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- Beric the Briton - 50/74 -
to Him for aid."
Then as the door of the den opened he stepped a few paces towards it. A roar of applause rose from the vast audience. They had appreciated his action in making the ropes, and guessed that he meant to use his cloak as a retiarius used his net; there would then be a contest and not a massacre. Enraged at its former treatment the lion dashed out of its den with a sudden spring, made three or four leaps forward, and then paused with its eyes fixed on the man standing in front of it, still immovable, in an easy pose, ready for instant action. Then it sank till its belly nearly touched the ground, and began to crawl with a stealthy gliding motion towards him. More and more slowly it went, till it paused at a distance of some ten yards.
For a few seconds it crouched motionless, save for a slow waving motion of its tail; then with a sharp roar it sprang through the air. With a motion as quick Beric leaped aside, and as it touched the ground he sprang across its loins, at the same moment wrapping his cloak in many folds round its head, and knotting the ends tightly. Then as the lion, recovering from its first surprise, sprang to its feet with a roar of anger and disgust, Beric was on his feet beside it.
For a moment it strove to tear away the strange substance which enveloped its head, but Beric dropped the end of a noose over one of its forepaws, drew it tight, and with a sudden pull jerked the animal over on its back. As it sprang up again the other forepaw was noosed, and it was again thrown over. This time, as it sprang to its feet, Beric struck it a tremendous blow on the nose. The unexpected assault for a moment brought it down, but mad with rage it sprang up and struck out in all directions at its invisible foe, leaping and bounding hither and thither. Beric easily avoided the onslaught, and taking every opportunity struck it three or four times with all his force on the ear, each time rolling it over and over. The last of these blows seemed almost to stun it, and it lay for a moment immovable.
Again Beric leaped upon it, coming down astride of its loins with all his weight, and seizing at once the two ropes. The lion uttered a roar of dismay and pain, and struck at him first with one paw and then with the other. By his coolness and quickness, however, he escaped all the blows, and then, when the lion seemed exhausted, he jerked tightly the cords, twisting them behind the lion's back and with rapid turns fastening them together. The lion was helpless now. Had Beric attempted to pull the cords in any other position it would have snapped them like pack thread, but in this position it had no strength, the pads of the feet being fastened together and the limbs almost dislocated. As the animal rolled over and over uttering roars of vain fury, Beric snatched the cloth from its head, tore off another strip, twisted it, and without difficulty bound its hind legs together. Then he again wrapped it round the lion's head, and standing up bowed to the spectators.
A mighty shout shook the building. Never had such a feat been seen in the arena before, and men and women alike standing up waved their hands with frantic enthusiasm. Beric had not escaped altogether unhurt, for as the lion struck out at him it had torn away a piece of flesh from his side, and the blood was streaming down over his white skirt. Then he went up to Ennia, who was standing with closed eyes and hands clasped in prayer. She had seen nothing of the conflict, and had believed that Beric's death and her own were inevitable.
"Ennia," he said, "our gods have saved me; the lion is helpless." Then she sank down insensible. He raised her on his shoulder, walked across the arena, passed the barrier, and, ascending the steps, walked along before the first row of spectators and handed her over to her mother. Then he descended again, and bowed deeply, first to the emperor and then to the still shouting people.
The giver of the games advanced and placed on his head a crown of bay leaves, and handed to him a heavy purse of gold, which Beric placed in his girdle, and, again saluting the audience, rejoined Scopus, who was in a state of enthusiastic delight at the prowess of his pupil.
"You have proved yourself the first gladiator in Rome," he said. "Henceforth the school of Scopus is ahead of all its rivals. Now we must get your side dressed. Another inch or two, Beric, and the conflict would not have ended as it did."
"Yes, if the lion had not been in such a hurry to strike, and had stretched its paw to the fullest, it would have fared badly with me," Beric said; "but it was out of breath and spiteful, and had not recovered from the blow and from the shock of my jumping on it, which must have pretty nearly broken its back. I knew it was a risk, but it was my only chance of getting its paws in that position, and in no other would my ropes have been strong enough to hold them."
"But how came you to think of fighting in that way?" Scopus asked, after the leech, who was always in attendance to dress the wounds of the gladiators, had bandaged up his side.
"I never expected to have to fight the beasts unarmed," Beric said, "but I had sometimes thought what should be done in such a case, and I thought that if one could but wrap one's cloak round a lion's head the beast would be at one's mercy. Had I had but a caestus I could have beaten its skull in, but without that I saw that the only plan was to noose its limbs. Surely a man ought to be able to overcome a blinded beast."
"I would not try it for all the gold in Rome, Beric, even now that I have seen you do it. Did you mark Caesar? There is no one appreciates valiant deeds more than he does. At first his countenance was cold--I marked him narrowly--but he half rose to his feet and his countenance changed when you first threw yourself on the lion, and none applauded more warmly than he did when your victory was gained. Listen to them; they are shouting for you again. You must go. Never before did I know them to linger after a show was over. They will give you presents."
"I care not for them," Beric said.
"You must take them," Scopus said, "or you will undo the favourable impression you have made, which will be useful to you should you ever enter the arena again and be conquered. Go, go!"
Beric again entered the arena, and the attendants led him up to the emperor, who presented him with a gold bracelet, saying:
"I will speak to you again, Beric. I had wondered that you and your people should have resisted Suetonius so long, but I wonder no longer."
Then Beric was led round the arena. Ladies threw down rings and bracelets to him. These were gathered up by the attendants and handed to him as he bowed to the givers. Norbanus, his wife, and daughter had already left their seats, surrounded by friends congratulating them, and bearing with them the still insensible girl. Having made the tour of the arena Beric again saluted the audience and retired. One of the imperial attendants met them as they left the building.
"The emperor bids me say, Scopus, that when Beric is recovered from his wound he is to attend at the palace."
"I thought the emperor meant well towards you," Scopus said. "You will in any case fight no more in the arena."
"How is that?" Beric asked in surprise.
"Did you not hear the shouts of the people the last time you entered, Beric?"
"I heard a great confused roar, but in truth I was feeling somewhat faint from loss of blood, and did not catch any particular sounds."
"They shouted that you were free from the arena henceforth. It is their custom when a gladiator greatly distinguishes himself to declare him free, though I have never known one before freed on his first appearance. The rule is that a gladiator remains for two years in the ring, but that period is shortened should the people deem that he has earned his life by his courage and skill. For a moment I was sorry when I heard it, but perhaps it is better as it is. Did you remain for two years, and fight and conquer at every show, you could gain no more honour than you have done. Now I will get a lectica and have you carried out to the hills. You are not fit to walk."
They were joined outside by Porus and Lupus. The former was warm in his congratulation.
"By the gods, Beric, though I knew well that you would gain a great triumph in the arena when your time came, I never thought to see you thus fighting with the beasts unarmed. Why, Milo himself was not stronger, and he won thirteen times at the Olympian and Pythian games. He would have won more, but no one would venture to enter against him. Why, were you to go on practising for another five years, you would be as strong as he was, and as you are as skilful as you are strong it would go hard with any that met you. I congratulated myself, I can tell you, when I heard the people shout that you were free of the arena, for if by any chance we had been drawn against each other, I might as well have laid down my net and asked you to finish me at once without trouble."
"It was but a happy thought, Porus: if a man could be caught in a net, why not a lion blinded in a cloak? That once done the rest was easy."
"Well, I don't want any easy jobs of that sort," Porus said. "But let us go into a wine shop; a glass will bring the colour again to your cheeks."
"No, no, Porus," Scopus said. "Do you and Lupus drink, and I will drink with you, but no wine for Beric. I will get him a cup of hot ass's milk; that will give him strength without fevering his blood. Here is a place where they sell it. I will go in with him first, and then join you there; but take not too much. You have a long walk back, and I guess, Lupus, that your head already hums from the blow that Briton gave it. By Bacchus, these Britons are fine men! I thought you had got an easy thing of it, when boom! and there you were stretched out like a dead man."
"It was a trick," Lupus said angrily, "a base trick."
"Not at all," Scopus replied. "You fought as if in war; and in war if you had an opponent at close quarters, and could not use your sword's point, you would strike him down with the hilt if you could. As I have told you over and over again, you are a good swordsman, but you don't know everything yet by a long way, and you are so
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