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The Britons soon discovered that the Romans had retreated, but made no movement in pursuit. They knew that the legionaries once in open ground were more than their match, and they were well content with the success they had gained. They had lost in all but four hundred men, while they were certain that the Romans had suffered much more heavily, and that there was but little chance of the attack being renewed in the same manner, for if their progress was so slow when they had frost to aid them, what chance would they have when there was scarce a foot of land that could bear their weight? The winter passed, indeed, without any further movement. The Britons suffered to some extent from the damps; but as the whole country was undrained, and for the most part covered with forest, they were accustomed to a damp laden atmosphere, and so supported the fogs of the Fens far better than they would otherwise have done.
In the spring, grain, which had been carefully preserved for the purpose, was sown in many places where the land was above the level of the swamps. A number of large boats had been built during the winter, as Beric and Aska were convinced that the next attack would be made by water, having learned from the country people to the west that a vast number of flat bottomed boats had been built by the Romans.
Early in the spring fighting again began. A great flotilla of boats descended from Huntingdon, and turning off the side channels entered the swamp. But the Britons were prepared. They were now well provided with tools, and numbers of trees had been felled across the channels, completely blocking the passage. As soon as the boats left the main river, they were assailed with a storm of javelins from the bushes, and the Romans, when they attempted to land, found their movements impeded by the deep swamp in which they often sank up to the waist, while their foes in their swamp pattens traversed them easily, and inflicted heavy losses upon them, driving them back into their boats again. At the points where the channels were obstructed desperate struggles took place. The Romans, from their boats, in vain endeavoured, under the storm of missiles from their invisible foes, to remove the obstacles, and as soon as they landed to attempt to do so they were attacked with such fury that they were forced to fall back.
Several times they found their way of retreat blocked by boats that had come down through side channels, and had to fight their way back with great loss and difficulty. After maintaining the struggle for four days, and suffering a loss even greater than that they had incurred in their first attack, the Romans again drew off and ascended the river. The Fenmen had joined the Iceni in repelling the attack. The portion of the swamp they inhabited was not far away, and they felt that they too were threatened by the Roman advance. They had therefore rejoined the Iceni, although for some time they had kept themselves aloof from them, owing to quarrels that had arisen because, as they asserted, some of the Iceni had entered their district and carried off the birds from their traps. Beric had done all in his power to allay this feeling, recompensing them for the losses they declared they had suffered, and bestowing many presents upon them. He and Aska often talked the matter over, and agreed that their greatest danger was from the Fenmen.
"They view us as intruders in their country," Aska said, "and doubtless consider that in time we shall become their masters. Should they turn against us they could lead the Romans direct to our islands, and if these were lost all would be lost."
"If you fear that, Aska," Boduoc, who was present, said, "we had better kill the little wretches at once."
"No, no Boduoc," Beric said. "We have nothing against them at present, and we should be undeserving of the protection of the gods were we to act towards them as the Romans act towards us. Moreover, such an attempt would only bring about what we fear. Some of them, knowing their way as they do through the marshes, would be sure to make their escape, and these would bring the Romans down upon us. Even did we slay all this tribe here, the Fenmen in the north would seek to avenge their kinsmen, and would invite the Romans to their aid. No, we must speak the Fenmen fair, avoid all cause of quarrel, do all we can to win their goodwill, and show them that they have nothing to fear from us. Still, we must always be on guard against treachery. Night and day a watch must be set at the mouths of all the channels by which they might penetrate in this direction."
Another month passed. The Romans still remained in their forts round the Fens. The natives had now been brought round to the western side, and under the protection of strong bodies of soldiers were occupied in clearing the swamp on that side. They made but little progress, however, for the Britons made frequent eruptions among them, and the depth of the morasses in this direction rendered it well nigh impossible for them to advance, and progress could only be made by binding the bush into bundles and forming roads as they went on. From their kinsmen in the northwest, Beric learned that a new propraetor had arrived to replace Suetonius, for it was reported that the wholesale severity of the latter was greatly disapproved of in Rome, so that his successor had come out with orders to pursue a milder policy, and to desist from the work of extirpation that Suetonius was carrying on. It was known that at any rate the newcomer had issued a proclamation, saying that Rome wished neither to destroy nor enslave the people of Britain, and that all fugitives were invited to return to their homes, adding a promise that no molestation should be offered to them, and that an amnesty was granted to all for their share in the late troubles.
"What do you think, Aska?" Beric asked when they heard the news.
"It may be true or it may not," Aska said. "For myself, after the treatment of Boadicea, and the seizure of all her husband's property, I have no faith in Roman promises. However, all this is but a rumour. It will be time enough to consider it when they send in a flag of truce and offer us terms of surrender. Besides, supposing the proclamation has been rightly reported, the amnesty is promised only for the past troubles. The new general must have heard of the heavy losses we inflicted on the Romans as soon as he landed, and had he meant his proclamation to apply to us he would have said so. However, I sincerely trust that it is true, even if we are not included, and are to be hunted down like wild beasts. Rome cannot wish to conquer a desert, and you have told me she generally treats the natives of conquered provinces well after all resistance has ceased. It may well be that the Romans disapprove of the harshness of Suetonius, although the rising was not due to him so much as to the villain Decianus. Still he was harsh in the extreme, and his massacre of the Druids enlisted every Briton against him. Other measures may now be tried; the ground must be cultivated, or it is useless to Rome. There are at present many tribes still unsubdued, and were men like Suetonius and Decianus to continue to scourge the land by their cruelties, they might provoke another rising as formidable as ours, and bring fresh disaster upon Rome. But whether the amnesty applies to us or not, I shall be glad to hear that Suetonius has left. We know that three days ago at any rate he was at their camp opposite Huntingdon, and he may well wish to strike a blow before he leaves, in order that he may return with the credit of having crushed out the last resistance."
Two nights later, an hour before daybreak, a man covered with wounds, breathless and exhausted, made his way up to the intrenchment on the principal island.
"To arms!" he shouted. "The Romans are upon us!" One of the sentries ran with the news to Beric's hut. Springing from his couch Beric sounded his horn, and the band, who were at all times kept to the strength of four hundred, rushed to the line of defences.
"What is it? What is your news?" Beric asked the messenger.
"It is treachery, Beric. With two comrades I was on watch at the point where the principal channel hence runs into the river. Suddenly we thought we heard the sound of oars on the river above us. We could not be sure. It was a faint confused sound, and we stood at the edge of the bank listening, when suddenly from behind us sprang out a dozen men, and before we had time to draw a sword we were cut down. They hewed at us till they thought us dead, and for a time I knew nothing more. When I came to myself I saw a procession of Roman boats turning in at the channel. For a time I was too faint to move; but at last I crawled down a yard or two to the water and had a drink. Then my strength gradually returned and I struggled to my feet.
"To proceed by land through the marshes at night was impossible, but I found my coracle, which we had hidden under the bushes, and poled up the channel after the Romans, who were now some distance ahead. The danger gave me strength, and I gained upon them. When I could hear their oars ahead I turned off by a cross channel so as to strike another leading direct hither. What was my horror when I reached it to see another flotilla of Roman boats passing along. Then I guessed that not only we but the watchers at all the other channels must have been surprised and killed by the treacherous Fenmen. I followed the boats till I reached a spot where I knew there was a track through the marshes to the island.
"For hours I struggled on, often losing the path in the darkness and falling into swamps, where I was nearly overwhelmed; but at last I approached the island. The Romans were already near. I tried each avenue by which our boats approached, but all were held by them. But at last I made my way through by one of the deepest marshes, where at any other time I would not have set foot, even in broad daylight, and so have arrived in time to warn you."
"You have done well. Your warning comes not, I fear, in time to save us, but it will enable us at least to die like men, with arms in our hands."
Parties of men were at once sent down to hold the intrenchments erected to cover the approaches. Some of those who knew the swamps best were sent out singly, but they found the Romans everywhere. They had formed a complete circle round the island, all the channels being occupied by the boats, while parties had been landed upon planks thrown across the soft ground between the channels to prevent any from passing on foot.
"They will not attack until broad daylight," Aska said, when all the men who had been sent out had returned with a similar tale. "They must fight under the disadvantage of not knowing the ground, and would fear that in the darkness some of us would slip away."
Contrary to expectation the next day passed without any movement by the Romans, and Beric and Aska agreed that most likely the greater portion of the boats had gone back to bring up more troops.
"They will not risk another defeat," Aska said, "and they must be sure that, hemmed in as we are, we shall fight to the last."
The practicability of throwing the whole force against the Romans at one point, and of so forcing their way through was discussed; but in that case the women and children, over a thousand in number, must be left behind, and the idea was therefore abandoned. Another day of suspense passed. During the evening loud shouts were heard in the swamp, and the Britons had no doubt that the boats had returned with reinforcements. There were three points where boats could come up to the shore of the island. Aska, Boduoc, and another chief, each with a hundred men, took their posts in the intrenchments there, while Beric, with a hundred of the Sarci, remained in the great intrenchment on the summit, in readiness to bear down upon any point where aid was required. Soon after daybreak next morning the battle began, the Romans advancing in their flat bottomed boats and springing on shore. In spite of a hail of missiles they advanced against the intrenchments; but these were strongly built in imitation of the Roman works, having a steep bank of earth surmounted by a solid palisade breast high, and constructed of massive timber.
For some hours the conflict raged, fifty of the defenders at each intrenchment thrusting down with their long spears the assailants as they strove to scale the bank, while the other fifty rained arrows and javelins upon them; and whenever they succeeded in getting up to the palisade through the circle of the spears, threw down their bows and opposed them sword in hand. Again and again the Romans were repulsed with great slaughter, the cries of exultation from the women who lined the upper intrenchment rose loud and shrill.
Beric divided his force into three bodies. The first was to move down instantly if they saw the defenders of the lower intrenchment hard pressed; the others were to hold their position until summoned by Beric to move down and join in the fray. He himself paced round and round the intrenchment, occupied less with the three desperate fights going on below than with the edge of the bushes between those points. He knew that the morasses were so deep that even an active and unarmed man could scarce make his way through them and that only by springing from bush to bush. But he feared that the Romans might form paths by throwing down faggots, and so gain the island at some undefended point.
Until noon he saw nothing to justify his anxiety; everything seemed still in the swamp. But he knew that this silence was deceptive, and the canopy of marsh loving trees completely hid the bushes and undergrowth from his sight. It was just noon when a Roman trumpet sounded, and at once at six different points a line of Roman soldiers issued from the bushes. Beric raised his horn to his lips and blew the signal for retreat. At its sound the defenders of the three lower intrenchments instantly left their posts and dashed at full speed up the hill, gaining it long before the Romans, who, as they issued out, formed up in order to repel any attack that might be made upon them.
"So they have made paths across the swamp," Aska said bitterly, as he joined Beric. "They would never have made their way in by fair fighting."
"Well," Beric said, "there is one more struggle, and a stout one, and then we go to join our friends who have gone before us in the Happy Island in the far west. We need not be ashamed to meet them. They will welcome us as men who have struggled to the last for liberty against the oppressor, and who have nobly upheld the honour of the Iceni. We shall meet with a great welcome."
Not until the Romans had landed the whole of the force they had brought up, which Beric estimated as exceeding two thousand men, did they advance to the attack, pressing forward against all points of the intrenchment. The Iceni were too few for the proper defence of so long a circuit of intrenchments, but the women and boys took their places beside them armed with hatchets, clubs, and knives. The struggle was for a long time uncertain, so desperately did the defenders fight; and it was not until suffering the loss of a third of their number, from the missiles and weapons of the British, that the Romans at last broke through the intrenchment. Even then the British fought to the last. None thought of asking for quarter, but each died contented if he could kill but one Roman. The women flung themselves on the spears of the assailants, preferring death infinitely to falling into the hands of the Romans; and soon the only survivors of the Britons were a group of some thirty men gathered on a little knoll in the centre of the camp.
Beric had successfully defended the chief entrance to the camp until the Romans burst in at other places, and then, blowing his horn, he had tried to rally his men in the centre for a final stand. Aska had already fallen, pierced by a Roman javelin; but Boduoc and a small body of the Sarci had rallied round Beric, and had for a time beaten off the assaults of the Romans. But soon they were reduced to half their number, and were on the point of being overwhelmed by the crowds surrounding them, when a Roman trumpet sounded and their assailants fell back. An officer made his way towards them and addressed Beric.
"Suetonius bids me say that he honours bravery, and that your lives will be spared if you lay down your arms."
"Tell Suetonius that we scorn his mercy," Beric said, "and will die as we have lived, free men."
The Roman bade his men stand to their weapons, and not move until his return. It was a few minutes before he came back again. Behind him were a number of soldiers, who had laid aside their arms and provided themselves with billets of wood and long poles. Before Beric could understand what was intended, he and his companions were struck to the ground by the discharge of the wooden missiles or knocked down by the poles. Then the Romans threw themselves upon them and bound them hand and foot, the camp was plundered, fire applied to the huts, and the palisades beaten down. Then the captives were carried down to the boats, and the Romans rowed away through the marshes. They had little to congratulate themselves upon. They had captured the leader of the Iceni, had destroyed his stronghold and slain four hundred of his followers, but it had cost them double that number of men, and a large portion of the remainder bore wounds more or less severe.
Boduoc and the other prisoners were furious at their capture. The Britons had no fear whatever of death, but capture was regarded as a disgrace; and that they alone should have been preserved when their comrades had all been killed and the women and children massacred, was to them a terrible misfortune. They considered that they had been captured by an unworthy ruse, for had they known what was intended they would have slain each other, or stabbed themselves, rather than become captives.
Beric's feelings were more mixed. Although he would have preferred death to captivity, his ideas had been much modified by his residence among the Romans, and he saw nothing disgraceful in what he could not avoid. He would never have surrendered; would never have voluntarily accepted life; but as he had been taken captive against his will and in fair fight, he saw no disgrace in it. He wondered why he and his companions had been spared. It might be that they were to be put to death publicly, as a warning to their countrymen; but he thought it more likely that Suetonius had preserved them to carry them back to Rome as a proof that he had, before giving up the command, crushed out the last resistance of the Britons to Roman rule. As the captives had been distributed among the boats, he had no opportunity of speaking to his companions until, about midnight, the flotilla arrived at Godmancastra. Then they were laid on the ground together, a guard of six men taking post beside them. Boduoc at once broke out in a torrent of execrations against the Romans.
"They had a right to kill us," he said, "but they had no right to dishonour us. We had a right to die with the others. We fought them fairly, and refused to surrender. It is a shameful tyranny thus to disgrace us by making us captives. I would not have refused death to my most hated foe; but they shall not exult over us long. If they will not give me a weapon with which to put an end to my life, I will starve myself."
There was an exclamation of fierce assent from the other captives.
"They have not meant to dishonour us, Boduoc, but to do us honour," Beric said. "The Romans do not view these things in the same light that we do. It is because, in their opinion, we are brave men, whom it was an honour to them to subdue, that they have thus taken us. You see they slew all others, even the women and children. We were captured not from pity, not because they wished to inflict disgrace upon us, but simply as trophies of their own valour; just as they would take a standard. We may deem ourselves aggrieved because we have not, like the rest, died fighting to the last, and so departed for the Happy Island; but it is the will of the gods that we should not make the journey for a time. It is really an honour to us that they have deemed us worthy of the trouble of capture, instead of slaying us. Like you, I would rather a thousand times have died; but since the gods have decreed it otherwise, it is for us to show that not even captivity can break our spirit, but that we are able to bear ourselves as brave men who, having done all that men could do against vastly superior force, still preserve their own esteem, and give way neither to unmanly repinings nor to a sullen struggle against fate.
"Nothing would please the Romans better than for us to act like wild beasts caught in a snare, gnashing our teeth vainly when we can no longer strike, and either sulkily protesting against our lot, or seeking to escape the pains of death or servitude by flying from life. Let us preserve a front haughty and unabashed. We have inflicted heavy defeats upon Rome, and are proud of it. Let them see that the chains on our bodies have not bound our spirit, and that, though captives, we still hold ourselves as free men, fearless of what they can do to us. In such a way we shall win at least their respect, and they will say these are men whom we are proud of having overcome."
"By the sacred oak, Beric, you speak rightly," Boduoc exclaimed. "Such was the bearing of Caractacus, as I have heard, when he fell into their hands, and no one can say that Caractacus was dishonoured. No man can control his fate; but, as you say, we may show that we are above fate. What say you, my friends, has Beric spoken well?"
A murmur of hearty assent came from the other captives, and then the Roman sergeant of the guard, uneasy at this animated colloquy among the captives, gruffly ordered silence.
Beric translated the order. "Best sleep, if we can," he added. "We shall be stronger tomorrow."
Few, however, slept, for all were suffering from wounds more or less severe. The following morning their bonds were unloosed, and their wounds carefully attended to by a leech. Then water and food were offered to them, and of these, following Beric's example, they partook heartily. An hour later they were placed in the centre of a strong guard, and then fell in with the troops who were formed up to escort Suetonius to Camalodunum.
"What are they going to do to us, think you?" Boduoc asked Beric.
"They are either going to put us to death publicly at Camalodunum, as a warning against resistance, or they are going to take us to Rome. I think the latter. Had Suetonius been going to remain here, he might be taking us to public execution; but as he has, as we have heard, been ordered home, he would not, I think, have troubled himself to have made us prisoners simply that his successor might benefit by the example of our execution. It is far more likely, I think, that he will carry us to Rome in order to show us as proofs that he has, before leaving Britain, succeeded in crushing out all resistance here."
"And what will they do with us at Rome?"
"That I know not, Boduoc; possibly they will put us to death there, but that is not their usual custom. Suetonius has gained no triumph. A terrible disaster has fallen upon the Romans during his command here; and though he may have avenged their defeat, he certainly does not return home in triumph. After a triumph the chief of the captives is always put to death, sacrificed to their gods. But as this will be no triumph, we shall, I should say, be treated as ordinary prisoners of war. Some of these are sold as slaves; some are employed on public works. Of some they make gladiators--men who fight and kill each other in the arena for the amusement of the people of Rome, who gather to see these struggles just as we do when two warriors who have quarrelled decide their differences by combat."
"The choice does not appear a pleasing one," Boduoc said, "to be a private or public slave, or to be killed for the amusement of the Romans."
"Well, the latter is the shortest way out of it, anyhow, and the one I should choose; but it must be terrible to have to fight with a man with whom one has had no quarrel," Beric said.
"Well, I don't know, Beric. If he is a captive like yourself, he must be just as tired of life as you are. So, if he kills you he is doing you a service; if you kill him, you have greatly obliged him. So, looking at it in that way, it does not much matter which way it goes; for if you do him this service one day, someone else may do you a like good turn the next."
"I had not looked at it in that way, Boduoc," Beric said, laughing. "Well, there is one thing, I do not suppose the choice will be given us. At any rate I shall be glad to see Rome. I have always wished to do so, though I never thought that it would be as a captive. Still, it will be something even in this evil that has befallen us to see so great a city with all its wonders. Camalodunum was but as a little hamlet beside it."
On the evening of the second day after leaving Godmancastra they arrived at Camalodunum, which in the year that had passed since its destruction, had already been partially rebuilt and settled by Gaulish traders from the mainland, Roman officials with their families and attendants, officers engaged in the civil service and the army, friends and associates of the procurator, who had been sent out to succeed Catus Decianus, priests and servants of the temples. Suetonius had already sent to inform the new propraetor, Petronius Turpillianus, of the success which he had gained, and a crowd assembled as the procession was seen approaching, while all eyes were directed upon the little party of British captives who followed the chariot of Suetonius.
Many of the newcomers had as yet scarcely seen a native, so complete had been the destruction of the Trinobantes, and they looked with surprise and admiration at these men, towering a full head above their guards, and carrying themselves, in spite of their bonds, with an air of fearless dignity. Most of all they were surprised when they learned that the youth--for Beric was as yet but eighteen --who walked at their head was the noted chief, who had during the past year inflicted such heavy losses upon the troops of Rome, and who had now only been captured by treachery. As yet he lacked some inches of the height of his companions, but he bade fair in another two or three years to rival the tallest among them in strength and vigour. The procession halted before the building which had been erected from the ruins of the old city as a residence for the propraetor. Petronius, surrounded by a number of officials, came out to meet Suetonius.
"I congratulate you on your success, Suetonius," he said. "It will make my task all the easier in carrying out my orders to deal mildly with the people."
"And it will make my return to Rome all the more pleasant, Petronius, and I thank you again for having permitted me to continue in command of my troops until I had revenged the losses we have suffered at the hands of these barbarians. It is, of course, for you to decide upon the fate of Beric and his companions; assuredly they deserve death, but I should like to take them with me as captives to Rome."
"I should prefer your doing so, Suetonius. I could hardly pardon men who have so withstood us, but, upon the other hand, I should grieve to commence my rule by an act of severity; besides, I hope through them to persuade the others--for, as you told me in your letter, it is but a fraction of these outlaws that you have subdued --to lay down their arms. It is well, indeed, that you have taken their chief, and that he, as I hear, has partly been brought up among us and speaks our language."
"Yes, he lived here for some five years as a hostage for his tribe. He was under the charge of Caius Muro, who returned to Rome after our defeat of the Britons. I made inquiries about him, when I learned that he was chief of the insurgents, and heard that he was tractable and studious when among us, and that Caius thought very highly of his intelligence."
"They are noble looking men," Petronius said, surveying the group of captives; "it is an honour to conquer such men. I will speak with their chief presently."
"I shall make no longer delay," Suetonius said. "Ships have been lying at the port in readiness for my departure for the last two weeks, and I would fain sail tomorrow or next day. Glad I shall be to leave this island, where I have had nothing but fighting and hardships since I landed."
"And you have done well," Petronius said courteously. "It was but half conquered when you landed, it is wholly subdued now. It is for me only to gather the fruit of your victories."
"Never was there such an obstinate race," Suetonius replied angrily. "Look at those men, they bear themselves as if they were conquerors instead of conquered."
"They are good for something better than to be killed, Suetonius; if we could mate all our Roman women with these fair giants, what a race we should raise!"
"You would admire them less if you saw them pouring down on you shouting like demons," Suetonius said sullenly.
"Perhaps so, Suetonius; but I will endeavour to utilize their strength in our service, and not to call it into the field against us. Now, let us enter the house. Varo," he said to one of his officers, "take charge of the captives until Suetonius sails. Guard them strongly, but treat them well. Place them in the house, where they will not be stared at by the crowd. If their chief will give you his word that they will not attempt to escape, their bonds can be removed; if not, they must remain bound."
Varo at once called a centurion of the legion in garrison at Camalodunum, and bade him bring up his company. These on their arrival surrounded the captives and marched with them to a guardhouse near. When they entered Varo said to Beric:
"The orders of the propraetor are, that you shall all be released from your bonds if you will give your oath that you will not try to escape."
Beric turned to the others and asked if they were willing to give the promise. "In no case could we escape," he said, "you may be sure we shall be guarded too strictly for that. It were better that we should remain bound by our own promise than by fetters." As they all consented, Beric, in their name, took an oath that they would not attempt to escape, so that the ropes that bound their arms were at once taken off, and in a short time a meal was sent to them from the house of Petronius.
Soon after they had finished an officer came in and requested Beric to accompany him to the propraetor.
"I will bring two of my followers with me," Beric said. "I would not say aught to the Roman governor that my tribesmen should not hear."
The officer assented, and Beric with Boduoc and another subchief followed him to the house of the propraetor. Petronius was seated with Suetonius at his side, while a number of officers and officials stood behind him.
"How is it, Beric," he asked, "that, as I hear, you, who speak our language and have lived for years amongst us, come to be a leader of those who have warred against us?"
"It is, perhaps, because I studied Roman books, and learned how you value freedom and independence," Beric replied, "and how you revolt against tyranny. Had Rome been conquered by a more powerful nation, every Roman would have risen in arms had one tenth of the tyranny been practised against them which Catus Decianus exercised against us. We have been treated worse than the beasts of the field; our lives, our properties, and the honour of our women were sacrificed at his will. Death was a thousand times better than such treatment. I read that Rome has elsewhere been a worthy conqueror, respecting the religion of the tribes it subdued, and treating them leniently and well. Had we been so treated we should have been, if not contented, patient under our lot, but being men we rose against the infamous treatment to which we were subject; and although we have been conquered and well nigh exterminated, there are Britons still remaining, and if such be the treatment to which they are subjected it is not till the last Briton is exterminated that you will rule this island."
A murmur of surprise at the boldness with which the young captive spoke ran round the circle.
"Have you inquired since you arrived," Beric went on, "of the infamous deeds of Decianus? How he seized, without the shadow of excuse, the property of Boadicea? and how, when she came here for justice for herself and her insulted daughters, he ordered her to be scourged? Should we, a free born people, submit to such an indignity to our queen? I knew from the first that our enterprise was hopeless, and that without order or discipline we must in the end be conquered; but it was better a thousand times to die than to live subject to treatment worse than that which you give to your slaves."
"I believe that there is justice in your complaints, Beric," Petronius said calmly, "and it is to lessen these grievances that Rome has sent me hither. Vengeance has been fully taken for your rebellion, it is time that the sword was laid aside. I have already issued a proclamation granting an amnesty to all who then rose against us. Your case was different, you have still continued in arms and have resisted our power, but I trust that with your capture this will end. You and your companions will go to Rome with Suetonius; but there are many of your followers still in arms, with these I would treat, not as a conqueror with the conquered, but as a soldier with brave foes. If they will lay down their arms they shall share the amnesty, and be free to return every man to his own land, to dwell there and cultivate it free from all penalty or interruption. Their surrender would benefit not only themselves but all the Britons. So long as they stand in arms and defy our power we must rule the land with the sword, but when they surrender there will be peace throughout the island, and I trust that the Britons in time will come to look upon us as friends."
"If Rome had so acted before," Beric said, "no troubles would have arisen, and she might now be ruling over a contented people instead of over a desert."
"There are still many of your tribesmen in the Fens?"
"There is an army," Beric replied. "You have taken one stronghold, and that by surprise, but the lesson will not be lost upon them. There will be no traitors to guide your next expedition; by this time the last Fenman in the southern swamps will have been killed. There will be a heavy vengeance taken by my countrymen."
"I would fain put a stop to it all," Petronius said. "Upon what terms, think you, would your countrymen surrender?"
"They will not surrender at all," Beric said; "there is not a man there but will die rather than yield. But if you will solemnly take oath that those who leave the Fens and return to their villages shall live unmolested, save that they shall--when their homes are rebuilt and their herds again grazing around them--pay a tribute such as they are able to bear, they will, I believe, gladly leave the Fens and return to their villages, and the fugitives who have fled north will also come back again."
"I am ready to take such an oath at the altar," Petronius said. "I have come to bring peace to the land. I am ready to do all in my power to bring it about; but how are they to know what I have done?"
"I would say, Petronius, let us, your captives, be present when you take the oath. Release four of my band; choose those most sorely wounded, and who are the least able to support the journey to Rome. I will send them with my bracelet to the Fens. I will tell them what you have said, and they will testify to having seen you swear before your gods; and I will send my last injunctions to them to return again to their land, to send for the fugitives to return from the north, and to say from me that they will return as free men, not as slaves, and that there is no dishonour in accepting such terms as you offer."
"I will do as you say," the Roman agreed. "Suetonius, you can spare four of your captives, especially as there are assuredly some among them who could ill support the fatigues of the journey. Return now to your friends, Beric; tomorrow morning you shall meet me at the temple, and there I will take an oath of peace with Britain."
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