hall, he waited for his friend and counsellor with a calm
countenance, playing with the hilt of his sword, and apparently
listening to the murmurs of the river as it flowed by the building,
and gazing upon the changeful light and shade as it danced upon the
blue masses of the opposite mountains.

Ardaric, however, was not long ere he appeared; but it was evident
that there was some degree of embarrassment upon his countenance.

"Hast thou seen this new ambassador, my friend?" demanded Attila as
soon as he approached. "Hast thou seen this Apollonius?"

"I have, oh king!" replied Ardaric; but there he paused, and spoke no
further.

"What said he then?" exclaimed the monarch of the Huns, impatiently.
"Why art thou such a niggard of thy words, my friend? What answer
gives the puppet on the Eastern throne unto our just demand? What says
he to our contract with Theodosius? Has he sent the tribute therein
promised?"

"No tribute has he sent, oh Attila!" replied the King of the
Gepid[ae], looking suddenly up, as if forced at length to tell
unpleasant tidings, and resolved to tell them plainly. "No tribute has
he sent, oh Attila! and touching the contract he replies, that it was
only between Attila and a monarch that is dead; and that Marcian is
not Theodosius. Further, he declares that he will have no talk of
tribute; and he bids your own ambassador say, that Marcian has gold
for his friends, but steel for his enemies."

Attila had remained with his left hand resting on his sword; but as he
heard the bold reply of Marcian to his demands upon the Eastern
empire, the long sinewy fingers clasped upon the hilt; and though he
uttered not a word, he drew the blade half out of its sheath in the
agony of suppressed rage, while his white teeth might be seen shut
close together, as if to imprison in his own breast the angry thoughts
that struggled vehemently to burst forth. In the meanwhile Ardaric,
who had now told the worst, and whose purpose was to sooth rather than
to irritate the Hunnish sovereign, hastened to add what he thought
might, in some degree, mitigate his wrath. "Nevertheless so, Attila,"
he said, "though this man's words and actions are bold indeed, yet he
is not without that reverence for the fame and might of Attila which
all inferior kings must feel; and this ambassador, this Apollonius, is
loaded with presents far more costly and splendid than ever were wrung
from the weakness of Theodosius."

Attila sprang up from his seat, and grasping firmly the arm of
Ardaric, he gazed sternly in his face, exclaiming, "Seek not to sooth
me, Ardaric, seek not to restrain my wrath! It is vain! It is
unnecessary! The conduct of Attila shall not be governed by rage!
Indignation shall have no share therein! Policy shall rule all: my
conduct is determined; has been long determined, Ardaric; and thou
shalt see that, provoked even to the utmost, Attila can play the lamb
till the time be come for him to play the lion! Slaves, ho!" he
continued, raising his voice; and instantly a number of attendants
rushed into the room, among the first of whom was Zercon, the black
jester of his dead brother Bleda.

There was something in the sight that seemed to irritate the king,
and, fixing his flashing eyes upon the hump-backed Moor, he cried,
"Who bid thee hither? What dost thou, listening to the king's private
counsel? Take him away; take the foul, impotent lump away, and strike
the eavesdropping ears from off his head! Away with him! Answer not,
but let it be done! Thou!" he continued, to one of the attendants who
had followed--"thou! Get thee to this ambassador from the East. Tell
him that Attila has not time to give attention to such trifling things
as the tribute due from Marcian; but, that as soon as he has a moment
for lighter affairs and things of no importance, he will see him. In
the meantime, let him deliver the presents that he bears unto my
officers. Hence! Do my bidding quickly!"

The attendants withdrew without a second warning; and Attila resumed
his conversation with Ardaric, who felt not a little relieved to find
that the mighty king to whom he had attached himself could still so
far govern his rage as to consult the dictates of good policy rather
than those impulses of passion to which he had but too frequently
given way since his encounter with [AE]tius.

"I have thought over all this, my friend," said Attila, calmly, "since
a conversation which I held yesterday with the young Roman, Theodore."

Ardaric marvelled somewhat at the cold epithet which Attila bestowed
upon Theodore, whom, during the two or three last years, he had been
accustomed to call, not the young Roman, but "my son," or "my adopted
son." Nevertheless he was well pleased that the conversation of
Theodore had produced such an effect, and he replied, "Thy conduct, oh
Attila! shows that you have considered well, and, as ever, have
determined wisely."

"I think I have, my friend," replied Attila; "for if I had not,
indignation would have trampled upon reason, and I should have been
tempted to abandon that in which I am engaged, to tread upon the neck
of the dog that thus snarls at my heels. But, as I have told thee,
ever since that conversation I have thought over this. The youth, it
seems, has known this Marcian for many a year, and tells me that he
is, as he shows himself, bold, cautious, and vigilant. Now, though
Valentinian and Marcian separately are but as scorpions, on which
Attila would set his sandal's sole without a fear, yet the bite of the
two might be dangerous, or at least painful. As it is, [AE]tius,
possessed of Gaul, and planning to raise himself up there a separate
kingdom, looks on not unwillingly while I crush the petty sovereign
whom he has long despised and ruled. But if Marcian, joined to
Valentinian, were to give the Western emperor a chance of resisting
Attila with success, [AE]tius would be obliged to unite his forces to
theirs, lest, at an after period, they should march together to punish
the rebellious or negligent subject, who left them to struggle
unassisted against the mighty power of the Huns."

"Wisely and well hast thou considered all things, oh Attila! I, less
politic, had only thought of the union of Marcian with Valentinian as
dangerous to us. But if the power of the East and the West were
swelled by all the forces of Gaul, armies might be collected which,
perchance, we should find to be overwhelming. How, then, oh Attila, do
you purpose to deal with Marcian."

"As a skilful fowler, Ardaric, when he approaches his half-sleeping
game, coming nearer and nearer while he pretends to be looking and
going another way. We will treat his ambassador as if angry, but not
enraged past all endurance. We will send him back with messages
regarding the tribute, which will seem as if we were more covetous of
gold than of honour, and would, perhaps, take a part, if we could not
obtain the whole. Thus shall he lull himself with embassies; while we,
marching on, sweep Valentinian from the earth, lay Rome in ashes, and
scatter the dusty fragments of her once mighty power unto all the
quarters of the earth over which her empire in other days extended.
Still, as we advance and conquer, as if wholly absorbed in the great
undertaking before us, we will make greater and greater concessions to
this Marcian, and he, if he be a true Roman, will exact more and more,
till at length, with justice on our side and conquest on our sword,
our strength united and increased, and our troops fresh from victory,
we will pour into the fertile plains of Greece, and, with our free and
martial tribes, leave not a trace of any former yoke throughout the
land. If my foot shall ever again tread the plains of Thrace, never
again, so guard me all the gods who have made me what I am, will I go
back one single step so long as one stone of all Byzantium remains
upon another!"

He was still going on, when a door at the farther end of the hall
opened, and the attendant whom he had sent to the ambassador presented
himself. The man paused for a moment, with a pale countenance, as if
uncertain whether to advance or not. He was evidently under the
influence of terror; but Attila's irritation had subsided while
pouring forth his plans into the ear of Ardaric, and he made the
attendant a sign to advance, with an expression of countenance which
partly reassured him. Hurrying forward, then, he cast himself
prostrate at the feet of the king, exclaiming, "How shall I dare, oh
mighty Attila, to relate the bold words of the most insolent Roman
that ever approached thy presence?"

"Speak, speak!" said Attila: "thou art pardoned, if any pardon be
needful, for repeating what it imports the king to hear. Speak! what
said the ambassador?"

"His reply, oh king," answered the attendant, looking up, and half
doubting the assurances of pardon that he heard--"his reply was, 'Tell
Attila the king, that though the time of the servant of Marcian is of
less value than the time of the monarch of the Huns, yet the dignity
of the emperor must not be trifled with, and his ambassador is not one
to sacrifice it. If Attila be willing to see me, let him fix the time
and keep it. Hither have I followed him to Tridentum, from the wilds
of Upper Dacia, and I will follow no farther, to be a spectacle to his
nation or to others. As to the presents, they are of little import;
some thirty vases of solid gold, and some caskets of jewels; but, if
Attila would have them, he must receive them with his own hands. To
him were they sent, and to none other will I deliver them.' Such were
his words, oh mighty king," continued the attendant--"I have repeated
them truly, and if I have offended, let me die!"

To the surprise of the attendant, and even of Ardaric, something like
a grim smile passed over the harsh features of the Hunnish king. "He
is a bold knave, this ambassador," he said; "he is a bold knave, and
well chosen to do a dangerous embassy! Tell him to get him hence, and
take his presents with him! Say also that Attila, though he loves
courage, will not bear insolence, and therefore it is he will not see
this man. However, he is not willing to lose the friendship of
Marcian, who promises to fill the royal seat of the old C[ae]sars more
nobly than late monarchs have done, and therefore Attila will send
back unto him Theodore, the son of his friend Paulinus, with power to
treat of things that concern the friendship of the two nations. He
shall accompany the ambassador on his way. Go! tell him the words of
the king."

Ardaric, at the mention of the mission of Theodore, suddenly cast down
his eyes and bit his lip; and as soon as the attendant had risen from
Attila's feet and departed, he exclaimed, "Hear me, oh Attila, and
take thought before you determine upon sending this young Roman on
such a task to the new emperor. Theodore is bold and faithful, I know
it well, and love him truly. But he is one of those who will think his
duty to his country superior to aught else on earth. He will reveal to
Marcian all your plans and purposes, tell all the secrets of your
court, and of the past as far as may affect the future, and think it a
duty to caution Marcian against trusting to the semblance of
moderation you put on."

"Wouldst thou do so, Ardaric, if thou wert a Roman?" asked Attila,
with a smile; and then, before his friend could answer, he added,
"Perhaps thou wouldst. In truth, I believe so. But I am prepared
against that also, Ardaric. This Theodore has now with him a
beautiful--a most lovely girl--his promised bride; and even to-morrow
morning he fondly thinks she shall be his. He is mistaken, Ardaric;
for I will keep her and her mother here, as sureties for his doing my
bidding to the letter--as hostages for his speedy return. However
strong may be his wishes to serve his country, be you sure that nature
and passion will have its way. What is it that passion will not do? To
what will it not blind our eyes? What will it not make us see in
things the most different? With this Theodore, it will act to give the
fairest colouring to everything that may keep Marcian at peace with
Attila, and give him the opportunity of returning speedily to claim
his beautiful Dalmatian bride. He will tell no tales, Ardaric! He will
give no advice! He will speak no warnings that may raise up an eternal
barrier between him and that most lovely woman! He will think he does
his duty to his country, and will do it, as far as nature will let
him; but passion will still have a voice in the council of his bosom,
and make him do his duty unto me!"

Ardaric made no reply, but looked gravely down upon the ground, and
Attila fixed his eyes upon him for several moments, as if in surprise
at his silence. But there was something in the breast of Attila, a
consciousness, a sense of duplicity even towards Ardaric, which made
him forbear to question his friend. Attila was afraid to ask why
Ardaric replied not! Attila, the mighty, the unconquered, the
unconquerable Attila, was cowed by his own heart! Yes, Attila was
afraid!



                            CHAPTER XIII.
                      THE BITTER DISAPPOINTMENT.


It was the same hall, but the things within it were changed. It blazed
with lights; it was crowded with people; and the leaders of the
Hunnish host stood round Attila the King, while in the clear deep
tones of command he gave directions for their march on the following
day. On his left hand, at some distance from the chair in which he
sat, appeared a group in the Roman dress, consisting of Ildica,
Ammian, Eudochia, and Theodore, with a number of the household slaves
of Flavia, and the barbarian followers of the young Roman gathered
together behind them.

Seated in the midst of her children was Flavia, the only person except
the monarch who did not stand; but there was the weariness of illness
on her face and in her attitude, and the chair she occupied had been
looked upon by her and her family as a token of Attila's kind
observation.

Suddenly the tones of Attila ceased as he gave his last commands to
the leaders round him, and then, after a pause, he exclaimed,
"Theodore! Come hither, my son; the king has a duty to impose on
thee!"

Theodore gave a bright glance to Ildica, and advanced till he stood
before the monarch, his countenance beaming with happy anticipations,
and his heart beating high with the glad hope of soon bearing his
sweet bride back to their own dear land. But the countenance of Attila
was stern and grave; and Ardaric, who stood on his right hand, cast
down his eyes as Theodore approached.

"My son," said Attila, "thou art very young, and yet unto thee am I
about to intrust a mission on which may depend the lives of millions,
the fate of empires, and the destiny of the whole world. The monarch
of the East has sent unto me hither a bold and insolent ambassador;
and were I to read the feelings of Marcian in the conduct of his
messenger, I should instantly employ those arms which carried death
and victory to the shores of the [AE]gean Sea not many years ago, to
humble the pride and punish the faithlessness of this new emperor. But
I have heard what thou canst tell of him--thou who hast known him from
thy childhood; and Attila is inclined to respect and love Marcian.
Attila may be his friend, if Marcian will; for while he treads upon
the worm and struggles with the tiger, he admires the lion and the
eagle--kings in their kind like himself. Go, then, to this thy friend:
return to him with the ambassador he has sent hither, and tell him the
words of Attila. Say, if thou wilt, that on thy report of his great
nobleness, Attila desires rather to be at peace than at war with
Marcian; and ask what he will do to gain our friendship. It is not the
pitiful thought of a few ounces more or less of yellow earth that
moves Attila; and if Marcian be poor, let him say so; but justice
Attila will have in all things, and his honour and dignity will he
defend so long as he has life. Go, then, to Marcian; tell him these
things. Tell him what Attila is, and bring us speedily thine answer.
If thou usest diligence, thou wilt find us between this and Rome. Seek
the envoy from the East, and depart with him. Thou shalt have the
train of a prince to honour Attila's mission, and gold to pay thy
journey through a sordid land and among a grasping people."

"Willingly, oh Attila!" replied Theodore, "do I accept the charge; and
honouring thee, as I do from the depth of my heart, for all the noble
deeds that I have seen, and loving thee for all the kind ones thou
hast done to me and mine, I will labour with the zeal of true
affection to do thy bidding well."

As he spoke, a red flush came over Attila's forehead; and a large vein
that wandered through the broad skin of his uncovered temples swelled
and wreathed like a snake caught under the fork of a husbandman.
Theodore, however, marked not the unwonted emotion, and went on. "Nor
do I doubt," he said, "success in my undertaking; for, in the same
manner, do I love and honour Marcian for the same noble deeds and the
same kindness unto me and mine. I hope, I trust, I think that he loves
me too, and therefore do I judge that I, perchance--however young and
inexperienced I may be--that I may succeed better than one older and a
stranger. Give me but to-morrow for repose, and on the following day I
am ready to set out."

"Thanks for thy willingness, my son," replied Attila, "and thanks also
for thy love; but thy young limbs scarcely do need repose, and the
time thou seekest cannot be afforded thee. By the first ray of light
tomorrow morning this insolent ambassador must leave the camp, and
thou must go with him on the way."

Theodore's countenance fell. "Alas!" he said, "I have told thee, oh
king! that after many a painful year of absence I have found and
brought with me my promised bride, one to whom my heart is tied by
bonds of old affection, with whom my childish hours were spent, to
whom the thoughts of youth have all been given--"Attila made an
impatient gesture with his hand. "Thou hast thyself promised, oh
king," added Theodore, quickly, "to witness and confirm our union."

"And so I will," answered Attila, sharply, "when thou returnest from
the mission on which I send thee."

"Oh, let it be before," exclaimed Theodore, eagerly--"oh, let it be
before. I ask but a day, a single day, and then all can go with me to
our native land, my bride, my mother, my sister, and her promised
husband, Ammian. Once more re-established in peace, in the bright
country of our birth, all my hopes will be fulfilled, and--"

"And thou wilt never return to Attila," said the deep voice of the
king.

"On my life, on my soul, on my hopes of happiness in this life and
hereafter," exclaimed Theodore, vehemently, "I will return if I be in
life, ere two months be over, and bring thee an account of my mission
and its success."

"It cannot be," said Attila, sternly--"it must not, and it cannot be.
Youth, I will not tempt thee by granting thy request. We are all
subject to be led astray. Nature is strong within us, is stronger far
than all good resolutions; and with thy bride, thy mother, and thy
family beneath the shield of Marcian, in thy native land, thou wouldst
have strong temptation to remain, and bitter agony of heart to leave
them all and come back hither. I say not that the frail thread which
bound thee to return would even then be broken; but I say that Attila
will never willingly stretch it more than it is formed to bear. Thy
mother and thy bride shall stay with me; not as a pledge for thy good
faith, for even wert thou to prove faithless, Attila would never
injure those beneath his protection; but as inducements to make thy
return speedy and joyful. Thy bridal must not be till thou hast seen
Marcian and return to me. Attila has said it, and his words are not
revoked."

The angry blood rushed up into Theodore's cheek, and his eyes sparkled
as few were accustomed to flash in the presence of that mighty and
terrible monarch. "Then, oh king," he exclaimed, in a sharp voice,
"then, oh king--"

But at that moment a hand was laid upon his arm, and Flavia,
anticipating the refusal that was about to burst from his lips, stood
by his side, saying, in a low voice, "Go, my son, go! obey the will of
the king!" but her interposition seemed to come too late, for the dark
thunder cloud of wrath had gathered heavy on the brow of Attila; and
while the chieftains near gazed with painful apprehension on the
unwonted signs of emotion which he had suffered to appear, he
demanded, in a voice that rolled like distant thunder round the hall,
"Darest thou dispute the commands of Attila?"

Theodore's eye quailed not, however, under that fierce glance; and,
with his spirit all in arms, as it was at that moment, he might have
replied with words that would have sealed his fate for ever: but
without waiting to hear him speak, Ildica, trembling with apprehension
for him she loved, but filled with energetic resolution by that very
love itself, glided past him, and kneeling at the feet of Attila,
raised her hands towards him in earnest supplication.

"Forgive him, oh mighty king!" she cried, "forgive him! He will go
willingly; he will go, and do thy bidding truly and faithfully. I, I
will be the hostage for his faith and his obedience. Forgive him, oh
forgive him! and let not your great soul be moved by the momentary
rashness of one who loves thee well, and will serve thee, as he has
served, honestly, truly, bravely, zealously."

The cloud cleared away from the brow of Attila as he gazed upon that
beautiful creature kneeling at his feet, and he replied at once, "He
is forgiven; let him do our bidding, and return. We will protect thee
and thy mother till he comes again, and none shall harm thee. Thou art
rash, oh Theodore, and hasty in thy youth; but Attila is great enough
to be able to forgive: and, to show thee that thou art quite forgiven,
we will grant thee one favour. But yesterday we were told that yon
youth, Ammian thou callest him, and the maiden, thy sister, were
plighted to each other, and that for his and her sake it was that thou
fleddest from Valentinian. Thou thyself must return to seek thy bride
and her mother; but, if thou wilt, thy sister, ere the earth be three
days older, shall give her hand to him, and follow thee with our
presents to the court of Marcian."

Theodore turned with a melancholy smile to Ammian and Eudochia, who,
in the anxiety of the moment, had advanced to his side. He saw
happiness in the bright eyes of the one and in the blushing, downcast
face of the other; and then, looking again towards Attila, he replied,
"My bitter disappointment, oh king! shall neither make me selfish nor
ungrateful. I receive your offer as a favour, and am thankful for it
as such. Let their union take place, oh king, as speedily as may be,
and let them join me in Thrace. It will take, at least, from my mind
part of the load which bears it down, to see them in peace and
security."

"Be it so, then," replied Attila--"be it so. They shall follow thee
quickly. Thou knowest thy mission; thou knowest my will. Early
to-morrow morning, with thine own attendants and those that I shall
send unto thee, thou settest out for Constantinople. So fare thee well
upon thy journey! All now may go--Attila seeks rest."

With a sad but calm brow Theodore led Ildica and Flavia from the great
hall of the palace of Tridentum to a distant part of the same
building, in which a lodging had been assigned to them. Eudochia and
Ammian followed; but no one spoke for some time, till at length, when
they re-entered the chamber from which they had been summoned to the
presence of Attila, Ildica raised her eyes, and gazed sorrowfully in
the face of her lover. Flavia, too, paused and looked upon them for a
moment with a sad and heavy heart; and then, beckoning to Ammian and
Eudochia, she departed, and left the two alone.

Ildica cast herself upon the bosom of Theodore, and they both wept
bitterly. "Oh, my Theodore! oh, my beloved!" cried Ildica, as soon as
tears would let her.

He pressed her to his heart in silence; but, ere he could find words
to reply, the door of the chamber was thrown open by one of the
household slaves of Flavia, crying, "One of the barbarian kings, noble
Theodore, would speak with you instantly;" and, almost as he spoke,
Ardaric entered the chamber. The King of the Gepid[ae] pointed to the
door, and the slave, who gazed upon him with some wonder, instantly
closed it and retired. Then advancing to Theodore, Ardaric took him in
his powerful arms, and pressed him frankly to his bosom.

"Theodore, my brother," he said, speaking the language of the Huns,
which Ildica did not understand--"Theodore, I love you well, and
grieve for you. We have fought together, and been enemies; we have
eaten bread together, and been friends. Our enmity has been wiped out,
our friendship never can; and I think that Attila deals hardly with
thee. But look to thy fair bride," he continued; "she looks pale and
faint: let her go from us; I will not keep thee long; but yet I would
fain speak with thee ere thou departest."

"Ildica, my beloved," said Theodore, in the Latin tongue, but speaking
slowly, so that Ardaric might hear and comprehend what he said, "this
is one of my best and noblest friends. While I am absent, thou mayst
trust safely in him. He has something of importance to tell me, and I
will seek thee again instantly!"

Ildica made no reply, but retired into the inner chamber to her
mother.

"Thou hast spoken truly, my friend," continued Ardaric: "she may trust
in me when you are gone! and she may have cause to trust. Attila has
dealt hardly with thee, I know not why. I love not to inquire. Let me
not wrong him by suspicions; but ever since that fatal battle in Gaul
he has been an altered man. Had he been always thus, he would never
have reached the height of power he has attained. He has grown more
like his brother Bleda, jealous, hasty, intemperate--ay, and deceitful
too. He may hide his future purposes from mine eyes, perchance; but
Ardaric knows that he is changed, and is upon his guard."

"I see it too," cried Theodore--"I see it too; but even if this change
bodes ill to me, what can I do to guard myself against it? What evil,
think you, he meditates against me?"

"Nay, I cannot tell," said Ardaric: "I know not, nor will pretend
to guess; and as to guarding against it, I can give but one
advice--return as speedily as may be. Lose no time; fear not to kill
your horses; and as you named two months to Attila himself, be not a
single hour beyond that time, as you value happiness and peace."

"But why," exclaimed Theodore, "why think you that his wrath points
more particularly to me?"

"I know not well how to answer," replied Ardaric. "When we see a dull
gray vapour gathering over the western sky, we say there will be a
tempest soon. When we see the light clouds making the mottled heaven
look like a dappled steed, we augur it will rain. Light signs forbode
heavy storms; and when I see many a changeful variation in the mood of
a man once so firm and steadfast, I am apt to augur evil, and to guess
where it may fall. Towards you, to whom he was once kind as the spring
rain, Attila is now harsh and fierce, and I argue thence that, for
some cause, you have lost that favour which shielded you hitherto. But
there is another reason why I bid you be upon your guard. You once
tarried long, I have heard, in the house of Bleda, the brother of the
king, and must have often seen his daughter Neva."

"Often, very often," answered Theodore: "a sweet, devoted, beautiful
girl, whose whole happiness seemed to rest in doing good to others.
But I injured her not!"

"Thy fate seems of deep interest to her," replied Ardaric, with a
passing smile, "for she sought me out this evening as we were
encamping on the hills--"

"Is she here, then?" cried Theodore, in surprise.

"Yes, and thousands of others," answered Ardaric: "the camp is full of
women. One would guess we were going to people some uncultivated land,
for we bear almost all our women and children with us. But Neva is
here; for, alas, poor girl, her home is now desolate. Her mother died
some few weeks ago. But, as I have said, not only the men of the land,
but the women of the land also, have come forth to war."

"Then I shall leave my Ildica," said Theodore, "with a lighter heart.
Where there are women, she will find some to pity and console her."

"Many, I trust," answered Ardaric; "but let me tell you, for the time
wears, that this fair girl, Bleda's daughter, for whose orphan state
my heart has often ached, sought me out this evening, and, calling you
'her brother Theodore,' besought me to aid and to support you against
your enemies. Her words were somewhat wild and rambling; but it was
evident she had reasons to fear that evil threatened you."

"Upon the journey?" demanded Theodore.

"No, no!" rejoined Ardaric. "I cannot tell you my own suspicions: I
must not repeat the words she spoke. We may be both mistaken; and,
even were we right, our warning could be of no avail if you neglect to
follow the advice I have given. Hasten to Marcian; lose not an hour
upon the road; fulfil your mission quickly, and bring back a reply, or
good or bad, without delay. Suffer yourself not to be entangled by any
one in long discussions; but simply tell your message, receive your
answer, and return within the space that you yourself have mentioned.
In your absence I will protect, as far as may be, the precious pledges
that you leave behind; my wife is in the camp; and though she speaks
not their tongue, our hearts, oh Theodore! shall speak for us. Ardaric
has some power, and it shall be used for your service. Now fare you
well, for I must leave you;" and pressing Theodore once more in his
arms, he turned and left the apartment.

The young Roman paused for a moment in deep thought; and then, with a
heavy heart, sought those from whom he was to part so soon.



                             CHAPTER XIV.
                     THE MARRIAGE AND THE DEATH.


Trent was still in the possession of the Huns--though the main body of
their innumerable host had passed on--when, on the third day after the
departure of Theodore, two young and beautiful beings stood before the
altar of the high church of that venerable city, in youth's brightest
day to pass youth's brightest hour. There is certainly, in that
peculiar moment of happiness in which the young heart of woman plights
its full faith to the man she loves, a beautifying influence, which
gives to features not otherwise remarkable a loveliness of expression
that they possess not at other times. It is the beaming forth of the
sweet chastened joy of fulfilled hope and gratified love: it is the
picture presented by the speaking face of many of those beautiful
feelings whereof external loveliness is but the type and symbol. Joy,
timid modesty, pure affection, bright hope, unshaken faith, the
fruition of long-nourished wishes, the fulfilment of the brightest
expectation of a woman's heart--all, all are there when she kneels
before the altar with the man she loves, to bind that solemn tie which
nothing but the grave should break.

There knelt Eudochia by the side of Ammian; and though a slight shade
of sympathizing melancholy stole across the sunshine of her face when
she turned her eyes on Ildica, yet her look was as bright as hope and
happiness could make it, and in the serious but still enthusiastic
countenance of her young lover might be read, in its very gravity, a
deeper happiness than ever his lighter smiles betrayed.

Ildica, poor Ildica, had twined the flowers in the fair bride's hair;
and though a tear had fallen upon them, spangling their sweet leaves
like a drop of morning dew, yet she had struggled hard to banish every
selfish regret, and share to the full in the joy of those dear beings
whose union, and, as she trusted, whose happiness that day was to
secure.

Beside Ildica stood her mother; but oh! what a sad change had the
passing of less than five years wrought in the fair form of Flavia,
since first we saw her on the bright shores of the Adriatic. She had
known grief, deep grief before that period; she had tasted
disappointment, and undergone misfortune of many kinds: but there is a
time of life when the springs of health and sources of enjoyment flow
up so full and bounteously, that the most scorching heat cannot dry
them up; when the earthquake itself cannot overwhelm them; when still
they flow on, under the fiercest sun of summer, and are but choked up
in one place to burst forth and sparkle in another. But there comes an
after period, when, choked up and nearly obliterated by the sands of
time, the fire of lesser misfortunes will exhaust them quite, and
leave the empty fountain, the dried-up spring, without a drop of water
to moisten the lip of hope. So had it been with Flavia: the
misfortunes of her early years, the loss of her loved husband, the
tyranny of a capricious and greedy monarch, an anxious widowhood,
watching over her orphan children, had rendered the stream of life
calm and dull, but had not diminished its waters nor seemed likely to
shorten its course. But when a later epoch of existence had come on,
and fresh sorrows, labours, anxieties, and cares had fallen fast about
her, the very hopes she had nourished, and the placid joys which had
rendered life verdant, faded by the wintry blast of late
disappointment, like the withered leaves of winter trees above a
fountain, had dropped fast and thick, and filled up the very well of
life itself. Her step was feeble; her once bright eye was dim; and
though the graceful line of that fair form remained, though the black
hair was little more silvery than before, and the white teeth had lost
none of their ivory purity, yet the pallour of her countenance, the
bloodless lip, the languid, drooping eyelid, and the quick, difficult
respiration, all spoke that "the body was broken by its cares and
labours," and the spirit, weary of its ruined tenement, was hesitating
whether it should not fly for repose.

She gazed, however, with a bright and cheering smile upon Ammian and
Eudochia, as they knelt to pledge that sacred vow which she, too,
hoped and believed would secure for them as much happiness as this
world could bestow. She herself felt within her bosom rise up at the
sight the memory of bright hopes and aspirations passed away, and the
spring of life for the moment flowed more freely. They, as they looked
upon her, saw a happy change, and gladdened their own hearts by the
thought that her health was better, and looked forward to the future
with hopes for her as well as for themselves.

Others, however, were present in the church; and Attila himself, with
arms folded on his bosom, stood not inattentive to the words which a
Christian priest addressed to the fair young beings met together there
to be parted no more. That priest was a venerable and a fearless man;
and after his blessing had been spoken, and the indissoluble contract
sealed, he poured forth an exhortation to maintain and hold fast the
purer faith in which they had been educated, touching boldly on the
doctrines of his holy religion as conrasted with the pagan
superstition of many who heard him, and appealing to the consciences
of all men to decide whether sublime purity of soul and body were not
the doctrines which God might teach and men revere.

Attila listened in silence, though many of the barbarian chieftains
around frowned angrily to hear their ancient faith assailed from the
lips of one of a people whom they looked upon as conquered and trodden
upon under foot. Attila, however, listened, as we have said, in
silence; and only twice during all that ceremony did he take his eyes
from the priest, to turn them for a moment upon the lovely countenance
of Ildica, and glance over that unrivalled form which might well have
made the sculptor blush at his imperfect works. They were withdrawn as
quickly as turned thither, and he fixed them on the priest again, and
listened to his glowing eloquence as one who could admire, though
unconvinced.

The ceremony was over, the prayer prayed, the exhortation made. The
feet of Ammian's horse was heard without pawing impatiently the
ground; the litter which was to bear Eudochia into Thrace was
prepared; the slaves who were to accompany her, and the guards which
Attila had directed to conduct them in safety to the frontiers of the
Eastern empire, stood ready before the gate. But when the bridegroom
and the bride rose up from the altar, without turning to bid their
mother farewell, they advanced hand in hand to Attila, and knelt
together at his feet.

"Oh, great king!" said Ammian, "thou hast made us happy, and we have
to beseech thee to add yet one favour more. To return unto our native
land is joy, for we love no land like that; but if our mother return
not with us, the joy withers, and, like a flower in the night, it may
be beautiful, but we cannot see it for want of the sunshine to make it
expand. Let us beseech thee, then, oh king! crown thy great goodness
unto us, and either let our mother and our sister bear us company on
the way, or let us remain here till they may go there too."

Attila listened with the same calm, steadfast look which in former
days used never to be absent from his countenance; and no features of
his face could have betrayed the slightest emotion produced by the
words of Ammian. When the youth had done, he replied, "Thy mother and
thy sister must not depart; and I have promised the son of Paulinus
that thou shouldst join him with his sister in Thrace."

He paused for a moment, and thought deeply, turned his eyes to Ildica
and Flavia, and then added, "Nevertheless, ye shall stay or go, as
your mother wills. If ye go not, the breach of the promise be upon
you. Attila has prepared to fulfil it; but he will not, he cannot
drive a son from a mother, and that mother ill as she is."

Ammian and Eudochia rose and clung to Flavia, each exclaiming, "Oh let
us stay, my mother! let us stay till Theodore returns!"

Flavia pressed them to her heart, and kissed the fair brow of that
sweet girl; but she did not reply for some moments; while Eudochia,
linking her hand in that of Ildica, exclaimed, "Plead for us, dear
Ildica! Plead for us, my sister!" and Ildica turned her lustrous eyes
upon her mother, as if doubting and inquiring what she should do.

To Flavia it was a moment of the most intense pain, to which the heart
of any mortal being can be subject--it was the struggle of duty
against the tenderest, the noblest of human affections. It was a dying
mother placing one of her children in safety, with the certainty of
never beholding him again, even while obliged to leave another in the
midst of perils without any support. It was a moment of most intense,
intolerable pain; and yet she conquered it.

"Eudochia," she said, calmly, "it must not be, my beloved child!
Ammian, do not agitate and distress me! Theodore might wait for you.
Your staying might delay his return. At all events, it is but for a
short time that we are parted," and she raised her eyes to heaven,
while her lips still moved, but in silence. "Go, my children, go," she
said: "hasten Theodore's return; bear him my blessing."

"Must it be, my mother?" cried Ammian.

"It must, beloved!" answered Flavia, kissing him. "Take her, oh take
her from me," she added, unclasping the arms of Eudochia, who clung
round her knees weeping. "Dear, affectionate girl, farewell! Take her,
Ammian, take her! God's blessing and her mother's be upon you, my
sweet children!" Ammian raised Eudochia, and half bore, half led her
from the church.

The eyes of Attila remained fixed upon the countenance of Flavia with
a deep, earnest, contemplative gaze, which might have been painful to
her had not other feelings absorbed every thought; and when, as Ammian
and Eudochia disappeared through the portal, Flavia raised her robe to
her eyes, and for the first time wept, Attila, the stern, dark Attila
himself was moved, and pressing his sinewy hand upon his brow, he
exclaimed aloud, "Noble, noble woman!" Then turned, and, as if stung
by some sudden pang, strode hastily out of the church.

There came a sound of rude music from without, and of young voices
singing, as a troop of boys and girls, gathered together for the
marriage, accompanied Eudochia and Ammian on their way to the gate of
the city. But oh, how strange and harsh sounded that bridal song upon
the ears of the sad few who remained within the church! Flavia stood
and wept; and the large drops rolled slowly over the fair cheek of
Ildica. But at length Ardaric, who had not followed Attila when he
departed, advanced, and in a kindly tone which spoke to their hearts,
notwithstanding his small knowledge of their language, bade them take
comfort.

"Let us leave this place," he said at length. "You have need, lady, of
repose: to-morrow night the last of our forces leave Tridentum. It
were needful for thee to pass all the intervening time in repose: and
if thou wouldst take some simples, such as our people know well how to
prepare, it might give thee strength for the journey. But let us leave
this place--the sight of it only makes thee grieve."

"Let those sounds cease without, and then I will go," replied Flavia;
and as soon as all was quiet in the street, the mother and the
daughter, left alone in the midst of a strange and barbarous host,
took their sad way back towards the dwelling which they had inhabited
since their arrival in the city of Trent. There Ardaric left them;
and, entering into their own apartments, Flavia sent away all the
slaves.

As soon as she was alone with her daughter, to the surprise and grief
of Ildica, the lady sunk upon her knees at her own child's feet.
"Pardon me, Ildica, pardon your mother," she said--"pardon your
mother, if, in the agony of this day, and in the anxiety to secure
safety and happiness for one child, I have failed to purchase, even at
his risk, support and protection for another."

Ildica cast her arms around her, and striving hard to smile, she said,
"Alas, alas! dear mother, why should you ask pardon of me? Know you
not that your Ildica would gladly, willingly sacrifice everything but
virtue, and honour, and the love of those who love her, to secure the
happiness of her dear brother and the sweet sister of her infancy. Oh
no, think not that I regret even for a moment that you have sent them
from us, if by their presence they could not have comforted and
supported you. Ildica has a resolute heart, my mother, and can bear,
with strong determination, whatever fate her God may send her. With
her own hand she can protect her honour, if need should be; and she
fears nothing else; for death is little terrible to her, and that is
the worst that can befall."

"But, alas! you know not all, my child," answered Flavia, sinking into
the seat to which her daughter led her, but still holding Ildica's
hand, and gazing in her face. "Dear, beloved girl. I am dying!"

"Speak not such cruel words, dear mother," replied Ildica, not knowing
how terribly the ravager had proceeded in the frame of the loved being
who was now her only support. "I see, indeed," she added, "that you
are far from well; but I trust that fatigue and anxiety is the chief
cause, and that now you have seen so happy an event as the marriage of
our dear Ammian with Eudochia; now that you know them to be in safety;
now that the speedy prospect of returning to our own land is open
before us; now that nothing is wanting to our future peace and
happiness but Theodore's return--I trust, I hope, I am sure, dear
mother, that joy will prove a good physician, and restore you quite."

"Ildica," answered Flavia, "let us not deceive ourselves, my child. I
shall never see the Dalmatian shores again. How long this shattered
prison may keep the struggling spirit in its ruined walls, I know not;
but in my bosom there is kept a fatal calendar, whereon is marked how
much each day takes from the small remaining store of life, and I feel
that that store is nearly gone. Like a spendthrift with his treasure,
Ildica, I would now fain hoard the little that remains, but know not
how, and fear that it will fail me soon. When, five days ago, we
halted by the little lake in those grand mountains, I felt that death
was coming, but still thought that repose might keep him yet at bay,
and give me time to reach some surer resting-place. But in that day's
repose, the active enemy still strode on his way; the next day's
journey brought him nearer still; and the sad scene of your dear
Theodore's parting led him onward almost to the door. I have shut my
ear while he knocked, listening to Hope while Ammian's bridal has gone
forward; but I felt that Death went with me into that church, and has
come hither to sit beside me till I follow him to a brighter land,
where the dark herald leaves us for ever at the gate."

Ildica wept bitterly; and her mother, after pausing for several
minutes, proceeded:--"Must I tell thee not to weep, my child? Nay, I
will not do thee so much wrong! Yes, weep, my Ildica! weep as I would
weep for thee; but listen to me. I have said that I felt myself dying
when in yon church I sent from us Ammian and Eudochia. I sent them
from us, knowing that I might soon have to leave thee here alone, in
the midst of a barbarous people, till thy Theodore, thy husband, shall
return--alone, with no one to protect thee but domestic slaves, who,
though faithful and attached, are still but slaves. Was not this
cruel, Ildica? Wilt thou forgive me?"

"Forgive you, dear mother!" cried Ildica, looking up reproachfully at
the very thought of forgiveness being necessary; "think you that for
my selfish sorrows I would have had Ammian and Eudochia stay in scenes
of danger, when peace, and joy, and safety were before them? If peril
awaits me, Ammian could not, with his single hand, have averted it. If
death be following me, too, in any shape, he could not have shielded
me from the lifted dart; and--for the sake of a few kind words and
tender consolations, the balm of sympathy, and the fine elixir of kind
familiar looks to sooth and cure a wounded heart--think you, dear
mother, that I would have perilled his young happiness, and perhaps
cast the cloud of misfortune over his whole life? No; let me meet the
coming ills alone. There are many with whom I would gladly share the
cup of joy, but none whom I would force to drink a part of the
bitterer draught which I am bound to quaff. Forgive you, dear mother!
oh, there is nothing to forgive!"

"Dear Ildica," cried Flavia, pressing her to her bosom, "noble,
beloved girl! Sure, sure I am that, through whatever scenes the will
of Heaven may lead you, you will bear up nobly still, and never, never
forget that you are the daughter of a Roman. Remember, Ildica--oh,
ever remember--the land and race from which you spring. Think of their
great deeds and steadfast courage. Remember that, among the best and
greatest of our ancient names, your father might have boldly,
confidently written down his own; and, whenever difficulty or peril
falls upon you, think how a Roman of old days would then have acted,
and so act!"

"I will, my mother," cried Ildica, sinking on her knees beside Flavia;
"I promise you, by all which is most sacred, that I will! Nothing
shall ever make me forget that I am a patrician's child, bound by my
nobility of blood to noble conduct. And should the time ever come that
I must be tried, the names of my ancestors shall not be blotted out
from the roll of fame by any weakness of mine. I promise it! I vow
it!" and, with high resolution beaming in her beautiful eyes, she
rose, and stood in the majesty of loveliness by her dying mother's
side.

"May God bless you, and give you strength in all things, my true
child!" Flavia answered; "and yet, Ildica avoid all such trials; turn
from all such dangers when you may. Seek not for dangers, but act
boldly in them. And now, my child, one more direction, and I leave you
to the keeping of your own heart and God's directing Spirit. If I
should not live, which is, indeed, beyond all likelihood, to witness
Theodore's return, let no vain sorrow for the dead restrain you from
giving him your hand at once. If but a single day have passed since
the grave has closed over me, meet at the altar with the tear of
memory dimming the eye of hope; but delay not your union by a single
hour. Wed him, my Ildica! wed your beloved without a hesitation; and
fly with him, as speedily as may be, to our dear, beautiful land,
where peace and safety shall attend you. To him, Ildica, to him only
of all the world could I give you without a fear, without a sigh--to
him, noble, just, wise, brave, firm yet tender, generous yet prudent,
ardent yet temperate. Oh, Ildica! oh that I could see that day! my
last, brightest hope, my fondest wish, my only remaining aspiration on
this side of the grave would then be fulfilled; and, as calmly as for
a happy sleep, I could lay down my head in the tomb and say, 'Come,
quiet Death! life has all finished well!'"

The tears streamed anew down the cheeks of Ildica; and her mother,
after a short pause, drew her gently to her, kissed her pure brow, and
added, "Now leave me, my sweet child, for one half hour. We shall both
be the better of a brief solitude."

Ildica withdrew without reply; for she sought not to add to her
mother's emotions by emotions of her own. In her own chamber she
turned the hourglass, neither to fall short of nor to exceed the space
of time that Flavia had appointed; and she would fain have bent her
thoughts to contemplate all the frowning features of her present fate,
and the still darker countenance of the future. She felt, however,
that to do so would unfit her mind for the task of soothing and
consoling the last days of her mother; she felt that she might be
shaken and overwhelmed by the burdens which she was destined at
different times to bear, if she suffered imagination to attempt to
raise them all up at once, in order to feel and try their weight. She
resolved, then, that she would not contemplate them until they came
upon her one by one; and, murmuring the holy maxim of Him who alone
could teach us the wisdom from on high, "Sufficient for the day be the
evil thereof," she sank upon her knees and passed the half hour in
prayer. When she rose she was calm and prepared, feeling that, though
philosophy may teach us to resist firmly the evils of life, it is only
religion that can teach us to bear them meekly.

Her mother received her with a smile; and she, too, was calmer--for
the fatal truth had been spoken between them, the dark secret had been
told; and Flavia herself, prepared to die, was glad to have prepared
Ildica for her death. The rest of the day passed over tranquilly; and
Flavia seemed relieved, and even better. There was a slight flush upon
her cheek, which, though it was not exactly the rosy hue of health,
gave a false appearance of returning powers. Her eye, too, was bright,
and she breathed, or fancied that she breathed, with less difficulty.
She cherished no hope, however; and Ildica was not deceived into the
belief that her mother could recover. Her disposition had once been
full of hope; but the spring had lain so long under a heavy weight
that it had lost its elasticity; and the evening passed calmly, but
not cheerfully.

At length, towards her usual hour of retiring to rest, Flavia took out
of a casket a golden bracelet of an antique form, and, laying it on
her knee, gazed upon it thoughtfully. It had been the first present
that she had received from her dead husband, and in all her
wanderings, under every blast of adversity, that bracelet still had
remained with her. She had worn it on the shores of Dalmatia; it had
been carried forth amid the rocking of the earthquake; it had been
restored, with other property, at the command of Attila, after having
been taken by the Huns; she had possessed it among the Alani; she had
carried it with her to Rome; she had brought it thence to where she
sat even then. Every night, through a long life, she had gazed upon
that token of early affection; and now, with her thoughts turning to
her husband, she looked upon it again, thinking, "I go to join him,
where we shall never be separated more!"

As she thus thought, she tried to clasp it on her arm: but suddenly it
slipped from her fingers, rolled from her knee, and dropped upon the
ground. With a quick motion, she stooped forward to catch it ere it
fell or pick it up; then suddenly pressed her hand upon her breast,
and sunk back upon the cushions that supported her, exclaiming, "My
child! my Ildica!"

Ildica darted forward, and caught the hands that her mother now
extended towards her. The lips of Flavia still moved, but no sound
followed; she fixed her eyes with a look of deep love upon her child;
the brightness of being was still there; the flame of life's lamp
shone in them still brightly; but, in a moment after, it waxed dim and
faint: light and life, lustre and meaning, passed away; the jaw fell;
the features became rigid; and the gray hue of vacant death spread
over the soulless countenance. A loud long shriek rang through those
apartments; and when the slaves rushed in, they found their mistress
dead, where she sat, and her daughter lying senseless at her feet.



                             CHAPTER XV.
                      THE ANTICIPATIONS OF EVIL.


Long and dark was the sleep that fell upon Ildica: the overwrought
mind, the overexcited feelings, the heart and brain, stretched beyond
their bearing to support each other, had worked in the mortal frame
that complete overthrow of the equipoise which such a state almost
invariably will produce. The sleep of Ildica's mind--for the reasoning
soul remained asleep long after the eyes had opened again to the light
of day after her mother's death--was not the sleep which brings
repose; and when at length she really woke, and gazed about her with
full returning consciousness, she found an unknown scene around her.

She was stretched upon a rich couch, round which fell the hangings of
a tent; and though two of her own female attendants sat at the farther
side, there was watching over her a face as beautiful as she had ever
beheld, but which was altogether strange to her eye. It was beautiful,
as I have said, most beautiful; and though the hair was dressed in the
barbarian mode, and the garments were not such as the Romans wore, yet
the pure and snowy skin showed tints very different from the dingy
complexion of the Huns; and, though Ildica knew not the face, yet
there was something in it--something in the exquisite loveliness of
those devoted deep blue eyes--that was not unfamiliar to her
imagination. It was as if somebody, in former times, had sung, or
told, or written to her about eyes like those. Her mind, however,
wandered still; and she could not recall where or how such an
impression had been made upon her. But she saw, as she moved, those
eyes bent upon her with a look of tender pity; and laying her hand
upon that which rested on the couch beside her, she would have spoken,
but her voice was so weak that she herself started at its altered
sound.

"You are better," said Neva, for she it was who sat beside her--"you
are better; I see you are better." And though the tongue in which she
spoke was but a mixture of Latin with her barbarian dialect, yet her
looks spoke eloquently, and Ildica began to remember, or rather to
guess, who she was.

Neva watched her gently and assiduously; and Ildica recovered health
and strength; and grateful and tender did she feel towards that fair
companion, who wound herself day by day so closely round her heart,
that she only wondered that Theodore could have continued to love
Ildica when he had unknowingly won the heart of Neva. But though
Ildica recovered rapidly, that illness had wrought a change. She
remained long in deep silent fits of thought. Sometimes, when she was
spoken to, her mind, intensely occupied with the dark past or the dim
future, seemed to deaden her ear, and she made no reply. But, what was
still more strange, she spoke of her mother, she talked of her death,
she inquired of her burial, without a tear moistening her eyelids. She
would fain have wept; she longed to do so; but no drops, no kind
relieving drops came from the dried-up well to give her ease. Her
mother and Theodore were the two great themes of her thoughts; and of
her lover's coming back she talked with joy and smiles to her own
attendants; but, with kindly care, which showed how thoughtful she was
for others, she avoided, as far as possible, the mention of his name
to Neva.

Bleda's daughter, indeed, was now her chief companion; shared the same
tent, and spent whole hours with her on each succeeding day. On Ildica
she seemed to look as on a superior being; and seated at her feet,
with her arm resting on the fair Dalmatian's knee, she would gaze up
into her face, trace all those beautiful lines, and mark the full
lustrous eye, the swelling lip, and clear and rounded nostril, pure
and defined, but soft and graceful as if chiselled from the Parian
marble. Thus she would gaze, and think in her own mind, that it was no
wonder such a face and form as that, with such a spirit as shone
through all that beauty, had lighted and kept alive, as pure and
unextinguished as the fire of Vesta, the flames of love within the
heart of one worthy of her--within a heart incapable of forgetfulness
or falsehood.

Twice only did it happen that Ildica, who, however sadly her own heart
might be wrung, forgot not easily the feelings of another, mentioned
even the name of Theodore in the hearing of Neva. The first time the
fair girl coloured and looked down; but the second she was sitting, as
we have said, at Ildica's feet; and though her countenance glowed, she
gazed up and asked, "When you saw him, did he never mention Neva's
name?"

Ildica bent down her head, and kissed the fair girl's brow, saying,
"Yes, dear Neva, he did mention you."

"And what did he say?" demanded Neva, burying her face in Ildica's
robe--"what did he say?"

"He told me," answered Ildica, pressing her hand gently, "he told me
how kind and good you had been to him; how you attended him in
sickness, saved him by your care from death, and rescued him in his
moment of utmost danger from the hands of those who would have slain
him. He told me all, dear Neva, he told me all."

Neva cast herself upon Ildica's bosom and wept. "Then he told you,"
she murmured, through her tears, "how I loved him, and how kindly and
gently he soothed the feelings he could not return; how nobly and
honestly he told me that he loved another, whom he must ever love."

Ildica pressed her in her arms; and, raising her eyes towards heaven,
she said, in a low voice, "Oh God! why should I hope to be happy when
this sweet being is wretched?"

"Nay, nay, Ildica," cried Neva, starting back as her ear caught those
words, "I am not wretched; I am as happy as my state will admit; I am
happy in possessing the next best blessing to the great one of his
love. I have his friendship, his gratitude! I am happy in having
served him; I am happy in having seen the being that he loves, and in
loving her myself," and she pressed a fond kiss on Ildica's glowing
cheek. "Now, Ildica," she continued, "now you know how I feel. I have
seen you; I know you; I am sure you are worthy of him; and so help me
all the gods, if it were in my power this moment to take him from you
and bind him to myself, I would rather die than do it! Speak to me
about him when you will, you will inflict no pain upon my heart. He is
your own, your beloved, your rightful husband. Neva is contented with
her lot."

Ildica smiled sadly. "Oh Neva," she answered, "it is hard to be
generous in love! There is no one thing on earth I know of that I
would not give to make you happy, except the affection of Theodore."

"And now I would not have it, could it be given," Neva replied; "but
he will soon be back again, dear Ildica. More than three weeks out of
the two months allotted for his absence have already passed, and he
will soon be here: Ildica will then be his bride, and Neva will weave
the bridal flowers for her hair. Only remain within your tent, Ildica,
as long as you can; and when the army marches on again, be carried in
your litter without speaking, so that Attila may think you are still
ill."

Ildica started, and gazed on Neva with surprise. "Why should I try to
deceive Attila?" she demanded: "I have long wondered why you should
oppose my going forth to breathe the free outward air when I am ill no
longer. Tell me, dear Neva, tell me what I have done to offend
Attila?"

"You have done nothing to offend him," answered Neva: "oh no; it is
not his wrath that we fear! It is, that the sight of your beauty might
inflame his love. Therefore was it that Ardaric, who loves your
Theodore, so strongly counselled that you should hold the semblance of
sickness as long as may be."

Ildica sank back upon the cushions that supported her, and hid her
pale face in her hands, as if the doom of death had been pronounced in
her ear. Terror overcame every reasoning power for some moments, and
it seemed as if the fate which had been spoken of as merely possible,
was certain and inevitable; and with her hands covering her face and
her bosom heaving with convulsive sobs, she sat for several moments in
silence; while Neva, alarmed by the state into which her words cast
her, tried, by every kindly effort, to sooth and reassure her.

At length the fair Roman suddenly removed her hands, exclaiming, "I
had forgot myself, Neva! and had given way to terror, a feeling that
should have no empire in my bosom. I do not, I will not fear this man,
terrible as he is. I will hide myself from his eyes most willingly.
Till Theodore comes back, I will never leave my tent: but if my evil
fate should draw his looks upon me; if what you fear on my account
should occur, he shall find that the daughter of a Roman can act a
Roman's part. No, I will not leave this tent till Theodore returns."

"Alas! dearest Ildica," replied Neva, "ere two days be over you will
be forced to leave it. Attila has ravaged all this part of the
country: these plains, so fertile and so populous not a fortnight
since, when we first issued forth from the mountains and encamped a
two days' journey from Tridentum, are now as bare as the summit of the
Alps, and not a human being save the followers of the mighty king can
be seen for miles around. The white bones of the Romans who have been
slain, indeed, whiten the ground; and troops of wolves have followed
us from the mountains, as if they had been called by the voice of
Attila himself to the feast he fails not to prepare for them; but
nothing living and breathing is to be seen but ourselves and those
fierce beasts; and the day after to-morrow we are appointed to march
on and carry the same bloody scourge, the same fiery sword, farther
into the empire."

Ildica looked up towards the sky. "Oh God!" she murmured, "must such
things be? Hast thou no chosen instrument, as in the days of old, to
check the ravager in his course, to smite the mighty murderer of
nations?" and, clasping her hands together, she fixed her eyes upon
the ground, falling into a long, intense fit of gloomy meditation.

"It is strange," she continued, when, rousing herself at length from
her revery, she found Neva still sitting beside her in silence, and
gazing anxiously upon her--"it is very strange! But who can tell the
purpose of the Almighty? who can see into the wise counsels of the
Omniscient? who can tell at what trifling stumbling block this great
conqueror may fall down, or what small and insignificant means may, in
the hand of God, bring all his sanguinary expeditions to an end?"

"I do believe," said Neva, "that when he killed my father, Bleda, I
should have slain him myself if I had ever been within arm's length of
him, and alone. But he is much loved by his own people, and they keep
a watch for him; and now he has been kind to me, and wiped out the
memory of my father's death by tenderness and affection both to my
mother and myself."

"No personal revenge," said Ildica, thoughtfully, "can ever justify us
in shedding a human being's blood--at least I think so, Neva; but in
our own defence, or in the defence of those we love, or of our
country, or our faith, surely, surely God, the God of Hosts, will
hallow and sanctify the deed. I think so, Neva, I believe so, but I
will meditate upon it: I will inquire from the only source where we
can find sure guidance."

"Where is that?" demanded Neva.

"In the word of God," answered Ildica, abstractedly, and again she
fell into a fit of meditation, from which her fair companion did not
choose to rouse her. At length Ildica woke up of herself, and the sort
of shadowy gloom which had hung upon her seemed in a degree banished
by reflection; for when she looked up, a smile, faint and chastened
indeed, but still most beautiful, played upon her lip for a moment.

"I cannot but think, dear Neva," she said, "I cannot but hope, that we
have been combating imaginary adversaries. Why should Attila think of
me? why should any idle beauty that you talk of make him persecute one
who never injured him, or wrong a man who, like Theodore, has served
him well, and whom he himself professes to love."

"You know him not, Ildica, you know him not," replied Neva; "his
passions are fierce, and devouring as the flame; and we poor women,
but the slaves of his pleasures, are no more in his eyes than
merchandise, things to be used while they please, and to be cast away
when the gloss of novelty is gone. Besides, those passions, though
they once had a check, have now none. He is changed, Ildica, he is
changed! Within the last two years a change has come over him which
renders him no longer the same man. In former days you might rely upon
his justice, if not upon his humanity; you might trust in his
friendship as much as you were compelled to fear his enmity. He was
sincere, though never frank; and those who knew Attila well could
calculate his rising up, and his going down, and his course throughout
the day, as surely as they could calculate the rising and setting of
the sun himself. But he is changed, Ildica, he is changed! He has
grown suspicious of his dearest friends, deceitful towards those who
love him best, intemperate in all things; and while by day he revels
in blood, at night he revels in wine, till drunkenness closes the day
which was begun with slaughter. The only thing that ever withholds him
from gratifying his desires is shame; and if we can but keep thee from
his thoughts till thy lover returns, the fear of sinking lower in the
esteem of his chieftains will keep him from doing thee a wrong, from
violating his word."

"But why should I fear," said Ildica, "more than all the many women
who, I learn, are in the camp."

"Because thou art more beautiful than them all," answered Neva,
looking up in her face with a smile.

"Yes, but he let Eudochia go," replied Ildica; "he suffered her to
depart without one apparent wish to stay her; and she was much more
beautiful than I am--younger, lovelier in every way."

"Oh no," cried Neva, "not half so lovely! But, besides, if I must tell
thee all, I heard my cousin Ellac, the great king's son, contriving
with Onegisus to inflame Attila's love for thee. He has hated Theodore
ever since he set foot among our tribes, and he knew that he could
take no more terrible revenge upon him, that he could bring down no
more certain destruction upon his head, than by raising up against him
Attila as a rival in his love. I heard them lay their plot, and I know
that they executed it in part. For that purpose was Theodore sent
forth; for that purpose wert thou kept here; and had it not been for
thy illness and for Ardaric's protection, who loves thy promised
husband, thou hadst received, ere this time, terrible proofs that our
fears for thee are anything but vain."

"I do remember," answered Ildica, "that on that sad night before
Theodore's departure, one of the barbarian leaders, a noble-looking
man, whom he called Ardaric, and in whom he afterward bade me trust
implicitly, came to us, and warned him of some approaching danger--"

"It was I who warned Ardaric," interrupted Neva, "because I knew that
he was sincere and true, and loved thy Theodore well. All that he knew
he heard from me, or from that unhappy Moor, that deformed and
mutilated negro, whom thou hast seen twice follow me into thy tent. He
also watched and saw much; and, with a shrewdness all his own,
perceived that Attila was not unwilling to follow where his baser son
would lead him."

Ildica clasped her hands and gazed down upon the ground. "Oh, Neva!"
she said at length, "you must aid and protect me; for--though I know,
and feel sure, that if the hour of difficulty were to come I should
find courage, on the instant, to behave as befits my race and
nation--though I feel sure and confident that there is no act which I
should fear to do, that justice and my honour required of me--yet,
Neva, yet I would fain shrink from the trial. In the contemplation of
it I am but a woman; and my very soul sinks, faint and dispirited, at
the very thought of what I may be called upon to suffer and to do."

"I will aid you, I will assist you, dear Ildica," replied Bleda's
daughter; "and there are many more in the camp who can assist you
better, and who are willing to do so too; but I hear some one in the
outer tent. It is the voice of Zercon, I think, speaking with your
slaves In him, too, you may trust; for he is one who will be faithful
unto death. He has known me from a child, and loves me well; and,
since my father's death, there is scarce a bitter cruelty in all the
long dark catalogue of inflictions which man's savage, demon-like
heart has invented, that Attila has not practised upon him. He hates
Attila, therefore, and he loves all who are persecuted by his
persecutor."

"I have heard Theodore mention him," replied Ildica. "Did he not aid
in his escape? I would fain see him again, and speak with him. All who
may assist or aid me are valuable to me, dear Neva."

Neva advanced, and drew back the curtains of the inner tent for a
moment, saying, "Dost thou seek me, Zercon? What wouldst thou with me?
Come hither, and speak with me," she added, ere the man could reply.
Returning to the side of Ildica, she seated herself near her on the
cushions; while the negro, Zercon, came forward, and drew the curtains
of the tent behind him.

"I came to warn you," he said, "that there are orders gone forth for
the whole host to move forward by dawn of day to-morrow, upon Verona
itself. Be wary, be cautious, lady," he added, fixing his eyes upon
Ildica; "all has gone well as yet; but the malice of enemies has but a
light slumber."

"My friend," said Ildica, in a calm but sad tone, "I have to thank
thee both for thine interest in myself and for the services thou hast
rendered to one dearer to me than myself. This sweet lady near me, thy
dead master's child, tells me that thou wilt befriend me, and will be
faithful unto me even unto death."

"That were saying little, lady," replied the negro. "Death, to me, is
not a thing to be feared. I will serve thee, if I can, through severer
trials than that; though I think that all the skill of Attila himself
will hardly discover a new torture or indignity which the body of man
can suffer--without being separated from the spirit--that he has not
already practised upon this wretched frame."

"I am sorry for thee, my friend, I am sorry for thee," replied Ildica.
"_Thy_ sufferings should teach us to bear _our_ lesser evils with more
patience and fortitude."

"Lady," said Zercon, "the difference between thy state and mine
renders the computation of evils in our several cases very different
also. Those evils, which to you are of the greatest magnitude, to me
are less than the sting of a piping gnat; and it is not that we bear
them differently, but that our states from infancy to this hour have
rendered them really different. You have been nurtured in ease, in
peace, and happiness. God made you beautiful as the day, and poured
through your young veins a stream of lordly blood, drawn from a source
of mighty conquerors. Philosophers and schoolmen taught you how to
enjoy; and wise and good relations showed you, from your youth up, the
path of virtue, and bade you prize honour as much, or more than life.
Your heart and feelings, your mind and soul, even like your tender
body itself, are subject to a thousand pangs, acute and dreadful, to
which mine are all insensible. I, born on an arid soil, sprung from a
despised race, gifted with deformity, nurtured in hardship, companion
from my infancy with famine, thirst, disease, and pain, tutored but to
bear, and bred up in the bitterest school of suffering--I look upon
evils which to other men are great, as enjoyment--actual happiness! I
may have heard the voice of philosophy, too; I may have listened to
wise and learned men; but the only doctrine which has been preached to
me is to suffer all things--the only lesson that I have learned
through life has been endurance. The couch that feels hard to other
men as a flinty rock, is a bed of down to me. Contumely and disgrace
have lost their sting: my body is insensible to blows, and my heart to
indignity. If I lie down to rest without the mutilating knife of
tyranny lopping away my limbs, I mark the day with a white stone, and
cry! 'Oh happy chance!' And though I have been too well tutored in
bearing the worst ever to take refuge at the altar of death, where
tyrants dare not follow, till fate shall lead me thither, yet, when
the hour comes that opens that sanctuary to me, how glad will be its
shelter, how heavenly its repose. Lady! oh, beautiful lady! if you can
give me any service which can merit death, I will bless you as for an
inestimable boon."

"Alas! my friend, I know not what may come," answered Ildica, with
tears standing in her eyes. "The time may not be far distant when I,
too, shall look to death as the only relief."

"I understand you, lady," answered Zercon, "and I know your danger;
but it is one from which your own hand can righteously deliver you if
ever it becomes imminent. Zercon--the poor, the despised Zercon--can
give you a gift worth more than a talent of gold in the hour of peril.
Look here!" and, approaching closer to Ildica, he drew from his bosom
a small dagger, the blade of which might be somewhat more than a span
in length. The haft was small, and formed of ivory; and the blade,
when he took it from the sheath, though dull in colour and in polish,
was evidently as sharp as a knife both at the point and edge.

"This steel," continued Zercon, "hard as a diamond and sharp as a
graver's tool, would, if struck with a firm hand, pierce the strongest
corslet that ever came from the armorer's anvil. In the hand of an
infant, it would slay a giant; and I give it unto you, lady, against
the hour when terror shall give place to resolution, and horror shall
conquer fear."

He spoke like a prophet; and Ildica took the dagger, and gazed upon
its blade. "Do you mean," she asked, after a long pause, "that I
should use this thing against my own life?"

"No," answered Zercon, eagerly; "no! I have never used it against
mine; but I have felt that there was a point at which endurance was
bound to stop; and that, if the time should come when opportunity
favoured the blow, I was called upon by the immutable command of
nature to strike in my own defence. That opportunity has never come;
for it would but little serve me, when a tyrant ordered his slaves to
cut away my ears or my thumbs, to take the life of one or two of his
instruments. Had he been within arm's length himself, he had died as
surely as I lived."

Ildica mused with a melancholy look, still holding the dagger on her
knee, while Neva, with the negro slave, gazed up in her face. The Moor
seemed to read her thoughts. "Lady," he said, "I hold the same faith
as you do. I have held it from my youth; but I am justified. Read in
that book, if thou canst read; not in the latter part alone, but in
the former also; and thou shalt find that our country's defence or our
own has been held just and righteous cause for slaying the oppressor.
Lady, I say no more. Conceal the weapon in your robe; and should you
ever have cause to use it, let it be no hasty, ill-considered blow,
aimed in the terror of the moment, but with calm deliberation, in a
chosen time, with the strength of virtue and of justice, and the
firmness of conscious right. I have given you what, if wisely used, is
better than a jewel; but I will serve you with my heart's dearest
blood to avoid the necessity of ever using it; and now farewell."

He retired as he spoke; and Ildica, taking up the dagger, held it for
a moment firmly in her hand, and then placed it in her bosom. Neva
gazed upon her as she did so with a look of deep emotion; and then,
sinking on her knees beside the fair Roman, threw her arms around her,
and hid her face upon her lap, murmuring, "Oh, may you never have to
use it!"



                             CHAPTER XVI.
                       THE POWER OF RESOLUTION.


Scarcely was Zercon gone when the hangings of the tent which he had
let fall behind him were again pushed aside, and an old woman, of some
barbarian tribe, frightful in features, and fantastically dressed,
entered and stood before Ildica. Neva started up; and when she beheld
this personage she turned very pale.

"What wouldst thou?" demanded Ildica, in her own language; but the
woman did not seem to understand her, and continued to gaze upon her
from head to foot.

"What wouldst thou?" repeated Neva, in the Hunnish tongue; in reply to
which the old crone burst into a loud and scornful laugh, adding, "I
came to see what I have seen!" and, turning as she spoke, she left the
tent without waiting for further inquiries.

"Who is that, dear Neva?" demanded Ildica. "She is rude and strange in
her demeanour."

"Alas! alas!" replied Neva; "I fear her coming bodes no good. She is
skilled in healing, and dwells among the wives of Attila; and I doubt
not that she has been sent to see if thou art still as ill as we have
reported."

At these words Ildica herself turned pale, and gazed anxiously upon
the countenance of Neva. She had no time, however, to inquire further;
for scarcely had the woman left the tent when there was a cry of
"Attila! Attila! The king! the king!" and the domestic attendants, who
had followed the fair Roman girl and her mother through all their
fortunes, ran in with looks of apprehension from the outer tent, and
surrounded their beloved mistress.

The moment after the cry of "Attila! Attila!" was repeated, the
hangings were again drawn back, and the dark monarch of the Huns
advanced at once into the tent. There was a mortal paleness upon
Ildica's countenance; but, from the moment that the cry of "Attila!
Attila!" had sounded on her ear till the moment that he came into her
presence, the eyes of those who surrounded her saw an expression of
high and noble resolution gathering upon that fair, lofty forehead, as
the electric clouds upon a summer's day may be seen rolling round some
mountain peak, till that which, in the morning light, was all clear
and fair, becomes, ere noon, awful in the proud majesty of the coming
storm.

All rose and retired a step as Attila entered, except Ildica; but she,
with queenlike calmness, kept her place: and it was wonderful to all
eyes to behold that sweet and gentle girl, full of tenderness and soft
affections, changed in a moment, by the power of a great mind and
mighty resolution, into a proud and lordly being, fit to cope with the
great conqueror of one half of the earth. There she sat immoveable,
gazing with the unquailing light of her lustrous eyes upon the dark
monarch as he advanced towards her; and even Attila himself--though
the cause was surprise and admiration only--paused for a single
instant midway in his approach, and scarcely could believe his eyes,
that this was the same creature whom he had last beheld dissolved in
tears beside her departing brother. Her beauty, however, was as
radiant, though it shone through another air; and, again advancing, he
seated himself beside her calmly on the cushions, saying, "They have
deceived me: they told me you were ill!"

"I have been ill, oh king!" replied Ildica, in a voice not a tone of
which faltered, even in the slightest degree, "I have been ill, very
nearly unto death."

"Illness seldom wears so lovely a form," replied Attila, in a softened
voice. "Attila trusts that thou art better, fair maiden; else thy
beauty belies thy state."

"I am better, oh king," answered Ildica; "and I trust that a few days
more of repose may restore me completely unto health."

"Were it not better for thee," said Attila, "to seek the open air, and
draw in the pure breath of the summer day, than, sitting here in the
close atmosphere of a tent, to waste the hours of sunshine?"

"The covering of this tent, oh king," replied Ildica, boldly, "shuts
out from me more things than the pure air; and if, in going forth. I
should gain advantage from the sweet breath of heaven visiting my
lips, the sights that I should behold would carry tenfold poison to my
heart by the sure channel of the eye--at least, if all be true that I
have heard."

"What hast thou heard?" demanded Attila, quickly, rolling his eye over
those that surrounded them, "what hast thou heard, sweet Ildica?"

"I have heard," she replied, unwilling to call down the anger of that
terrible monarch upon any one else, however sure she might be of
encountering it ultimately herself--"I have heard but the usual tale
of warfare: I have heard of populous cities taken and made desolate;
of blood drowning out the fire on the dear domestic hearth: of
thousands and tens of thousands slaughtered, and their bodies lying
unburied in the fields, or nailed, if they resisted, to the trees of
their own fruitful gardens. I have heard of the whole land swept of
its produce, its arts obliterated, its monuments destroyed, its
husbandmen slain, even its women and children put to the sword--and
that land my country!"

She paused; but Attila made no reply, and sat listening as
if he expected her to go on. "Pardon me, oh king," continued
Ildica--"pardon me, if I am bold to say thus much; but as it was grief
which brought me nearly unto death at first--deep, bitter grief!--I am
told that any grief whatsoever, added anew, may complete what the
other left undone, and bring me at once unto the grave."

"A mother's death," replied Attila, without any sign of anger at the
bold and proud demeanour of the fair Roman girl--"a mother's death, so
sudden and unexpected, might well shake the strength and fortitude of
a daughter; but, as to other things, I see not why she should let her
mind rest upon them."

"Let me not boast, oh king!" replied Ildica, resolved to leave no word
unspoken which might guard her against all she feared--"let me not
boast, but yet I may say, my fortitude is never shaken. It was the
bodily strength gave way, and not the resolution of the heart. Neither
was it a mother's loss alone: that was the last of many sorrows.
Before it went the parting with my brother and the sister of my heart;
and before that again the still bitterer parting with my promised
husband, with him I loved, and always have loved, better than anything
on earth."

Attila's brow grew dark, and he fixed his eyes bitterly upon the
ground. Ildica marked the expression, however much he strove to
control it, but she proceeded all the more eagerly; and had he been a
tiger ready for the spring, still she would have gone on. "Yes, oh
king! that, though the first, was the bitterest stroke of all--for who
shall tell how I love him, how deeply, how sincerely, how beyond all
other things I love him. Without him, life to me is a dark blank; and
when you forbade our union, and sent him from me to a distant land,
you struck the blow that undermined my health; you filled high the cup
that my mother's death caused afterward to overflow."

She paused again, and Attila looked up and replied, "Thy voice is
sweet and musical, lovely girl, but thy words are harsh and somewhat
grating to mine ear. Attila seeks not to make thee unhappy; but be not
rash, and change the tenderness which he feels for thee and thine into
a less gentle temper. I would not force thee to behold sights which
may be painful to a woman's eye; but to-morrow early, thou, as well as
the rest, must set out upon our onward march."

"Must we then go on," said Ildica; "I had hoped, as thou hast encamped
here long, some cause might induce thee to turn thy fiery sword
another way, and not let the edge fall heavy upon Rome."

"We must upon our march!" replied Attila, "we must upon our march! The
country around us is exhausted of its stores. We have dried up the
land of its wine and oil, like the summer's sun shining on a scanty
brook. All is consumed; and where the foot of Attila's horse has trod
grows no grass afterward. I paused here," he added, with a grim smile,
"because my son sent me word that a pitiful city of the Venetian
province resisted the army of Attila, one of those stony piles in
which you Romans love to dwell, called Aquileia."

"What? Aquileia, the beautiful, the proud," exclaimed Ildica, "the
provincial Rome?"

"The same," replied Attila, "It dared to shut its gates against those
I sent to possess it; and when I reached them myself, I found that it
had made its resistance good. It was different from the usual Roman
towns. There were more than women and boys within. The catapult and
balista had been plied in vain. The walls held out; and as I rode
around, the soldiers on the towers, in their fancied security,
laughed loud, and mocked the arms of Attila. But there was a certain
stork--wiser, by the gods' own teaching, than the fools within--who
saw the horse of Attila pause before the spot where she had built her
nest upon the ramparts, and, auguring destruction to the towers on
which he looked, she took her young ones on her back, and flew away
for ever. Over the fragments of her nest, strewed upon the ruins of
that wall, passed the horse of Attila ere nightfall; and now let after
ages look for Aquileia, and find some scattered stones spread over a
desolate plain. The brothers of those who defended it shall never
gather their bones into their family sepulchre; for the flames of that
city have confounded all, and nothing but dust is left. Thus perish
all who resist the will of Attila," he added, and fixed his eyes full
on Ildica.

"They did but die," replied the Roman girl, and she gave him back his
glance as proudly as it was sent. The light of irrepressible
admiration rose in that mighty monarch's eyes, and for several minutes
he remained gazing upon her in silence; but there mingled with that
steadfast look an expression which, in spite of every effort, called
the quick and modest blood into the cheek of Ildica.

"Those whom Attila loves," said the king, "are as sure of benefits as
those who resist him of punishments; and surely the regard of one,
before whom the proudest monarchs of the earth bow down their heads,
is a prize worth having to those whose hearts are noble and their
spirit high. The great, the generous, and the lofty minded should ever
love each other; and I say to thee, fair maiden, that thy noble and
thy daring mind has this day commanded the esteem of Attila more fully
than even thy radiant, thine unequalled beauty has called forth the
admiration of his eyes."

"Esteem, oh Attila!" replied Ildica, in a calm, solemn tone, "must
ever create esteem; for it is founded on virtue, and ever springs from
it. Those we esteem we would never debase, and dare not injure; and
Ildica rests tranquilly upon the esteem of Attila for protection
against all men--even should it be against himself."

Attila cast down his eyes, and for a few moments remained in thought;
then turning to the attendants round, he said, in a tone that admitted
no reply, "Leave us!"

One by one, those who stood near left the tent, Neva following more
slowly and with downcast eyes. Ildica lifted her heart to heaven, and
prayed internally for strength and wisdom, for she felt that the hour
of trial might be coming near. The hangings of the tent fell; but
scarcely had they fallen when there came sudden voices sounding
eagerly without, and in a moment after Onegisus entered the presence
of Attila.

"Let me die if I have offended, oh mighty king!" he said, in
breathless haste; "but I have tidings that admit no delay."

"Speak them!" said Attila.

"[AE]tius, oh king, has passed the mountains," replied the chief; "he
brings with him the legions of Gaul. Valentinian has left Ravenna, and
gathers an army under the walls of Rome. The fleets of Marcian are
upon the Adriatic."

Attila listened without a change of countenance. "Thy news from the
East is false," he said: "Marcian stirs not. Valentinian is a fly in a
spider's web. Is it sure that [AE]tius has passed the mountains?"

"The tribe of Ilgours, who were in the country of the Burgundians,"
replied Onegisus, "followed his march, and have sent on messengers to
warn the king."

"Then it is true," said Attila, rising, "and we must scourge him back
into Gaul. Attila marches for Milan. I leave you, my friend, to tread
upon Verona and Padua, and to sweep the plains behind me of all
adversaries. Leave nothing dangerous behind, and follow with all
speed. Where are Ardaric and Valamir? They must accompany me this
night!" and with a slow and deliberate step he left the tent, giving
no sign of emotion of any kind, unless his leaving Ildica without a
word, or even a look, might be construed into a proof of how much the
tidings he had just heard affected him at heart.

Ildica lifted her eyes to heaven, and clasped her hands, exclaiming,
"Oh God, thou dost not desert me in my utmost need! On thee will I
rely!" and, with a heart relieved, she burst into a long but happy
flood of tears.

"To Milan!" she thought--"to Milan! That is far off. [AE]tius, too,
is before him. Ere I shall see his face again, Theodore will have
returned, and I shall be delivered!" and again she wept. Her
attendants flocked around her; and some seeing her state, without
knowing why, mingled their tears with hers.

"Weep not, my friends," she said at length--"weep not! I weep for joy!
Leave me alone for a while; and give me the ivory scrinium with the
silver clasps. There is a book therein I would fain read to
tranquillize my mind."

The attendants obeyed; and bringing her the casket which she had
mentioned, set it down beside her and retired. Ildica opened the
scrinium, and, from among a number of rolls of parchment and papyrus,
selected a manuscript in vellum, gathered together into the form of
two or three small volumes, and pored eagerly upon the pages, seeming
to find there matter for deep meditation and solemn interest. Now, her
eye ran rapidly over the lines, and her hand turned the pages without
pause; and then again she would suddenly stop, and looking up, as if
for light and direction, would think for several minutes over what she
had just read, as if the sense were doubtful, or the precept difficult
of application. But the book was one which, in every age since first
its words were traced upon that page of light, has caused, and well
might cause, the mind of man to lose itself in lofty musings. It was
the book which to the eye of the inspired patriarch of old was shown,
in the vision of those heavenly steps by which the angels of God came
down to earth, and ascended back again on high. It was the book which
leads the soul, step by step, from the thoughts of earth, and the
common and familiar things which the mind of man can grasp, up to
those wide and sublime regions where, standing at the footstool of the
Almighty throne, we still gaze up on high, and thought loses itself in
the boundless space of mercy, power, and wisdom. It was that book,
down each gradation of which angels and prophets came to visit earth,
and lead back into heaven the just, the humble, and the true.

There, as she read, the eye might see the history of that sacred Being
during his short stay on earth, whose life was mercy and purity; whose
words were wisdom and holiness; whose birth and whose death were
equally miraculous and beneficent, an example, a teacher, a guide, a
sacrifice, an atonement. There, too, as her eye ran back over the long
record, which marks the preservation of the revealed knowledge of our
God, holy, and true, and wise, throughout ages and among nations,
corrupt, perverse, unfaithful, the eye might trace the simple,
touching story of the early fathers of mankind, and see displayed in
the candid words of Divine truth their thoughts, their errors, and
their virtues, without a shade of palliation or excuse. There lay
revealed the mighty trial of Abraham's triumphant faith; there, the
sweet history of Joseph and his little brother; there, the tale of
Ruth, and of the widow and her son, and the mighty faults and virtues
of Israel's psalmist king; there, his son's instructive wisdom and
monitory fall; there, all those affecting scenes which, in their grand
simplicity, defy the brightest eloquence of every people and of every
time, to move the heart of man as they do.

But it was not on such scenes that the eye of Ildica principally
rested. She sought for matters more assimilating with her fate and
fortunes at the time. She read of the battles of the chosen people of
God, their wars, their victories, their reverses. She paused, and
thought upon the history of Sisera and Jael; but oh, how her heart
thrilled when she read the tale of the tyrant warrior, from whom a
woman's hand delivered the people of the Lord! She read! she trembled!
she gasped for breath! She laid down the book and wept aloud!

Oh let us leave the secret feelings of her heart to commune with
themselves undisclosed! for who can say what those feelings were, how
deep, how sad, how terrible? Who can tell them all perfectly, who can
display the struggle, and the mingling, and the strife, wherein a
thousand opposing thoughts, and hopes, and fears, bright sympathies,
noble aspirations, lofty purposes, and mighty inspirations, together
with woman's shrinking modesty, intense love, and tender nature,
contended like hostile nations bent on mutual destruction within the
narrow battle-field of that fair, beautiful bosom? Who can tell them
all? and, if not all, should we trifle with a part? Oh no, no! we have
said enough!



                            CHAPTER XVII.
                     THE WEAK AGAINST THE STRONG.


Through the most fertile plain that Europe can display, amid the olive
and the fig, the loaded vine and the ripening corn, with on one side a
vast and interminable view over lands laughing in the richest gifts of
nature, and on the other mounting up into the sky the gigantic
mountains which separate that bright land from all the rest of earth,
passed on a multitude of those savage warriors, who were destined to
change the rich plains of Lombardy from the garden of the world to the
most desolate spot of this quarter of the globe.

But, alas! not alone did those fierce warriors take their way,
unaccompanied by any of the children of the soil. On the contrary,
closely following their march, appeared a body which contained within
itself sad samples of all the vice, the weakness, the baseness of the
land. There was the skilful engineer, whose warlike but not perilous
art provided the means of destruction for other men's hands to use;
there was the theoretic strategist, whose pen prepared the plans of
battles that he could not fight; there the sculptor and the limner,
ready ever to transmit unto posterity the features of those whose
actions commanded admiration, though not applause; there the thousand
fawning slaves, ready to forget all ties, so long as they could cover
baser bonds by the golden ties of interest. Besides all these were the
captives, not chained, indeed, but dragged along by fetters as
powerful as rings of iron, selected and preserved from slaughtered
myriads for a fate worse than death itself, on account of those
qualities which adorn and beautify the blessed state of freedom.
Beauty, skill, strength, and activity: these were the sad gifts that
purchased slavery.

In the midst of these--herself a captive, though surrounded by her own
slaves, now all in bondage to another--was borne along the fair
Dalmatian girl, whose fate has occupied so much of our attention. Her
way was cleared by parties of the Huns appointed expressly for that
purpose; and honours, too queenlike, awaited her wherever she paused.
In many a place she found garlands strewed in her way, and tutored
rejoicings greeted her at every resting-place. But oh! the coldest
silence, the most icy indifference would have conveyed more warmth to
her heart than those demonstrations of a distinction which she feared.
Seldom, very seldom did she raise her eyes; but, poring earnestly on a
book before her, seemed buried in contemplations from which no
external objects could awaken her. Twice only during the second day's
journey from Verona did she look up, and then her attention was called
forcibly towards too terrible a sight by the wild ejaculations of the
attendants who surrounded her. On either side of the road appeared,
when she did look up, a range of trees, which had been planted to
afford a pleasant shelter to the weary wayfarer from the burning rays
of the summer's sun. But now, fixed upon those trees, were immense
crosses of wood, on each of which, extended by nails in the hands and
feet, was seen the dead body of a human being, contorted with the
agonies of a painful death. Nor had one nation alone nor one country
furnished the victims for that awful sacrifice; for there were seen
the dark-visaged Hun, the fair-haired Frank, the large-limbed Goth,
the strong-featured Roman--all, in short, against whom any charge of
deceit or infidelity towards Attila and the Hunnish nation could be
brought, were arrayed in fearful assemblage to terrify the passer-by.

Ildica gazed on them when her attention was forced towards them; and
then, clasping her hands, she looked up on high, while her lips
murmured woman's prayer for patience under all the sad scenes which
she was destined to act in and behold. Then again, casting down her
eyes, she strove to avoid, as far as possible, such fearful sights,
hoping that brighter days and more joyful objects might come, and blot
them out for ever from the tablets of memory, or soften the harsh
lines so that they should be no longer painful. But still, as they
marched onward, fresh scenes of desolation and horror were forced upon
her sight, and, whether she would or not, the indignant heart swelled
up, and a voice within her bosom exclaimed, "Oh for a warrior's soul
and a warrior's might! Oh for an ancient Roman's undaunted energy, to
stem this dark and ruinous torrent in its course, to drive back the
destroyer of my native land, to snatch the bloody scourge out of the
hand of fate, and hurl it for ever into the gulf of death!"

At length a large and magnificent city appeared before her; and Ildica
prepared her eyes to behold the same utter destruction which she had
beheld in every other town. Her astonishment was great, however, on
entering Mediolanum,[5] to behold the inhabitants pursuing their
ordinary occupations; the shops opened, and their wares exposed in the
very presence of those ruthless barbarians who had come to spoil and
desolate the land. It is true, the great body of Attila's army was
encamped without its walls, and that but a few thousand of the Huns
were permitted to enter the city; but still, with its gates in their
possession, and its walls covered by their troops, Milan was at the
mercy of the Hunnish multitude, and nothing but the awful name of
Attila saved it from destruction.


---------------

[Footnote 5: Milan.]

---------------


The troops of Onegisus entered not the gates of the city; but the
litter of Ildica was borne forward through the principal streets, and
at length stopped before a magnificent pile of building, which was, in
fact, the royal palace of Milan. Those who accompanied her waited for
directions from some one within; and, after a brief pause, the litter
was again carried on into the interior of the palace. At the foot of
the great staircase it was set down, and Ildica with her attendants
was bade to follow on foot. From room to room, from hall to hall, from
gallery to gallery, she was led onward by several of the barbarian
chiefs, beholding, as she advanced, with wonder, not unmixed with
pleasure, that, amid all the splendour which that building displayed,
amid all the monuments of art which it contained, no act of violence
had been perpetrated by the hand of the barbarians, but that there
every object remained untouched, or at least uninjured. At one spot,
indeed, she beheld a painter busily employed in labouring with the
brush upon the walls, but he was a Roman; and on looking nearer she
perceived that he was making a complete change in one of the pictures,
which represented some barbarian kings kneeling at the feet of a Roman
emperor.

"What doest thou, my friend?" she asked.

"I am working at the command of the mighty Attila," replied the
painter, "in order to change this picture so as to suit the changes of
the time. When I have done, two Roman emperors will be seen kneeling
at the feet of a Scythian king."

Ildica walked on without reply, feeling bitterly in her heart the
truth of the sad lesson which Attila thus taught.

At the farther extremity of the building she found the apartments
assigned to her; and in a moment or two after she had entered them,
and when the Huns who conducted her had withdrawn, Neva, whom she had
not beheld for many days, approached, and took her fondly in her arms.
The girl's countenance was sad, however, and while she gazed upon
Ildica the tears rose in her eyes.

"Shall I say welcome?" she asked--"shall I say welcome, when I fear
that much grief awaits you? shall I say welcome to a place where you
must hear many things that will grieve you!"

At these words the dull, heavy weight fell again upon Ildica's heart,
and the struggle recommenced, the painful struggle, of strong and
high-minded resolution against woman's natural fears and
apprehensions. "Speak," she replied, "speak, dear Neva. Tell me what
new cause of sorrow and of terror has arisen. Tell me what step has
been taken in the warfare that fate seems resolved to wage against my
happiness on earth."

"Alas!" replied Neva, "alas! that my lip should tell it; but it is
only right to warn thee of what you might hear too soon from other
lips, and might hear unprepared. Attila speaks of thee often: Attila
speaks of thee with love: Attila speaks of thee as of one destined to
be his; and thou knowest, Ildica, that his will is like the will of
fate."

"Not so, Neva; not so," replied Ildica. "There is a will above his!"
But while she thus expressed her trust, the tears rolled from her eyes
in despite of every effort, and she wept bitterly. "There is a will
above his," she said, "holier, more merciful, and mightier far! In it
will I trust, Neva, in it will I trust! But what do I do weeping?" she
added--"what do I do weeping, when I have to think, to resolve, and
act? what do I do weeping, when lo he comes, and I have need of
vigour, not of tears; of determination, not of terror? Hear you not
his step, hear you not his step? He is coming! he is coming! Hear you
not his step?" and, as she spoke, she grasped the arm of the fair girl
tight in her hand, and gazed towards the door with a look of wild and
painful anticipation, which, had it not been too well justified by her
circumstances, might well have passed for the vivid but wandering
glance of insanity.

"It is not his foot you hear," replied Neva, fondly linking herself to
Ildica, and striving to assuage the fears which she had herself
occasioned. "That is not his step--I know it well, Ildica! I have
known it, and trembled at it from my infancy. As the beasts of the
field have an intimation of the earthquake, and fly trembling from the
walls over which the impending ruin is suspended--as the light summer
insect, to whom the falling drop of a spring shower is a deadly ocean,
finds some warning to seek shelter beneath the foliage against the
coming destruction--as the birds cease their song, and the cattle seek
the fold before the approaching storm--so unto me has been given an
augury of danger and of terror, in the world-shaking step of that
awful king. I have heard it in the sunshine of summer, and the
sunshine has been clouded: I have heard it in the dead of the night,
and night has assumed the horror of the grave. But hark! Whoever it is
that speaks with the attendants without--that voice is not Attila's,
nor was the step."

As she spoke the curtain was withdrawn, and there appeared, not the
form of the Scythian king, but that of Ardaric, chief of the
Gepid[ae]. His countenance, as we have already said, was naturally
frank and open; and, unlike that of Attila, it displayed, as in a
highly polished mirror, every emotion of his heart, except when, by
some great effort, he drew an unwonted veil over the picture of his
thoughts, which there found their ordinary expression. His face was
now clouded; and advancing towards Neva, he spoke a few words to her
in the Hunnish dialect; and then turning towards Ildica, addressed
her, though with considerable difficulty, in the Latin tongue.

Agitated, terrified, and confused, it was with difficulty Ildica
gathered his meaning. She found, however, that what he said consisted
of warnings of approaching danger, like those which Neva had already
given, and of caution and advice as to how she should avoid or
mitigate them. Though for the time Ildica's mind could scarcely grasp
those counsels, yet they returned beneficially to her in the hour of
need. She heard him tell her that delay to her was more valuable than
beaten gold, and remind her that in her case any sort of duplicity was
justifiable to foil a tyrant who knew no scruples, and joined deceit
with power. But all that Ildica could reply, under her overpowering
sense of the fearful struggle she saw approaching, was, "Can I not
fly? Oh, can I not fly?"

"For fifty miles around on every side," replied Ardaric, "the troops
of the Huns are spread over the country; and for more than fifty miles
beyond those, scattered parties from a thousand different nations, but
all attached to Attila by vows, by love, or by fear, roam through the
country, and keep, as it were, an outer watch on his camp. The eagle
may escape from the net woven to catch a sparrow; the lion may rend
into a thousand pieces the toils which were set to catch the stag or
the elk; but thou canst no more escape from the midst of the host of
Attila than a small fly can disentangle itself from the meshes of the
spider."

Ildica wept bitterly, nor was it with the kind of tears which bring
relief. They were not tears for the past--the dark, irretrievable
past, for the beloved and the dead, for the hours wasted or the
pleasures passed away--they were not tears, in short, for any of those
things which may be mourned with mourning sweet and profitable--but
they were the deep, bitter, fruitless tears of apprehension, wrung
forth by the agony of a fearful but unavoidable fate. She wept
bitterly, she wept wildly; she noted not Ardaric, she heeded not the
voice of Neva. Hopes and consolations they offered her in vain. Advice
and direction seemed to fall unheeded on her ear: she appeared not to
notice their presence or be conscious of their sympathy. Indeed, so
totally was she absorbed in the overpowering sorrows of her own heart,
and the fearful contemplation of the destiny before her, that she knew
not when they left her, or awakened from the vision of her wo till
another voice demanded, in a tone that made her start wildly from her
seat, "Why weepest thou, maiden? why weepest thou so bitterly?" and
Attila stood before her.

She gazed upon him with a wandering and anxious look while one might
count ten, but then the triumph of the powerful mind began again. The
moment of terror and apprehension was over--the moment of resolution
and of action was come. Womanly weakness had had its hour, and was
passed. The Roman heart was reawakened by the voice that called her to
the trial. The sight of Attila, like the fierce sun shining on the
dewy grass after a storm, dried up the tears in her eyes; and after
that brief pause she replied, "I weep, oh king! because as a woman I
am weak; because I am apprehensive of the future; because I am
uncertain of the present; because I grieve for the past. Little cause
is there to ask any one living why he weeps. Thou wouldst do more
wisely wert thou to ask any one in this world why he smiles."

"Maiden," replied Attila, "dost thou think that such vague words can
deceive me? Thinkest thou that so thin a veil can hide the features of
thy mind? Thou weepest for thy lover! thou thinkest that he is either
dead or faithless, because he has not come so soon as he promised!"

"Thou art mistaken, oh Attila!" replied Ildica; "I neither think him
dead--for God protects the good, the virtuous, and the noble--nor do I
think him faithless; for to judge so harshly of him would be to wrong
the God who formed his heart, and made it upright, true, and constant.
I may have fears and apprehensions, but they are not of him or of his
truth. What they are matters not to any one; for though I may be
carried captive after a mighty conqueror's army, the freedom of my
thoughts he cannot touch; and I am still at liberty in heart and soul,
above his reach, and far beyond his power."

Her words, however bold, seemed to give no offence to Attila; but, on
the contrary, as she spoke, a brighter and a warmer fire glowed up in
his countenance, and taking her unwilling but unresisting hand, he led
her back to the seat from which she had risen, saying, "Thou art bold
as well as beautiful, and well fit to be the bride of some great
warrior, whose soul is capable of prizing such as thine."

"May such be my fate!" replied Ildica. "Theodore, to whom all my
thoughts and feelings are given, is worthy of much more than this weak
hand. Hast thou heard news of his return, oh king? and dost thou come
to make me happy with the tidings!"

Attila's brow grew dark for a moment; but the angry cloud soon passed
away, and the light of other passions returned to his countenance.
"No, Ildica, no!" he said, "I come not to tell you of his return, for
no news of his coming has yet reached the camp, though the time fixed
by his own lips as the utmost period of his absence has wellnigh
expired. No, Ildica, no! I come to tell thee of a brighter and a
loftier fate which may be thine, if thy mind be capable, as I am sure
it is, of higher aspirations and more noble hopes."

"I seek no loftier fate, oh king!" cried Ildica, shrinking from his
eager gaze, and striving to delay the utterance of words by Attila
which, with woman's keen insight into the heart of man, she knew would
bind him to pursue his purpose by the bond of pride, stronger, far
stronger than even passion itself--"I seek no loftier fate, I
entertain no higher aspirations! To be the wife of him whom my heart
has loved from infancy to womanhood--to wed him who has loved me
through every change of fate, through peril and danger, through
absence and temptation--to wed him who has so loved me, and whom I so
love, is to my mind the brightest fate, the loftiest destiny that
woman could obtain."

"But if he be dead?" said Attila, fixing his dark eyes full upon her.

"Then," replied Ildica, seeing the danger of the slightest hesitation
in her answer to such a suggestion, "then will I either die also, or,
vowing myself to silent prayer, leave for ever an idle and a sorrowful
world, and hide myself with some of those lone sisterhoods who spend
their days in solitude."

"Not so," answered Attila, drawing closer to her: "thou shouldst have
a better destiny; thou shouldst be the bride of Attila--his chosen,
his best beloved bride; honoured and revered above all others; queen
of his heart; mistress of his actions; sovereign of all the nations
that bow to his command."

Ildica sprang from his eager arm, and cast herself upon her knees
before him. The terrible words were spoken! There was no escape left
but in determination strong as his own! She could no longer avoid the
theme most dreaded; and her task was to meet it boldly and at once!

"Hear me, oh king!" she cried, earnestly--"hear me! I am small, and
thou art great! Hear me, and save me even from thyself! I love another
deeply, devotedly, truly; but even were that other dead, I could never
love thee as thou wouldst wish to be loved--nay, as thou deservest to
be loved. Mighty warrior! great and magnanimous king! unequalled
conqueror! wilt thou debase thyself to contend with a woman? wilt thou
degrade thyself to violate the sanctity of thy word, to wrong the
innocent and the unoffending, to betray those who trusted thee, to
destroy him who loved thee? Wilt thou risk being defeated by the
strong and resolute heart of a girl like me? Monarch! I am not in thy
power, but in God's! To God I will appeal against thee; and sooner
than become thy bride, will give my spirit back to Him who lent it.
Think not that thou canst frustrate my purpose, and debar me of my
will. A camp has always weapons whereby my own life can be reached; no
tent but has its cord; no banquet but has its knife. Not a tower of
this city but affords me the means of defying the mighty power of
Attila; and the flinty bed beneath yon window would, to me, seem a
couch of down compared with thy bridal bed, oh king! But thou wilt
spare me! thou wilt spare me! I know thy better thoughts and nobler
nature. Thou dost but try me. Thou wilt still be just, and wise, and
esteemed of all men! If Theodore be dead, tell me so; and I will vow
myself to God--I can bear such tidings with calm grief; but never,
never can I love Attila as Attila should be loved! Oh, let me
reverence and admire him still! Force me not to see in him the pagan
king--the destroyer of my country--the enemy of my faith--the slayer
of my promised husband--the betrayer of his trust--the falsifier of
his word--the tyrant of a woman whom he had vowed to protect!"

So rapidly, so earnestly, so vehemently did she speak, and at the same
time so lovely did she look in the attitude of eager supplication,
that Attila had neither time nor inclination to interrupt her; and,
though admiration and tenderness were crossed by jealousy at the words
of love which she bestowed on Theodore, and by anger at the daring
terms she feared not to apply to himself, he remained silent for a
moment after she had done, gazing on that splendid countenance and
that beautiful form, awakened, as both face and figure were, into a
thousand fresh graces by the imploring earnestness of her address.

"Take care," he exclaimed at length, "take care. Remember, love may be
turned into hate; and the hate of Attila is a thing to be feared."

"Not near so much by me as is his love," replied Ildica. "Oh king!
thou canst but slay me, and I fear not death. No torture that the
cruellest tyrant ever yet invented is equal to the torture of the
mind; and were I to wed Attila, could my mind ever be free from
agony?"

"Why? why?" demanded Attila, fiercely. "Is it that this form is
hateful to thee? Is it that this hand, which a thousand conquered
kings have felt proud to kiss, is abhorrent in thine eyes?"

"No, no! oh no!" cried Ildica, taking the hand that he had partly
extended, and pressing her lips upon it--"no, mighty king, far from
it! It is that I love another with a love that death itself can never
change. It is that our faith is different, all our thoughts unlike,
that thou art the avowed enemy of my country. Yet all that were
nothing compared with my love for another. Were he dead to-morrow,
still would he live in my heart as vividly, as strongly as if I saw
him every day. This is no vain dream, no idle fancy! I have known it
and proved it during long, long years of absence; and I should but
gaze upon thee and think upon him--I should live in the past and hate
the present for his sake! Oh, mighty Attila! be generous, be noble!
and command, by thine actions, the only kind of love that Ildica can
yield thee. Heaven is my witness, that far from feeling towards thee
with the cold abhorrence which thou seemest to think I experience--far
from striving to hate thee even as the enemy of my country, and to
regard thee with detestation, as many of my nation do--ever since that
day when first in the plains of Margus thou savedst the life of him I
loved, and didst free me and mine from terrible captivity, I have ever
loved thee with deep veneration. I have thought of thee as at once
mighty and generous, a conqueror, but a noble one, the enemy of my
country indeed, but a great, a wonderful, a just, a lofty-minded man.
Thus have I thought of thee, and thus has my beloved Theodore ever
taught me to think, by word and by letter, by the tale of thy great
deeds, and by his knowledge of thy noble nature."

Attila was evidently moved; and, folding his arms upon his breast, he
turned his eyes from Ildica as if from some impulse of shame, and
fixed them on the ground. The fair girl, however, saw that she had
produced some effect, and she proceeded eagerly in that strain which
had been thus far successful.

"Think, oh Attila," she exclaimed, "think what has been the conduct
towards thee of him whom I so dearly love. I know not half of what he
has done, for he boasts not of good actions; but sure I am that you
have ever found him faithful, zealous, and true; and thou canst in
thine own mind trace, as in a picture, all that he has done for thee
and thine. Have I not heard, here in the camp, that he saved the life
of thy youngest child, the beautiful youth whom they call Ernac? Have
I not heard that in some battle in Gaul more than once he risked his
life to defend that of Attila? Has he ever failed thee in the hour of
need? Has he ever spoken to thee or of thee one unjust word? Has he
ever betrayed thee in small things or in great? Has he ever been
untrue to thee, oh king? And wouldst thou now betray him; wouldst thou
make _his_ life miserable who always sought thy welfare? Wouldst thou
take that life which was risked to save thine own? Wouldst thou take
his bride, the chief object of his existence, from him who, from the
jaws of destruction, rescued thy beloved child?"

"No, no, no!" cried Attila, taking both the hands that she held out
towards him in the act of adjuration--"no, no; I will not wrong him!
Thou hast conquered! Whatever I may feel, however strong and burning
be the passion that thou hast kindled in my heart, I will not take his
bride from him who saved my son. Rise, maiden, rise! and set your
heart at rest! If the son of Paulinus return to claim thee for his
bride, his bride thou shalt be, and I will send ye together far from
me, that the memory of these feelings may never be reawakened by the
sight of thy beauty. A week hence is the utmost term that he allowed
himself to return; I will add thereunto another week ere I see thee
again, that I may not increase the fire that burns even now within my
heart. If he be not then returned, Attila will cause diligent search
and inquiry to be made, that his fate may be clearly ascertained.
Attila will do justice to the son of Paulinus; but if he be dead, as
in these times of trouble and of pestilence he well may be, Ildica
will do justice unto Attila."

Her heart sunk at his last words; but she had gained so much already
that she dared not risk all again by reply. All she answered then was,
"God defend us both!" and covering her fair face with her hands, she
gave way to the many mingled emotions that struggled in her
breast--present relief--future apprehension--hope, never-dying,
consoling hope--her dark, inseparable companion, fear--the agitation
of a great struggle achieved; and the overpowering sense of success
beyond her anticipations--she could not restrain them all--she gave
way, and wept.

Attila gazed upon her for several minutes in silence, and then
exclaimed, "Thou art too lovely! But be comforted," he added, "thou
mayst be happy yet!"

Thus saying, he turned, and left her to indulge her tears in peace.



                            CHAPTER XVIII.
                          THE POWER OF MIND.


"On to Rome! on to Rome! On to the eternal city! On to the ancient
capital of empires! On to the throne of mighty kings of old! Attila
has conquered [AE]tius! The two mighty men have met; and the weaker
has given way. Attila triumphs over [AE]tius! On to Rome! on to Rome!
The world is open and prostrate before the sword of Attila. On to
Rome! on to Rome! On to spoil, and to victory, and to triumph!"

Such were the cries that ran through the host of the Huns, as they
marched on from Milan towards the devoted city of the C[ae]sars, And
mighty and terrible indeed was that innumerable multitude, as,
composed of a thousand nations, it flowed on like an overwhelming
deluge upon its way. Those who stood and gazed upon its wide-extended
front, as, rushing on irresistible, it swept the fair plains of
Lombardy, might well want language and figures to express the awful
advance of the barbarian world.

The dark thunder-cloud, sweeping at once over the clear blue sky, and
shutting out sunshine and daylight beneath its ominous veil, is too
slow in its course, too unsubstantial in its form, to afford an image
of that living inundation. The avalanche that sweeps down the side of
the Alps, overwhelming flocks, and herds, and cities in its way, is
but petty when compared with the immense masses of that fierce and
furious multitude. The long wave of the agitated sea, when cast by the
breath of the tempest upon the echoing shore, would give but a faint
idea of that rushing multitude of armed men.

No! Neither bounded to a narrow space, nor gradually and slowly
carried forward, nor checked in its course and retiring to return
again, did the multitudes of Attila advance. But, spread out from sea
to sea--rushing onward with the swiftness of the wind--irresistible,
overpowering, vast, like the dark tide of lava when it rushes down the
channelled sides of Etna, came the barbarian myriads, finding
brightness and beauty before them, and leaving darkness and desolation
behind.

Through every road, over every field, into every city, across every
river, they passed. Like the sword of the destroying angel in the
dwellings of the Egyptians, nothing seemed to stop them, nothing to
impede their progress, even for an hour. Terror and lamentation went
through all the land; and the voice of weeping was heard from the
banks of the Athesis to the Straits of Scylla; Ravenna, defensible as
it was, was abandoned in a day; and Rome itself wailed in trembling
for the approach of a new, a fiercer conqueror than Alaric.

At length the tent of Attila was pitched by the side of a grand lake,
where from its bosom flows the stream by whose banks the sweetest of
the Roman poets sung. No longer simple, as when he first entered
Greece, appeared the camp of the barbarian king; no longer was seen
the ring of wagons only, and the multitude sleeping in the fresh air
of night; but there, tents of every form and every hue diversified the
plain which stretches along, from the base of the gigantic mountains
that enclose the stormy waves of the Benacus, to the soft green fields
of the fair Mantuan land, where the "silver-gray cattle" of which
Virgil sung still bathe in the placid waters of his native Mincius.

Far and wide as the eye could see extended that vast encampment; and
the air, for many a mile, rang with the neighing of horses and the
clang of arms. At the very junction of the lake and the river, on a
high sloping ground, whence the eye of the monarch could behold both
the far plains covered by his innumerable host and the waters of the
lake, with all its grand and beautiful shores, was pitched the tent of
Attila, together with those of the persons immediately attached to the
monarch himself: and splendid was the sight, when, after a night of
repose, the cloudless sun of Italy rose up and poured its flood of
splendour over one of the loveliest scenes of earth, living and
animated with the figures of those wild but splendidly-attired
horsemen.

At the entrance of the tent, beside which his horse was held prepared,
stood Attila, gazing over that thrilling sight; and, strange as it may
seem, there was something in the picturesque beauty of the scene, in
the poetical aspect of the whole, the mighty host, the mighty
mountains, the beaming sunrise, and the glowing lake, that found, even
within the breast of the fierce conqueror, a sympathizing appreciation
of what is bright and beautiful in nature.

He stood and gazed, and felt his soul calmed and soothed.

"We will stay here to-day," he said. "The land is rich and plentiful:
the people will be happy in this place of oil and wine. We will stay
here to-day; and to-morrow, onward towards Rome! But what is that?" he
continued, after gazing for some minutes longer. "What is that,
winding slowly along in the distant country, following the road by the
side of the river? It looks like a long train of horsemen approaching
slowly, and it can hardly be any of our own tribes returning at this
early hour. What can that be?"

No eyes, however, but his own were keen enough to distinguish, in the
far distance, the object to which he pointed; and he added, "Let some
one be sent forth to see, and let no man be injured who comes to us in
the garb of peace. This day there shall be no blood shed, unless our
enemies seek it themselves. Here we will taste repose and
tranquillity."

Several hours had elapsed; the myriads of the Huns were all awake and
stirring; thousands of wild horsemen were galloping over the plain,
exercising their horses, or practising with the javelin or the spear:
and others on foot were moving about among the tents, in all the
bustling activity of the morning's duties, when the train which Attila
had seen approaching through the distant country entered the Hunnish
camp, and were led forward towards the tent of the monarch. Some of
his own messengers, who had gone out to meet the strangers, hurried on
before to inform him that envoys from the Emperor Valentinian were
even then coming near his presence. But the monarch, who still, though
changed in many things, retained in some degree his contempt for pomp
and show, merely ordered the hangings of his tent to be drawn up, and,
seating himself in the entrance, awaited the arrival of the imperial
ambassadors.

At their head appeared an old man, riding on a mule; and though the
Huns gathered round in crowds to see an equipage to which they were
unaccustomed, yet there was something so venerable and commanding in
that old man's air, that even the rude barbarian soldiers forbore to
press upon him, and merely gazed; while--with his look now raised to
heaven, as if in momentary supplication, now cast down upon the
ground, as if in deep thought--he rode slowly on through the midst of
that fierce and blood-accustomed host, as if fear and wonder were
utter strangers to his bosom.

After him followed a number of other men, clothed with princely
splendour, and mounted on fiery chargers; but ever and anon their eyes
were cast around upon the sea of dark faces that surrounded them, and
an expression, perhaps not of fear, but certainly of anxiety, might be
seen upon their countenances. At first the Huns demanded among
themselves why the old man upon the mule rode first before the
warriors; but when they compared his aspect with those who followed,
they saw that he was in his proper place.

Last came a number of domestic servants and attendants, followed by
slaves beating on a long train of beasts of burden; and in the slaves
might be seen--as with hard hearts and unsparing hands they struck
unmercifully the dumb suffering creatures but a grade below
themselves--in them might be seen, though springing from a lower
motive, the same fearless indifference to the presence of the strange
multitude as he who led them displayed from a sense of faith and duty.

At the foot of the little hill on which stood the tent of Attila the
multitude of the Huns paused, and followed the strangers no longer;
and there, too, the envoys of the emperor were directed to dismount.
The command was instantly obeyed; and leaving the servants and the
train of baggage in the hands of some of the officers of the camp, all
the rest began to ascend the hill towards the presence of the monarch,
who, seated in the door of his tent, with but a few of his chief
leaders around him, waited above, examining the persons and the air of
each of the strangers as he approached.

With a slow step, dignified, calm, and collected, that old man who had
led the Romans climbed the hill, slightly bowed by age, but rather
stiffened than enfeebled. He was tall and largely proportioned; and
his snowy hair, which, like that of the barbarians, felt not the
steel, escaping from a cap of a peculiar form that he wore upon his
head, flowed down in wavy curls upon his shoulders. His eye, which he
but once raised towards the tent of Attila as he ascended, was calm
and mild, but full of sleeping fire; and his step, though slow, was
planted firmly upon the ground, giving to his whole demeanour an air
of resolution and of power, which was not without its effect on those
who watched his advance up the mountain.

Attila himself, as he sat in the stern silence natural to him, and
beheld the calm and equable approach of the messenger of Valentinian
towards his presence, might wonder at that unshaken firmness which so
few displayed under similar circumstances. He moved not a muscle,
however, but gazed sternly upon the envoy, till at length, when
within ten paces of his seat, the great Pontiff of Rome--for he it
was--paused in his advance, and said to those who followed, in a full,
steady voice, "Let Avienus and Trigetius come with me! The rest wait
here!" and then, proceeding on his way, he drew near to Attila.

"Who art thou?" demanded the barbarian king, in that full deep tone
which was powerful and impressive, without being rude or abrupt. "Who
art thou that comest so boldly before Attila?"

"I am Leo, the servant of God!" replied the pope, bending his head as
he pronounced the almighty name.

"Of what God?" demanded Attila.

"There is but one God," replied Saint Leo; "there is but one God,
holy, just, and true; Lord of lords, and King of kings! The lowest of
his servants am I!"

"Thou meanest the God of the Christians?" said Attila.

The pope bent his head in reply, and the monarch proceeded. "It is
well," he said, "it is well! Now tell me what thou wouldst have with
Attila. Why comest thou to me hither, when, but a few short days, and
I had come to thee?"

"It is to prevent thy coming that I seek thee," replied the
bishop--"it is to prevent thy coming, and to stay the stream of blood
that is poured out before thy steps. It is to stay from desolation the
beautiful land that thou treadest like a wine-presser beneath thy
feet, crushing all that is good and excellent, and leaving nothing but
the worthless refuse. It is to adjure thee, by the name of God Most
High, to spare his servants, and to turn thee from a land which his
holy faith hath sanctified, and the blood of his saints made sacred. I
do adjure thee by his name to pause in the course which he has
hitherto made victorious, lest he take thy strength from thee, and
destroy thee as thou hast destroyed others. Monarch!" he continued,
seeing a cloud gathering on the brow of Attila--"monarch! I menace
thee not with any human arm. None has ever been able to resist thee
successfully; none has ever had power to oppose thee long: but know,
oh king! that thou, like all others, art but an instrument in the
hands of a mightier monarch. Thou art called the SCOURGE OF GOD, and
verily he has used thee for the purposes of his vengeance. With thee
hath he wrought destruction, and inflicted punishment upon the
faithless and the unrighteous. In his hand thou hast been as the
pestilence or the thunderbolt. Thou hast swept away nations. Thou hast
smitten down monarchs. Thou hast trodden the palace and the cottage
alike, with the sword of the destroying angel in thy hand; but now, in
the name of the same God, who sent thee forth to conquer and to slay,
I bid thee pause and turn back upon thy way, lest he take thy strength
from thee, and reduce thy glory into shame. Remember, oh king!
remember that one who, like thee, was mighty; who, like thee, was
fierce; who, like thee, was unconquerable by man, trod these same
plains but a few brief years ago; and, as a vulture, swept the land
with the wing of desolation. Remember how Alaric, the mighty and the
strong, marched on at the head of his innumerable hosts, and, like
thee, found none to stay him. Remember how he heard the warning to
pause, and turn back ere he set his foot within the eternal city.
Remember how he neglected the warning; how he despised the words; how
he conquered Rome, and died. In all things but in this was he like
unto thee! But in this was he unlike, for I know--and feel--and
see--as if it were before me in a vision, that thou shalt listen to
the word of the servant of God, and sheath the sword, and turn back
upon the way. Monarch! I tell thee, and my words shall prove true,
that none henceforth for ever shall march against Rome, and place
their camp round about it, and subdue it unto their hand, without
meeting some terrible reverse; without finding death, or downfall, or
dishonour follow, as surely as night follows day. Some shall come
against it and take it, and die as soon as they leave it. Some shall
assail it, and fall even in the hour of victory. Some shall subdue it,
and,  after years of glory, shall see the brightness of their fame
tarnished with shame, defeat, and overthrow, with long and weary
inactivity, and lingering death. But thou shalt listen to the voice of
warning; thou shalt fear the name of God, and the word of God's
servant, and shall turn thee back, and escape the peril of
disobedience."

Bold and striking as his words was the action which, accompanied them;
dignified, nay, sublime, was the expression of his countenance. The
dark eye filled with the fire of genius, the fine features beaming
with the divine light of enthusiasm, the lips trembling with the
eloquence of the heart, the arms outstretched in passionate
expostulation, the broad chest heaving under its flowing robes with
the energy of lofty thoughts, while the full, powerful, melodious
voice, clear, rounded, unhesitating, poured forth the stream of
words--all, all formed a splendid whole, such as none there present
had ever seen before; and the barbarian monarch himself and his fierce
chiefs gave ready way to the delusions of imagination, and believed
that they beheld an immediate messenger from heaven. Even when he had
done, and remained with his firm unquailing gaze fixed upon the face
of Attila, with eyes that sunk not to encounter the look at which
nations trembled, all those around, though the impression produced by
his oratory perhaps faded, still looked upon him as a superior being,
still waited for the answer of their own monarch with anxiety, perhaps
with apprehension.

But Attila, though struck and admiring, forgot not himself in
wonder--that passion of the weak. From the beginning to the end, while
Saint Leo spoke, the mighty monarch fixed upon his countenance the
same stern, immoveable gaze, under the influence of which every
inferior mind gave way, every ordinary heart lost courage. Twice his
swarthy brow slightly contracted as the prelate spoke those bold words
which Attila's ear was seldom wont to hear; but his face was moved in
no other feature: and he made not an effort to stop the orator in the
course of his eager and energetic speech. When he had concluded,
Attila continued to gaze upon him thoughtfully and intently; but,
apparently, neither scornfully nor displeased.

At length he said, "Thou hast spoken like a god; but know that not the
gods themselves shall turn back Attila from his course, unless he have
the justice he has demanded. Thou art reverenced, oh Leo! as one of
mighty powers--as one inspired, perhaps, by the God whom thou servest,
with eloquence above that of mortals; and willingly will Attila hear
thee discourse on the matters of thy high calling, as to whether there
be more gods than one; as to the nature of the soul of man; the powers
that govern him throughout life, and the fate that awaits him beyond
the grave. On such matters shalt thou be listened to willingly, nay,
more, with reverent ears, as becomes those who hear the words of one
touched by the spirit of a god. We will attend to thine exhortations
in favour of Rome, to thy warnings in regard to those who conquer it,
even to thy menaces against the life of Attila himself. But Attila
turns not aside for words! He whom the embattled line of enemies
cannot impede is not to be overawed even by a holy man as thou art. He
fears not the sword; he avoids not the spear. The twanging of the
bowstring makes not his eyelids fall; the shout of the enemy is
pleasant on his ear. His battle-horse shall bear him onward
whithersoever his fate directs; and if the destiny of Attila lie
within the gates of Rome, to Rome herself and to her capital will
Attila go to seek it. Death comes but once, and chooses his own time.
The sentence is written on high; and so help me Mars and my good
sword, as I would not reverse it, were it to be fulfilled to-morrow.
My grave is already dug by the hand of destiny, wherever that grave is
to be. And what matters it to Attila whether he lie beneath the gray
olives of Italy, or the green birch-trees by the Danube?"

He paused a moment, gazing thoughtfully upon the prelate; and a slight
smile might have been seen upon the lip of Ardaric, to hear his mighty
leader adopting, as he went on in the career of victory, so much of
his own doctrine of fatalism.

In a moment Attila proceeded. "Thus much I have spoken," he said.
"Looking upon thee as a messenger from the gods, and filled with the
spirit of the knowledge of the future, willingly on these points will
I discourse with thee at large, seeing that in all the lands I have
visited I have never met any one like thee. But if thou comest as an
envoy from Valentinian--lord of these lands, but unto me a slave, on
whose neck I set my foot--thou must speak of other things if thou
wouldst turn me from the path which lies before me. Thou must speak of
offerings to atone for the past; of tribute to show his subjection for
the future; of the complete satisfaction of all my just demands. Thou
must show Attila that the glory and honour of himself and of his
people are to be maintained and increased by following the course that
thou wouldst have us pursue, ere thou canst hope to stay these myriads
on their forward way, or turn the sword of Attila in another
direction. Do this. Leave my justice and my honour no plea against
him, and I will raise up a wall between you and the desolation of my
presence. Your fields shall flourish in the sunshine. Your rivers
shall flow with the accustomed wine; the land teem with oil and bread;
and ye shall rear your children up in peace, safe from the destroying
sword, till the name of Attila be no more than the whisper of the wind
through the gorges of some distant mountain." A bright and heavenly
smile beamed up over the noble features of Saint Leo, and he replied
at once, without pause or hesitation, "Monarch, I will turn thee
back!"

There was something so dignified, so majestic, so sublime in the air,
the tone, and the manner with which the pontiff pronounced those few
words, that Attila himself was visibly struck and surprised. "How so?"
demanded he: "how so--how wilt thou turn me back? Wilt thou bring down
fire from heaven?"

"I will do more!" replied Saint Leo--"I will give thee such justice
that even the heart of a conqueror can demand no more! Thou hast said
that thou wilt turn back if I will satisfy thine honour and thy
justice. I have offers for thee, which, as a minister of God's word, I
declare to be as full and complete satisfaction as ambition itself
could demand. Wilt thou hear them now, oh king?"

"No," replied Attila, "I will not. Thou art weary with travel, and
hast many years upon thy brow. Attila has kept thee too long already
without offering thee bread and rest. This night shalt thou repose in
tranquillity and peace. The wine shall flow for thee, and the feast
shall be prepared--"

Saint Leo waved his hand, "Fasting and prayer," he cried, "fasting and
prayer shall be my companions. Prostrate in the dust, lifting my heart
unto the throne of God, humbly calling upon the name of my Saviour,
beseeching the Spirit of truth to guide me aright! With fasting and
with prayer will I entreat the almighty Disposer of all hearts to
soften thine, and change its stern nature into mercy. Be it as thou
hast said, oh king! I will seek repose. Those who came with me have
need of it; and in the mean time my words have fallen upon an ear that
will not lose them lightly. When may I hold further commune with
thee?"

"Two hours ere noon to-morrow," replied Attila. "Till then, seek
refreshment and repose, and Attila will take counsel as to the very
smallest offering which he can receive as a propitiation to suspend
his sword. In the mean time, I give thee unto the care of these my
officers. Thou fearest not to rest within the camp of the Huns?"

"I am in the hand of God!" replied Saint Leo, throwing wide his arms
and looking up to heaven--"I am in the hand of God! Why should I
fear?"



                             CHAPTER XIX.
                  THE VISION AND ITS INTERPRETATION.


There were frequent messengers came and went to and from the tent of
Attila, and there was movement and agitation in the camp. Round the
monarch sat his tributary kings; and various were the different shades
of expression which passed over the countenances of those fierce
chiefs, as they listened to the words of their leader, and heard all
that had befallen since, on the preceding day, the great pontiff of
Rome had appeared to stay them in their advance.

"It was but a vision of the night!" said Attila--"it was but some idle
dream, and yet it came before me full, tangible, complete. There was
no wandering of thought to other things, no confusion of fancies, no
breaking off and beginning again; but it was all clear and definite,
accurate and minute; and yet it was but a vision, an idle dream, which
Attila will heed no more than he would a fanciful cloud wrought into
strange forms by the wind that bears it."

"Heed no visions, oh Attila!" said Ardaric--"the only sure vision will
be the walls of Rome."

"And yet, oh mighty king!" joined in Onegisus, "one at least here
present would fain hear the substance of the dream that disturbed thy
slumbers. It has been held by wise men and by priests long versed in
sacred things, that dreams come forth from the gods, and are one means
of making their will known to men. I at least would fain hear what
vision it was that broke the sleep of Attila."

"And I also! and I! and I!" said many voices round as soon as the
demand was made; and leaning his broad brow upon his hand, with his
eyes fixed thoughtfully upon the table at which he sat, Attila not
unwillingly proceeded to speak as they required.

"It seemed to me as if I had slept some hours," he said, "and that I
was awakened by a noise, when, looking up, I saw all things around me
as I had seen them when I closed mine eyes. There were the hangings of
the tent, there the clothing I had put off to rest, there burnt the
feeble lamp, there lay the strong sword. Two javelins crossed hung
upon my right, and a spear lay near me on the ground. I saw it all as
distinctly as ere I closed my eyes that night, when lo! the hangings
of the tent were moved, raised up; and, without sound or motion of
their limbs, the figures of two men approached my couch. A cloud of
light environed them around, hiding in its blaze all things behind it.
The lamp grew dim as if it had not been lighted, and in this cloud,
borne on to where I lay, the strangers came, clothed in strange robes,
simple and unadorned, with hair and beards of snowy whiteness, and the
marks of extreme age upon the face of each. One, however, was older
than the other, and of coarser features, though there was a fire and
eagerness in his large eye which spoke a mighty and energetic spirit,
prompt in its emotions and its acts. The younger seemed more calm and
of a loftier aspect, and on his countenance were seen the traces of
high thoughts, perhaps, too, of some sufferings endured with
fortitude, but felt with keen perception. A smile, bland and
beautiful, sat on his lips, and there was in his glance that quick yet
thoughtful movement which I have seen in men, deep arguers on right
and wrong, subtle in their eloquence, and powerful to untie the
tangled intricacy of questions remote and difficult. Around them in
that cloud of light there shone a greater light, as if it issued forth
from them and from their garments; and though they seemed of flesh as
we are, yet there was a difference that scarcely can be told, but
which rendered their bodies more glorious and pure to the eye than
ours. I would fain have stretched out my hand to seize my sword, but I
lay as if chained down by adamantine bonds. I would fain have spoken,
to demand who dared in such a sort to disturb the sleep of Attila, but
my tongue refused its office, and my lips moved without a sound.
Approaching, as I have said, without any visible motion of their
limbs, but borne forward by some unseen power, they came near, and
stood by the side of my couch: there, gazing upon me for a moment,
their eyes seemed filled with pity or with sorrow, and at length the
younger said, 'Attila! Attila! thou hast fought, and thou hast
conquered, and unwittingly, but not unwillingly, thou hast done the
will of God! Now turn thee back upon thy way, for thou shalt smite
this land no more. Turn thee back upon thy way, and hesitate not, for
we are sent to bid thee sheath the sword, lest it fall upon thine own
head. Turn thee back, turn thee back, and that speedily, as thou
wouldst live and conquer still!' And with that the light grew faint,
the figures seemed to dissolve, the cloud passed away; and I was lying
in my own tent, with the lamp burning feebly by my side. It was but a
vision, an idle dream, and it is passed! Attila heeds it not. It was
but a vision, an unreal vision!"

"It was a strange one though, oh mighty king!" said Onegisus; "and I
would fain ask yon holy man who came hither yesterday if he can give
the interpretation thereof, and tell who were these that appeared unto
thee."

"First let those who slept in the outer tent," said Ardaric, "be
closely questioned if any one passed by them in the night."

"I have questioned them already," said Attila--"I have done more: I
rose instantly--for my limbs and my mind seemed freed as if from a
heavy weight--and drawing back the curtains that divide the tent, I
found that no one living could have entered without treading on the
sleeping bodies of those of my warriors who lay without. It was but a
vision, an idle vision of the night!"

"I put no faith in visions," said Ardaric: "they never visit me. If I
dream, 'tis of some empty thing, taking fanciful shapes without
regularity or continuance, forgotten as soon as passed. I put no faith
in visions."

Attila's brow contracted slightly, but he made no reply; and Valamir,
his Gothic tributary, who had hitherto remained thoughtful and silent,
now raised his eyes. "Thy vision is a strange one, oh king," he said,
"and worthy of some consideration. More, perhaps, than thou thyself
art willing to bestow upon it. Yet would I not ask the interpretation
of this eloquent man, whose voice was heard so powerfully yesterday;
for he of course will see therein a confirmation of his own warnings.
There is another in the camp who may be better trusted. Dost thou
remember, oh mighty Attila, a holy hermit, who dwelt in the mountains
two or three days' journey from Margus, and who--"

"But he is dead," interrupted Attila; "he has been dead two years."

"True," replied Valamir; "but near him there dwelt another hermit,
less shrewd and wise, perhaps, but, even more than he was, touched
with the fire of the gods. Wild, rash, and fearless, he speaks
whatever the spirit prompts, and in such a man's interpretation one
may trust his confidence. Among the train who followed hither this
high-priest of Rome was the very man, and well acquainted with the
manners and the languages of us people of the North. He was wandering
yesterday evening through the camp; and I myself saw him preaching
boldly strange doctrines of other gods to a large crowd of Huns and
Gepid[ae]. Let him be sent for, and to him let the vision be told. On
his interpretation we can better rely."

All voices applauded the proposal, and instantly was it executed.
Messengers went forth to find the enthusiast Mizetus, and in a few
minutes he stood before Attila and his counsellors. He was silent as
the grave while the vision was being told to him; but then--stretching
forth his hands, and turning his eyes full upon the countenance of
Attila, though not with a fixed and steadfast gaze, but with a wild
and rolling glance--he exclaimed, "Is it not simple as the light of
day? Is it not open as the summer's sky? Is it not clear as the waters
from the rock? What need of interpretation? What need of any one to
explain? There is but one God, oh Attila! though thou and these, as
slaves of Satan, worship stone, and wood, and iron. That God has been
merciful to thee, oh king! and has sent unto thee the apostles of his
son, Peter the prince of the apostles, and Paul the chosen by the
voice of God! To thee, from another world, he has sent those, through
the midst of thy sleeping guards, who, when they lived in this world,
passed through the hands of jailers, cast from them the fetters of
iron, and walked free through the prison doors of the Roman governor.
To thee has he sent them in mercy, to turn thee back from the way of
destruction. Listen to their words, tread back thy steps, sheath the
sword, open thy heart to the word of God, and thou shalt be safe. If
thou doest not this, if thou goest on in rapine and injustice,
shedding the blood of the faithful and smiting the people of Christ,
lo! I tell thee, when thine errand is accomplished, and the judgments
of God wrought out, thou shalt die by some despised death; thine
armies shall melt away like snow, the bodies of thy warriors slain
shall rot under the summer's sky, and a pestilence shall go forth from
their bones to root out those whom the sword has spared. Wo unto you!
wo unto your mighty men, for the sword of the Lord is out against you,
and he shall scatter you to the uttermost parts of the earth, and
shall grind your mouths in the dirt of the earth ye have trodden so
proudly, and shall cast ye forth as dead dogs, to be an abomination to
the passer-by!"

More than one sword leaped from its sheath at those bold words, but
the deep, thunder-like voice of Attila stayed them from smiting the
rash enthusiast. "Harm him not, harm him not!" cried the monarch. "By
the soul of Attila, he dies who strikes him! Did we not bid him speak?
Did we not call for his words? and shall we slay him because they are
such as please us not? Stranger," he continued, "thou hast spoken
rashly among rash men, nevertheless thou art safe, and mayst depart!"

Mizetus turned to leave the tent; but, ere he went, he raised his
hand, and said, in a solemn tone, "I grieve for thee, oh Attila! for
thy fate is near!"

"Let it come!" replied Attila--and the enthusiast departed.

"We have spent too much time on this thing," continued the monarch,
"let us now turn our thoughts to more substantial warnings. Ardaric,
my friend, as thou hast said, this vision was indeed but an empty
dream, and but matter for a moment's speculation; but I have tidings
for thee which thou knowest not of, for thy Gepid[ae] lie high up upon
the hill. There are those here, however, who know that between sunset
last night and sunrise this morning, the sword of the pestilence smote
among the warriors who lie by the side of the river nearly ten
thousand men!"

Ardaric started up, and gazed fixedly on the countenance of Attila.

"Itis true!" said the monarch; "but this is not all, my friend. A
fleet from Constantinople has wafted a new host to our noble enemy
[AE]tius; nor is that all either," he added, raising his voice; "the
armies of Marcian have crossed the Danube, and cut to pieces three of
our tribes upon the Dacian frontier. Now, friends and counsellors, you
know the whole. Tell me what shall be the course of Attila. Shall I go
on, and lay Rome in ashes? Shall I pause here, and accept the tribute
this priest is prepared to offer? Willing am I to do the first,
willing would I be to do it, were I as sure that death would follow
within a day as I am that there is a sun behind the clouds that now
stretch over the sky."

"Hear what he has to offer, oh mighty king," said Ardaric; "then, if
it be enough to satisfy the honour of Attila and save the glory of his
warriors, accept the conditions. Let us retire from this pestilential
land, and then--"

"What then?" demanded Attila, after waiting for a moment to let the
chief conclude his sentence.

"Nay, I know not," replied Ardaric. "Then--let us do whatsoever Attila
will."

A brief smile passed like lightning across the countenance of the
king. "And then," he said, "and then--to Constantinople! and we shall
see who is to live or die; who is to be a monarch, who a slave! The
sword of a thousand battles against the broken spear of a weak Roman!
Methinks the chances are unequal. Kings of great nations! Friends of
Attila! There is no need to ask what are the terms this Roman bishop
brings. They are known to me already--revealed to me in no vision,
Ardaric, but told to my messenger at my demand. He offers a gift ten
times in value all that the East and West have ever given, an annual
tribute double that which we received from Theodosius. A future
compensation for the dowry of Honoria, and the restitution of all
captives and fugitives from the Hunnish nation! Is this sufficient?"

"It is! it is!" replied the chiefs; and a messenger was instantly
despatched to summon Saint Leo to the tent of the barbarian monarch.

With the same calm dignity as before, the prelate presented himself
before the council of Attila, and in his whole demeanour there was
that grand, but simple and unassuming majesty, which commanded the
reverence, the respect--almost the love--of men of a different nation,
creed, language, manners, habits, thoughts. Attila himself rose at his
approach, and, with an air not less in dignity, took him by the hand
and placed him by his side.

The pontiff felt that he had touched the heart of the barbarian, and
he was more moved at having done so than had the utmost ire of that
mighty king--a king who feared no chastisement, acknowledged no laws
but his own sense of right, bowed to no superior on earth or in
heaven--than had his ire threatened the worst tortures that could be
inflicted. Through the reverence with which he had inspired the
barbarian monarch he saw, as through a long avenue, a number of
sympathies, noble feelings, and generous sentiments, akin to those
which dwelt in his own heart; while hope stood half way between, and
beckoned to the kindred bands to unite for mighty purposes and grand
endeavours. A moment's reflection, however, a moment's glance of the
mental eye over the sad but solemn and oracular book of experience,
showed him the falsehood of the siren's tale, and made him grieve that
the brightest feelings of the human heart, mutually perceived and
understood, and which, could they meet and co-operate, would work out
the blessing and happiness of thousands, should ever thus be stopped
by obstacles insignificant, and totally unseen by those who attempt to
pass them, till all their efforts for unanimity and concord are
overthrown.

Calmly and clearly, in answer to the questions of the king, he
recapitulated the splendid, the degrading offers of Valentinian; and
he added, "This, oh king, am I commanded to propose: this am I
authorized to promise. The gift is already in thy camp; the tribute
shall soon follow; and--as a mediator between thee and them who
suffer, standing pure and impartial under the eye of God, who is of no
nation and of no country, and respecteth no man for a name--I declare
that thou hast now offered unto thee more than thou canst claim
aright; more than equity could pronounce against them; more than
justice can award unto thy claim. But when unto all this is added the
great triumph of clemency, the mighty privilege of showing mercy, the
triumphant glory of sparing those thou couldst destroy; so help me
Heaven, as I do believe that there is offered unto thee more than even
thy conquering sword could win, more than thy highest ambition could
desire, more than thy vastest efforts could attain! Is it more
glorious to slaughter than to save? Is it more mighty to destroy than
to spare? Is it a greater sign of power to cast down than to raise up?
He that saves from the slayer is greater than the slayer; he that
shields from the destroyer is victorious over the destroyer; and he
that raises up does a deed which shall last long after he who casts
down is forgotten! Spare then, oh Attila, spare the nations! and if in
sparing them thou gainest a triumph over thyself, thou doest that
which the noblest of thine enemies has never been able to do, and
raisest to thyself the crowning trophy of thy fame, under which shall
be written by the hand of history, '_None but Attila gained the
victory over Attila!_'"

Even had he not spoken, the terms he offered would have been accepted;
but had they been less than they were, they would have been accepted
under the influence of his voice. The gorgeous presents were brought
up and displayed before the tent of Attila. The gold and the silver
were poured out; the jewels and the cloth of gold were displayed to
the eyes of the admiring chiefs who crowded round. But Attila himself
looked not on them; his eyes were either thoughtfully lifted to the
sky, in that direction wherein lay Rome, or else bent down in deep
reflection upon the ground, while traces of emotion, slight indeed in
themselves, but still from their unusualness indicative of strong
feelings within, might be traced upon his countenance.

When all the gifts were displayed, he turned abruptly to Saint Leo,
saying, "Messenger of a mighty God, Attila turns upon his steps. Take
what thou wilt of these baubles, either as an offering to thy Deity or
as a gift unto thyself!"

"God forbid!" replied the pontiff: "the God I serve--the only
God!--dwells not in temples made with hands, and requires no offerings
from the sons of men but a pure and contrite spirit, a repentant and
an humble heart. As for me, I take no part in the spoils of my
brethren, and I leave them to him to whom they were sent, and of whose
forbearance they are the price and recompense."

"Thou art the first priest," cried Attila--"thou art the first priest
of any god that ever yet I heard of who refused gold and jewels when
they were offered to him freely."

"Thou hast known but few Christian priests, my son," replied Saint
Leo, mildly. "The priests thou hast known were the servants of those
whom we call devils, Mammon; or Plutus, the demon of covetousness;
Belial, Lucifer, or Apollo, the god of pride; Moloch or Mars, the
demon of bloodshed. The priests of all these and many others, for
their several purposes, seek wealth and splendour; but the servants of
God, the only true God, seek his glory, and know their own
unworthiness. Oh Attila, I leave thee! I came unto thee, knowing that
thou hadst a mighty name, and that none upon this earth had been found
to conquer thee; that kings, and princes, and warriors of great renown
bowed down trembling before thee, and shrunk from the very glance of
thine eye; and yet I feared thee not. I go from thee now with my
reverence not lessened, but with deep sorrow at my heart, to find
nobler qualities in thy nature; qualities which, guiding and directing
the inferior ones of courage and military skill, have made thee what
thou art; and yet to see that those qualities, like diamonds in some
undiscovered mine, lie wasting all their brightness, because they are
not known and estimated. The knowledge of one true God, the faith in
one redeeming Saviour, are all that is wanting to raise Attila high
above living men! I leave those in thy camp who may show thee a light
thou hast never yet seen. Listen unto them, oh Attila! listen unto
them and be saved! Yet! yet! I trust the mild spirit of the Almighty
God will touch thy heart, and turn it into humility and righteousness.
Then, mounting from the humbleness of faith, Attila will rise to a
pitch of glory no earthly arms can ever win, and stand upon a point
where mortal monarch never placed himself without the Spirit of the
Lord to raise him up on high."

"Thou speakest words I do not comprehend," said Attila, turning away.

"God make them clear to thee in his own good time!" replied the
bishop, and slowly descended the hill.



                             CHAPTER XX.
                   THE SOMETHING WORSE THAN DEATH.


We must now turn again to Ildica! In agony of heart, she sat within
her tent with the spirit bowed down and nearly broken, and the bodily
frame bent and shaken under the load of grief. Before her stood the
messenger of Attila, who bore her the sad tidings of the loss of him
she loved. Beside her stood the fair daughter of the dead king Bleda,
and the wild enthusiast Mizetus.

Tearless, all tearless was the bright eye of the Dalmatian girl,
although through the clear white skin of the temples might be seen the
blue veins swelling up like cords with the rushing up of the agonized
blood.

The enthusiast kept silence, and gazed on her with a look of deep
grief; but from the dark blue eyes of Neva rolled profuse the large
heavy tears, and in the sorrow of her own heart she asked many a
question of the messenger regarding all the particulars of the fate of
one still too dearly beloved.

"Art thou sure," she demanded, "that the winds and tempests did the
work of death? Art thou sure that the commands of Attila, more cruel,
more unsparing than the fierce elements, had not their share?"

"I know nothing," replied the messenger, "but that which I was
commanded to say. The ship perished, and almost all on board were
drowned."

"Almost all!" cried Ildica, starting up, and gazing eagerly in the
man's face--"almost all! Then there is yet hope!"

"Alas, no!" replied the messenger. "All who reached the land were
slain upon the shore by some wandering bands of warriors!"

"Even so! even so!" cried Ildica; "sent on purpose to destroy him at
his landing! Oh, fatal beauty! Thou hast caused the death of him I
loved most on earth;" and she cast herself down upon the couch and hid
her face in her robe; while from time to time a sharp shudder might be
seen to pass over that fair form, as if the anguish of the spirit were
destroying its earthly tabernacle.

"Art thou sure that he was in the ship?" demanded Neva, still clinging
to a hope.

"Quite sure!" replied the messenger; "presents from the Emperor
Marcian--goods marked with the youth's name--his very clothing itself,
have been brought into the presence of Attila."

"Of his murderer!" said Neva; "of his murderer!'"

The man, who was a Roman fugitive, made no reply; and, after a brief
pause, withdrew from the tent.

"What means she, maiden?" demanded Mizetus, turning to Neva; "what
means she when she says that her beauty has caused the death of him
she loved?"

"Dost thou not comprehend?" cried the girl, gazing at him through her
tears; "dost thou not know that Attila himself seeks her love? Canst
thou not guess that he took the life of him who was his happier
rival?"

"Is it even so?" cried Mizetus; "alas, unhappy maiden! for what art
thou reserved?" and, after gazing at her for a moment or two in
melancholy thought, he left the tent, and turned his steps towards the
royal pavilion of Attila himself.

Where was that pavilion now? No longer on the shores of the wild
Benacus, no longer looking over the fertile plains of Italy, but on
the slope of the Carpathian mountains, amid the rude but magnificent
scenery of the hill country. There were congregated the myriads of the
North; there was pitched the camp of a thousand nations, covering
every rise, and sweeping down into every valley. But as Mizetus
wandered on among them, all were in movement; the Huns, and the
Gepid[ae], and the Goths, the Heruli and the Alani, were pouring forth
slowly on foot, and mounting with a low rushing murmur towards the
tent of Attila. As they went one spoke unto the other, and the voice
of complaint made itself heard.

"Why call for us now?" cried one.

"We might even now have been revelling in Rome!" said another.

"Has Attila lost his daring?" asked a third.

"Is he to be led by the smooth words of a graybeard in long robes?"
demanded a fourth.

And thus they went murmuring on, till, gathering together upon the
hill-side, they covered a vast extent, above which again--with a space
of many cubits between it and them, kept clear by the officers of the
king--towered the pavilion of their mighty chief. During some time the
noise of coming feet was heard; but at length all the men of that vast
host seemed congregated there: the curtains of the tent were drawn,
and Attila stood before them. He gave one slow glance around, and the
loudest murmurer in the host cast down his eyes before that dark
countenance, as if he feared that the monarch might see the rebellion
in his heart, and smite him on the spot. All was hushed as if in
death; and then the voice of Attila was heard, spreading round and
round, till scarce a man in all that multitude could fail to catch his
words.

"Ye have dared to murmur at the will of Attila!" he said "Ye have
dared to think that ye knew better than he did! Ye have dared to call
his wisdom weakness, because he led you away from Rome, whose
treasures were exhausted to buy your absence; and while ye thus
complained, ye knew not whither he was leading you! It is time that ye
should hear, in order that shame may glow like a burning spot upon
your brows. I lead ye to Constantinople, to the city of the C[ae]sars,
to the plunder of the richest capital in the universe! I swear," he
continued, drawing his sword, as if moved by some sudden impulse, and
holding it up on high before his eyes as he addressed to it his
vow--"I swear that I will not leave one blade of grass in Thrace, nor
one city standing, nor the wall of one fortress not cast down, nor one
living enemy to oppose my path! This sword will I not sheath till I
sheath it in the capital of the East. The feet of my horse shall never
pause for more than one rising and setting of the sun, till I tighten
the bridle in his mouth on the shores of the Thracian Bosphorus. I go
forth to smite and to destroy, and I will make the land like unto one
which has never been inhabited. I will cast down everything in my way;
and the vulture which follows me, to eat the dead bodies of mine
enemies, shall not have to raise his wings when he snuffs their
carcasses from afar. Ye have heard the will of Attila! Get ye gone!
Sharpen your arrows, but restrain your tongues!"

"Boaster," cried a shrill voice from the crowd, speaking in the Greek
tongue, "thou shalt die even in thy pride!" But the crowd had already
begun to move, and the noise of their innumerable feet drowned the
sounds of that warning voice. The multitude separated slowly; Attila
re-entered his tent; and Mizetus, with his hands clasped, and his eyes
full of wandering fire, bent down upon the ground, strayed away with a
slow irregular pace along the course of a little rivulet that streamed
down from the higher hills. He muttered to himself as he went, and
little note did he take of the various groups of Huns that passed him.

"Is it not so?" he said, as he wandered on--"is it not clearly so? Is
it not the will of Heaven, distinctly revealing unto me the way to
save the people of the Lord? Shall this pagan barbarian smite the
faithful and the just? Heaven forbid! God has provided a remedy. The
Lord has found a means of deliverance! I will do his will! I will work
under the guidance of his spirit! I will not delay, no, not an hour,
but I will gird up my loins and be doing!"

Long he wandered on, and long he continued thus muttering to himself;
but at length he stopped suddenly, and exclaiming, "God strengthen
me!" he turned and took his way straight to the tent of Ildica. Her
attendants in the outer apartment sought to prevent his entrance; but
he said, "I must see the Roman maiden; I come to bring her
consolation." And, after some delay and inquiry within, he was
admitted. Neva was with her still, and the wife of Ardaric, with some
other women of high station among the Huns, were also present,
striving to give her consolation; but Ildica, with her eye all
tearless and fixed upon the ground, sat in the midst, her hands
clasped together, her lip silent, her features motionless, as if she
heard not one word of all that was addressed to her.

"Daughter," said Mizetus, in the pure harmonious tongue of her own
land--"daughter, listen to me!"

There was something in the sweet tone of the melodious Greek--there
was something in it associated with home, and happiness, and early
years, and the bright images of joys for ever gone, that seemed to
startle her, and for a moment she looked up with a thoughtful gaze
upon his countenance; but the next moment she dropped her eyes again,
and remained as silent as before.

"Daughter, listen to me," continued the enthusiast, in that wild but
elevated tone which will command attention if aught on earth can
awaken it--"listen, for I bring thee consolation! I bring thee
consolation from on high! It is revealed unto me that thou art
reserved for great things, and destined to work the deliverance of
people and of nations! It is revealed unto me that by thy hand shall
the faithful of the Lord be delivered, and that thou, in thy beauty
and in thy wisdom, shall do more than the mighty and the great have
been able to accomplish!"

Still Ildica gave no sign of attention. Not a feature in her face was
moved, and she remained gazing with the same fixed, meditative look on
one spot of the ground, as if utterly absorbed in deep and unbroken
thought. The enthusiast paused to see whether she heard or not, and
for a moment all was silence. But the next instant, to the surprise of
all, the lips of the fair unhappy girl were seen to move; and, as if
the Greek accent of Mizetus had touched the thrilling cord of
association between her present misery and the moment when misfortunes
first began to fall upon her, recalling the dark and painful moment
when she left Dalmatia, her voice was heard singing snatches of the
song that her mother's slaves had poured forth when they left behind
them Aspalathos for ever:--


    "We leave you behind us, sweet things of the earth;
     Our life is a race to the death from the birth;
     We pause not to gather the flowers as they grow,
     The goal is before us, and on we must go!

    "Fair scenes of our childhood! dear homes of our youth
     Memorials of innocence, virtue, and truth!
     The land of our birth, the dear mother that bore,
     We leave you behind us, we see you no more!

    "We leave you behind us, sweet things of the earth
     Hopes, joys, and endearments, sport, pleasure, and mirth;
     Like a tempest-driven ship, sailing by some bright shore,
     Time hurries us onward, we see you no more!"


And when she had done, she looked round her with a smile so terrible
at such a moment, that every woman's eye there present, whether they
understood the words or not, overflowed with tears.

"Poor maiden!" cried Mizetus, "her heart is fearfully oppressed, her
spirit sadly bowed down. Heavy has been the burden that the Lord has
given her to bear, but great is the glory he reserves for her. Neither
shall the mind break, nor the spirit be crushed under its load; but
with time, and with care, and with consolation, this wandering mood
shall pass away. Let us now, however, leave her, for the presence of
many may irritate rather than sooth. Thou, maiden," he continued,
turning to Neva, "thou that seemest to take a deeper interest than the
rest, abide with her, and watch over her tenderly. Watch over her!
watch over her carefully! for she has yet her appointed task to do."

Thus saying he left the tent, and the women followed, leaving Neva
with Ildica alone. The next morning early Mizetus took his way towards
the tent of Ildica ere the army began its march; but, as he advanced,
a spectacle arrested his progress for a moment, which the Huns
themselves in passing gazed on fearfully, but paused not to examine.
Down from the tent of Attila to the bank of the rivulet extended a
double row--an avenue, in short, of enormous crosses; and nailed upon
them, as had been the case in the neighbourhood of Verona, appeared
the corpses of at least a thousand of the monarch's own immediate
subjects.

Among them were many of those chiefs and officers who had been
previously believed to stand high in favour; and, as the various
masses of the Huns passed by those sad memorials, the chiefs who had
been among those to complain that he had not marched on Rome, and had
yet escaped the terrible execution of that night, trembled when they
beheld the ghastly spectacle, and thanked the gods that had preserved
them.

Mizetus, on the contrary, gazed fearlessly on the proofs of Attila's
stern severity, scanned the agonized countenances of the dead, marked
the contorted limbs, and murmured as he passed, "More, more blood
poured into the cup of vengeance! More to be accounted for! Nor is the
day far distant!"

As the enthusiast passed on, Ardaric rode by slowly towards the tent
of Attila, gazing with a frowning brow, and a sad but indignant air,
upon the bodies of the dead. With a sudden spring forward, Mizetus
laid his hand upon his bridle-rein; but Ardaric shook it from his
grasp, exclaiming, "Why stoppest thou me in such a spot as this? Get
thee hence, madman!"

"Not so mad as he who did this deed!" replied the enthusiast.

"Perhaps not," answered Ardaric; "but the deed is none of mine;" and
raising his rein, he rode swiftly on. Mizetus proceeded on his way,
and found her he sought sitting nearly as he had left her the day
before. He found that she had undergone very little change. She took
her food, and suffered her garments to be changed mechanically; but
she spoke not, or very seldom, and then with wild and unconnected
words, referring to things apparently remote. The enthusiast remained
with her long, nor ceased, during all the time of his stay, to pour
forth, in language wild but figurative, and with words ready and
prompt, the same unconnected and mystical exhortations to which he had
given utterance the day before.

He was interrupted by the marching of the army to another station in
its advance upon Greece; but, ere he left the tent of Ildica, he saw,
well pleased, that he had more than once gained her attention, though
but for a moment; and on the following day that attention was more
fixedly obtained. The third day she listened to him, though she
answered not; and the fourth day she wept for the first time.
Thenceforward, though she spoke but seldom, and though, when she did
speak, there appeared in her words a difference from the ordinary
train of thought, a slight deviation from that clear intellectual path
which her mind had ever followed, yet in some degree she resumed her
ordinary occupations, suffered herself to be moved on in her litter,
calmly, if not cheerfully, and from time to time spoke a few words to
Neva, with an effort to show her gratitude and regard.

Thus passed the time till ten days after the sad news of Theodore's
death had reached her ear, when, as they marched along, and she lay in
her open litter, carried in the rear of the army, suddenly Attila
himself appeared, and drew up his horse beside her. He gazed upon her
with an eye in which there shone some pity, and he asked, "How goes it
with thee, beautiful Ildica?"

"As well as may be, mighty monarch," she replied, looking firmly upon
him without a trace of fear.

"Thou art better than I expected," said Attila, apparently surprised
at her calmness.

"I am better than I had hoped or feared," she answered; "but hope and
fear are over, oh monarch!"

"Not so," replied Attila; "there is still, I trust, much joy for thee
on earth;" and, thus saying, he rode on.

On the evening of that day, when the tents were pitched, Ildica, as
pale as marble, was seated in her own; and leaning on the pillows of
the couch, while Neva sat beside and held her hand, she listened to
the old man Mizetus, who, standing on the other side, read from an
open book, and commented as he went.

At length he closed the pages, and, gazing full upon her, he
exclaimed, "Such is thy lot! Such is the will of Heaven! Such is thy
destiny! and great shall be thy reward! Though thou hast suffered, and
still shall suffer, till the work be accomplished, thy sufferings
shall be forgotten in the exceeding great joy of thy recompense! Such,
such, I tell thee, is to be thy fate!"

"I am ready!" replied Ildica, solemnly--"I am prepared! Let it come!"

Mizetus added a few words more; but, ere he could conclude the
sentence, one of her attendants entered, and announced that a
messenger from Attila awaited her without. Her cheek and lips turned
paler still, but she answered calmly and at once, "Give him
admission!"

"Beautiful maiden," said the messenger, when he stood before her,
"Attila greets thee well, and calls thee his beloved. He says that
grief has had its due, and that joy must have its day; and he bids my
poor tongue announce to thee that Attila has chosen thee for the
envied station of his bride. To-morrow the army halts the whole day,
and at the hour of sunset, ere Attila sits down with his warriors to
the banquet, his bridal shall be solemnized with thee by the priests
of his faith and of thine! What answer shall I bear the king?"

Ildica heard him with apparent calmness; but Neva felt the fingers of
her beautiful hand clasp tight with agonized emotion on her own.

The fair girl's lips moved, but no sound issued forth. Another
struggle, they moved again, and her voice was heard!

"Who shall resist the will of the king?" she said, and bowing her
head, she suffered the messenger to depart. The curtain of the tent
fell behind him; and starting up, she fell at the feet of Mizetus.
Then clasping the old man's knees with her arms, she exclaimed, "No
vow! No vow! I can take no vow! Save me from that!"

"Fear not," replied the hermit--"fear not, my daughter! Thou shalt
take no vow. Be but a passive instrument in the hands of God!"



                             CHAPTER XXI.
                        THE BRIDAL OF ATTILA.


On an eminence rising above the banks of the river, near which the
vast army of the Huns pitched its camp on the ensuing night, was found
a splendid pavilion, with workmen still labouring hard to complete it,
when the vanguard of the army reached its ground. Ere Attila himself
arrived, the whole was finished; and a palace of richly-ornamented
woodwork, mingled and decorated with hangings of crimson and gold,
waited his approach.

The mood of the monarch, however, was not placable; and the workmen
whom he had sent forward to prepare his abode received no token of his
thanks or approbation, notwithstanding the skill and zeal which they
had displayed. Those who had accompanied him on the way had found good
cause to mark his discontented humour; and Ardaric and Valamir, and
even Onegisus himself, had seized the first opportunity of withdrawing
themselves from the side of one who treated all with indignity, which
their free spirits could but ill bear. The cause of this harsh rumour
might be, it was whispered, that Ardaric had ventured remonstrances,
and Valamir had seconded them, which were displeasing to the ear of
Attila; but never before, in his most passionate moods, had he given
way to such intemperance of language as he had that day displayed
towards two of his noblest and most disinterested supporters. An hour
after their arrival, however, they received a summons to attend the
bridal and the banquet of the mighty king; and to the pavilion on the
hill they took their way, clothed in the most splendid robes that the
camp could supply.

In a vast hall, decorated by crimson hangings, which many a tributary
land had combined to furnish, stood Attila himself, already surrounded
by a multitude of his officers and chiefs. To the astonishment of
every one there present, however, the monarch of the Huns appeared not
now in the plain garment of his Scythian ancestors. For the first time
in his life, gold, and jewels, and vestures of silk covered the
powerful limbs of the mighty conqueror. The heavy iron sword which
never before had left his side was now no longer there. All the rude
weapons of war were carefully excluded from his dress; and jewels of
inestimable value bound his haughty brow.

In the same hall, at the farther end, was raised a temporary altar,
festooned with green leaves and the few autumnal flowers which the
country round could supply. Elevated upon that altar was seen the
ponderous sword of the Scythian Mars, famous in the history of
Attila's reign, from the singular manner in which it had been found.
Beside it stood a number of the Scythian priests; and the steps which
led to it were thickly strewed with leaves of the wild laurel and the
hemlock.

The countenance of Attila himself was now cleared of the clouds which
had obscured it; but still, the joy with which it beamed as plainly
testified the change which his nature had lately undergone as the
frowns that had hung upon it before. In former days, the countenance
of Attila had been a stranger to both frowns and smiles. The stern
passions which moved him then had wrought and struggled within the
secret chambers of his breast alone, and no light emotions had seemed
to affect his outward bearing. Now he was moved by many things; and,
in spite of all his efforts to seem what he had been, the emotions of
his heart thrilled through his bodily frame, and made themselves seen
upon the surface.

"Where are the Christian priests?" demanded the voice of the monarch,
as soon as he had spoken a few words to Valamir and Ardaric, in a tone
evidently intended to soften the harsh impression produced by his
ill-humour of the morning--"where are the Christian priests?"

"None have been found in the camp, oh mighty king," said Edicon,
coming forward. "I have inquired in every quarter, and none have been
found."

"None!" exclaimed Attila; "none! Where is that rash priest Mizetus; he
who by a few empty words provoked the wrath of so many mighty chiefs.
I have seen him since in the camp. I saw him no later than yesterday.
Let him be sent for; and tell the bride that Attila waits her coming,
as the spring-earth waits for the rising of the morning sun."

The messengers departed; and then came a pause, dead and silent, and
painful to all but those common spirits who saw nothing in the scene
they were called to behold but the common festivity of a day. Ardaric
and Valamir gazed upon each other, but they spoke not, till some
casual movement caused a murmur to run through the hall. Then, in a
low voice, the latter asked the former, "What, think you, will be the
result?"

"I know not," answered Ardaric; "but, from what I hear, she is not
unwilling. Yet, from some chance words dropped in my wife's presence,
either her mind wanders as that of one deprived of reason, or else
deeper thoughts than we know of are at work within her brain. But lo,
they come!"

As he spoke the door of the hall was thrown open, and a bevy of fair
young girls, strewing the way with flowers, entered the hall, and
wound round towards the altar. Following them, and leaning on the arm
of Neva, appeared the Dalmatian bride, clothed in robes of white.

No fear, no agitation was in her step; but firmly and easily she moved
along the hall, beauty and grace shining like a glory from every limb
and every feature. Neva was far more moved than Ildica; but the
countenances of both were paler than the Parian stone; while from
those fair, colourless faces beamed forth the beautiful eyes of
each--the deep, devoted, dark-blue eyes of Neva, the large, lustrous,
liquid eyes of Ildica, shining like brilliant lamps from out a marble
tomb.

They took but one gaze around the hall as they entered; but that gaze
had a different effect upon each. With Neva it seemed to bewilder and
confound: she dropped her eyes again instantly, and advanced with a
wavering and uncertain step. The gaze of Ildica was firm and calm;
though, as she beheld the scene of barbaric splendour that surrounded
her, her brow slightly contracted; her eye flashed for an instant with
a wilder, perhaps a brighter fire. Slowly she turned her gaze towards
the altar; and, without noticing any one in the hall, approached
deliberately the spot where the sacrifice of herself was to be
completed.

A number of matrons followed; and behind them again came the hermit
Mizetus, clad in the same wild robes which he wore in the desert and
on the mountain. Attila turned to approach the altar; but the hermit
advanced towards him, saying boldly, "Thou hast sent for me. I am
here. What wouldst thou with me!"

"I have sent for thee," replied Attila, "to perform between me and
that maiden the nuptial ceremonies, according to the customs of her
people and the rites of her faith."

"I am no priest, oh Attila!" answered the enthusiast. "I am one
touched by the finger of God, and set apart to speak terrible warnings
and foretel great events. But I have neither power to loose nor to
bind, to take up nor to cast down. No ceremonies can I perform; for I
am no priest according to any human law. But what needst thou think of
priests or ceremonies?" he continued, seeing Attila stand thoughtfully
before him. "Let the ceremony be performed according to thine own
will. Is not the will of Attila superior to all law?"

"Thou sayest right," answered Attila, advancing to the altar. "It is!"
And placing himself by the side of the altar opposite to Ildica, he
said, "Let the rites proceed! Oh beautiful Ildica, are you willing?"

Ildica raised her eyes, large, calm, liquid, shining as fountains of
living light. She gazed on him for a moment, and then, "I adjure thee,
oh Attila!" she cried, "to tell me truth! Is he dead?"

"He is!" replied Attila, emphatically.

"Art thou certain--quite certain?" demanded Ildica, still gazing in
his face.

"As certain as if my hand had slain him," replied Attila.

"Ha!" said Ildica. "Even so!"

"What sayest thou?" demanded Attila.

"That the will of the king is law." And she cast down her eyes to the
ground.

"Most beautiful and best beloved!" exclaimed Attila, taking her hand
with a look of eager passion. "Let the rites proceed."

They did proceed; and the strange and fanciful ceremonies of the pagan
nuptials were begun and ended between Attila and Ildica!

Still, during the whole of that ceremony, the fair unhappy girl
uttered not one word; but, passive before the heathen altar, she stood
like the victim so often brought there to be sacrificed. Her lips
moved not; her voice was heard not; and, without either consent or
denial, she became the bride of that dark and mighty king.

The priests ceased; the ceremony was over; and she still stood silent
before the altar, with her hand lying in that of Attila. And those who
stood by and saw, never forgot the sight of those small, white, taper
fingers resting in that broad powerful hand. At length she lifted up
her eyes, as if seeking for the heaven; and then her lips moved for a
moment, as if in prayer.

As was the custom, the women of the highest note there present
surrounded her, and led her away to a banquet prepared for her alone.
Ildica ate one cake of bread, and drank one cup of wine, and then
sought the chamber reserved for her. They would have led her in, and
stayed with her to adorn her; but she paused at the door, and bade
them leave her. They hesitated, and urged the custom of the land. But
she raised her head proudly, saying, "I am a Roman even here! But what
to you is more, I am the bride of Attila, and I command you, leave me!
I must spend the intervening time in prayer," she added, in a milder
tone; and, ceasing to urge her further, the women left her to her own
thoughts; and every one betook them to their homes again.

In the mean while Attila lead his chiefs to the banquet; but, as they
went, Ardaric and Valamir walked side by side, and spoke together in a
low tone over the scene just past.

"I comprehend it not," said Ardaric; "I understand it not. The memory
of old affection is clearly strong in her heart; neither do I think
that she forgets her country, nor believe that she is one to wed
either for fear or for ambition! If there should be some higher
purpose in her bosom, Valamir? If she should meditate some mighty
deed?--a deed which, since Attila is no longer Attila, many a brave
man in the camp has pondered on as the last hope of many here--a deed
which, since safety has been banished from our tents, and the swords
of our friends have been drawn at midnight against ourselves, may even
have crossed my mind and thine?"

"Hush!" said Valamir; "Onegisus watches us. Let us sit at separate
tables; but humour him to the full; and, as he has now forgot his
ancient temperance, let him drink deep. It matters not to us whether
drunkenness disgrace him on this night of pageantry or not. Cross him
not, I beseech thee, Ardaric! Thou hast had warning enough this day
that Attila hears counsel no longer, even when given for the
protection of his own honour."

Seated at the banquet, the same scenes, or very similar ones, took
place, which we have dwelt upon before. The same, in all respects,
except in the conduct of the chief actor therein. The rude poet sang
the glowing tale of mighty deeds and great warriors in the long-gone
past; the jester excited the roar of ribald laughter; the wine flowed
plenteously; the chiefs drank deep; but Attila, no longer calm and
grave, followed each impulse of the moment--now gave way to some hasty
wrath, now joined in the peal of merriment; and still, in the deep
wine-cup, provoked the emulation of his warriors.

It was when the night waxed late, and the banquet was nearly over,
that Zercon, the negro jester, who had already played his part in the
hall for the amusement of the guests, entered again, bearing in his
hands an enormous cup of gold, richly gemmed at the rim and on the
handles. The shape was beautiful; the workmanship splendid; the jewels
of inestimable value; and, as he approached the seat of Attila, the
eyes of the monarch, already inflamed with wine, gazed on the
magnificent vessel with eyes of wonder and admiration. Kneeling before
him, Zercon placed the cup in his hand, saying, "Behold, oh mighty
king, a present just arrived from a dear friend and well-wisher of
Attila. Thy messengers have just returned from the M[oe]sian frontier,
and bear thee this jewelled cantharus from Eugenius, bishop of Margus.
Happily has it come to grace thy bridal night."

Attila took the cup, and gazed upon it, repeating thoughtfully, "From
Eugenius, bishop of Margus!--the boy's uncle! I will use it some other
night."

"Nay, oh mighty king!" said Zercon, "no night like this; for in it you
may pledge yourself to avenge the wrongs of him who sent it."

"What wrongs?" cried Attila, turning upon him fiercely. "I know of no
wrongs that he has suffered."

"It comes," replied Zercon, in a deep tone, "from the dead to the
living! from the impotent to the mighty! Eugenius has been put to
death, by command of Marcian, for admitting the Huns to the Roman
territory; and thy messengers have but escaped with life and this cup,
which he had just given them for thee, as a pledge of his friendship."

Attila's countenance grew as dark as night. "Take the cup," he cried,
to one of his officers; "take the cup and let it be purified with
fire. Then bring it to me."

The attendant took the cup, and held it over a lighted torch in the
midst of the hall. Then, after passing it through water, he brought it
to the monarch, who filled it to the brim: and, rising from his seat,
exclaimed, "Pledge me, kings and mighty leaders! Pledge me, in our
last cup this night, death to the slave Marcian, who has dared to slay
the friend of Attila!" and he drank off the wine at once.

He had not spared the cup throughout the night; and now that deep
draught had a visible effect. He felt it himself; and, setting down
the cup, leaned his head upon his hand for a moment; then suddenly
rose, and, bending slightly to his guests, quitted the hall with an
unsteady step. Several of his chief attendants followed, but they
returned the moment after; and many of the leaders rose and left the
hall, conversing in low voices on the varied events lately passed.
Others remained, and protracted the debauch; but by the first hour
after midnight the pavilion of the king was void of its guests, and
all had returned to silence.

Among the first that left the hall were Ardaric and Valamir; and, as
they passed through the camp of the sleeping Huns, they paused for a
moment beside one of the tents in which a light was burning, and from
which might be heard the voice of lamentation.

"Hark! Her slaves weeping over her unhappy fate!" said Ardaric.

"What! did she not take them with her?" demanded Valamir.

"Not one," replied Ardaric; "not one, I hear. Neva, dead Bleda's
daughter, who dwells in our tents with my own children, reported that
she went alone; and none has been with her so much as Neva! She went
alone, Valamir: she went alone to her abhorred task, whatever that
task may be! Let us early to-morrow to Attila, and let us go together.
My heart is not at rest!"

Within the tent by which they stood were, as Ardaric conjectured, the
slaves and attendants of Ildica, weeping for their mistress, who had
gone forth alone, solitary, unaided, unbefriended, in that awful hour
of trial; and had gone so by her own choice. Collected in the outer
chamber of the tent she had occupied, they mourned as for her funeral;
but in the inner chamber of that tent were others who mourned not
less, but whose mourning was mingled with a strange agitation which
was neither hope nor fear.

By the light of a lamp, holding high a wooden cross, stood the hermit
Mizetus, and at his feet knelt the fair girl Neva, raising her eyes to
the symbol of a new faith which the enthusiast had lately planted in
her heart. Dark and obscure as was his own knowledge of the truth,
clouded by a bewildered brain and distorted by wild fancies, he had
still been able to show her a glimmering of the light which was
afterward to shine upon her more fully. Both were pale and haggard,
and moved by the anticipation of great and terrible events; and as
they passed there the long hours of that dreadful night, the young,
fair, lovely maiden kneeling at the feet of that old ascetic, the
tears poured down her cheeks in torrents; the sobs burst struggling
from her young kind bosom; and often the agony and apprehension of her
heart convulsed her form as if in the grasp of death.

"Fear not, fear not, my daughter!" would the hermit exclaim. "Fear not
for her! fear not for us! There is a mightier power than any on the
earth to shield us! There is a greater arm than ever drew mortal sword
to defend us! Even were we in the gates of death itself, I would bid
thee fear not; for God has broken the bonds of the grave asunder, and
provided a ransom to deliver us from hell itself!" Thus did he speak
through the livelong night, and thus did he try to give her
consolation and support; still bidding her not to fear, till at length
he said, "Fear not, maiden! fear not! Lo, the night is past, and the
morning is come; and after the darkness in which we walk upon this
earth shall come the light of a brighter day! Fear not! fear not! I
say unto you, fear not!"



                            CHAPTER XXII.
                       THE DEATH OF THE MIGHTY.


All was quiet amid the splendour of the pavilion of Attila. Not a
sound was heard within its walls, though the light of day had made the
long morning shadows short, and the squadrons of Huns had for some
hours been moving in the plains below. Ellac and his forces had gone
forth with the dawn of day to occupy the new ground appointed for the
evening halt: and two or three hundred thousand men had followed some
hours after. The heavier cavalry of the Gepid[ae] and Ostrogoths hung
like dark clouds upon the sloping hills between which the river
wandered; but while the Huns themselves continued to march on under
their several leaders, according to the commands they had received
upon the preceding evening, the forces of the two great auxiliary
nations remained stationary, waiting the orders of their several
kings.

Ardaric and Valamir, followed by a large train of their chief nobles,
had ridden at an early hour to the pavilion of their great leader to
felicitate Attila on his nuptials; and now they waited with Onegisus
and Edicon, in an inner apartment of the pavilion, which served as an
antechamber to that in which the mighty king reposed. They had
remained there several hours; and while Ardaric spoke in a louder tone
with Onegisus, Valamir conferred with Edicon apart. Doubt and anxiety,
however, were now beginning to cloud the countenances of all; and some
of the inferior attendants from time to time looked in, to see if the
kings had yet been admitted to the presence of their chief.

"This is very strange!" said Ardaric, at length: "what may it mean?"

"It will soon be noon!" said Valamir; "and it is more than strange
that he who through life has risen daily with the morning light should
show himself thus tardy."

"It were well to wake him," said Onegisus.

"Ay, if he may be wakened," muttered Ardaric, drawing back the curtain
which hung over an ornamented door of woodwork. "But what is here?"

Each started forward at his sudden exclamation, and beheld, welling
from underneath the door, like water from the shelf of a rock, and
dabbling the rushes with which the floor was strewed, a stream of dark
gore, which had been concealed by the curtain. They gazed upon it, and
then in one another's faces for a moment; and no one found a voice
till Onegisus, turning suddenly as if to leave the chamber, exclaimed,
"I will call the attendants! We must force the door!"

"On your life, Onegisus!" cried Ardaric, seizing him in his powerful
grasp, and drawing his sword--"you stir not hence! We must deal with
this deed alone. Valamir, you are with me. Edicon, I can trust in you;
guard yonder doorway!"

"What would the noble Ardaric?" cried Onegisus: "why grasp you me so
tight, oh king' I seek not to oppose your will; for if I judge by yon
dark blood aright, there is none in all this camp greater than
Ardaric. What would the mighty king with his servant?"

"I would nothing that is wrong, Onegisus!" replied Ardaric, freeing
him from his grasp, as soon as he saw that Edicon had placed himself
before the door which led to the outer halls; "I seek nothing that is
wrong! I covet not the greatness that thou talkest of! I demand no
pre-eminence! Valamir, my friend, are we not equal in all things? or,
if there be a difference, thou art superior to me in calm considerate
wisdom, and no way inferior to me either in power or right. What I
seek, Onegisus, is this--only this! that we who are here present may
investigate this deed alone, and take counsel together upon whatever
exigency we may find before us. Thou art a man of wisdom and of
courage, and true ever to thy word. Swear to me that thou wilt bear a
part in whatsoever we determine in regard to the deed that is past;
that thou wilt join in whatever report we make regarding the dark
secrets of yon silent chamber; or we must find means to silence thy
tongue, lest it sow dissension among the host, and give us over to the
power of the enemy!"

"Willingly will I swear what you require, oh noble Ardaric!" replied
Onegisus, "so far as regards the present deed; but if dissensions
come--and I see that thy fears and mine look the same way--I will not
pledge myself to take any given part. I will act freely as my judgment
shall dictate when the time shall arrive. Rather than do otherwise, I
would bid you plunge your swords into my bosom even now, and let me
die before the doorway of my murdered master!"

"Onegisus," replied Ardaric, in a solemn and melancholy tone, "we know
not yet what has befallen, but the oath that thou hast pledged is
enough. None loved Attila better than Ardaric while Attila remained
himself; but we all feel that Attila has been unjust! Now let us seek
admittance here!" and he struck upon the door with his clinched hand,
exclaiming, "Ho! does Attila sleep? What ho! within there! The sun
stands high at noon!"

There was no answer! All was as silent as the grave!

There was an awful pause, while each looked anxiously in the face of
the other. But then was heard a sound in the outer chambers, and
voices in high dispute; the tone of a stranger, though speaking the
Hunnish language well, demanding entrance; and the tongues of the
attendants refusing him admittance. Then again were words spoken in
the well-known voice of Theodore, the son of Paulinus, "Out of my way!
By the God of battles, I will cleave thee to the jaws! Out of my way,
I say! Be it on thine own head, then, fool! Thou strivest with a
madman! Down!"

Then came a heavy fall.

"Give him admittance, give him admittance," cried Ardaric and Valamir
in a breath: "oppose him not, Edicon! Poor youth, he will find himself
already avenged;" but, as he spoke, the door burst open, and Theodore,
with his naked sword all bloody in his hand, rushed in.

"Stand all without," cried Edicon, putting back those who were
following to seize him. "Leave us to deal with him. The king has not
yet come forth!" and closing the door upon them, he drew across it the
massive wooden bar that hung beside it.

"Oh Ardaric, Ardaric!" cried Theodore, "hast thou betrayed me too?"

"No, on my life, dear youth," cried the King of the Gepid[ae],
catching him in his powerful arms--"we thought thee dead--thou earnest
not at the time!"

"How could I come?" cried Theodore--"waylaid on every shore, tossed by
the tempest, turned back, delayed--how could I come? But unhand me,
Ardaric, I am mad with injury and revenge; and I will in to yonder
false, faithless tyrant, and die for my revenge!"

"Theodore," said Ardaric, holding him still with his left hand, but
pointing with the other to the stream of blood which flowed from
beneath the door of Attila's chamber, "either the hand of some god, or
her own, has avenged thee and thy poor Ildica already!"

Theodore gazed on it for a moment, and an awful glow of satisfaction
rose in his countenance. Then darting forward from the grasp of
Ardaric, he laid his hand upon the door and attempted to open it. It
resisted, and, setting his powerful shoulder against it, he shook it
with all his strength. Again he shook it to and fro! The fastenings
within gave way, and it burst open with a loud and sudden crash.
Theodore took a step forward, and then paused, while all the others
rushed in.

The light streamed down from windows near the roof, and passing
through the silken curtains, which both served for ornament and to
exclude the air of night, poured softened into the chamber. It was an
awful scene on which that calm, solemn light fell tranquilly.

There, on the floor, scarcely two paces from the door, clothed in the
same splendid robes which for the first and last time in his life he
had worn; with the jewelled circle on his brow, the blazing diamonds
on his broad chest and in his sandals, lay the dark and fearful
monarch of the Huns, the victor of a thousand fields, the mighty
conqueror of unnumbered nations! Mighty no more! Awful still! but
awful in death, and from a small spot on the silken vesture which
covered that breast, wherein for so many years had lain the fate of
empires and the destiny of a world, proceeded the dark stream of
blood, thick and clotted, but not yet dried up, which had once
throbbed in that lion heart, and now had left it cold and vacant. The
ground around was flooded with the stream of gore; his vesture was
soaked and dabbled in it; but it was clear that he had fallen at once,
without an effort or a struggle; for there he lay, as calm as if in
sleep, with even a smile of joyous triumph on his lip, as he had
entered that fatal bridal chamber, which was to be unto him the hall
of death.

It was an awful sight; but still more awful, still more terrible was
the object on which the eye rested when it was raised from Attila. A
few cubits beyond him, in a seat wherein she had evidently waited his
coming, sat Ildica, the beautiful Dalmatian bride. On a table beside
her stood a lamp, just dying out; on her knee rested her right hand,
with her fair delicate fingers clasped tight round the hilt of a small
dagger, from the point of which some drops of blood had fallen upon
her snowy garments; her other hand grasped tight the arm of the chair.
One of the shining tresses of her long dark hair had dropped from the
pin that held it, and fallen upon her bosom; but in all else her dress
was as she had appeared at the altar. Her cheek, her brow, her neck,
were clear and pale as alabaster. The only crimson left was in her
lips.

Some have written that she was weeping, but they lied! She wept not.
Not a drop of moisture was in her eye, though its liquid light, pure
and unquenched, beamed there as bright as ever. But those dark
lustrous eyes, as if the whole world had vanished from her thoughts,
as if for her the whole universe, except one dark and fearful object,
was annihilated, were fixed immoveable on the corpse of that mighty
king, whom no warrior had been found to conquer, but who had fallen in
the hour of joy, intemperance, and in consummate injustice, by her own
weak, delicate hand.

The blows of Ardaric upon the door, the sound of his voice, the
crashing of the shivered fastenings, the tread of many feet in that
awful chamber, had not roused her, even in the slightest degree, from
that deep trance of overpowering thought. Her ear seemed deafened, her
eye blind, her lips dumb, her whole form turned into stone, by the
gorgon aspect of the just but terrible deed which her own hand and
mighty resolution had achieved.

Well might she so remain; for the stern and resolute men who now stood
before her, accustomed as they were to blood and slaughter in all the
fiercest forms, prepared, too, as they were for the sight of death,
were, nevertheless, overawed by that still, solemn, fearful scene, and
stood for a space gazing silently, as if they, also, were petrified
with the objects they beheld.

The first who raised his eyes from Attila was he to whom that dim
chamber contained an object dearer far than any other thing on earth;
and, gazing for a moment upon her, he exclaimed, "Oh, Ildica! oh
beloved! thou hast been true to me, indeed!"

The counter-charm was spoken; the beloved tones were heard. Ildica
raised her eyes, started from her seat, gazed wildly upon him, and,
with a loud, piercing shriek, fell senseless at his feet.

Theodore threw his arm round her, caught her from the ground, and
pressing her tight to his bosom, placed himself opposite to the
chieftains who had entered with him. Then raising the drawn sword,
which still remained in his hand, towards the sky, he exclaimed,
"Almighty God, I thank thee even for this day! Ardaric, Valamir,
Onegisus, Edicon, call in your warriors! call them in, and let them
slay us together, for this deed which she has done, and in which I
glory! Had her hand not done it, mine should have striven to do it.
Call them in, and let them mingle our blood together. Thrilled with
the same emotions through life, and faithful unto death, that blood
may well flow forth at the same moment; and still will it keep apart
from that of Attila! Call them in! call them in! or, if ye be
generous, plunge your own swords in our bosoms! Lo, here I drop my
weapon, and offer you my throat!"

"Onegisus," said Ardaric, "Attila has died in doing an injustice. What
sayest thou?"

Onegisus paused, and looked down, while many emotions were evidently
contending in his breast. At length he raised his eyes to Ardaric, and
said, "It must not be known that Attila died by the hand of a woman?"

"Wisely bethought!" cried Ardaric. "The shame would travel through the
whole world! Let it be given forth that Attila has slain himself. See,
she has dropped the dagger. Let it be laid beside him."

"Not so," said Valamir; "that were a still greater shame! Let it be
said that he died from the bursting of his mighty heart after the
intemperance of last night's revel: and that we found him suffocated
in his blood, and the bride--as all may see her carried forth--in a
dead swoon from terror."

"But what shall be her fate'" demanded Onegisus; "what shall be her
doom hereafter?"

"Onegisus," replied Ardaric, solemnly, "thou hast a wife whom thou
lovest! thou hast a daughter dear unto thine heart! Look upon yon fair
girl, and think she is thy child. Remember the terrible cause that she
has had; remember that her mind, as all of us have seen, has wandered
since the tale of this youth's death; remember all that thou wouldst
remember were she thy child, and then say what shall be her doom!"

Onegisus turned away his head: and stretching forth his right hand,
"Let her go free!" he said; "let her go free! But if it come to
Ellac's ears, fearful will be the consequences."

"Fearful to those who fear him," replied Ardaric, his lip curling with
scorn. "She shall go safe. Valamir, Edicon, what say ye?"

"Let her go safe," replied Edicon.

"She has done a great deed of sovereign justice," replied Valamir,
more boldly. "Let him blame her who will. I give her mighty honour!
Let her go safe!"

"All are agreed!" cried Ardaric. "Edicon, my friend, call up to the
antechamber my train and that of Valamir, and let her be carried
instantly hence; not to her own tent though, but to mine, under the
care of my wife. I can trust thee, Edicon, from what passed between us
yesterday--I can trust thee. Take this ring! Bid my squadrons come
down hither with all speed!"

"And my brave Goths," added Valamir, "shall glide down and interpose
between us and the Huns. Theodore, stay thou with us. Valamir and
Ardaric pledge their hands to thee for thy safety and the safety of
thy bride."

Theodore stood as one dumb; for life was a thing which had passed from
his thoughts and his hopes, and he had only longed to die with her he
loved Eagerly, however, did he grasp the hands of Ardaric and Valamir,
and willingly did he intrust the fair inanimate form of that unhappy
but heroic girl to the noble friends who had interposed to save them
both. Borne upon a couch from that fatal chamber, he beheld her
carried forth towards the tents of Ardaric; and in a few minutes
after, the faithfulness of Edicon to his trust was displayed by the
rapid movement of the Gepid[ae] down towards the pavilion. Dark and
powerful, the squadrons swept around, while the Goths of Valamir
marched on likewise, and cut off the spot where the corpse of the
mighty king reposed from the great body of the Hunnish cavalry. Nor
was their appearance too soon; for all, by this time, within the
pavilion and without, was a scene of clamour and confusion, which
might well have ended in bloodshed had not the two monarchs possessed
power at hand to enforce obedience to their commands.

The decease of Attila was already known, and consternation was
spreading among the ranks of the Huns. The report, too, was not
wanting that he had met a violent death; but those only were admitted
to view the body upon whom the chiefs who had first seen it could
depend; and the word of Onegisus satisfied the great mass of the
people. Messengers, however, were despatched to Ellac, and the other
children of the dead monarch, with all speed, by the chiefs of the
Huns who had remained behind; but Ardaric and Valamir took every
precaution in order to meet in arms, should it be needful, either the
natural thirst for vengeance of the young monarch, or the first
outbursts of characteristic insolence which his newly-acquired power
might call forth.

Instant preparations also were made for rendering back unto the bosom
of the earth the clay of that mighty being who had so long proved its
scourge; and the commands of the two great chieftains enjoined that
all which barbarian splendour could effect should be done to give
magnificence to the interment of Attila.

Ere nightfall the messengers reached the camp of Ellac; and, had they
found him there, he might have returned in time to discover the manner
of his father's death; but Ellac had gone forth with a large train to
enjoy one of the favourite sports of the Huns, a torchlight hunting in
the neighbouring forests; and he returned not to his tents till the
dawn of the following day. Ere midday, however, he had reached the
pavilion where all that remained of Attila reposed; but, by that time,
the body was enclosed in a triple coffin, of iron, of silver, and of
gold; and if he then entertained a suspicion, which he probably did,
the aspect of the united Gepid[ae] and Goths taught him to restrain
any expression that might bring on the struggle which all men saw must
ultimately come, before he had rendered himself certain of the support
of all the tribes of Huns, and prepared all the resources of his
nation.

That support was doubtful; those resources were by him untried. Ellac
stood beneath the crimson tent under which they had laid the body of
Attila, and gazed upon the golden coffin of his mighty father; but no
voice hailed him successor to his power!



                            CHAPTER XXIII.
                        THE PARTING FOR EVER.


A second, a third day had passed, and it was night; and, kneeling
humbly before a small black cross, with tears continually streaming
from her eyes, was that fair girl whose unhappy fate had led her from
the sweet tranquillity of the domestic home--the home which love, and
fancy, and hope had taught her to prize as the brightest lot on
earth--to scenes of strife, and turbulence, and toil, to cares
unceasing, and to acts which, purchased by the agony of her own spirit
and the blasting of her own hopes, had changed the fate and wrought
the deliverance of a world.

It was night; and she wept and prayed alone. An hour more, and she was
to be borne, guarded in safety by a strong band of warriors, from a
camp where, with the light of the ensuing morning, a ceremony was to
be performed which might well end in general bloodshed: and she wept
and prayed in silence; wept the blighting of her dearest wishes; wept
her own fate and the fate of him she loved; prayed forgiveness for an
act she had been taught to consider righteous, and holy, and
sanctified, but for which her own heart smote her, even though by it
she had won her own deliverance. She prayed forgiveness for that act,
heroic, mighty, beneficial as it was; and while the whole Christian
world raised up the thankful hands, and praised God for their
deliverance, she besought his pardon for the deed that had achieved
it.

Solemn and sad was the scene presented by that tent, as there, still
exquisite in beauty, she knelt before the cross; and the solitary
lamp, casting its full light upon her, showed those graceful lines and
lovely features too truly expressive of utter despair. After a while,
she strove to dry the fountain of her tears; those tears, bitter as
they were, had been a relief to her overloaded heart. She thought she
heard a sound, and rose from before the cross. It was but to be caught
in the arms of him she loved.

He pressed her to his bosom; and for a moment she lay there, while joy
ecstatic--joy worth years of suffering--thrilled through her heart,
and took away all power to speak, to think, or to resolve.

The next instant, however, she started up, and struggled from his
arms, exclaiming wildly, "Touch me not! Touch me not! Oh, Theodore,
touch me not! I am unworthy that thou shouldst touch me."

Theodore paused and gazed upon her, and over his face their gathered
the cloud of uncertainty and apprehension. A doubt, a suspicion,
horrible, fiery, agonizing, maddening, rushed through his brain, and
he exclaimed, "Oh, God! is it possible? Have I then lost my Ildica--my
pure, my holy, my beloved!"

Written on his countenance, she saw the dreadful thought that crossed
his mind; she heard it in the deep despair that shook his voice. "No,
no!" she cried, lifting her eyes towards the sky; "no, no! As there is
a God in heaven--as there is redemption for all sins--I am thine,
thine only, thine faithfully, thine in every thought, in heart, mind,
body! thine alone!"

"Then come to my arms!" cried Theodore; "come to my arms, and be my
own for ever, brightest, dearest, most beautiful, and most beloved!"

"Oh, no, no, Theodore!" she answered, sadly; "oh, no, no! never can I
be thine except in spirit and in love. This hand has lain in the hand
of the barbarian. This hand has been died in the blood of his heart.
This hand never, never can be given to thee in wedlock, pure, and
noble, and virtuous as thou art."

"Nay, nay, Ildica," he said, twining his arms round her, and pressing
her closer to his bosom--"nay nay; but hear me. Sit down here by your
own Theodore, your brother, your lover, your promised husband."

She sobbed violently, and her tears deluged his bosom. "Listen to me,
my Ildica," he continued, seating himself with her on the side of the
couch, and still pressing her to his heart. "Is my happiness nothing
to Ildica, that now, when fate at length unites us, her hand should
sever the dear bond for ever?" Her only answers were sobs. "Hear me,"
he said--"hear me, Ildica. Thon hast done an act for which all nations
bless thee. Nor wert thou to blame for any part therein. Thou hadst no
other way to save thyself from a fate far more terrible. Thou
thoughtest that I was dead! Flight was impossible, resistance vain!"

"Listen to _me_, Theodore," she said, raising her head and looking on
his face more calmly, but still sadly and gloomily--"listen to me, and
thou shalt see that I know, and have calculated, and pressed forth the
honey from each excuse, for the act that I have committed. I will tell
thee all--I can tell thee all--for my reason and my memory are now
clear, and I can look back upon the past as upon a picture, wherein I
can see my own image acting a part involuntarily in mighty and awful
deeds. Listen to me, then, beloved; and while I lie here and repose,
for the last time in life, upon that dear resting-place whereon I had
hoped to cradle all my after years, I will tell thee all, all the dark
thoughts and sad memories of the past. Thou hast heard how my mother
died, and how a violent and a raging sickness deprived me for long of
sense. Never after that, Theodore--never, after I awoke and found
myself alone in all the world, thee absent, my mother gone, Ammian,
Eudochia far away--Never do I think that my mind regained its tone. It
was as a bow which the strong arm of misfortune had stretched too far;
and though it sprang back in a degree, it never became straight and
powerful as before. Then came all the horrid visions of the
barbarian's love; but under all those trials I struggled, as my
Theodore might have seen and approved. Amid them all there is not one
memory that lies heavy at my heart. I bore up with fortitude: I
resisted with courage: I pleaded, as I fancied, with success. But then
at length, as hope, bright hope was rising up, and telling me that a
week, a day, an hour might bring thee to me, suddenly, and without
preparation, they told me that thou wert dead. They left me to believe
that thou hadst been murdered by command of him who sought my love. Oh
God! I can scarcely think of it even now," she continued, clasping her
hand upon her forehead.

But, after a moment, she went on, with a deep sigh--"Well, there fell
upon me a cloud; I walked amid those around me as one walking in a
mist. I saw little, I knew little, of all that surrounded me. Brief
snatches of what was said I understood. People came and disappeared
like figures in a thick fog, and voices sounded in mine ear as of
distant persons, that one sees not, heard talking in a dark night. But
among those voices was one," and her voice rose, "which taught me a
lesson of high daring, which showed me holy authority for a deed of
blood, which called upon me night and day to deliver the earth from
her scourge, the nations from their destroyer, the people of God from
their oppressor and their enemy. Night and day that voice told me that
I was the appointed, the chosen of the Lord, to do his will upon his
adversary. It told me that for this I had been made hopeless and
rendered desolate: for this I had been cast into the hands of the
barbarians: for this had the infidel king been made to cast the eyes
of passion upon me. Oh Theodore! that voice but strengthened ideas
which I had already conceived; it but nerved my heart to deeds that I
had already contemplated. I had promised my mother that, in the time
of trial, I would act as one of my ancestors would have acted: I had
promised my own heart that I would die sooner than suffer the love of
any but thyself. There was, as thou hast said, no escape; there was no
resistance. I was called to the sacrifice of the bridal by a command,
not an invitation; and I went in the strength of madness and despair
to slay the slayer of my father, my husband, and my people; to cut
short deeds of blood by one as dark and terrible; and to prevent the
accomplishment of that fearful vow which he had made, to lay the
Eastern world in ashes, and to leave not a blade of grass or a living
soul between the Danube and the Hellespont. Three fearful lots were
laid before me, to choose which I would. They were--to abhor myself
for ever as the slave of Attila's foul passions--to slay myself to
escape him--or to slay him, and, though my certain death should
follow, thus free the Christian world, and deliver the nations from
the sword of the destroyer. I chose, oh Theodore, the bolder and the
mightier deed: I chose that which I believed was justified in
self-defence, which was beneficial to the human race, which I had been
told was pleasing unto God. I chose it with an unshrinking heart, a
keen eye, and a steady hand. But remember, oh remember, that I vowed
no vow; that I promised no promise unto him; that I stood passive,
while they muttered, and they sacrificed, and never, never gave the
hand he took. Remember, that at that very altar where he sealed his
own fate, when solemnly adjured to tell the truth, he swore to me that
thou wert dead, and lost to me for ever. I had no choice, I had no
hope, I had no safety! But when he fell and lay before me, the dark
blood spouting from his stricken side, and the quivering heel smiting
the ground in the agonies of death, the justification passed away; the
terrible thing that I had done absorbed all thought, and feeling, and
sensation. Then immediately you rushed in. No, it could not be
immediately, though it seemed so unto me; but what passed I know not,
till your voice called me for a moment to recollection; and joy, and
horror, and despair cast me senseless again."

Theodore pressed her tenderly to his bosom. "And does not this show,"
he said--"does not all this show that thou shouldst be dearer than
ever to my heart? Does not this show that thou, whose every feeling
through life has been given to me, should, through my future days, be
the object of all my love, and care, and tenderness? Yes, yes, my
Ildica; my bosom shall be thy resting-place, my arms thy shield, my
heart thy sanctuary, my ear the willing listener to every sorrow and
to every care, my voice the soother of thy griefs, the consolation for
all that is painful in memory. Theodore will devote his life unto
thee; his every thought, his every hope, his every wish--"

"Forbear, forbear, Theodore," she cried; "for Ildica's life must be
given up to God. From this day forth no hour shall fly--but those in
which He sends his blessed sleep to allay the fiery memories of the
past--without some prayer for pardon, without some petition for light
in this world of darkness, without some act of penitence, of
adoration, of thanksgiving. What I have told thee, Theodore, should
make thee know that in this I can never change; that I have thought
deeply over all that is past; and with restored reason and a clear
intellect, there is but one place for me on earth--the calm and
tranquil cell in some solitary sisterhood, where I may devote, as far
as love for thee will let me, all my thoughts to God. Oh, Theodore, be
contented! In those thoughts thou wilt share enough. Thou, thou alone
art my object upon earth, round which still cling the garlands of
sweet flowers that fond hope and young affection twined in the days
gone by. Oh, Theodore! those flowers are all immortals: the dew of
memory shall preserve them still, as bright as when first we wreathed
them in the golden past. Their sweet odour shall still endure to
perfume the very latest hours of life; and let us hope--ay, let us
hope, that, with a garland in our hand, a garland of those same
immortal flowers of love, we may meet ere long in heaven! Oh,
Theodore! that life may have been terrible, painful, disastrous, but
never can be useless, that makes us look forward with hope and joy to
a better being and a nobler state." She gazed upward for a moment,
then cast herself upon his bosom and wept.

He held her to his heart in silence, for there was a sacredness in her
sorrow, an elevation in her purpose, which he dared not combat at that
moment, though the hope of changing it was not extinct. Gladly,
however, did he hear her, after a long pause given to the bursting
forth of that deep emotion--gladly did he hear her revert to a less
painful, a less agitating theme. "Eudochia," she said--"Eudochia and
Ammian; tell me, Theodore, are they well and happy?"

"I left them so, beloved," he replied, "and trust they are so still;
but that is long ago, for I have been delayed by every disaster that
can befall the traveller on his way. Tempest and shipwreck, storm and
enemies, the darkness of sixteen days upon the wide sea, a host of
insidious foes lining the shore, obstacles which the might of man
could not overcome, tortured, impeded, delayed me; and I am here with
scarce ten of all my followers left alive, and with my own life a
miracle even unto myself. When I left my sister and thy brother,
however, they were well and happy; she full of smiles and hopes; and
he, though graver--calmer I should say, than he was, yet, looking
thoughtful happiness whenever he gazed on his own dear bride. They are
both happy--most happy; and we may be so too. Yes, yes, my Ildica,
brighter thoughts will come: I will see thee this night depart towards
our own land with joy and thankfulness; and will follow thee with a
more rapid pace ere two days be over. We have none but each other
left, my Ildica, to cling to in the world; and our prayers, our
thanksgiving, our adoration, will rise as gratefully to the heavenly
throne, from two united hearts, thankful for mutual love and mutual
happiness, as from two separate beings, torn asunder when they loved
the most, and ending in solitary misery a life that has already known
some sorrows."

She shook her head and murmured, "It cannot be!"

But Theodore would not believe aught but the voice of hope; and he
pressed her closer to his heart. "Hark!" he said, after a moment;
"there is the litter and the train of horsemen that accompany thee!
Ardaric has fully provided for our safety till we reach the borders of
our own land."

There was the sound of a step in the outer tent, and the curtain which
divided it was raised. So often had misfortune stricken her, so
continually had the wave of evil tidings been poured upon her ear,
that, even at that slight sound, Ildica started, crept closer to the
breast of her lover, and gazed forward with a frightened glance upon
the moving curtain. The form that appeared, however, was not one to
inspire fear; it was that of Neva, now pale as Ildica herself, but
scarcely less lovely. She was covered with a mantle of furs, and a
hood of fine sable was drawn partly over her head.

On seeing Theodore with Ildica, she paused and hesitated; and either
the lamp, flickering with the wind of the moving curtain, cast for a
moment a red light upon her countenance, or else the blood mounted up
into her cheek, and then, rushing back again, left it as pale as
before.

"Ildica, dear Ildica," she said, again advancing, "all is ready!"

Ildica's fortitude returned. It was only in anticipation she was
timid. "And must I part with thee, too, dear Neva?" she said; "with
thee, to whom all my consolation during the last sad month is owing?
Must I part with thee, too--and for ever?"

"No, Ildica, no," answered Neva. "I go with thee, wherever thou goest.
Whatever be thy fate, dear sister of my heart, sister in misfortune
and disappointed hopes, with thee will I go, if it be to the uttermost
parts of the earth. Thy lot I will share, thy sorrows I will sooth,
till I see thee at length rewarded with happiness; and then, as a
distant gazer upon a beautiful scene, I will look on from afar, and
thank God for the brightness of the evening."

Ildica cast her arms around her and melted into tears; and then,
suddenly raising her head, she gazed upon the lovely countenance of
Bleda's daughter, and turned, as if with the inspiration of sudden
hope, towards Theodore. "Oh, Theodore, Theodore!" she exclaimed; "thou
mayst be happy yet."

He seemed to gather her meaning in a moment. "Hush!" he exclaimed, in
a tone almost rendered stern by the very vehemence of his feelings.
"Hush, hush, Ildica--by the sacred purity of thine own heart--hush!"

He cast his arms around her, and pressed her to his bosom; and then,
knowing how valuable every moment of that night might be, he gently
drew her onward towards the litter which stood without, surrounded by
a large body of the barbarian horsemen. Ardaric was there, but he
gazed on Theodore and Ildica in silence; and the young Roman, raising
her in his arms, placed her himself in the double litter. He assisted
Neva to follow and seat herself by Ildica's side. "Farewell, Neva!" he
said; "gentle, excellent girl, farewell!--Theodore will ever love you
as a brother. Ildica, my bride, my promised, my beloved, farewell! Ere
two days be over, I will follow thee on thy way."

She suffered him to embrace her again as she lay on the litter, and
she returned the embrace. But, as her cheek lay on his shoulders, she
murmured, "Farewell, beloved of my youth! beloved shalt thou still be,
even unto death; but hope no vain hopes, Theodore; Ildica is vowed
unto prayer and unto repentance. Farewell for ever!"

The litter moved on; the dull sound of the horses' feet was heard upon
the grass; the last horsemen filed away over the hills; the sounds of
the departing force grew fainter and more faint; the noises of the
several camps around rose louder on the ear; and Ardaric laid his hand
upon Theodore's arm, saying, "They are gone! Let us to counsel, my
friend."



                            CHAPTER XXIV.
                      THE END OF A SAD HISTORY.


It was a fair autumn day, and the mighty clouds which swept from time
to time over the deep blue sky served not to lessen, but rather to
increase the brightness of the face of nature. In the centre of the
plain which lay between two wide sloping hills was erected a tent of
crimson silk, the awnings of which, festooned on high, exposed to
view, raised on a low platform, a coffin of burnished gold.[6]


---------------

[Footnote 6: Let it be understood that such particulars are not
imaginary Attila was buried with the rites here described.]

---------------


The space around, for the distance of two bowshots on every side, was
kept clear; but beyond the limits of that open ground, in one
wide-spreading ring, extended the dusky line of barbarian warriors,
whose hands had carried desolation into the heart of so many sunshiny
and prosperous lands. Deep was the phalanx of those dark warriors, as,
each mounted on his battle-steed, they sat in grim array around the
body of their king. The whole plain was occupied by their multitude;
and while the soldiers and chiefs themselves thus formed in regular
order a living amphitheatre below, the women, the children, and the
slaves swept up the hills around and gazed upon the awful spectacle.

After the first confusion incident to giving form and array to such a
vast body of men had subsided, the sad and solemn occasion of their
meeting, the important and terrible events that were likely to ensue,
kept even the rude barbarians hushed around; and though the dull
stamping of the horses, unconscious of the cause of halt, raised a
murmuring sound, the human voice was not heard throughout that mighty
host, or, at most, a low whisper rustled through the ranks.

At length two groups separated themselves from either side, and,
advancing for a short space into the arena, dismounted from their
horses, and approached the tent on foot. On the one side appeared
Ellac, the son of the dead king, and three of his brethren, of whom
Ernac, the youngest, was one; while Onegisus and Orestes, a favourite
officer of Attila's, accompanied them towards the tent. On the other
hand appeared Ardaric and Valamir, Theodore and Edicon, with two
inferior chiefs of tributary nations.

All were unarmed, as had been before agreed; and with branches of oak
in their hands, they one by one entered the tent, and laid the leafy
offering on the bier of Attila. His children and the two Hunnish
chieftains stood on the one side of the coffin, and the two kings with
their companions on the other; and, after gazing for a time on the
gold that covered the ashes of the mighty king, they raised their eyes
to each other, and it was evident that but little love existed between
those who were there face to face.

There came an uneasy pause; and then Ardaric, breaking silence, said,
"Are we not here, oh Ellac! to celebrate the funeral of that mighty
king who for so many years has led us on to battle and to victory? If
so, let us plight our hands unto each other, that, for two days, all
subjects of debate which may arise, either between me and thee, or
between the nation of the Huns and the confederate nations which for
so long have borne them company in war, shall be laid aside, and that
we shall live together for those two days as friends and brethren
united in common love and reverence for the mighty dead."

Ellac gazed at him with a fierceness that he could scarce subdue; and,
after a violent struggle with himself, replied, "So shall it be, oh
Ardaric! when thou hast satisfied me of one thing. Ere I clasp the
hand of any man in amity, even if that amity be to last but for two
days, I will know whether the hand offered to me be pure from my
father's blood. Of late thou hast been heard to murmur at the will of
the king--to condemn his actions--to say that he was changed--to
declare the executions that his will ordained, unjust: ay, and,
meddling even in his domestic life, to oppose, till his own wrath was
excited, his taking to his bed a pitiful Dalmatian girl."

Theodore's hand grasped for the hilt of his sword; but, fortunately,
the weapon was away.

"On the day of my father's death," continued Ellac, "comes back yonder
Roman, the affianced husband of this slight womanly toy, wherewith
Attila chose to solace his hours of idleness. Thou and some few others
are together in the antechamber of the king when the viper he has
nourished in his bosom returns. The king is found drowned in his
blood. All this is strange, oh Ardaric!"

"Ellac," replied Ardaric, sternly and solemnly, "darest thou to accuse
me of the murder of thy father, or of sharing in any way in his death?
Ardaric was the friend of Attila, but the enemy of those faults which,
alas! were growing but too thick upon him. But I tell thee, Ellac,
that perchance the thought of slaying Attila might be more familiar to
the heart of his own son than to the breast of Ardaric! Silence! and
hear me," he continued, in a voice of thunder, seeing that Ellac was
about to interrupt him--"silence! and hear me to an end; then answer!
I know thine inmost thoughts, oh Ellac! But here I swear," and he laid
his broad hand upon the coffin, "by the immortal gods, and by the
blood of Attila! that neither I nor mine, nor one here present with
me, is guilty of the death of the mighty king--contrived, or aided, or
executed his murder. Now, oh Ellac, if thou art still unsatisfied, let
this triple coffin be opened, and thou and I will separately place our
hands upon the heart of Attila, calling on him to show who most
conspired, longed for, thought of, planned the death of that great
king. Then shall we see at whose touch his blood will soonest flow!"

Ellac turned away his head--"It is enough," he said; "thine oath will
satisfy me!"

A bitter and indignant smile curled the lip of Valamir at his reply.
"Since thou art satisfied, Ellac," he said, "pledge us thine hand that
here, meeting in peace, at the funeral of thy father, we his friends,
the companions of his toils, the sharers in his successes, may in
peace also offer to his ashes the honours due to the mightiest
monarch, the greatest conqueror, the most heroic warrior that earth
has ever seen or shall see! Pledge us thy hand, that for this day and
the next, peace, and amity, and good faith shall reign between the
Huns and the nations we command, and let every question which may
cause dispute or division be postponed till those days have passed."

Ellac hesitated: "Yonder is the grave," he said at length, pointing to
a deep pit and a high mound of earth which had been cast up to form
it. "Yonder is the grave. Thou knowest, Ardaric, that the blood of
slaves and captives must be shed, as a sacrifice, on the spot where
rest the bones of Attila. Thou wouldst not send the spirit of the
mighty king upon its long journey through the realms of night with no
attendant shades around it. I claim a sacrifice; and as the first who
follows the great monarch to the pastures of the dead, I claim the
bride that he had wedded on his night of death; I claim her he had
made his own in the sight of heaven and earth, to follow him
whithersoever the gods shall appoint him to go!"

"Out on thee, fiend!" cried Theodore; "out on thee, unjust and
barbarous man! Lover of blood, faithless, false, and insolent; no
bride of Attila's was she; no sacrifice shall she be to the demon of
thy mighty father--to the manes of him who, had he been as pitiful and
as contemptible as his son, would never--"

"Hush, hush!" cried Ardaric, laying his hand upon his arm--"hush,
hush, Theodore! Provoke not quarrel now! Ellac, what thou demandest is
impossible. Were she even here in the camp, my honour, and the
glorious name of Attila himself, would demand that she whose hand had
lain in his should be held sacred, so long as Ardaric had a sword to
wield in her defence. But she is far hence. Long, long miles separate
us from her; and ere thou or thine could reach her, she would be safe
in her own land. If thou wilt swear peace, why well! but seek not to
delay us longer with vain and idle pretexts!"

"Pretexts!" exclaimed Ellac, furiously; "proud leader, who art thou,
to talk to me of pretexts? Who is king here on the Pannonian soil,
that thou shouldst beard me thus?"

"Beard thee!" cried Ardaric, with a scornful laugh. "Who is king here!
why, beardless boy, Ardaric is king as well as thou art! Thy father's
friend, but not his servant; his ally, not his subject, serving him
well and truly from love and admiration; but owing him nothing, no,
not an ounce of gold! Speakest thou to me as if thou wert Attila? Poor
worm! know thyself better; and if thou wouldst know who is king, three
days hence I will give thee an answer--ay, such an answer as the world
shall never forget--written with steel, in characters of blood. But
let us now have peace! If thou wilt now swear to deal faithfully with
us, say so at once. If not, lo, we mount our horses, and we draw our
swords. But upon thee and thine be the shame and the disgrace of
dishonouring thy father's ashes. We offer thee peace to perform the
rites due to the ashes of the mighty king--take it or refuse it, now,
and at a word."

Onegisus caught the arm of Ellac as he was about to reply, and
whispered with him eagerly for several minutes. Ellac looked down
sullenly on the ground for a moment, and then, raising his eyes,
replied, "Peace! let it be peace for those two days! I swear to keep
it inviolate by the ashes of my father, and by the eternal gods. But
after that, oh Ardaric, will come the trial between thee and me. The
hosts that have conquered under Attila shall not be divided under his
son. Let our strength be tried, and if thou canst break the chain that
I will put about thy neck, thou shalt drag Ellac after thee. Three
days hence, at the third hour after sunrise, I will wait for thee in
the plains beside the river Netad, where late I pitched my tents on
the day of my father's death. There shalt thou find me, and if thou
comest not to me I will seek thee, and I will bow thy proud head to
the dust. As for yon paltry Roman, if he come with thee, he shall find
the fate that he deserves. Perhaps he may not die--his blood is too
like water to be worth the spilling. Shorn, mutilated, cropped, and
his flesh marked with the burning steel, he shall stand among the
slaves of Ellac, and wash the vessels from his master's table."

"Ellac," answered Theodore, calmly, "Ellac, I will come! and if the
god of battles abandon me not now, I will give unto thee a better fate
than that which thou wouldst grant to me. On the third day hence look
thou well unto the dawning sun, for if I live thou never shalt see it
rise again. For these two days, however, let us all swear peace!"

"We swear! we swear!" they cried, and laid their hands upon the bier
of Attila.


                      *    *    *    *    *    *


The dark squadrons began to move, a thousand horsemen at a time; and
with a slow and solemn pace they approached the tent where lay the
body of the mighty king, wheeling round it once, with still decreasing
speed, as if reluctant to pass for the last time before him who had so
often led them on to victory. Ever as they went, with downcast looks,
they sung to a wild and melancholy air the song of the departed great.

When each squadron had performed its round, it took its place once
more in the vast circle, and another succeeded and performed the same
sad rite, till at length, when the sun's course had waned to less than
an hour of light, the whole had completed the task. Then ten of the
greatest chieftains lifted the golden coffin, and, placing it on their
crossed spears, bore it towards the grave.

As they advanced, the circle of the Huns, rendered skilful in such an
evolution by their practice in hunting, grew smaller and smaller,
pressing into a narrower ring; and forth from among them were driven a
crowd of pale and ghastly wretches, who knew the fatal hour of their
immolation nigh, and yet, with vain and fruitless hopes, looked round
for impossible escape. That iron ring was at length narrowed to less
than a bowshot in diameter; and some hundred or more of the chief
warriors pushing their horses forward, drove the trembling slaves on
to the brink of the pit.

The golden coffin was slowly lowered down into the grave. Those who
were behind pressed onward to behold. The swords of the nearest
warriors leaped from their sheaths, waved above the heads of the
victims, and a loud and fearful shriek rang up to the offended sky.
Jewels, and gold, and precious stones were showered in from all hands
among the blood and writhing bodies that half filled up that horrible
tomb. Then piled they in the cold gray soil, till it rose in a mount
high above the rest of the land. They covered it with the turf they
had removed. Night fell, and all was done.


                      *    *    *    *    *    *


An old man stood upon a hill and gazed, and though arrows fell at his
feet, still he looked forth upon a widespread grassy plain, where two
mighty hosts had been contending, from the third hour after the dawn
of day till the fourth hour following noon. They had met, myriads upon
myriads; but now thin and scanty was the field, and few and weary were
the combatants; but still that old man gazed, and still his voice
murmured forth, "Lord God Almighty, thou dealest righteously! The
slayers of all men are slain by their own swords!"

At length, where flowed a rivulet on to the neighbouring river, those
two dark armies seemed separated for a space, and rolled, like two
thunder-clouds ready to meet, at a little distance from either bank:
then, like lightning from those clouds, sprang forth two gallant men,
borne on towards each other by their fiery chargers, as swiftly and
unwearied as if throughout that day there had neither been fatigue nor
strife. The one was habited as a Roman, and his steed, plunging in the
stream, bore him to the other bank ere his adversary could reach it.
They met; their swords waved in the air; the eyes of the beholders
were dazzled; but, in a moment after, the barbarian was seen bending
to his saddle-bow. A second deep stroke descended on his neck, and,
falling headlong, he rolled, a corpse, upon the plain!

The Gepid[ae] poured across the stream: the Huns fled in disarray;
slaughter and destruction hung upon their rear, and the mighty fabric
of Attila's empire was at an end for ever.


                      *    *    *    *    *    *


Nearly thirty years after, when the empire of the West was at an end,
and the empire of the East revived for a time with a show of false
prosperity, a powerful man, clothed in the splendid arms of a
pretorian prefect, wandered up one of the low hills which border the
Illyrian shore. He was led by a woman, on whose fair countenance
remained the traces of splendid beauty; and whose deep blue eyes still
retained an expression of deep, devoted tenderness, though that
tenderness was now given to the highest object of human feelings. She
was clothed in the habit of a recluse, such as was then common, and
the way they took was towards the cemetery of a solitary nunnery. The
guards of the prefect remained below, but he himself was admitted by a
special favour; and, passing through the little wicket gate into the
calm and silent spot where reposed the ashes of the holy and the pure,
they came, after a few steps, to a grave covered with fresh turf.

"She lies there!" said Neva--and Theodore cast himself down upon the
grave of Ildica, and wept!



                               THE END.





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