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- Beric the Briton - 3/74 -


out with him. Of course old Lucia goes with them. It is funny to hear them on a wet day, when they cannot go out, talking together --she telling him stories of Rome and of our kings and consuls, and he telling her tales of hunting the wolf and wild boar, and legends of his people, who seem to have been always at war with someone."

After Beric had resided for three years and a half at Camalodunum a great grief fell on the family of Caius Muro, for the damp airs from the valley had long affected Julia and she gradually faded and died. Beric felt the loss very keenly, for she had been uniformly kind to him. A year later Suetonius and the governor of the colony decided that as the Sarci had now been quiet for nearly five years, and as Caius reported that their young chief seemed to have become thoroughly Romanized, he was permitted to return to his tribe.

The present was his first visit to the colony since he had left it four months before. His companion, Boduoc, was one of the tribesmen, a young man six years his senior. He was related to his mother, and had been his companion in his childish days, teaching him woodcraft, and to throw the javelin and use the sword. Together, before Beric went as hostage, they had wandered through the forest and hunted the wolf and wild boar, and at that time Boduoc had stood in the relation of an elder brother to Beric. That relation had now much changed. Although Boduoc was a powerful young man and Beric but a sturdy stripling, the former was little better than an untutored savage, and he looked with great respect upon Beric both as his chief and as possessing knowledge that seemed to him to be amazing.

Hating the Romans blindly he had trembled lest he should find Beric on his return completely Romanized. He had many times, during the lad's stay at Camalodunum, carried messages to him there from his mother, and had sorrowfully shaken his head on his way back through the forest as he thought of his young chief's surroundings. Beric had partially adopted the Roman costume, and to hear him talking and jesting in their own language to the occupants of the mansion, whose grandeur and appointments filled Boduoc with an almost superstitious fear, was terrible to him. However, his loyalty to Beric prevented him from breathing a word in the tribe as to his fears, and he was delighted to find the young chief return home in British garb, and to discover that although his views of the Romans differed widely from his own, he was still British at heart, and held firmly the opinion that the only hope for the freedom of Britain was the entire expulsion of the invaders.

He was gratified to find that Beric had become by no means what he considered effeminate. He was built strongly and massively, as might be expected from such parents, and was of the true British type, that had so surprised the Romans at their first coming among them, possessing great height and muscular power, together with an activity promoted by constant exercise.

Beric had fallen back upon the customs of his people as thoroughly as if he had never dwelt in the stately Roman town. He was as ready as before to undertake the longest hunting expeditions, to sleep in the forest, to go from sunrise to sunset without breaking his fast. When not engaged in hunting he practised incessantly hurling the javelin and other warlike exercises, while of an evening he frequently related stories of Roman history to any chiefs or other guests of his mother, on which occasions the humbler followers would gather thickly in the background, evincing an interest even greater than that which they felt in the songs and legends of the bards.

Beric generally chose stories relating to periods when Rome was hardly pressed by her foes, showing how the intense feeling of patriotism, and the obstinate determination to resist, in spite of all dangers, upon the part of the population, and the discipline and dogged valour of the soldiers, saved her from destruction. He was cautious to draw no parallel openly to the case of Britain. He knew that the Romans were made acquainted, by traitors in their pay, with much that passed among the native tribes, and that at first they were sure to interest themselves in his proceedings. At present there could be no thought of a rising, and the slightest sign of disaffection might bring disaster and ruin upon his tribe. Only when some unexpected event, some invasion of the rights of the Britons even more flagrant than those that had hitherto taken place, should stir the smouldering fire of discontent, and fan it into a fierce flame of revolt from end to end of Britain, could success be hoped for.

No Roman could have found fault with Beric's relation of their prowess or their valour; for he held them up to the admiration of his hearers. "No wonder Rome is great and powerful," he said, "when its people evince so deep a love of country, so resolute a determination in the face of their enemies, so unconquerable a spirit when misfortune weighs upon them."

To the men he addressed all this was new. It was true that a few princes and chiefs had visited Rome, occasionally as travellers desiring to see the centre of her greatness, more often as exiles driven from Britain by defeat in civil strife, but these had only brought back great tales of Rome's magnificence, and the Britons knew nothing of the history of the invaders, and eagerly listened to the stories that Beric had learned from their books in the course of his studies. The report of his stories spread so far that visits were paid to the village of Parta by chiefs and leading men from other sections of the Iceni to listen to them.

Oratory was among the Britons, as among most primitive tribes, highly prized and much cultivated. Oral tradition among such peoples takes the place of books among civilized nations. Story and legend are handed down from father to son, and the wandering bard is a most welcome guest. Next only to valour oratory sways and influences the minds of the people, and a Ulysses had greater influence than an Ajax. From his earliest childhood Beric had listened to the stories and legends told by bards in the rough palace of his father, and his sole schooling before he went to Camalodunum had been to learn these by heart, and to repeat them with due emphasis and appropriate gesture. His father had been one of the most eloquent and influential of the chiefs of the Iceni, and had early impressed upon him the importance of cultivating the power of speech.

His studies in Roman history, too, had taught him the power exercised by men with the gift of moving multitudes by their words; he had learned from books how clearly and distinctly events could be described by a careful choice of words, and attention to form and expression, so that almost unconsciously to himself he had practised the art in his relations of the tales and legends of British history to Berenice and her mother. Thus, then, the manner no less than the matter of his recitals of Roman story, gained him a high estimation among his hearers, and he was already looked upon as a young chief likely to rise to a very high position among the Iceni. Among the common herd his glowing laudations of Roman patriotism, devotion, and sacrifice, caused him to be regarded with disfavour, and the epithet "the Roman" was frequently applied to him. But the wiser spirits saw the hidden meaning of his stories, and that, while holding up the Romans as an example, he was endeavouring to teach how much can be done by patriotism, by a spirit of self sacrifice, and by unity against a common foe. Parta was also proud of the congratulations that distinguished chiefs, famed for their wisdom throughout the tribe, offered to her on the occasion of their visits.

"Beric will be a great chief," one of the wisest of these said to her; "truly his sojourn among the Romans has done great things for him. It would be well, indeed, if every noble youth throughout the island were to have such schooling, if he had your son's wit in taking advantage of it. He will be a great orator; never among our bards have I heard narrations so clear and so well delivered; although the deeds he praises are those of our oppressors, one cannot but feel a thrill of enthusiasm as he tells them. Yea, for the moment I myself felt half a Roman when he told us of the brave youth who thrust his hand into the flames, and suffered it to be consumed in order to impress the invader with a knowledge of the spirit that animated the Romans, and of the three men who held against a host the bridge that their friends were breaking down behind them.

"If he could stir me thus by his tales of the deeds of our enemies, what will it be when some day he makes the heroes of Britain his theme, and calls upon his countrymen to imitate their deeds! I have heard him called 'the Roman,' Parta. Now that I have listened to him I know that he will, when the time comes, be one of Rome's most formidable foes. I will tell you now that Prasutagus, our king, and his queen Boadicea, spoke to me about Beric, and begged me to come hither to see for myself this youth of whom they had heard reports from others, some saying that he had returned a Roman heart and soul, while others affirmed that, while he had learned much from them, he had forgotten nothing of the injuries he had received at their hands in the death of his father, and the disaster of the tribe. I shall know now what to tell them. To Prasutagus, whose fear of the Romans is even greater than his hatred for them, I shall say that the lad is full of the glories of Roman story, and that there is no fear of his doing or saying aught that will excite the anger or suspicion of the Romans. To Boadicea, who hates the Romans far more than she fears them, I shall tell the truth, and shall inform her that when the time comes, as assuredly it some day will, that the Iceni are called upon to defend their liberties against Rome, in Beric she will find a champion of whom I predict that he will be worthy to take his place in our history by the side of Caractacus and Cassivelaunus. May our gods avert that, like them, he fall a victim to British treachery!"

After leaving Boduoc, Beric crossed the bridge built by the Romans over the Stour, and entered the city. Camalodunum was the chief seat of the Roman power in England. Although but so short a time had elapsed since Claudius had occupied it, it was already a large city. A comparatively small proportion, however, was Roman work, but all bore the impress of Roman art and civilization, for Cunobeline, whose capital it had been, was a highly enlightened king, and had introduced Roman ways and methods among his people. Men instructed in their arts and architecture had been largely employed in the building of the town, and its edifices would have borne comparison with those in minor towns in the Roman provinces.

The conquerors, therefore, found much of their work done for them. The original possessors of the houses and of the highly cultivated lands lying round the town were ejected wholesale, and the Romans, establishing themselves in their abodes and farms, then proceeded to add to, embellish, and fortify the town. The 2nd, 9th, and 14th Legions were selected by Claudius to found what was called the colony, and to take possession of the surrounding country. Plautius was appointed propraetor, or governor, and establishing himself in the royal palace of Cunobeline, his first step was to protect the city from renewed attacks by the Britons. He accordingly erected vast works to the westward of the town, extending from the sea to the river, by which means he not only protected the city from attack, but gained, in case of an assault by overpowering numbers, the means of retiring safely to Mersea Island, lying a short distance


Beric the Briton - 3/74

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