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'When I left Rome for Lalage's sake
By the Legions' Road to Rimini,
She vowed her heart was mine to take
With me and my shield to Rimini -
(Till the Eagles flew from Rimini!)
And I've tramped Britain, and I've tramped Gaul,
And the Pontic shore where the snow-flakes fall
As white as the neck of Lalage -
(As cold as the heart of Lalage!)
And I've lost Britain, and I've lost Gaul,'
(the voice seemed very cheerful about it),
'And I've lost Rome, and, worst of all,
I've lost Lalage!'
They were standing by the gate to Far Wood when they
heard this song. Without a word they hurried to their
private gap and wriggled through the hedge almost atop
of a jay that was feeding from Puck's hand.
'Gently!' said Puck. 'What are you looking for?'
'Parnesius, of course,' Dan answered. 'We've only just
remembered yesterday. It isn't fair.'
Puck chuckled as he rose. 'I'm sorry, but children who
spend the afternoon with me and a Roman Centurion
need a little settling dose of Magic before they go to tea
with their governess. Ohe, Parnesius!' he called.
'Here, Faun!' came the answer from Volaterrae. They
could see the shimmer of bronze armour in the beech-
crotch, and the friendly flash of the great shield uplifted.
'I have driven out the Britons.' Parnesius laughed like a
boy. 'I occupy their high forts. But Rome is merciful! You
may come up.'And up they three all scrambled.
'What was the song you were singing just now?' said
Una, as soon as she had settled herself.
'That? Oh, Rimini. It's one of the tunes that are always
being born somewhere in the Empire. They run like a
pestilence for six months or a year, till another one
pleases the Legions, and then they march to that.'
'Tell them about the marching, Parnesius. Few people
nowadays walk from end to end of this country,' said Puck.
'The greater their loss. I know nothing better than the
Long March when your feet are hardened. You begin
after the mists have risen, and you end, perhaps, an hour
'And what do you have to eat?' Dan asked promptly.
'Fat bacon, beans, and bread, and whatever wine
happens to be in the rest-houses. But soldiers are born
grumblers. Their very first day out, my men complained
of our water-ground British corn. They said it wasn't so
filling as the rough stuff that is ground in the Roman
ox-mills. However, they had to fetch and eat it.'
'Fetch it? Where from?' said Una.
'From that newly invented water-mill below the Forge.'
'That's Forge Mill - our Mill!' Una looked at Puck.
'Yes; yours,' Puck put in. 'How old did you think it was?'
'I don't know. Didn't Sir Richard Dalyngridge talk
'He did, and it was old in his day,' Puck answered.
'Hundreds of years old.'
'It was new in mine,' said Parnesius. 'My men looked
at the flour in their helmets as though it had been a nest of
adders. They did it to try my patience. But I - addressed
them, and we became friends. To tell the truth, they
taught me the Roman Step. You see, I'd only served with
quick-marching Auxiliaries. A Legion's pace is altogether
different. It is a long, slow stride, that never varies from
sunrise to sunset. "Rome's Race - Rome's Pace," as the
proverb says. Twenty-four miles in eight hours, neither
more nor less. Head and spear up, shield on your back,
cuirass-collar open one handsbreadth - and that's how
you take the Eagles through Britain.'
'And did you meet any adventures?' said Dan.
'There are no adventures South the Wall,' said
Parnesius. 'The worst thing that happened me was
having to appear before a magistrate up North, where a
wandering philosopher had jeered at the Eagles. I was
able to show that the old man had deliberately blocked
our road; and the magistrate told him, out of his own
Book, I believe, that, whatever his Gods might be, he
should pay proper respect to Caesar.'
'What did you do?' said Dan.
'Went on. Why should I care for such things, my
business being to reach my station? It took me twenty days.
'Of course, the farther North you go the emptier are the
roads. At last you fetch clear of the forests and climb bare
hills, where wolves howl in the ruins of our cities that
have been. No more pretty girls; no more jolly magistrates
who knew your Father when he was young, and
invite you to stay with them; no news at the temples and
way-stations except bad news of wild beasts. There's
where you meet hunters, and trappers for the Circuses,
prodding along chained bears and muzzled wolves. Your
pony shies at them, and your men laugh.
'The houses change from gardened villas to shut forts
with watch-towers of grey stone, and great stone-walled
sheepfolds, guarded by armed Britons of the North
Shore. In the naked hills beyond the naked houses,
where the shadows of the clouds play like cavalry charging,
you see puffs of black smoke from the mines. The
hard road goes on and on - and the wind sings through
your helmet-plume - past altars to Legions and Generals
forgotten, and broken statues of Gods and Heroes, and
thousands of graves where the mountain foxes and hares
peep at you. Red-hot in summer, freezing in winter, is
that big, purple heather country of broken stone.
'Just when you think you are at the world's end, you
see a smoke from East to West as far as the eye can turn,
and then, under it, also as far as the eye can stretch,
houses and temples, shops and theatres, barracks and
granaries, trickling along like dice behind - always behind
- one long, low, rising and falling, and hiding and
showing line of towers. And that is the Wall!'
'Ah!' said the children, taking breath.
'You may well,' said Parnesius. 'Old men who have
followed the Eagles since boyhood say nothing in the
Empire is more wonderful than first sight of the Wall!'
'Is it just a Wall? Like the one round the kitchen-
garden?' said Dan.
'No, no! It is the Wall. Along the top are towers with
guard-houses, small towers, between. Even on the narrowest
part of it three men with shields can walk abreast,
from guard-house to guard-house. A little curtain wall,
no higher than a man's neck, runs along the top of the
thick wall, so that from a distance you see the helmets of
the sentries sliding back and forth like beads. Thirty feet
high is the Wall, and on the Picts' side, the North, is a
ditch, strewn with blades of old swords and spear-heads
set in wood, and tyres of wheels joined by chains. The
Little People come there to steal iron for their arrow-heads.
'But the Wall itself is not more wonderful than the
town behind it. Long ago there were great ramparts and
ditches on the South side, and no one was allowed to
build there. Now the ramparts are partly pulled down
and built over, from end to end of the Wall; making a thin
town eighty miles long. Think of it! One roaring, rioting,
cock-fighting, wolf-baiting, horse-racing town, from
Ituna on the West to Segedunum on the cold eastern
beach! On one side heather, woods and ruins where Picts
hide, and on the other, a vast town - long like a snake,
and wicked like a snake. Yes, a snake basking beside a
'My Cohort, I was told, lay at Hunno, where the Great
North Road runs through the Wall into the Province of
Valentia.'Parnesius laughed scornfully. 'The Province of
Valentia! We followed the road, therefore, into Hunno
town, and stood astonished. The place was a fair - a fair
of peoples from every corner of the Empire. Some were
racing horses: some sat in wine-shops: some watched
dogs baiting bears, and many gathered in a ditch to see
cocks fight. A boy not much older than myself, but I
could see he was an officer, reined up before me and
asked what I wanted.
"'My station," I said, and showed him my shield.'
Parnesius held up his broad shield with its three X's like
letters on a beer-cask.
"'Lucky omen!" said he. "Your Cohort's the next
tower to us, but they're all at the cock-fight. This is a
happy place. Come and wet the Eagles." He meant to
offer me a drink.
"'When I've handed over my men," I said. I felt angry
"'Oh, you'll soon outgrow that sort of nonsense," he
answered. "But don't let me interfere with your hopes.
Go on to the Statue of Roma Dea. You can't miss it. The
main road into Valentia!" and he laughed and rode off. I
could see the statue not a quarter of a mile away, and
there I went. At some time or other the Great North Road
ran under it into Valentia; but the far end had been
blocked up because of the Picts, and on the plaster a man
had scratched, "Finish!" It was like marching into a cave.
We grounded spears together, my little thirty, and it
echoed in the barrel of the arch, but none came. There
was a door at one side painted with our number. We
prowled in, and I found a cook asleep, and ordered him
to give us food. Then I climbed to the top of the Wall, and
looked out over the Pict country, and I - thought,' said
Parnesius. 'The bricked-up arch with "Finish!" on the
plaster was what shook me, for I was not much more than a boy.'
'What a shame!'said Una. 'But did you feel happy after
you'd had a good -'Dan stopped her with a nudge.
'Happy?' said Parnesius. 'When the men of the Cohort
I was to command came back unhelmeted from the
cock-fight, their birds under their arms, and asked me
who I was? No, I was not happy; but I made my new
Cohort unhappy too ... I wrote my Mother I was happy,
but, oh, my friends'- he stretched arms over bare knees -
'I would not wish my worst enemy to suffer as I suffered
through my first months on the Wall. Remember this:
among the officers was scarcely one, except myself (and I
thought I had lost the favour of Maximus, my General),
scarcely one who had not done something of wrong or
folly. Either he had killed a man, or taken money, or
insulted the magistrates, or blasphemed the Gods, and
so had been sent to the Wall as a hiding-place from shame
or fear. And the men were as the officers. Remember,
also, that the Wall was manned by every breed and race
in the Empire. No two towers spoke the same tongue, or
worshipped the same Gods. In one thing only we were all
equal. No matter what arms we had used before we came
to the Wall, on the Wall we were all archers, like the
Scythians. The Pict cannot run away from the arrow, or
crawl under it. He is a bowman himself. He knows!'
'I suppose you were fighting Picts all the time,' said Dan.
'Picts seldom fight. I never saw a fighting Pict for half a
year. The tame Picts told us they had all gone North.'
'What is a tame Pict?' said Dan.
'A Pict - there were many such - who speaks a few
words of our tongue, and slips across the Wall to sell
ponies and wolf-hounds. Without a horse and a dog, and
a friend, man would perish. The Gods gave me all three,
and there is no gift like friendship. Remember this' -
Parnesius turned to Dan -'when you become a young
man. For your fate will turn on the first true friend you make.'
'He means,' said Puck, grinning, 'that if you try to
make yourself a decent chap when you're young, you'll
make rather decent friends when you grow up. If you're a
beast, you'll have beastly friends. Listen to the Pious
Parnesius on Friendship!'
'I am not pious,'Parnesius answered, 'but I know what
goodness means; and my friend, though he was without
hope, was ten thousand times better than I. Stop
'Oh, Youth Eternal and All-believing,' cried Puck, as
he rocked on the branch above. 'Tell them about your Pertinax.'
'He was that friend the Gods sent me - the boy who
spoke to me when I first came. Little older than myself,
commanding the Augusta Victoria Cohort on the tower
next to us and the Numidians. In virtue he was far my superior.'
'Then why was he on the Wall?' Una asked, quickly.
'They'd all done something bad. You said so yourself.'
'He was the nephew, his father had died, of a great rich
man in Gaul who was not always kind to his mother.
When Pertinax grew up, he discovered this, and so his
uncle shipped him off, by trickery and force, to the Wall.
We came to know each other at a ceremony in our Temple
in the dark. It was the Bull-Killing,'Parnesius explained to Puck.
'I see, said Puck, and turned to the children. 'That's
something you wouldn't quite understand. Parnesius
means he met Pertinax in church.'
'Yes - in the Cave we first met, and we were both raised
to the Degree of Gryphons together.' Parnesius lifted his
hand towards his neck for an instant. 'He had been on the
Wall two years, and knew the Picts well. He taught me
first how to take Heather.'
'What's that?' said Dan.
'Going out hunting in the Pict country with a tame Pict.
You are quite safe so long as you are his guest, and wear a
sprig of heather where it can be seen. If you went alone
you would surely be killed, if you were not smothered
first in the bogs. Only the Picts know their way about
those black and hidden bogs. Old Allo, the one-eyed,
withered little Pict from whom we bought our ponies,
was our special friend. At first we went only to escape
from the terrible town, and to talk together about our
homes. Then he showed us how to hunt wolves and
those great red deer with horns like Jewish candlesticks.
The Roman-born officers rather looked down on us for
doing this, but we preferred the heather to their amusements.
Believe me,' Parnesius turned again to Dan, 'a
boy is safe from all things that really harm when he is
astride a pony or after a deer. Do you remember,
O Faun,' - he turned to Puck - 'the little altar I built
to the Sylvan Pan by the pine-forest beyond the brook?'
'Which? The stone one with the line from Xenophon?'
said Puck, in quite a new voice.
'No! What do I know of Xenophon? That was Pertinax -
after he had shot his first mountain-hare with an arrow -
by chance! Mine I made of round pebbles, in memory
of my first bear. It took me one happy day to build.'
Parnesius faced the children quickly.
'And that was how we lived on the Wall for two years -
a little scuffling with the Picts, and a great deal of hunting
with old Allo in the Pict country. He called us his children
sometimes, and we were fond of him and his barbarians,
though we never let them paint us Pict-fashion. The
marks endure till you die.'
'How's it done?' said Dan. 'Anything like tattooing?'
'They prick the skin till the blood runs, and rub in
coloured juices. Allo was painted blue, green, and red
from his forehead to his ankles. He said it was part of his
religion. He told us about his religion (Pertinax was
always interested in such things), and as we came to
know him well, he told us what was happening in Britain
behind the Wall. Many things took place behind us in
those days. And by the Light of the Sun,' said Parnesius,
earnestly, 'there was not much that those little people did
not know! He told me when Maximus crossed over to
Gaul, after he had made himself Emperor of Britain, and
what troops and emigrants he had taken with him. We
did not get the news on the Wall till fifteen days later. He
told me what troops Maximus was taking out of Britain
every month to help him to conquer Gaul; and I always
found the numbers were as he said. Wonderful! And I tell
another strange thing!'
He joined his hands across his knees, and leaned his
head on the curve of the shield behind him.
'Late in the summer, when the first frosts begin and the
Picts kill their bees, we three rode out after wolf with
some new hounds. Rutilianus, our General, had given us
ten days' leave, and we had pushed beyond the Second
Wall - beyond the Province of Valentia - into the higher
hills, where there are not even any of old Rome's ruins.
We killed a she-wolf before noon, and while Allo was
skinning her he looked up and said to me, "When you are
Captain of the Wall, my child, you won't be able to do this
'I might as well have been made Prefect of Lower Gaul,
so I laughed and said, "Wait till I am Captain."
"'No, don't wait," said Allo. "Take my advice and go home -
both of you."
"'We have no homes," said Pertinax. "You
know that as well as we do . We're finished men - thumbs
down against both of us. Only men without hope would
risk their necks on your ponies."
The old man laughed one of those short Pict laughs - like
a fox barking on a frosty night. "I'm fond of you two," he said.
"Besides, I've taught you what little you know about hunting. Take
my advice and go home."
"'We can't," I said. "I'm out of favour with my
General, for one thing; and for another, Pertinax has an uncle."
"'I don't know about his uncle," said Allo, "but the
trouble with you, Parnesius, is that your General thinks
well of you."
"'Roma Dea!" said Pertinax, sitting up. "What can you
guess what Maximus thinks, you old horse-coper?"
'Just then (you know how near the brutes creep when
one is eating?) a great dog-wolf jumped out behind us,
and away our rested hounds tore after him, with us at
their tails. He ran us far out of any country we'd ever
heard of, straight as an arrow till sunset, towards the
sunset. We came at last to long capes stretching into
winding waters, and on a grey beach below us we saw
ships drawn up. Forty-seven we counted - not Roman
galleys but the raven-winged ships from the North where
Rome does not rule. Men moved in the ships, and the sun
flashed on their helmets - winged helmets of the red-haired
men from the North where Rome does not rule. We watched, and we
counted, and we wondered, for though we had heard rumours
concerning these Winged Hats, as the Picts called them, never
before had we looked upon them.
"'Come away! come away!" said Allo. "My Heather
won't protect you here. We shall all be killed!" His legs
trembled like his voice. Back we went - back across the
heather under the moon, till it was nearly morning, and
our poor beasts stumbled on some ruins.
'When we woke, very stiff and cold, Allo was mixing
the meal and water. One does not light fires in the Pict
country except near a village. The little men are always
signalling to each other with smokes, and a strange
smoke brings them out buzzing like bees. They can sting, too!
"'What we saw last night was a trading-station," said
Allo. "Nothing but a trading-station. "
"'I do not like lies on an empty stomach," said
Pertinax. "I suppose" (he had eyes like an eagle's) - "I
suppose that is a trading-station also?" He pointed to a
smoke far off on a hill-top, ascending in what we call the
Picts' Call: - Puff - double-puff: double-puff - puff! They
make it by raising and dropping a wet hide on a fire.
"'No," said Allo, pushing the platter back into the bag.
"That is for you and me. Your fate is fixed. Come."
'We came. When one takes Heather, one must obey
one's Pict - but that wretched smoke was twenty miles
distant, well over on the East coast, and the day was as
hot as a bath.
"'Whatever happens," said Allo, while our ponies
grunted along, "I want you to remember me."
"'I shall not forget," said Pertinax. "You have cheated
me out of my breakfast."
"What is a handful of crushed oats to a Roman?" he
said. Then he laughed his laugh that was not a laugh.
"What would you do if you were a handful of oats being
crushed between the upper and lower stones of a mill?"
"'I'm Pertinax, not a riddle-guesser," said Pertinax.
"'You're a fool," said Allo. "Your Gods and my Gods
are threatened by strange Gods, and all you can do is to laugh."
"'Threatened men live long," I said.
"'I pray the Gods that may be true," he said. "But I ask
you again not to forget me."
'We climbed the last hot hill and looked out on the
eastern sea, three or four miles off. There was a small
sailing-galley of the North Gaul pattern at anchor, her
landing-plank down and her sail half up; and below us,
alone in a hollow, holding his pony, sat Maximus,
Emperor of Britain! He was dressed like a hunter, and he
leaned on his little stick; but I knew that back as far as I
could see it, and I told Pertinax.
"'You're madder than Allo!" he said. "It must be the sun!"
'Maximus never stirred till we stood before him. Then
he looked me up and down, and said: "Hungry again? It
seems to be my destiny to feed you whenever we meet. I
have food here. Allo shall cook it."
"'No," said Allo. "A Prince in his own land does not
wait on wandering Emperors. I feed my two children
without asking your leave." He began to blow up the ashes.
"'I was wrong," said Pertinax. "We are all mad. Speak
up, O Madman called Emperor!"
'Maximus smiled his terrible tight-lipped smile, but
two years on the Wall do not make a man afraid of mere
looks. So I was not afraid.
"'I meant you, Parnesius, to live and die a Centurion of
the Wall," said Maximus. "But it seems from these," - he
fumbled in his breast - "you can think as well as draw."
He pulled out a roll of letters I had written to my people,
full of drawings of Picts, and bears, and men I had met on
the Wall. Mother and my sister always liked my pictures.
'He handed me one that I had called "Maximus's
Soldiers". It showed a row of fat wine-skins, and our old
Doctor of the Hunno hospital snuffing at them. Each time
that Maximus had taken troops out of Britain to help him
to conquer Gaul, he used to send the garrisons more wine
- to keep them quiet, I suppose. On the Wall, we always
called a wine-skin a "Maximus". Oh, yes; and I had
drawn them in Imperial helmets.
"'Not long since," he went on, "men's names were
sent up to Caesar for smaller jokes than this."
"'True, Caesar," said Pertinax; "but you forget that
was before I, your friend's friend, became such a
'He did not actually point his hunting-spear at
Maximus, but balanced it on his palm - so!
"'I was speaking of time past," said Maximus, never
fluttering an eyelid. "Nowadays one is only too pleased
to find boys who can think for themselves, and their
friends." He nodded at Pertinax. "Your Father lent me
the letters, Parnesius, so you run no risk from me."
"'None whatever," said Pertinax, and rubbed the
spear-point on his sleeve.
"'I have been forced to reduce the garrisons in Britain,
because I need troops in Gaul. Now I come to take troops
from the Wall itself," said he.
"'I wish you joy of us," said Pertinax. "We're the last
sweepings of the Empire - the men without hope.
Myself, I'd sooner trust condemned criminals."
"'You think so?" he said, quite seriously. "But it will
only be till I win Gaul. One must always risk one's life, or
one's soul, or one's peace - or some little thing."
'Allo passed round the fire with the sizzling deer's
meat. He served us two first.
"'Ah!" said Maximus, waiting his turn. "I perceive
you are in your own country. Well, you deserve it. They
tell me you have quite a following among the Picts, Parnesius."
"'I have hunted with them," I said. "Maybe I have a
few friends among the heather."
"'He is the only armoured man of you all who understands
us," said Allo, and he began a long speech about
our virtues, and how we had saved one of his grandchildren
from a wolf the year before.'
'Had you?' said Una.
'Yes; but that was neither here nor there. The little
green man orated like a - like Cicero. He made us out to
be magnificent fellows. Maximus never took his eyes off
"'Enough," he said. "I have heard Allo on you. I wish
to hear you on the Picts."
'I told him as much as I knew, and Pertinax helped me
out. There is never harm in a Pict if you but take the
trouble to find out what he wants. Their real grievance
against us came from our burning their heather. The
whole garrison of the Wall moved out twice a year, and
solemnly burned the heather for ten miles North.
Rutilianus, our General, called it clearing the country.
The Picts, of course, scampered away, and all we did was
to destroy their bee-bloom in the summer, and ruin their
sheep-food in the spring.
"'True, quite true," said Allo. "How can we make our
holy heather-wine, if you burn our bee-pasture?"
'We talked long, Maximus asking keen questions that
showed he knew much and had thought more about the
Picts. He said presently to me: "If I gave you the old
Province of Valentia to govern, could you keep the Picts
contented till I won Gaul? Stand away, so that you do not
see Allo's face; and speak your own thoughts."
"'No," I said. "You cannot remake that Province. The
Picts have been free too long."
"'Leave them their village councils, and let them
furnish their own soldiers," he said. "You, I am sure,
would hold the reins very lightly."
"Even then, no," I said. "At least not now. They have
been too oppressed by us to trust anything with a Roman
name for years and years."
'I heard old Allo behind me mutter: "Good child!"
"'Then what do you recommend," said Maximus, "to
keep the North quiet till I win Gaul?"
"'Leave the Picts alone," I said. "Stop the heather-
burning at once, and - they are improvident little animals -
send them a shipload or two of corn now and then."
"'Their own men must distribute it - not some
cheating Greek accountant," said Pertinax.
"'Yes, and allow them to come to our hospitals when
they are sick," I said.
"'Surely they would die first," said Maximus.
"'Not if Parnesius brought them in," said Allo. "I
could show you twenty wolf-bitten, bear-clawed Picts
within twenty miles of here. But Parnesius must stay
with them in hospital, else they would go mad with fear. "
"'I see," said Maximus. "Like everything else in the
world, it is one man's work. You, I think, are that one man."
"'Pertinax and I are one," I said.
"'As you please, so long as you work. Now, Allo, you
know that I mean your people no harm. Leave us to talk
together," said Maximus.
"'No need!" said Allo. "I am the corn between the
upper and lower millstones. I must know what the lower
millstone means to do. These boys have spoken the truth
as far as they know it. I, a Prince, will tell you the rest. I
am troubled about the Men of the North." He squatted
like a hare in the heather, and looked over his shoulder.
"'I also," said Maximus, "or I should not be here."
"'Listen," said Allo. "Long and long ago the Winged
Hats" - he meant the Northmen - "came to our beaches
and said, 'Rome falls! Push her down!' We fought you.
You sent men. We were beaten. After that we said to the
Winged Hats, 'You are liars! Make our men alive that
Rome killed, and we will believe you.' They went away
ashamed. Now they come back bold, and they tell the old
tale, which we begin to believe - that Rome falls!"
"'Give me three years' peace on the Wall," cried
Maximus, "and I will show you and all the ravens how
"'Ah, I wish it too! I wish to save what is left of the corn
from the millstones. But you shoot us Picts when we
come to borrow a little iron from the Iron Ditch; you burn
our heather, which is all our crop; you trouble us with
your great catapults. Then you hide behind the Wall, and
scorch us with Greek fire. How can I keep my young men
from listening to the Winged Hats - in winter especially,
when we are hungry? My young men will say, 'Rome can
neither fight nor rule. She is taking her men out of
Britain. The Winged Hats will help us to push down the
Wall. Let us show them the secret roads across the bogs.'
Do I want that? No!" He spat like an adder. "I would keep
the secrets of my people though I were burned alive. My
two children here have spoken truth. Leave us Picts
alone. Comfort us, and cherish us, and feed us from far
off - with the hand behind the back. Parnesius understands
us. Let him have rule on the Wall, and I will hold
my young men quiet for" - he ticked it off on his fingers -
"one year easily: the next year not so easily: the third
year, perhaps! See, I give you three years. If then you do
not show us that Rome is strong in men and terrible in
arms, the Winged Hats, I tell you, will sweep down the
Wall from either sea till they meet in the middle, and you
will go. I shall not grieve over that, but well I know tribe
never helps tribe except for one price. We Picts will go
too. The Winged Hats will grind us to this!" He tossed a
handful of dust in the air.
"'Oh, Roma Dea!" said Maximus, half aloud. "It is
always one man's work- always and everywhere!"
"And one man's life," said Allo. "You are Emperor,
but not a God. You may die."
"'I have thought of that too," said he. "Very good. If
this wind holds, I shall be at the East end of the Wall by
morning. Tomorrow, then, I shall see you two when I
inspect, and I will make you Captains of the Wall for this work."
"'One instant, Caesar," said Pertinax. "All men have
their price. I am not bought yet."
"'Do you also begin to bargain so early?" said
"'Give me justice against my uncle Icenus, the
Duumvir of Divio in Gaul," he said.
"'Only a life? I thought it would be money or an office.
Certainly you shall have him. Write his name on these
tablets - on the red side; the other is for the living!" and
Maximus held out his tablets.
"'He is of no use to me dead," said Pertinax. "My
mother is a widow. I am far off. I am not sure he pays her
all her dowry."
"'No matter. My arm is reasonably long. We will look
through your uncle's accounts in due time. Now,
farewell till tomorrow, O Captains of the Wall!"
'We saw him grow small across the heather as he
walked to the galley. There were Picts, scores, each side
of him, hidden behind stones. He never looked left or
right. He sailed away southerly, full spread before the
evening breeze, and when we had watched him out to
sea, we were silent. We understood that Earth bred few
men like to this man.
'Presently Allo brought the ponies and held them for
us to mount - a thing he had never done before.
"'Wait awhile," said Pertinax, and he made a little altar
of cut turf, and strewed heather-bloom atop, and laid
upon it a letter from a girl in Gaul.
"'What do you do, O my friend?" I said.
"'I sacrifice to my dead youth," he answered, and,
when the flames had consumed the letter, he ground
them out with his heel. Then we rode back to that Wall of
which we were to be Captains.'
Parnesius stopped. The children sat still, not even
asking if that were all the tale. Puck beckoned, and
pointed the way out of the wood. 'Sorry,' he whispered,
'but you must go now.'
'We haven't made him angry, have we?' said Una. 'He
looks so far off, and - and - thinky.'
'Bless your heart, no. Wait till tomorrow. It won't be
long. Remember, you've been playing Lays of Ancient Rome.'
And as soon as they had scrambled through their gap
where Oak, Ash and Thorn grew, that was all they remembered.
A Song to Mithras
Mithras, God of the Morning, our trumpets waken the Wall!
'Rome is above the Nations, but Thou art over all!'
Now as the names are answered, and the guards are marched away,
Mithras, also a soldier, give us strength for the day!
Mithras, God of the Noontide, the heather swims in the heat,
Our helmets scorch our foreheads, our sandals burn our feet.
Now in the ungirt hour, now ere we blink and drowse,
Mithras, also a soldier, keep us true to our vows!
Mithras, God of the Sunset, low on the Western main,
Thou descending immortal, immortal to rise again!
Now when the watch is ended, now when the wine is drawn,
Mithras, also a soldier, keep us pure till the dawn!
Mithras, God of the Midnight, here where the great bull dies,
Look on Thy children in darkness. Oh, take our sacrifice!
Many roads Thou hast fashioned: all of them lead to the Light!
Mithras, also a soldier, teach us to die aright!
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