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As the vessels carrying Suetonius, his suite, and captives sailed up the Tiber it was met by a galley bearing the orders of the senate that Suetonius was not to traverse the streets with an armed suite and captives in his train, but was to land as a private person; that the soldiers were to march to the barracks on the Capitoline, where they would receive their arrears of pay and be disbanded; and that the captives were to be handed over to a centurion, who with his company would be at the landing place to receive them. Pollio took the news to Beric, who was on board the same ship, the rest of the captives being with the soldiers in the vessel which followed.
"I am rejoiced, indeed," he said, "for although I knew that the general would not receive a triumph, I feared that if he made a public entry it was possible there might be a public outcry for your life, which would, by our custom, have been forfeited had there been a triumph. I doubt not that the hand of Petronius is in this; his messengers would have arrived here weeks ago, and it may be that letters despatched as much as a month after we left have preceded us. Doubtless he would have stated that his clemency had had the desired effect, and that all trouble was at an end; he may probably have added that this was partly due to your influence, and warned them that were you put to death it would have a deplorable effect among your people and might cause a renewal of trouble. Suetonius is furious, for he has hoped much from the effect his entry with captives in his train would have produced. He has powerful enemies here; scarce a noble family but has lost a connection during the troubles in Britain, and Suetonius is of course blamed for it. You and I know that, although he has borne himself harshly towards the Britons, the rising was due to Catus rather than to him, but as Catus is a creature of Nero the blame falls upon Suetonius."
"It was the deeds of Catus that caused the explosion," Beric said; "but it would have come sooner or later. It was the long grinding tyranny that had well nigh maddened us, that drove Caractacus first to take up arms, that raised the western tribes, and made all feel that the Roman yoke was intolerable. The news of the massacre of the Druids and the overthrow of our altars converted the sullen discontent into a burning desire for revenge, and the insult to Boadicea was the signal rather than the cause of the rising. It is to the rule of Suetonius that it is due that hundreds of thousands of Britons, Romans, and their allies have perished."
"The fault of Suetonius," Pollio said, "was that he was too much of a soldier. He thought of military glory, and left all other matters, save the leading of his troops, in the hands of his civilians. Petronius is a general, but he has distinguished himself more in civil matters. Two generals have been sent out with him, to lead the troops if necessary, but he has been chosen as an administrator."
"They should have sent him out ten years ago," Beric said, "and there then would have been no occasion for generals."
They were now approaching Rome, and Beric's attention was entirely occupied by the magnificent scene before him, and with the sight of the temples and palaces rising thickly upon the seven hills. Massilia had surprised him by its size and splendour, but beside Rome it was only a village. "Rome would do well," he said to Pollio, "to bring the chiefs of every conquered country hither; the sight would do more than twenty legions to convince them of the madness of any efforts to shake off the Roman yoke."
"I will see you tomorrow," Pollio said as they neared the landing place. "I shall see many of my friends today, and get them to interest themselves in your behalf. I will find out for you where Caius Muro is at present; doubtless he too will do what he can for you, seeing that you lived so long in his charge;" for Beric had not mentioned to his friend aught of the manner in which he had saved Muro's daughter at the sack of Camalodunum.
As soon as the centurion came on board Pollio recommended Beric to his care, saying that he was the chief of the party of British captives, and that during the journey he had formed a close friendship with him.
"I shall not be in charge of him long," the centurion said. "I have but to hand him over to the governor of the prison, but I will tell him what you have said to me. He must now go on board the other ship and join his companions, for my orders are that they are not to be landed until after dark." Pollio nodded to Beric; this was another proof that it was determined the populace should not be excited in favour of Suetonius by the passage of the captives through the streets.
Beric rejoined his companions. "Well, Boduoc, what think you of Rome?"
"I have been thinking how mad our enterprise was, Beric. You told me about the greatness of Rome and from the first predicted failure, but I thought this was because you had been infected by your Roman training; I see now that you were right. Well, and what do you think is going to be done with us?"
"It is evident there is going to be no public display of us, Boduoc. Suetonius is at present in disgrace, and we shall be either sent into the school for gladiators, or set to work at some of the palaces Nero is building."
"They may do what they like," Boduoc said, "but I will not fight for their amusement. They may train me if they like and send me into the arena, but if they do I will not lift sword, but will bid my opponent slay me at once."
There was a murmur of assent from some of the others; but another who said, "Well, I would rather die fighting anyway than work as a slave at Roman palaces," found a response from several.
The next day they were marched up to Nero's palace.
Surprised as they might be by the splendour of the streets they traversed, and by the grandeur and magnificence of the palace, they betrayed no sign whatever of their feelings, but marched through the vast halls with their wealth of marble and adornments with calm and unmoved faces. At last they reached the audience hall, where the emperor was seated with a throng of courtiers behind him.
Nero was five-and-twenty, but looked older, for his dissolute habits had already left their marks upon his features. He had an air of good temper, and a rough frankness of manner that rendered him popular among the mass of the people, whom he courted by every means in his power, distributing with lavish hand the wealth he gained by confiscation and spoliation of the rich. The Britons bowed deeply before him and then stood upright and fearless.
"By Hercules," the emperor said to the councillor standing next to him, "but these are grand men! No wonder Suetonius has had such trouble in subduing them. And this young man is their chief? Truly, as Petronius said in his letter, he is but a lad. You speak our language too?" he went on, addressing Beric.
"I was brought up as a hostage among the Romans," he replied, "and was instructed in their language and literature."
"Then you should have known better than to rise against us, young chief."
"Two years ago I was but a boy, Caesar," Beric replied, "scarce deemed old enough to fight, much less to give an opinion in the presence of my elders. I was well aware that the struggle must end in our defeat; but when the chiefs of my nation decided for war, I had nought to do but to go with them."
"But how is it, then, that you came to command so many, and became in time the leader of so large a band?"
"It was because I had studied your military books, and knew that only by an irregular warfare could we hope to prolong our existence. It was no longer an insurrection; we were simply fugitives trying to sell our lives dearly. If Suetonius had offered us terms we would gladly have laid down our arms, but as he simply strove to destroy us we had, like animals brought to bay, to fight for our own lives. The moment Petronius offered to allow my people to return to their homes and pay tribute to Rome I advised them to submit."
"So Petronius tells me, and he has said much to excuse your conduct.
"I would I could enlist this band as my bodyguard," Nero said in a low voice, turning to his councillor, "but the praetorian guards are jealous of their privileges, and none save a Roman can be enrolled in their ranks."
"It would be dangerous, Caesar; the praetorians are well affected to your majesty, and in these days when there are so many ambitious generals at the head of armies it would be unwise to anger them."
"Then we will send them to the schools to be trained. Send this lad with the four best of the others to Scopus, and divide the rest among three other schools. The Romans have never seen such men as these in the arena. We must not spoil it by matching them at present with men whose skill more than makes up for their want of strength. Two years in the schools will make marvels of them. The lad will want more than that before he gains his full bulk and strength, but he will some day turn out such a gladiator as Rome has never seen; and if after a time we can find no champion to withstand him, we can match him against the lions. I will myself give Scopus orders concerning him."
So saying he waved his hand. The guards closed round the captives and they were led away.
"What is it all about, Beric?" Boduoc asked.
"We are to go to the school for gladiators," Beric said; "but as the emperor considers that you will all need two years' training at the exercises before you will be fit to appear in the ring, we shall have time to think matters over. Much may happen before that. Nero may be liked by the mass of the people, but he is hated and feared, as I hear, by the upper classes. He may be assassinated or overthrown before that."
"I don't see that it will make much difference to us," Boduoc grumbled.
"I don't know that it would. At any rate we have time before us. We shall be well taken care of, well fed, and have plenty of exercise. Before now the gladiators have shaken Rome to its centre. What has happened once may happen again."
As they passed along the streets of Rome the news that a party of fair haired giants were being escorted under a guard spread rapidly, and a crowd soon filled the streets. Windows opened and ladies looked curiously down at the procession. Beric marched at the head of his party, who followed four abreast, and their air of calmness and self possession, their proud bearing, and the massive strength of their figures roused the admiration of the multitude, who, on learning from the guards that the captives were Britons, greeted them with shouts of approval. So thick became the crowd before they reached their destination, that the Roman soldiers had difficulty in forcing their way through. As they turned into the street in which stood the great school of Scopus the crowd at once guessed the destination of the captives.
"By all the gods!" one of the lookers on said, "these fellows will furnish us with grand sport in the arena."
"It is a shame to turn such grand looking men into gladiators," a woman said.
"What, would you like to pick a husband out among them, dame?" the first speaker laughed.
"I would not mind. At any rate, I would prefer any of them to such an ill looking scarecrow as you," she retorted. "It is bad enough when they kill off some of those Gauls, who are far too good for such work; but the best of them I have seen in the arena lacks six inches, both in height and breadth of shoulder, of these Britons."
"Ah!" the man grumbled, "that is always the way with women; they think of nothing but strength."
"Why shouldn't we? Men think of nothing but beauty."
And so, amid a chorus of remarks, for the most part complimentary, the Britons strode along, surrounded by their escort, until they reached the entrance to the school of Scopus. The master, attracted by the noise in the street, was standing at the entrance. He was a broad built man, but without an ounce of superfluous flesh, with muscles and sinews standing up in knots and ridges, and evidently possessed of extreme activity as well as strength.
"Nero has sent you five fresh scholars, Scopus."
"By Hercules," Scopus said, "they are splendid barbarians! Whence come they?"
"They are Britons."
"Ah! Yes, Claudius brought back a few with him, but that was before I was here. I would they were all a few years younger. They are in their prime now; and to make a man first class, one should begin with him young. This youngster here is just the age. I warrant me there will not be many who can hold their own against him when I have trained him."
"He is their chief," the centurion said, "and speaks our language as well as you do."
"That is good. I can speak a little Gaulish; but there is always trouble with newcomers from out of the way countries when we have no one who speaks their language."
"Well, I will leave them with you; they are in your charge. I have the other fifteen to divide among three other schools."
"I will take care of them," Scopus said. "There is good feeding and good drinking here, and no one runs away. There is nowhere to run to, that is one thing. Still, what could a man want more than to be well housed, well fed, and have the companionship of plenty of good fellows? Don't you think so?" and he turned to Beric.
"It is of no use asking for more if one is not likely to get it; certainly we might do worse."
"Well, follow me," Scopus said. "I will introduce you to your comrades."
Beric and his companions took a hearty farewell of the others, Beric telling them that doubtless they would have frequent occasions of meeting; he then followed Scopus into a large hall. Here some forty or fifty men were assembled. Some were swinging weights round their heads, others were engaged at gymnastic exercises. Two men, under the direction of an instructor, were fighting with blunted swords; one great fellow, armed with sword and shield, was hotly pursuing an active man of little over half his weight, carrying a trident in one hand and a net in the other, amid the laughter of a group watching them.
At the entrance of Scopus and his companions the proceedings were arrested.
"Here are some fresh hands," Scopus said, "who have come to fill up the vacancies made in the games ten days since. They are Britons, and I should imagine will require a lot of training before they are fit for the arena. One of them talks Latin. The rest, I fancy, will have, for the present, to content themselves with the companionship of you Gauls, who are, as I believe, of kindred race, though it seems to me that either you must have fallen off in size, or they have increased since you separated."
Some seven or eight Gauls stepped forward and addressed the Britons, and the latter, glad to find men who could speak their language, responded heartily. The gladiators were of many races. Besides the Gauls there were four or five Goths; some Iberians, lean swarthy men; Numidians, fleet of foot, lithe and active--these were used more often for contests with wild beasts than in the gladiatorial conflicts, for which they lacked strength and weight--Parthians and Scythians, together with a score of natives of Italy, Romans and others, who had taken to the profession of gladiator as they might have done to any other calling.
"Now," Scopus said to Beric, "you are free of the place; there are no prisoners here. There are regular hours and exercises; but beyond that your time is your own, to walk in the city, to see the shows, or to remain here. As you see, all here dress somewhat after Roman fashion, so that as they go abroad they may not be stared at. There is no obligation that way, but it is more comfortable. There are upwards of a hundred schools in Rome. Some are larger than mine, and some smaller, but there is not one that stands higher. When one of my men enters the ring the audience know that they are going to see good sport."
"Do we have to fight against each other, or against strangers?"
"Against strangers," Scopus said. "When there is going to be a show day, so many schools are warned to send three or four men, as the case may be, and the master of ceremonies matches them against each other. Sometimes there may be ten couples, sometimes forty or fifty, it depends whether it is a great occasion or not; and of course each school hopes to see its champions win. That fellow you saw running with a net, he is a Scythian, and so quick and nimble that he always gets away, and is ready for a throw again before his opponent can overtake him. He is a great favourite of the public, for he has been in the arena twelve times and has always conquered."
"What do you consider to be the best weapon--the trident or the sword?"
"If a man is active without being strong, I should make a retiarius of him," Scopus said. "If he is strong without being active, he would naturally fight with sword and buckler. Then there is the caestus, but the Romans do not care for that, though, to my mind, it is the finest of all the exercises; for that both strength and activity are required, but it is not bloody enough for the Romans. Perhaps the thing that demands the greatest skill and nerve and strength at the same time is to fight wild beasts. However, we settle none of these things at first. After a few months' training we see what a man's capabilities are, and what he himself has a fancy for. I always let a man choose, if he has any very strong wish in the matter, for he is sure to succeed best in that. There are many who, even with all my care, never turn out first class. These are reserved to fight in what may be called general contests, which have become popular lately, ten against ten, or fifty against fifty. On two or three grand occasions there have been as many as a thousand engaged. For these no particular skill is required; it is one side against the other. Lastly, there are a few who turn out so useless that it would be a waste of pains to try to make anything of them. These are sent to the galleys, or to the public works."
"You never find any unwilling to learn?" Beric said.
"Not one," the man said carelessly. "A man has to defend himself, and even with blunt swords he will get awkward cracks if he cannot protect his head. Besides, in the arena a man's life depends upon his skill, and the conquered is sure to have no mercy shown him unless he has borne himself well. Therefore, each man is anxious to learn. I have had a few obstinate fellows, for the most part Goths, who would do nothing. I simply send them down to the galleys, and I warrant me that they are not long in finding out what fools they have been, and would give a good deal to exchange their beds of hard boards and their coarse food for a life of pleasure and freedom here."
"As long as it lasts," Beric said.
"Yes, as long as it lasts. But with all its dangers it is likely to last as long as that of a galley slave. What with bad food and hardship and toil and the taskmaster's whip and the burning sun, a galley slave's life is a short one; while a skilful gladiator may live for many years, and in time save money enough to set up a school as I have done."
"Were you a gladiator once?" Beric asked.
"Certainly I was; and so were all the masters of the schools, except, perhaps, a few Greeks, whose methods differ from ours.
"I was ten years in the arena, and fought thirty-five battles. In thirty I was victorious, in the other five I was defeated; but as I was a favourite, and always made a good fight, the thumbs were turned up, which, as you may know, is the signal for mercy."
"Are you a Roman?"
"No, I am a Thessalian. I took to it young, having got into trouble at home. We have blood feuds there, and having killed the chief of a house with which my people had a quarrel I had to fly, and so made to Pola. Thence I crossed to Brundusium. I worked there in the dockyard for a year or two; but I was never fond of hard work of that sort, so I came on here and entered a school. Now, as you see, I am master of one. A gladiator who distinguishes himself gets many presents, and I did well. The life is not a bad one after all."
"It must be hateful having to fight with men with whom you have no quarrel," Beric said.
"You don't feel that after the first minute or two," Scopus laughed. "There is a man standing opposite to you with a sword or a trident, and you know very well that if you do not kill him, he is going to kill you. It makes very little difference, after you once face each other, whether there was any quarrel between him and you beforehand or not; the moment the fighting begins, there is an end of all nonsense of that sort.
"What is an enemy? A man who wants to do you harm. This man facing you is going to kill you, unless you kill him. There cannot be a worse enemy than that. After all, it is just the same with soldiers in a battle. They have no particular quarrel with the men facing them; but directly the arrows begin to fly, and a storm of javelins come singing through the air, you think of nothing but of trying to kill the men who are trying to kill you. I thought as you do before I entered the arena the first time, but I never felt so afterwards. All these things are matters of usage, and the gladiator, after his first combat, enters the ring with just the same feeling as a soldier marches to meet an enemy."
Beric was silent. He had no doubt that there was some truth in what Scopus said; his own experience in battle had shown him this. But he was still determined in his mind that, come what would, he would not fight for the amusement of the Romans. But it was of no use to say this now; it might be a long time before he was required to enter the arena, and until then he might as well apply himself to gaining strength and science in arms. It did not seem to him that there was any possibility of escape, but he might at least take to the woods, and stand at bay there, and be killed in a fair open fight. The next morning the exercises began. They were at first of a moderate character, and were only intended to strengthen the muscles and add to the endurance. For the first six months they were told that their work would consist only of gymnastic exercises-- lifting weights, wielding heavy clubs, climbing ropes, wrestling, and running on foot. Their food was simple but plentiful. All adopted the Roman costume, in order to avoid observation when they went abroad. Being a strong body, and individually formidable, they were free from the rough jokes generally played upon newcomers, and when, after six hours of exercise, they sat down to a hearty dinner, the general feeling among them was that things were better than they expected, and the life of a gladiator, with the exception of his appearances in the arena, was by no means a bad one. Pollio called in the afternoon, as he had promised, and had a long talk with Beric.
"In the first place, I have some bad news for you, Beric. Caius Muro remained here but a month after his return from Britain, and was then sent to command the legion in the north of Syria."
"That is bad news indeed, Pollio. I had looked forward to seeing him. I had made sure that I should find one friend at least in Rome."
"It is unfortunate indeed, Beric, for he would have spoken for you, and might have obtained a better lot for you. I hate seeing you here," he said passionately, "but it is better than being executed at once, which is the lot that generally befalls the chief of captives taken in war. Scopus is not a bad fellow when things go well, but they say that he is a fiend when his blood is up. He is one of the finest fighters we ever had in the arena, though he left it before I was old enough to go there. I know him well, however, for I used to come here with my elder brother, who was killed four years ago in Africa. It is quite the fashion among the young Romans to go the round of the schools and see the gladiators practising, and then when the sports come on they bet on the men they consider the most skilful."
"A fine sport," Beric said sarcastically.
"Well, you see, Beric, we have been bred up to it, and we wager upon it just as you Britons do on your fights between cocks. I never felt any hesitation about it before, because I had no particular personal interest in any of the combatants. After all, you know, life is dull in Rome for those who take no part in politics, who have no ambition to rise at the court, and who do not care overmuch for luxury. We have none of the hunting with which you harden your muscles and pass your time in Britain. Therefore it is that the sports of the arena are so popular with our class as well as with that below it. You must remember, too, that the greater portion of the gladiators are captives taken in war, and would have been put to death at once had they not been kept for this."
"I do not say they have anything to complain of, Pollio, but I am sure that most of them would much rather perish in battle than be killed in the arena."
"Yes, but it is not a question of being killed in battle, Beric; it is a question of being captured in battle and put to death afterwards. It may be the fashion some day or other to treat captives taken in war with generosity and honour, but it certainly is not so at present, either with us or with any other nation that I know of. I don't think that your people differ from the rest, for every soul who fell into their hands was slain."
"I quite admit that," Beric said; "and should have had no cause for complaint had I been slain as soon as I was captured. But there is something nobler in being killed as a victim of hate by a victorious enemy than to have to fight to the death as a holiday amusement."
"I admit that," Pollio said, "and though, since Nero came to the throne, there has been an increase in these gladiatorial displays, methinks there are fewer now than in the days before the Empire, when Spartacus led twenty thousand gladiators against Rome. There is one thing, if the creed of those Jews of whom Norbanus was speaking to you ever comes to be the dominant religion, there will be an end to the arena, for so averse are these people to fighting, that when placed in the arena they will not make even an effort to defend themselves. They do not, as do the Goths sometimes, lower their swords and fall on the points. Suicide they consider wrong, and simply wait calmly like sheep to be killed. I have been talking with some friends over the persecutions of two years ago, just after I left for Britain, and they say it was wonderful to see the calmness with which the Christians meet death. They say the persecution was given up simply because the people became sick of spectacles in which there was no interest or excitement. Well, Beric, are you ready to go out with me?"
"You will not be ashamed to walk through the streets with a gladiator, Pollio?"
"Ashamed! on the contrary, you must know that gladiators are in fashion at present, Beric. The emperor prides himself on his skill, and consorts greatly with gladiators, and has even himself fought in the arena, and therefore it is the thing with all who are about the court to affect the society of gladiators. But as yet you are not one of them although you may have commenced your training for the arena. But fashion or not, it would have made no difference to me, you are my friend whatever evil fortune may have done for you. The only difference is that whereas, had you not been in fashion, I should have taken you with me only to the houses of intimate friends, as I did at Massilia, now you will be welcome everywhere. Besides, Beric, even in Rome a chief who has kept Suetonius at bay for a year, and who is, moreover, a Latin scholar accustomed to Roman society, is recognized as being an object of great interest, especially when he is young and good looking. I am glad to see that you have adopted clothes of our fashion; they set you off to much better advantage than does the British garb, besides attracting less attention."
"I hope that you are not going to take me today to meet any people, Pollio; I want to see the temples and public buildings."
"It shall be just as you wish, Beric."
For hours Beric wandered about Rome with Pollio, so interested in all he saw that he was scarce conscious of the attention he himself attracted. From time to time they met acquaintances of Pollio, who introduced them to Beric as "my friend the chief of the Iceni, who cost us a year's hard work and some twelve hundred men before we captured him. Petronius has written so strongly to Nero in his favour that his life has been spared, and he has been placed in the school of Scopus;" and the languid young Romans, looking at Beric's height and proportions, no longer wondered at the trouble that the Roman legions had had in overcoming the resistance of a mere handful of barbarians. Beric on his part was by no means surprised at the appearance of these young courtiers. He had seen many of the same type at Camalodunum, and had heard Caius lament the effeminacy of the rising generation; but he knew that these scented young nobles could, if necessary, buckle on armour and fight as valiantly as the roughest soldier; though why they should choose to waste their lives at present in idleness, when there was so much work to be done in every corner of the vast empire, was altogether beyond his comprehension.
"Why is there a crowd gathered round that large building?" he asked Pollio.
"That is one of the public granaries. Corn is brought here in vast quantities from Sardinia and Sicily, from Spain and Africa, and since Nero came to the throne it is distributed gratis to all who choose to apply for it. No wonder Nero is popular among the people; he feeds them and gives them shows--they want nothing more. It is nothing to them, the cruelties he exercises upon the rich."
"But it must encourage the people in lazy habits," Beric said.
Pollio shrugged his shoulders. "They think because they are citizens of the capital of the world they have a right to live in idleness, and that others should work for them. At any rate it keeps them in a good temper. There have been great tumults in Rome in past times, but by drawing the tribute in corn and distributing it freely here Nero keeps them in a high state of contentment."
"You don't like Nero, Pollio?"
"I hate him," Pollio said. "He is a tyrant--greedy, cruel, and licentious. He had his own mother murdered because she opposed his plans, and some of our best and noblest citizens have been put to death, either because Nero was jealous of their popularity, or because he desired to grasp their possessions. It is horrible that Rome, which has conquered the world, should lie prostrate at the feet of a creature like this. It was because my father feared that some spy among the slaves might report what I said about Nero that caused him to send me out to Suetonius, who is a connection of our family, and he will ere long obtain for me some other employment away from the capital. I shall be glad to be gone, the atmosphere here seems to stifle one. Nero's spies are everywhere, and a man is afraid of speaking his thoughts even in his own house. I like to take life easily, but I would rather be battling with your people in the swamps than living in idleness in Rome."
"I thought you were glad to return, Pollio?"
"I thought I should be, Beric, but I suppose the active life in Britain has spoilt me. I used to scent my hair and lounge in the baths, and frequent the shows, and lead just such a life as the young men we have spoken to this afternoon, and I was contented with it. I wonder at myself now, but I cannot take up the old life where I left it. I have been back for twenty-four hours, and I am restless already and am longing to be doing something."
"I should think," Beric said with a smile, "that you might well put up with Rome for a few weeks. It seems to me that it will take years to know all its wonders. There are the great libraries, too, filled with the manuscripts, and as you understand Greek you could study the writings of the sages and philosophers."
"I would rather row in the galleys," Pollio said. "I don't mind an hour or two now and then with the historians, but the philosophers are too deep for my shallow brain. Would you like to look into a library now?"
Beric assented eagerly, and they entered one of these buildings. It consisted of a great hall with innumerable couches and benches for readers. Round the walls were pigeonholes, in which the manuscripts were deposited, and numerous attendants moved to and fro among the readers, supplying them with such manuscripts as they desired, and taking away those they had done with. Leaving the hall they passed through a series of large apartments, in which hundreds of men were at work copying manuscripts.
"These are scribes," Pollio said. "Very many of them are slaves whom the owners allow to work here, sharing with them their earnings; others are freedmen who have either purchased their liberty from their savings, or have been manumitted by their owners. You see many of the most popular writings, such as those of Caesar, Tacitus, Livy, or the poets Horace, Virgil, and Ovid, are constantly in demand, and scores of copies must be kept on hand. Then again many of the Greek authors are greatly in request. The manuscripts wear out and must be replaced, so that at the various libraries there are some thousands of scribes always kept employed. You see among the scribes men of many nationalities. Those men, for instance, are Egyptians. You see the rolls they are copying, they are made of papyrus, which is got, as I have heard my uncle say, from the leaf of a sort of water plant. Some of them are copying these writings on to vellum for the use of those who understand the Egyptian language, others are translating them into Latin. Those men are Persians, and those at the tables near them are Jews. They are making translations of their sacred books, which are much read at present, partly owing to the fact that the people are troublesome, and probably an army will have to be sent against them, partly because of the Christian sect, whose doctrines are founded upon the Jewish sacred books, and are supported, as they claim, by various prognostications of their augurs, or, as they call them, prophets. The books, therefore, are of interest to the learned, and it may be that some who come here to read them are secretly disciples of the sect."
"Can I come here and read?" Beric asked eagerly.
"Certainly you can, these libraries are open to all. So are the baths, at least the greater portion of them; everything is free here. But it is nearly time for us now to be going home."
Beric availed himself at once of the advantages offered by the public libraries. It was only thus that men of moderate means could in those days obtain access to books, for the cost of manuscripts was considerable, and libraries were only to be found in the houses of the wealthy. His taste for reading was a matter of astonishment among the gladiators, and was the subject of a good deal of jesting. This, however, was for the most part of a good natured kind, but upon the part of one named Lupus it was sneering and offensive.
This man, who was a professional gladiator, that is one of those who had taken to it as a trade, was a Roman of unusual stature and strength. He had been a worker in iron, and from making arms took to their use. He had won many victories in the arena, and was considered the champion of the school of Scopus, the only man who approached him in the number of victories being Porus, the Scythian, whose strong point, however, lay in his activity and his dexterity in throwing the net rather than in strength. Lupus had, from the first day of the Britons' arrival at the ludus, viewed them with aversion, his hostility to Beric being especially marked, and he particularly objected to the slight deference shown to him by his companions, in spite of the protests of Beric himself, who in vain pointed out to them that he was now no longer their chief, and that they were in all respects comrades and equals.
Lupus had carefully abstained from any remarks that would bring him into collision with the other Britons. Mortified as he was that his strength and stature, of which he was very proud, had been thrown into the shade by that of the newcomers, he felt that in a quarrel their rough strength might render them more than his match. Beric, however, he considered as but a youth, and though doubtless powerful, deemed that his muscles would be no match for his own seasoned strength. As yet he had not seen Beric tried with any arms, and thought that the young barbarian could know nothing of the management of weapons. At first his annoyance only took the form of addressing him with an affected deference as "my lord Beric;" but the discovery that, while he himself was unable to read or write, the young Briton was fond of study, and spent his spare time in the public libraries, afforded him opportunities for constant sneers.
These Beric took in good part, but Boduoc, who had now picked up enough Latin to understand the gist of his remarks, one day intervened, and seizing Lupus by the shoulder dashed him to the ground. The Roman sprang to his feet, caught up a knife from the table, and rushed at Boduoc. Scopus, however, who was present, with an angry growl sprang upon him, seizing him by the throat with so vigorous a grasp that his face became purple, his eyes stared, and he in vain gasped for breath. Then he flung him down into a corner of the room with such force that he lay half stunned.
"You dog," he exclaimed, "how dare you take a knife? I will have no quarrels here, as you know; and if you again venture on a disturbance I will bid your comrades tie you up, and will flay the skin off your back with the lash. The Briton was perfectly right. Why can't you leave his friend alone? I have marked your ill natured jests before, and am glad that he punished you."
Lupus rose slowly to his feet with an angry glare in his eyes. He knew, however, that Scopus had in his time been unrivalled in the arena, and that, moreover, the rest, who had been offended by his airs of superiority, would side with the lanista against him.
"I said nothing to the Briton," he said; "it was the boy I addressed. If it was an offence, why did he not take it up? Is he a coward that others have to fight his battles? If he is offended, why does he not challenge me to fight, as is customary in all the ludi?"
"Because he is as yet but a pupil, and will not be fit to enter the arena for three or four years," Scopus said. "A fight can only be between trained gladiators. You don't suppose that a fresh joined youth is going to fight with one who has won a score of times in the arena?"
"Excuse me, Scopus," Beric said quietly, "I am perfectly ready to fight with this braggadocio, and challenge him to a contest; a few hard knocks will do neither of us any harm, therefore let us go into the school and have it out. It is much better so than to have perpetual quarrelling."
Scopus would have objected, but the gladiators broke into shouts of "A fight! a fight!" and, as it was according to the rules of all the ludi that quarrels should be fought out with wooden swords without interference by the lanistae, he simply shrugged his shoulders.
"Well, as he has challenged you, Lupus, I have nothing to say to it;" and the whole of those present at once adjourned to the school.
The combatants were armed with bucklers and with swords of the same weight to those ordinarily used, but with square edges with the corners rounded off, so that though they would give a heavy blow they would not cut.
Lupus, confident in his skill, and furious at the humiliation he had just suffered, at once sprang upon Beric, but the latter as nimbly leaped back, catching the blow on his buckler, and at the same time bringing his own with such force and weight upon the Roman's left shoulder that it brought him for a moment on his knee. A shout of astonishment and applause burst from the lookers on. Lupus would have instantly renewed the fight, but Beric stepped back and lowered his sword.
"Your left arm is disabled," he said. "You had best wait till you can use your buckler again; it would not be a fair match now."
Furious as he was, Lupus felt the truth of what his opponent said, and though the burst of applause at Beric's magnanimity angered him even more than before, he drew back a step or two. At the order of Scopus two of the others came forward with some oil, with which for some minutes they kneaded his shoulder.
"I am ready again," he said at last, and the gladiators drew back, and the opponents faced each other. Lupus had learned that Beric was not, as he had supposed, entirely untaught; but although he attributed the blow he had received solely to his own rashness, he renewed the conflict with the same care and prudence he would have shown had he been fighting with edged weapons in the arena. He soon found, however, that he had met with an opponent differing widely from those he had hitherto fought. Beric had had excellent teachers among the veteran legionaries at Camalodunum, and to skill in the sword he added a prodigious activity. Instead of fighting in the ordinary Roman method, standing firm, with the body bent forward and the buckler stretched out at the level of the shoulder in front of him, he stood lightly poised on his feet, ready to spring forward or back, and with his shield across his body.
In vain Lupus tried to get to close quarters. His cramped attitude prevented rapid movement, and he could not get even within striking distance of his opponent save when the latter sprang in to deliver a blow. These, however, fell vainly, for Lupus was fighting now calmly and warily, and with sword or shield guarded every blow aimed at him. Beric soon felt that he should but exhaust himself did he continue to attack in this fashion, and presently desisted, and standing his ground awaited the attack of Lupus. The blows fell fast and heavy now. Then Beric purposely lowered his buckler a moment; Lupus instantly struck, springing a pace forward. Beric sharply threw up his left arm, striking up the hand of Lupus as it fell, and at the same moment brought his weapon with tremendous force down upon the head of his antagonist, who fell as if killed.
"Habet, habet!" shouted the gladiators, alike exultant and astonished at the defeat of the bully of the school.
"By the gods, Beric," Scopus said, "you have given him a lesson. I talked abut four years' training, but even now I would send you into the arena without fear. Why, there are but one or two gladiators who are considered the superior of Lupus with the sword, and he had from the first no chance with you."
"It was simply because he did not understand my way of fighting," Beric said quietly. "No, Scopus, I will have the four years' training before I fight. I have chanced to overcome Lupus this time, but I am not going to match myself against men until I have my full strength."
Scopus laughed. "That looks as if there was strength enough in your arm, Beric," he said pointing to the prostrate figure. "However, I know from what you have said that you wish to put off your entry into the arena as long as possible, and doubtless practice and teaching will render you a far better swordsman than you are now. Take him away," he said to the others, pointing to Lupus. "Dash cold water over him till he comes round, and then bandage his head. I doubt if his skull be not broken. One of you had better go for a leech to examine him; and mind, let not a word be breathed outside the school as to this contest. We will keep it silent until it is time for Beric to enter the arena, and then we shall be dull indeed if we do not lay bets enough on him to keep us in wine for a year. There is no fear of Lupus himself saying a word about it. You may be sure that, roughly shaken as his conceit may be, he will hold his tongue as to the fact that he has found his master in what he was pleased to call a boy. Mind, if I ever hear a word spoken outside the school on the subject, I will make it my business to find out who spread the report, and it will be very bad for the man who did it when I bring it home to him."
It was upwards of a week before Lupus was able to enter the gymnasium again. Beric had particularly requested the others to make no allusion to his discomfiture, but from that time the superiority of Lupus was gone, and Beric's position in the school was fully established.
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