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Title:      Tros of Samothrace
Author:     Talbot Mundy
eBook No.:  0500901.txt
Edition:    1
Language:   English
Character set encoding:     Latin-1(ISO-8859-1)--8 bit
Date first posted:          October 2005
Date most recently updated: October 2005

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Title:      Tros of Samothrace
Author:     Talbot Mundy



Published 1938


Contents

I.       Britain: The Late Summer of 55 B.C.
II.      "And Ye Know Whether Caesar Lies or Not"
III.     Gwenhwyfar, Wife of Britomaris
IV.      Fflur
V.       A Prince of Hosts
VI.      Concerning a Boil and Commius
VII.     Gobhan and the Tides
VIII.    An Interview Near a Druid's Cave
IX.      Tros Displays His Seamanship
            and a Way of His Own of Minding His Own Business
X.       Caius Julius Caesar
XI.      The Expedition Sails
XII.     The Battle on the Beach
XIII.    Hythe and Caswallon
XIV.     "If Caesar Could Only Know"
XV.      Early Autumn: 55 B.C.
XVI.     Lunden Town
XVII.    A Home-Coming
XVIII.   The Phoenician Tin Trader
XIX.     A Sitting of the Court of Admiralty: 55 B.C.
XX.      Hiram-Bin-Ahab Stipulates
XXI.     In Which the Women Lend a Hand
XXII.    Mutiny and Mal de Mer
XXIII.   Tros Makes a Promise
XXIV.    Rome's Centurion
XXV.     "God Give You a Fair Wind, Hiram-Bin-Ahab!"
XXVI.    "Neither Rome nor I Forgive!"
XXVII.   The British Channel
XXVIII.  Northmen!
XXIX.    Battle!
XXX.     Tros Makes Prisoners and Falls in Need of Friends
XXXI.    A Man Names Skell Returns from Gaul
XXXII.   "A Pretty Decent Sort of God!"
XXXIII.  In Lunden Pool
XXXIV.   Cornelia of Gaul
XXXV.    Tros Strikes a Bargain
XXXVI.   Rash? Wise? Desperate? or All Three?
XXXVII.  The Battle at Lud's Gate
XXXVIII. Winter, Near Lunden Town
XXXIX.   The Gist of Skell's Argument
XL.      "What Shape is the Earth?"
XLI.     "The World is Round!"
XLII.    Galba, the Sicilian
XLIII.   The Conference of Kings
XLIV.    Caswallon's Ultimatum
XLV.     Eough, the Sorcerer
XLVI.    Eough Applies Alchemy
XLVII.   The Start of the Mad Adventure
XLVIII.  The Liburnian
XLIX.    Luck o' Lud o' Lunden
L.       The Gods! The Gods!
LI.      Ave, Caesar!
LII.     "I Build a Ship!"
LIII.    Gathering Clouds
LIV.     Fflur Pays a Debt
LV.      "The Fool! Lord Zeus, What Shall I do with Him?"
LVI.     A Bargain with the Druids
LVII.    _Liafail_
LVIII.   The Lord Rhys
LIX.     The Lord Rhys's Tenantry
LX.      Make Sail!
LXI.     A Letter to Caesar
LXII.    Discipline
LXIII.   Gwenhwyfar Yields
LXIV.    News!
LXV.     The Fight Off Dertemue
LXVI.    Men--Men--Men!
LXVII.   "Pluto! Shall I Set Forth Full of Dreads and Questions?"
LXVIII.  Off Gades
LXIX.    Visitors
LXX.     Gades by Night
LXXI.    Chloe--"Qui Saltavit Placuit"
LXXII.   Herod Ben Mordecai
LXXIII.  The Cottage in Pkauchios' Garden
LXXIV.   Gaius Suetonius
LXXV.    Pkauchios the Astrologer
LXXVI.   Balbus Qui Murum Aedificabit
LXXVII.  Conspiracy
LXXVIII. The Committee of Nineteen
LXXIX.   At Simon's House
LXXX.    In Balbus' Dining Hall
LXXXI.   Caesar--Imperator!
LXXXII.  Rome: 54 B.C.
LXXXIII. Politics
LXXXIV.  Helene
LXXXV.   Marcus Porcius Cato
LXXXVI.  Julius Nepos
LXXXVII. Virgo Vestalis Maxima
LXXXVIII.The Praetor's Dungeon
LXXXIX.  Pompeius Magnus
XC.      The Carceres and Nepos, the Lanista
XCI.     Tros Forms an Odysseyan Plan
XCII.    Ignotus
XCIII.   Conops
XCIV.    Circus Maximus
XCV.     The Link Breaks
XCVI.    Britain: Late Summer

----------------------------



CHAPTER I

BRITAIN: THE LATE SUMMER OF 55 B.C.

These then are your liberties that ye inherit. If ye inherit
sheep and oxen, ye protect those from the wolves. Ye know there
are wolves, aye, and thieves also. Ye do not make yourselves
ridiculous by saying neither wolf nor thief would rob you, but
each to his own. Nevertheless, ye resent my warning. But I tell
you, Liberty is alertness; those are one; they are the same
thing. Your liberties are an offense to the slave, and to the
enslaver also. Look ye to your liberties! Be watchful, and be
ready to defend them. Envy, greed, conceit and ignorance,
believing they are Virtue, see in undefended Liberty their
opportunity to prove that violence is the grace of manhood.

--From the Sayings of the Druid Taliesan



Toward sunset of a golden summer evening in a clearing in a dense
oak forest five men and a woman sat beside a huge flat rock that
lay half buried in the earth and tilted at an angle toward where
the North Star would presently appear.

At the southern end of the clearing was a large house built of
mud and wattle with a heavy thatched roof; it was surrounded by a
fence of untrimmed branches, and within the enclosure there were
about a dozen men and women attending a fire in the open air,
cooking, and carrying water.

Across the clearing from a lane that led between enormous oaks,
some cattle, driven by a few armed men clothed in little other
than skins dawdled along a winding cow-path toward the opening in
the fence. There was a smell of wood smoke and a hush that was
entirely separate from the noise made by the cattle, the soft
sigh of wind in the trees, the evensong of birds and the sound of
voices. Expectancy was in the air.

The five men who sat by the rock were talking with interruptions,
two of them being foreigners, who used one of the dialects of
southern Gaul; and that was intelligible to one of the Britons
who was a druid, and to the woman, who seemed to understand it
perfectly, but not to the other men, to whom the druid had to
keep interpreting.

"Speak slowly, Tros, speak slowly," urged the druid; but the big
man, although he spoke the Gaulish perfectly, had a way of
pounding his left palm with his right fist and interjecting Greek
phrases for added emphasis, making his meaning even more
incomprehensible.

He looked a giant compared to the others although he was
not much taller than they. His clothing was magnificent, but
travel-stained. His black hair, hanging nearly to his shoulders,
was bound by a heavy gold band across his forehead. A cloak of
purple cloth, embroidered around the edges with gold thread,
partly concealed a yellow tunic edged with gold and purple.

He wore a long sword with a purple scabbard, suspended from a
leather belt that was heavily adorned with golden studs. His
forearm was a Titan's, and the muscles on his calves were like
the roots of trees; but it was his face that held attention:
Force, under control with immense stores in reserve; youth
unconquerable, yet peculiarly aged before its time; cunning of
the sort that is entirely separate from cowardice; imagination
undivorced from concrete fact; an iron will and great good humor,
that looked capable of blazing into wrath--all were written in
the contours of forehead, nose and jaw. His leonine, amberous
eyes contained a hint of red, and the breadth between them
accentuated the massive strength of the forehead; they were eyes
that seemed afraid of nothing, and incredulous of much; not
intolerant, but certainly not easy to persuade.

His jaw had been shaved recently, to permit attention to a wound
that had now nearly healed, leaving a deep indentation in the
chin, and the black re-growing beard, silky in texture, so
darkened the bronze skin that except for his size, he might
almost have passed for an Iberian.

"Conops will tell you," he said, laying a huge hand on the
shoulder of the man beside him, "how well I know this Caius
Julius Caesar. Conops, too, has had a taste of him. I have seen
Caesar's butchery. I know how he behaves to druids and to kings
and to women and to all who oppose him, if he once has power. To
obtain power--hah!--he pretends sometimes to be magnanimous. To
keep it--"

Tros made a gesture with his right fist, showed his teeth in a
grin of disgust and turned to the other Samothracian beside him.
"Is he or is he not cruel, Conops? Does he keep Rome's promises?
Are Rome's or his worth that?" He snapped his fingers.

Conops grinned and laid a forefinger on the place where his
right eye had been. Conops was a short man, of about the same
age as Tros, possibly five-and-twenty, and of the same swarthy
complexion; but he bore no other resemblance to his big
companion. One bright-blue eye peered out from an impudent face,
crowned with a knotted red kerchief. His nose was up-turned, as
if it had been smashed in childhood. He had small brass earrings,
similar in pattern to the heavy golden ones that Tros wore, and
he was dressed in a smock of faded Tyrian blue, with a long knife
tucked into a red sash at his waist. His thin, strong, bare legs
looked as active as a cat's.

"Caesar is as cruel as a fish!" he answered, nodding. "And he
lies worse than a long-shore Alexandrian with a female slave
for hire."

The druid had to interpret that remark, speaking in soft
undertones from a habit of having his way without much argument.
He was a broad-faced young man with a musical voice, a quiet
smile and big brown eyes, dressed in a blue-dyed woolen robe that
reached nearly to his heels--one of the bardic druids of the
second rank.

It was the woman who spoke next, interrupting the druid's
explanation, with her eyes on Tros. She seemed to gloat over his
strength and yet to be more than half-suspicious of him, holding
her husband by the arm and resting chin and elbow on her knee as
she leaned forward to watch the big man's face. She was dressed
in a marvelously worked tunic of soft leather, whose pricked-in,
barbaric pattern had been stained with blue woad. Chestnut hair,
beautifully cared for, hung to her waist; her brown eyes were as
eager as a dog's; and though she was young and comely, and had
not yet borne a child, she looked too panther-like to be
attractive to a man who had known gentler women.

"You say he is cruel, this Caesar. Is that because he punished
you for disobedience--or did you steal his woman?" she demanded.
Tros laughed--a heavy, scornful laugh from deep down near
his stomach.

"No need to steal! Caius Julius Caesar gives women away when he
has amused himself," he answered. "He cares for none unless some
other man desires her; and when he has spoiled her, he uses her
as a reward for his lieutenants. On the march his soldiers cry
out to the rulers of the towns to hide their wives away, saying
they bring the maker of cuckolds with them. Such is Caesar; a
self-worshiper, a brainy rascal, the meanest cynic and the
boldest thief alive. But he is lucky as well as clever, have no
doubt of that."

The druid interpreted, while the woman kept her eyes on Tros.

"Is he handsomer than you? Are you jealous of him? Did he steal
your wife?" she asked; and Tros laughed again, meeting the
woman's gaze with a calmness that seemed to irritate her.

"I have no wife, and no wife ever had me," he answered. "When I
meet the woman who can turn my head, my heart shall be the judge
of her, Gwenhwyfar."

"Are you a druid? Are you a priest of some sort?" the woman
asked. Her glowing eyes examined the pattern of the gold
embroidery that edged his cloak.

Tros smiled and looked straight at the druid instead of at her.
Conops drew in his breath, as if he was aware of danger.

"He is from Samothrace," the druid remarked. "You do not know
what that means, Gwenhwyfar. It is a mystery."

The woman looked dissatisfied and rather scornful. She lapsed
into silence, laying both elbows on her knees and her chin in
both hands to stare at Tros even more intently. Her husband took
up the conversation. He was a middle-sized active-looking man
with a long moustache, dressed in wolf-skin with the fur side
outward over breeches and a smock of knitted wool.

An amber necklace and a beautifully worked gold bracelet on his
right wrist signified chieftainship of some sort. He carried his
head with an air of authority that was increased by the care with
which his reddish hair had been arranged to fall over his
shoulders; but there was a suggestion of cunning and of weakness
and cupidity at the corners of his eyes and mouth. The skin of
his body had been stained blue, and the color had faded until the
natural weathered white showed through it; the resulting blend
was barbarously beautiful.

"The Romans who come to our shore now and then have things they
like to trade with us for other things that we can easily supply.
They are not good traders. We have much the best of it,"
he remarked.

Tros understood him without the druid's aid, laughed and thumped
his right fist on his knee; but instead of speaking he paused and
signed to them all to listen. There came one long howl, and then
a wolf-pack chorus from the forest.

"This wolf smelt, and that wolf saw; then came the pack! What if
ye let down the fence?" he said then. "It is good that ye have a
sea around this island. I tell you, the wolves of the Tiber are
less merciful than those, and more in number and more ingenious
and more rapacious. Those wolves glut themselves; they steal a
cow, maybe, but when they have a bellyful they go; and a full
wolf falls prey to the hunter. But where Romans gain a foothold
they remain, and there is no end to their devouring. I _saw_
Caesar cut off the right hands of thirty thousand Gauls because
they disobeyed him. I say, I saw it."

"Perhaps they broke a promise," said the woman, tossing her head
to throw the hair out of her eyes. "Commius the Gaul, whom Caesar
sent to talk with us, says the Romans bring peace and affluence
and that they keep _their_ promises."

"Affluence for _Commius,_ aye, and for the Romans!" Tros
answered. "Caesar made Commius king of the Atrebates. But do you
know what happened to the Atrebates first? How many men were
crucified? How many women sold into slavery? How many girls
dishonored? Aye, there is always peace where Rome keeps wolf's
promises. Those are the only sort she ever keeps! Commius is king
of a tribe that has no remaining fighting men nor virgins, and
that toils from dawn to dark to pay the tribute money that
Caesar shall send to Rome--and for what? To bribe the Roman
senators!  And why? Because he plans to make himself the
ruler of the world!"

"How do you know?" asked the woman, when the druid began to
interpret that long speech. She motioned to the druid to be
still--her ear was growing more accustomed to the Samothracian's
strange pronunciation.

Tros paused, frowning, grinding his teeth with a forward movement
of his iron jaw. Then he spoke, looking straight at the woman:

"I am from the isle of Samothrace, that never had a king, nor
ever bowed to foreign yoke. My father is a prince of Samothrace,
and _he_ understands what that means." He glanced at the druid.
"My father had a ship--a good ship, well manned with a crew of
freemen--small, because there are no harbors in the isle of
Samothrace and we must beach our ships, but seaworthy and built
of Euxine timber, with fastenings of bronze. We had a purple
sail; and that, the Romans said, was insolence.

"The Keepers of the Mysteries of Samothrace despatched my father
in his ship to many lands, of which Gaul was one, for purposes
which druids understand. Caesar hates druids because the druids
have secrets that they keep from him.

"He denounced my father as a pirate, although Pompey, the other
tribune, who made war on pirates, paid my father homage and gave
him a parchment with the Roman safe-conduct written on it. My
name, as my father's son, was also on the parchment, as were the
names of every member of the crew. I was second in command of
that good ship. Conops was one of the crew; we two and my father
are all who are left."

Tros paused, met Conops' one bright eye, nodded reminiscently,
and waited while the druid translated what he had just said into
the British tongue. The druid spoke carefully, avoiding further
reference to the Mysteries. But the woman hardly listened to him;
she had understood.

"Our business was wholly peaceful," Tros continued. "We carried
succor to the Gauls, not in the form of weapons or appliances,
but in the form of secret counsel to the druids whom Caesar
persecuted, giving them encouragement, advising them to bide
their time and to depend on such resources as were no business
of Caesar's.

"And first, because Caesar mistrusted us, he made us give up our
weapons. Soon after, on a pretext, he sent for that parchment
that Pompey had given my father; and he failed to return it. Then
he sent men to burn our ship, for the sake of the bronze that was
in her; and the excuse he gave was that our purple sail was
a defiance of the Roman Eagles. Thereafter he made us all
prisoners; and at that time Conops had two eyes."

Gwenhwyfar glanced sharply at Conops, made a half contemptuous
movement of her lips and threw the hair back on her shoulders.

"All of the crew, except myself and Conops, were flogged to death
by Caesar's orders in my father's presence," Tros went on. "They
were accused of being spies. Caesar himself affects to take no
pleasure in such scenes, and he stayed in his tent until the
cruelty was over. Nor did I witness it, for I also was in
Caesar's tent, he questioning me as to my father's secrets.

"But I pretended to know nothing of them. And Conops did not see
the flogging, because they had put his eye out, by Caesar's
order, for a punishment, and for the time being they had
forgotten him. When the last man was dead, my father was brought
before Caesar and the two beheld each other face to face, my
father standing and Caesar seated with his scarlet cloak over his
shoulders, smiling with mean lips that look more cruel than a
wolf's except when he is smiling at a compliment or flattering a
woman. And because my father knows all these coasts, and
Caesar does not know them but, nevertheless, intends to invade
this island--"

The druid interrupted.

"How does he know it is an island?" he asked. "Very few, except
we and some of the chiefs, know that."

"My father, who has sailed around it, told him so in an
unguarded moment."

"He should not have told," said the druid.

"True, he should not have told," Tros agreed. "But there are
those who told Caesar that Britain is a vast continent, rich in
pearls and precious stones; he plans to get enough pearls to make
a breastplate for the statue of the Venus Genetrix in Rome.

"So my father, hoping to discourage him, said that Britain is
only an island, of no wealth at all, inhabited by useless people,
whose women are ugly and whose men are for the most part deformed
from starvation and sickness. But Caesar did not believe him,
having other information and being ambitious to possess pearls."

"We _have_ pearls," said the woman, tossing her head again,
pulling down the front of her garment to show a big pearl
at her breast.

The druid frowned:

"Speak on, Tros. You were in the tent. Your father stood and
confronted Caesar. What then?"

"Caesar, intending to invade this island of Britain, ordered that
I should be flogged and crucified, saying: 'For your son looks
strong, and he will die more painfully if he is flogged, because
the flies will torture him. Let us see whether he will not talk,
after they have tied him to the tree."'

"What then?" asked the druid, with a strange expression in
his eyes.

"Yes, what then?" said the woman, leaning farther forward to
watch Tros's face. There was a half smile on her lips.

"My father offered himself in place of me," said Tros.

"And you agreed to it!" said the woman, nodding, seeming to
confirm her own suspicion, and yet dissatisfied.

Tros laughed at her.

"Gwenhwyfar, I am not thy lover!" he retorted, and the woman
glared. "I said to Caesar, I would die by any means rather than
be the cause of my father's death; and I swore to him to his
face, as I stood between the men who held me, that if my
father should die first, at his hands, he must slay me, too,
and swiftly.

"Caesar understood that threat. He lapsed into thought awhile,
crossing one knee over the other, in order to appear at ease. But
he was not at ease, and I knew then that he did not wish to
slay either my father or me, having another use for us. So
I said nothing."

"Most men usually say too much," the druid commented.

"And presently Caesar dismissed us, commanding that we should be
confined in one hut together," Tros went on. "And for a long
while my father and I said nothing, for fear the guard without
might listen. But in the night we lay on the dirt floor with our
heads together, whispering, and my father said:

"'Death is but a little matter and soon over with, for even
torture must come to an end; but a man's life should be lived to
its conclusion, and it may be we can yet serve the purpose for
which we came to Gaul. Remember this, my son,' said he, 'that
whereas force may not prevail, a man may gain his end by seeming
to yield, as a ship yields to the sea. And that is good, provided
the ship does not yield too much and be swamped.'

"Thereafter we whispered far into the night. And in the morning
when Caesar sent for us we stood before him in silence, he
considering our faces and our strength. My father is a stronger
man than I.

"There were the ropes on the floor of the tent, with which they
were ready to bind us; and there were knotted cords for the
flogging; and two executioners, who stood outside the tent--they
were Numidians--black men with very evil faces. And when he had
considered us a long time Caesar said:

"'It is no pleasure to me to hand men of good birth over
to the executioners.'

"He lied. There is nothing he loves better, for he craves the
power of life and death, and the nobler his victim the more
subtly he enjoys it. But we kept silence. Then he rearranged the
wreath that he wears on his head to hide the baldness, and drew
the ends of his scarlet cloak over his knees and smiled; for
through the tent door he observed a woman they were bringing to
him. He became in a hurry to have our business over with.

"It may be that the sight of the woman softened him, for she was
very beautiful and very much afraid; or it may be that he knew
all along what demand he would make. He made a gesture of
magnanimity and said:

"'I would that I might spare you; for you seem to me to be worthy
men; but the affairs of the senate and the Roman people have
precedence over my personal feelings, which all men will assure
you are humane. If, out of respect for your good birth and
courageous bearing--for I reckon courage chiefest of the
virtues--I should not oblige you to reveal the druids' secrets, I
would expect you in return to render Rome a service. Thereafter,
you may both go free. What say you?'

"And my father answered: 'We would not reveal the druids'
secrets, even if we knew them; nor are we afraid to die.'

"And Caesar smiled. 'Brave men,' he said, 'are more likely than
cowards to perform their promises. I am sending Caius Volusenus
with a ship to the coast of Britain to discover harbors and the
like, and to bring back information. If he can, he is to persuade
the Britons not to oppose my landing; but if he can not, he is to
discover the easiest place where troops can be disembarked. It
would give me a very welcome opportunity to exercise my
magnanimity, which I keep ever uppermost in mind, if both of you
would give your promises to me to go with Caius Volusenus, to
assist him with all your knowledge of navigation; and to return
with him. Otherwise, I must not keep the executioners waiting
any longer.'

"I looked into my father's eyes, and he into mine, and we nodded.
My father said to Caesar:

"'We will go with Caius Volusenus and will return with him, on
the condition of your guarantee that we may go free afterward.
But we must be allowed to travel with proper dignity, as free
men, with our weapons. Unless you will agree to that, you may as
well command your executioners, for we will not yield.'

"And at that, Caesar smiled again, for he appreciates dignity
--more especially if he can subtly submit it to an outrage.

"'I have your promise then?' he asked; and we both said, 'Yes.'

"Whereat he answered: `I am pleased. However, I will send but one
of you. The other shall remain with me as hostage. You observe, I
have not put you under oath, out of respect for your religion,
which you have told me is very sacred and forbids the custom we
Romans observe of swearing on the altar of the gods.'

"But he lied--he lied. Caesar cares nothing for religion.

"'The son shall make the journey and the father shall remain,' he
said to us, 'since I perceive that each loves the other. Should
the son not keep his promise, then the father shall be put to
certain trying inconveniences in the infliction of which, I
regret to say, my executioners have a large experience.'

"He would have dismissed us there and then, but I remembered
Conops, who alone of all our crew was living, and I was minded to
save Conops. Also I knew that my father would wish that, and at
any cost, although we dared not speak to each other in Caesar's
presence. So I answered:

"'So be it, Caesar. But the promise on your part is that I shall
go with dignity, and thereto I shall need a servant.'

"'I will give you a Gaul,' said he.

"'I have no use for Gauls,' I answered. `They are treacherous.
And at that he nodded. `But there is one of our men,' said I,
'who escaped your well-known clemency and still endures life.
Mercifully, your lieutenants have deprived him of an eye, so he
is not much use, but I prefer him, knowing he will not betray me
to the Britons.'

"Caesar was displeased with that speech, but he was eager they
should bring the woman to him, so he gave assent. But he forbade
me to speak with my father again until I should return from
Britain, and they took my father away and placed him in
close confinement.

"A little later they brought Conops to me, sick and starved; but
the centurion who had charge of prisoners said to me that if I
would promise to bring him back six fine pearls from Britain, he
for his part would see to it that my father should be well
treated in my absence. So I promised to do what might be done. I
said neither yes nor no."

"We _have_ pearls," said the woman, looking darkly at Tros,
tossing her hair again.

"Nevertheless," Tros answered, "to give pearls to a Roman is to
arouse greed less easy to assuage than fire!"

"You said Caesar will make himself master of the world. What made
you say that?" asked the woman.

"I will tell that presently, Gwenhwyfar--when Caswallon* and the
other druids come," he answered.

-----------
* By the Romans called Cassivelaunus.
-----------





CHAPTER II

"AND YE KNOW WHETHER CAESAR LIES OR NOT"

Listen to me before ye fill your bellies in the places habit has
accustomed you to think are safe. Aye, and while ye fill your
bellies, ponder. Hospitality and generosity and peace, ye all
agree are graces. Are they not your measures of a man's nobility?
Ye measure well. But to ignorant men, to whom might is right, I
tell you gentleness seems only an opportunity. If ye are slaves
of things and places, appetites and habits, rather than masters
of them, surely the despoiler shall inflict upon you a more
degrading slavery. Your things and places he will seize. Your
appetites and habits he will mock, asserting that they justify
humiliation that his violence imposes on you. Be ye, each one,
master of himself, or ye shall have worse masters.

--From the Sayings of the Druid Taliesan



The long British twilight had deepened until the trees around the
clearing were a whispering wall of gloom, and a few pale stars
shone overhead. The wolves howled again, making the cattle shift
restlessly within the fence, and a dozen dogs bayed angrily. But
the five who sat by the rock in the midst of the clearing made no
move, except to glance expectantly toward the end of the glade.

And presently there began to be a crimson glow behind the trees.
A chant, barbaric, weird and wonderful, without drumbeat or
accompaniment, repeating and repeating one refrain, swelled
through the trees as the crimson glow grew nearer.

Tros rose to his feet, but the druid and the others remained
seated, the woman watching Tros as if she contemplated springing
at him, although whether for the purpose of killing him, or not,
was not so evident. Conops watched her equally intently.

It looked as if the forest was on fire, until men bearing torches
appeared in the mouth of the glade, and a long procession wound
its way solemnly and slowly toward the rock. The others stood up
then and grouped themselves behind Tros and the druid, the
druid throwing back his head and chanting a response to the
refrain, as if it were question and answer. The woman took
her husband's hand, but he appeared hardly to notice it; he
was more intent on watching the approaching druids, his expression
a mixture of challenge and dissatisfaction. He began to look
extremely dignified.

There were a dozen druids, clad in long robes, flanked and
followed by torchbearers dressed in wolf-skin and knitted
breeches. They were led by an old man whose white beard fell
nearly to his waist. Five of the other druids were in white
robes, and bearded, but the rest were clean-shaven and in blue;
all wore their hair long and over their shoulders, and no druid
had any weapon other than a sickle, tucked into a girdle at the
waist. The torchbearers were armed with swords and spears; there
were fifty of them, and nearly as many women, who joined in the
refrain, but the old High Druid's voice boomed above all, mellow,
resonant and musical.

The procession was solemn and the chant religious; yet there was
hardly any ceremony when they came to a stand near the rock and
the old druid strode out in front of the others, alone. The chant
ceased then, and for a moment there was utter silence. Then the
druid who had been acting as interpreter took Tros's right hand
and led him toward the old man, moving so as to keep Tros's hand
concealed from those behind. The old man held out his own right
hand, the younger druid lifting the end of Tros's cloak so as to
conceal what happened.

A moment later Tros stepped back and saluted with the graceful
Mediterranean gesture of the hand palm outward, and there the
ceremony ceased.

The old druid sat down on a stone beside the rock; his fellow
druids found places near him in an irregular semicircle; the
crowd stood, shaking their torches at intervals to keep them
burning, the glare and the smoke making splotches of crimson and
black against the trees.

The younger druid spoke then in rapid undertones, apparently
rehearsing to the older man the conversation that had preceded
his arrival. Then Tros, with his left hand at his back and his
right thrown outward in a splendid gesture that made Gwenhwyfar's
eyes blaze, broke silence, speaking very loud:

"My father, I know nothing of the stars, beyond such lore as
seamen use; but they who do know say that Caesar's star is in
ascension, and that nightly in the sky there gleam the omens of
increasing war."

The High Druid nodded gravely. The chief let go his wife's hand,
irritated because she seemed able to understand all that was
said, whereas he could not. The younger druid whispered to him.
It was growing very dark now, and scores of shadowy figures were
gathering in the zone of torchlight from the direction of the
forest. There was a low murmur, and an occasional clank of
weapons. Tros, conscious of the increasing audience, raised
his voice:

"They who sent me hither say this isle is sacred. Caesar, whose
camp-fires ye may see each night beyond the narrow sea that
separates your cliffs from Gaul, is the relentless enemy of the
druids and of all who keep the ancient secret.

"Ye have heard--ye must have heard--how Caesar has stamped out
the old religion from end to end of Gaul, as his armies have laid
waste the corn and destroyed walled towns. Caesar understands
that where the Wisdom dwells, freedom persists and grows again,
however many times its fields are reaped. Caesar does not
love freedom.

"In Gaul there is no druid now who dares to show himself. Where
Caesar found them, he has thrown their tortured carcasses to feed
the dogs and crows. And for excuse, he says the druids make human
sacrifice, averring that they burn their living victims in cages
made of withes.

"Caesar, who has slain his hecatombs, who mutilates and butchers
men, women, children, openly in the name of Rome, but secretly
for his own ambition; Caesar, who has put to death more druids
than ye have slain wolves in all Britain, says that the druids
burn human sacrifices. Ye know whether Caesar lies or not."

He paused. The ensuing silence was broken by the whispering of
men and women who translated his words into the local dialect.
Some of the druids moved among the crowd, assisting. Tros gave
them time, watching the face of the chief and of his wife
Gwenhwyfar, until the murmur died down into silence. Then
he resumed:

"They who sent me into Gaul, are They who keep the Seed from
which your druids' wisdom springs. But he who sent me to this
isle is Caesar. They who sent me into Gaul are They who never
bowed a knee to conqueror and never by stealth or violence
subdued a nation to their will. But he who sent me hither knows
no other law than violence; no other peace than that imposed by
him; no other object than his own ambition.

"He has subdued the north of Gaul; he frets in idleness and plays
with women, because there are no more Gauls to conquer before
winter sets in. He has sent me hither to bid you let him land on
your coast with an army. The excuse he offers you, is that he
wishes to befriend you.

"The excuse he sends to Rome, where his nominal masters spend the
extorted tribute money wrung by him from Gauls to buy his own
preferment, is that you Britons have been sending assistance to
the Gauls, wherefore he intends to punish you. And the excuse he
gives to his army is, that here is plunder--here are virgins,
cattle, clothing, precious metals and the pearls with which he
hopes to make a breastplate for the Venus Genetrix.

"Caesar holds my father hostage against my return. I came in
Caesar's ship, whose captain, Caius Volusenus, ordered me to show
him harbors where a fleet of ships might anchor safely,
threatening me that, unless I show them to him, he will swear
away my father's life on my return; for Caius Volusenus hopes for
Caesar's good-will, and he knows the only way it may be had.

"But I told Caius Volusenus that I know no harbors. I persuaded
him to beach his ship on the open shore, a two days' journey from
this place. And there, where we landed with fifty men, we were
attacked by Britons, of whom one wounded me, although I had not
as much as drawn my sword.

"Your Britons drove the Romans back into the ship, which put to
sea again, anchoring out of bowshot; but I, with my man Conops,
remained prisoner in the Britons' hands--and a druid came, and
staunched my wound.

"So I spoke with the druid--he is here--behold him--he will
confirm my words. And a Roman was allowed to come from the ship
and to take back a message to Caius Volusenus, that I am to be
allowed to speak with certain chiefs and thereafter that I may
return to the ship; but that none from the ship meanwhile may set
foot on the shore.

"And in that message it was said that I am to have full
opportunity to deliver to you Caesar's words, and to obtain your
consent, if ye will give it, to his landing with an army before
the winter storms set in.

"Thus Caius Volusenus waits. And yonder on the coast of Gaul
waits Caesar. My father waits with shackles on his wrists. And I,
who bring you Caesar's message, and who love my father, and who
myself am young, with all my strength in me, so that death can
not tempt, and life seems good and full of splendor--I say to
you: Defy this Caesar!"

He would have said more, but a horn sounded near the edge of the
trees and another twenty men strode into the clearing, headed by
a Gaul who rode beside a Briton in a British chariot. The horses
were half frantic from the torchlight and fear of wolves, but
their heads were held by men in wolf-skin who kept them to
the track by main strength. Conops plucked at the skirt of
Tros's tunic:

"Commius!" he whispered, and Tros growled an answer under
his breath.

The two men in the chariot stood upright with the dignity of
kings, and as they drew near, with the torchlight shining on
their faces, Tros watched them narrowly. But Conops kept his one
bright eye on Gwenhwyfar, for she, with strange, nervous
twitching of the hands, was watching Tros as intently as he eyed
the stranger. Her breast was heaving.

The man pointed out as Commius was a strongly built, black-bearded
veteran, who stood half a head shorter than the Briton in the
chariot beside him. He was dressed in a Roman toga, but with
a tunic of unbleached Gaulish wool beneath. His eyes were bold
and crafty, his head proud and erect, his smile assuring.
Somewhere there was a trace of weakness in his face, but it
was indefinable, suggestive of lack of honor rather than physical
cowardice, and, at that, not superficial. His beard came
up high on his cheek-bones and his black hair low on a broad
and thoughtful forehead.

"Britomaris!" cried the driver of the chariot, and he was a chief
beyond shadow of doubt, with his skin stained blue and his
wolfskins fastened by a golden brooch--a shaggy-headed,
proud-eyed man with whipcord muscles and a bold smile half-hidden
under a heavy brown moustache.

The husband of Gwenhwyfar stood up, dignified enough but
irresolute, his smoldering eyes sulky and his right hand pushing
at his wife to make her keep behind him. She stood staring over
his shoulder, whispering between her teeth into his ear. The
chief who drove the horses spoke again, and the tone of his loud
voice verged on the sarcastic:

"O Britomaris, this is Commius, who comes from Gaul to tell us
about Caesar. He brings gifts."

At the mention of gifts, Britomaris would have stepped up to the
chariot, but his wife prevented, tugging at him, whispering; but
none noticed that except Tros, Conops and the druids.

At a signal from the other chief a man in wolf-skins took up the
presents from the chariot and brought them--a cloak of red cloth,
a pair of Roman sandals and three strings of brass beads threaded
on a copper wire.

It was cheap stuff of lower quality than the trade goods that
occasional Roman merchants brought to British shores. Britomaris
touched the gifts without any display of satisfaction. He hardly
glanced at them, perhaps because his wife was whispering.

"Who is here?" asked Commius, looking straight at Tros.

At that Conops took a swift stride closer to his master, laying a
hand on the hilt of his long knife. Gwenhwyfar laughed, and
Britomaris nudged her angrily.

"I am one who knows Commius the Gaul!" said Tros, returning stare
for stare. "I am another who runs Caesar's errands, although
Caesar never offered me a puppet kingdom. Thou and I, O Commius,
have eaten leavings from the same trough. Shall we try to
persuade free men that it is a good thing to be slaves?"

The chief who had brought Commius laughed aloud, for he
understood the Gaulish, and he also seemed to understand the
meaning of Gwenhwyfar's glance at Britomaris. Commius, his grave
eyes missing nothing of the scene, stepped down from the chariot
and, followed by a dozen men with torches, walked straight up
to Tros.

His face looked deathly white in the torch glare, but whether or
not he was angry it was difficult to guess, because he smiled
with thin lips and had his features wholly in control. Tros
smiled back at him, good nature uppermost, but an immense
suspicion in reserve.

Gwenhwyfar, clinging to her man's arm, listened with eager eyes
and parted lips. Conops drew his knife clandestinely and hid it
in a tunic fold.

"I know the terms on which Caesar sent you. I know who is hostage
for you in Caesar's camp," said Commius; and Tros, looking down
at him, for he was taller by a full hand's breadth, laid a heavy
right hand on his shoulder.

"Commius," he said, "it may be well to yield to Caesar for the
sake of temporary peace--to give a breathing spell to Gaul--to
save thine own neck, that the Gauls may have a leader when the
time comes. For this Caesar who seems invincible, will hardly
live forever; and the Gauls in their day of defeat have need of
you as surely as they will need your leadership when Caesar's
bolt is shot. That day will come. But is it the part of a man, to
tempt these islanders to share your fate?"

"Tros, you are rash!" said Commius, speaking through his teeth.
"I am the friend of Caesar."

"I am the friend of all the world, and that is a higher
friendship," Tros answered. "Though I were the friend of Caesar,
I would nonetheless hold Caesar less than the whole world. But I
speak of this isle and its people. Neither you nor I are Britons.
Shall we play the man toward these folk, or shall we ruin them?"

The crowd was pressing closer, and the chief in his chariot
urged the horses forward so that he might overhear; their
white heads tossed in the torchlight like fierce apparitions
from another world.

"If I dared trust you," Commius said, his black eyes searching
Tros's face.

"Do the Gauls trust you?" asked Tros. "Are you a king among the
Gauls? You may need friends from Britain when the day comes." *

-------------
* Caesar made Commius king of the Atrebates, half of which tribe
lived in Britain and half in Gaul. There is no historic record,
however, of the British Atrebates having accepted Commius
as king.
-------------

"You intend to betray me to Caesar!" said Commius, and at that
Tros threw back his shock of hair and laughed, his eyes in the
torchlight showing more red than amber.

"If that is all your wisdom, I waste breath," he answered.
Commius was about to speak when another voice broke on the
stillness, and all eyes turned toward the rock. The old High
Druid had climbed to its summit and stood leaning on a staff, his
long beard whiter than stone against the darkness and ruffled in
the faint wind--a splendid figure, dignity upholding age.

"O Caswallon, and you, O Britomaris, and ye sons of the isle,
hear my words!" he began.

And as the crowd surged for a moment, turning to face the rock
and listen, Gwenhwyfar wife of Britomaris came and tugged at
Tros's sleeve. He thought it was Conops, and waited, not moving
his head, expecting a whispered warning; but the woman tugged
again and he looked down into her glowing eyes. She pointed
toward the house at the far end of the clearing.

"Thither I go," she whispered. "If you are as wise as you seem
fearless, you will follow."

"I would hear this druid," Tros answered, smiling as he saw the
point of Conops' knife within a half inch of the woman's ribs.

"He will talk until dawn!"

"Nonetheless, I will hear him."

"You will hear what is more important if you follow me," she
answered; and at that, she left him, stepping back so quickly
that the point of Conops' long knife pricked her and she struck
him angrily, then vanished like a shadow.

Tros strode slowly after her, with Conops at his heels, but when
he reached the gloom beyond the outskirts of the crowd he paused.

"Am I followed?" he asked.

"Nay, master. They are like the fish around a dead man. One could
gather all of them within a net. Do we escape?"

"I know what the druid will say," Tros answered. "I could say it
myself. What that woman has to say to me, I know not. Though it
may be she has set an ambush."

Conops chuckled.

"Aye! The kind of ambush they set for sailormen on the wharfsides
of Saguntum! A long drink, and then--"

He whistled a few bars of the love song of the Levantine ports:


     Oh, what is in the wind that fills
     The red sail straining at the mast?
     Oh, what beneath the purple hills
     That overlean the Cydnus, thrills
     The sailor seeing land at last?


Oh, Chloe and--

"Be still!" commanded Tros. "If there were no more risk than
that, my father would be free tomorrow! Which way went the
woman?"

Conops pointed, speaking his mind as usual:

"That Briton who came in the chariot--Caswallon--fills my eye.
But I would not trust Commius the Gaul; he has a dark look."

"He is anxious for his Gauls, as I am anxious for my father,"
Tros answered. "He hates Caesar, and he likes me; but for the
sake of his Gauls he would stop at nothing. He would bring
Caesar to this island, just to give the Atrebates time to
gather strength at Caesar's rear. Nay, he may not be trusted."

"Master, will you trust these Britons?" Conops asked him,
suddenly, from behind, as he followed close in his steps along a
track that wound among half-rotted tree stumps toward the cattle
fence. Tros turned and faced him.

"It is better that the Britons should trust me," he answered.

"But to what end, master?"

"There are two ends to everything in this world, even to a ship,"
said Tros darkly; "two ends to Caesar's trail, and two ways of
living life: on land and water. Make sure we are not followed."

The dogs barked fiercely as they approached the fence, and Conops
grew nervous, pulling at his master's cloak.

"Nay, it is a good sign," said Tros. "If it were a trap they
would have quieted the dogs."

He turned again to make sure no one was following. The torchlight
shone on the High Druid's long white robe and whiter beard, and
on a sea of faces that watched him breathlessly. The old man was
talking like a waterfall. They were too far away now for his
words to reach them, but judging by his gestures he was very
angry and was in no mood to be brief.

"On guard!" warned Conops suddenly as they started toward the
fence again, but Tros made no move to reach for his sword.

It was the woman Gwenhwyfar, waiting in a shadow. She stepped out
into the firelight that shone through a gap in the fence and
signed to Tros to follow her, leading around to the rear of the
house, where a door, sheltered by a rough porch, opened toward
the forest.

She led the way in, and they found themselves in a room whose
floor was made of mud and cow dung trampled hard. There was a
fire in the midst, and a hole in the roof to let the smoke out.
She spoke to a hag dressed in ragged skins, who stirred the fire
to provide light and then vanished through an inner door.

The firelight shone on smooth mud walls, adzed beams, two benches
and a table.

"Your home?" asked Tros, puzzled, and Gwenhwyfar laughed.

"I am a chief's wife; I am wife of Britomaris," she answered.
"Our serfs, who mind the cattle, live in this place."

"Where then is your home?" asked Tros.

She pointed toward the north.

"When Caswallon comes, we leave home," she answered. "The power
to use our house is his, but we are not his serfs."

Gwenhwyfar's attitude suggested secrecy. She seemed to wish Tros
to speak first, as if she would prefer to answer questions rather
than to force the conversation. She looked extremely beautiful in
the firelight; the color had risen to her cheeks and her eyes
shone like jewels, brighter than the gleaming ornaments on her
hair and arms and breast.

"Why do you fear Caswallon?" Tros asked her suddenly.

"I? I am not afraid!" she answered. "Britomaris fears him, but
not I! Why should I be afraid? Caswallon is a strong chief, a
better man than Britomaris; and I hate him! He--how strong is
Caesar?" she demanded.

Tros studied her a moment. He gave her no answer. She sat down on
one of the benches, signing to him and Conops to be seated on
the other.

"You said Caesar will make himself master of the world," she
remarked after a minute, stretching her skin-clad legs toward the
blaze. She was not looking at Tros now but at the fire. "Why did
you say that?"

Suddenly she met his eyes, and glanced away again. Conops went
and sat down on the floor on the far side of the fire.





CHAPTER III

GWENHWYFAR, WIFE OF BRITOMARIS

Beware the ambitious woman! All things and all men are her means
to an end. All treacheries are hers. All reasons justify her.
Though her end is ruin, shall that lighten your humiliation--ye
whom she uses as means to that end that she contemptuously seeks?

--From the Sayings of the Druid Taliesan



Tros made no answer for a long time, but stared first at the fire
and then at Gwenhwyfar.

"Send that man away," she suggested, nodding toward Conops; but
Tros scratched his chin and smiled.

"I prefer to be well served," he answered. "How can he keep
secrets unless he knows them? Nay, nay, Gwenhwyfar; two men with
three eyes are as good again as one man with but two; and even
so, the two are not too many when another's wife bears watching!
Speak on."

Her eyes lighted up with challenge as she tossed her head. But
she laughed and came to the point at once, looking straight and
hard at him.

"Commius spoke to me of Caesar. He said he is Caesar's deputy. He
urged me to go with him and visit Caesar. Britomaris is a weak
chief; he has no will; he hates Caswallon and yet bows to him.
Caesar is strong."

"I am not Caesar's deputy, whatever Commius may be," said
Tros.  "But this I tell you, and you may as well remember it,
Gwenhwyfar: A thousand women have listened to Caesar's wooing,
and I have been witness of the fate of some. There was a woman of
the Gauls, a great chief's daughter, who offered herself to
him to save her people. Caesar passed her on to one of his
lieutenants, and thereafter sold her into slavery."

"Perhaps she did not please him," Gwenhwyfar answered. And then,
since Tros waited in silence, "I have pearls."

"You have also my advice regarding them," said Tros.

Gwenhwyfar waited a full minute, thinking, as if appraising him.
She nodded, three times, slowly.

"You, who have lost all except your manhood and the clothes you
wear!" she said at last, and her voice was bold and stirring,
"what is _your_ ambition?"

"To possess a ship," he answered, so promptly that he startled her.

"A ship? Is that all?"

"Aye, and enough. A man is master on his own poop. A swift ship,
a crew well chosen, and a man may laugh at Caesars."

"And yet--you say, you had a ship? And a crew well chosen?"

Tros did not answer. His brows fell heavily and half concealed
eyes that shone red in the firelight.

"Better be Caesar's ward, and rule a kingdom, than wife of a
petty chief who dares not disobey Caswallon," Gwenhwyfar said,
looking her proudest. "Caswallon might have had me to wife, but
he chose Fflur. There was nothing left for me but Britomaris. If
he were a strong man I could have loved him. He is weak.

"He likes to barter wolf-skins on the shore with the Roman and
Tyrian traders. He pays tribute to Caswallon. He does not even
dare to build a town and fortify it, least Caswallon should
take offense.

"He obeys the druids, as a child obeys its nurse, in part because
he is afraid of them, but also because it is the easiest thing to
do. He is not a man, such as Caswallon might have been--such as
you are."

She paused, with parted lips, looking full and straight at Tros.
Conops tapped the dirt floor rhythmically with the handle of his
knife. A man in the next room began singing about old mead and
the new moon.

"It is a ship, not a woman that I seek," said Tros, and her
expression hardened.

But she tried again:

"You might have a hundred ships."

"I will be better satisfied with one."

She began to look baffled; eyes and lips hinted anger that she
found it difficult to hold in check.

"Is that your price?" she asked. "A ship?"

"Woman!" said Tros after a minute's silence, laying his great
right fist on his knee, "you and I have no ground that we can
meet on. You would sell your freedom. I would die for mine."

"Yet you live!" she retorted. "Did you come to Britain of your
free will? Where is your freedom? You are Caesar's messenger!"

She got up suddenly and sat down on the bench beside him, he not
retreating an inch. Not even his expression changed, but his
shoulders were rigid and his hands were pressing very firmly on
his knees.

"Do you not understand?" she asked.

"I understand," he answered.

Suddenly she flared up, her eyes blazing and her voice trembling.
She did not speak loud, but with a slow distinctness that made
each word like an arrow speeding to the mark.

"Am I not fair?" she asked, and he nodded.

Her eyes softened for a moment, then she went on:

"Caswallon was the first and is the last who shall deny me! I can
be a good wife--a very god's wife to a man worth loving! Caesar
can conquer Caswallon, but not alone. He will need my help, and
yours. Caesar made Commius a king over the Atrebates; and what
was Commius before that? Caesar shall make me a queen where
Caswallon lords it now! And you--?"

"And Britomaris?" asked Tros, watching her.

"And you?" she said again, answering stare for stare. Her breast
was heaving quickly, like a bird's.

"Oh, Tros!" she went on. "Are you a man, or are you timid? Here a
kingdom waits for you! Yonder, in Gaul, is Caesar, who can make
and unmake kingdoms! Here am I! I am a woman, I am all a woman. I
love manhood. I do not love Britomaris."

Conops stirred the fire.

"Do you not see that if you are all a woman you must oppose
Caesar?" Tros asked. "Then--let Caesar outrage! Let him slay! He
will have done nothing, because your spirit will go free,
Gwenhwyfar. Caesar plans an empire of men's bodies, with his
own--his epileptic, foul, unchaste and hairless head crowned
master of them all! Whoso submits to him is a slave--a living
carcass. Hah! Defy him! Scorn him! Resist him to the last breath!
The worst he can do then will be to torture a brave body till the
braver soul goes free!"

His words thrilled her.

"Well enough," she answered promptly. "I am brave. I can
defy Caesar. But I need a braver chief to make the stand
with me than Britomaris. If Caswallon had taken me to wife
--but he chose Fflur--perhaps it was as well--you are nobler
than Caswallon, and--"

"And what?" asked Tros.

She answered slowly:

"A bold man now could conquer Britain. The druids--I know
them--the druids would support one who opposed the Romans. They
fear for their own power should Caesar gain a foothold. The
druids trust you. Why? They do not trust me. Tros--Strike a
bargain with the druids. Slay Caswallon. Seize the chieftainship,
and raise an army against Caesar!"

"And Britomaris?"

"Challenge him!" she answered. "He would run! I have the right
according to our law, to leave a man who runs away."

"Gwenhwyfar!" Tros exclaimed, getting up and standing straight in
front of her. "It is Caesar, and not I who has the falling
sickness! You and I lack that excuse! Know this: I will neither
steal a wife from Britomaris, nor a throne from Caswallon; nor
will I impose my will on Britain."

She stood up, too, and faced him, very angry.

"Have you never loved?" she asked, and though her eyes were
steady, the gold brooch on her breast was fluttering.

"Loved? Aye, like a man!" he answered. "I have loved the sea
since I was old enough to scramble down the cliffs of Samothrace
and stand knee deep to watch the waves come in! The sea is no
man's master, nor a bed of idleness! The sea holds all adventure
and the keys of all the doors of the unknown!

"The sea, Gwenhwyfar, is the image of a man's life. If he
flinches, if he fails, it drowns him. Is he lazy, does he fail to
mend his ship or steadfastly to be example to his crew, there are
rocks, shoals, tides, the pirates, storms. But is he stanch, he
sails, until he reaches unknown ports, where the gods trade
honesty for the experience he brings! I seek but a ship,
Gwenhwyfar. I will carve a destiny that suits me better than a
stolen kingdom and a cheated husband's bed!"

She reached out a hand unconsciously and touched his arm:

"Tros," she answered, "Caswallon has some longships hidden in the
marshes of the Thames. Take me--take a ship, and--"

"Nay," he answered. "Caswallon owes me nothing. He who owes me a
good ship is Caesar!"

"And you think that you can make Caesar pay?" she asked. "Take me
to Caesar, Tros; between us we will cheat him of a ship! With you
to teach me, I could learn to love the sea."

He stepped back a pace or two, would have stumbled backward
against the clay hearth if Conops had not warned him.

"None learns to love," he answered. "Love is a man's nature. He
is this, or he is that; none can change him. I am less than half
a man, until I feel the deck heave under me and look into a
rising gale. You, Gwenhwyfar, you are less than half a woman
until you pit your wits against a man who loves to master you;
and I find no amusement in such mastery. Make love to
Britomaris."

She reddened in the firelight, stood up very proudly, biting her
lip. Her eyes glittered, but she managed to control herself;
there were no tears.

"Shall I bear a coward's children?" she demanded.

"I know not," said Tros. "You shall not bear mine. I will save
you, if I can, from Caesar."

Tears were very near the surface now, but pride, and an emotion
that she did her utmost to conceal, aided her to hold them back.

"Forgive me!" she said suddenly.

Her hands dropped, but she raised them again and folded them
across her breast.

"Forgive me, Tros! I was mad for a short minute. It is maddening
to be a coward's wife. I tempted you, to see how much a man you
truly are."

Conops' knife hilt tapped the floor in slow staccato time.

"Kiss me, and say good-by," she coaxed, unclasping her hands again.

"Nay, no good-bys!" he answered, laughing. "We shall meet again.
And as for kissing, a wise seaman takes no chances near the
rocks, Gwenhwyfar!"

Stung--savage--silent, she gestured with her head toward
the door, folding her arms on her breast, and Tros, bowing
gravely, strode out into darkness. Conops shut the door
swiftly behind them.

"If this isle were in _our_ sea, she would have thrown a knife,"
said Conops, twitching his shoulder-blades. "Master, you have
made an enemy."

"Not so," Tros answered. "I have found one. Better the rocks
in sight than shoals unseen, my lad! Let us see now who our
friends are."

He strode toward the torchlight, where the old High Druid was
still holding forth, swaying back and forward on the summit of
the rock as he leaned to hurl his emphasis. More chariots had
come and horses' heads were nodding on the outskirts of the
crowd--phantoms in the torch-smoke.

Tros kept to the deeper shadows, circling the crowd until he
could approach Commius and Caswallon from the rear. He was stared
at by new arrivals as he began to work his way toward them, but
the Britons had too good manners and too much dignity to
interfere with him or block his way.

The women in the crowd stared and smiled, standing on tiptoe,
some of them, frankly curious, but neither impudent nor timid.
Most of them were big-eyed women with long eyelashes and
well-combed braided hair hanging to the waist. Nearly all had
golden ornaments; but there were slave women among them, who
seemed to belong to another race, dressed in plain wool or even
plainer skins.

It was a crowd that, on the whole, was more than vaguely
conscious of the past it had sprung from.

Glances cast at Tros were less of admiration than expectancy, to
see him exhibit manners less civilized than theirs--the
inevitable attitude of islanders steeped in tradition and
schooled in the spiritual mysticism of the druids; proud, and yet
considerate of the stranger; warlike, because decadence had
undermined material security, but chivalrous because chivalry
never dies until the consciousness of noble ancestry is dead, and
theirs was living.

Commius the Gaul, who, when he was not deliberately controlling
his expression, had the hard face and the worried look of a
financier, was seated beside Caswallon. The chief was standing in
the chariot, his gold-and-amber shoulder-ornaments shining in the
torchlight. He smiled when he caught sight of Tros, and with a
nudge stirred Commius out of a brown study. Commius, adjusting
his expression carefully, got down from the chariot, took Tros's
arm, and led him to the chief.

"Tros, son of Perseus, Prince of Samothrace," he announced.
Caswallon stretched out a long, white, sleeveless arm, on which
strange pagan designs had been drawn in light-blue woad. It was
an immensely strong arm, with a heavy golden bracelet on
the wrist.

They shook hands and, without letting go, the chieftain
pulled Tros up into the chariot. Britomaris, from about
a chariot's length away, watched thoughtfully, peering past
a woman's shoulder.

The old High Druid was talking too fast for Tros to follow him;
he was holding the rapt attention of the greater part of the
crowd, and it was less than a minute before Tros was forgotten.
The old druid had them by the ears, and their eyes became fixed
on his face as if he hypnotized them.

But his eloquence by no means hypnotized himself. His bright old
eyes scanned the faces in the torchlight as if he were judging
the effect of what he said, and he turned at intervals to face
another section of the crowd, signing to the torchmen to
distribute their light where he needed it.

Moreover, he changed his tone of voice and his degree of
vehemence to suit whichever section of the crowd he happened
to be facing. There were groups of dark-haired swarthy men
and women, who looked consciously inferior to the taller,
white-skinned, reddish-haired breed, or, if not consciously
inferior, then aware that the others thought them so. He spoke to
them in gentler, more persuasive cadences.

Caswallon watched the druid in silence for a long time; yet he
hardly appeared to be listening; he seemed rather to be waiting
for a signal. At last he lost patience and whispered to a
man in leather sleeveless tunic who leaned on a spear beside
the chariot.

The man whispered to one of the younger druids, who approached
the pulpit rock from a side that at the moment was in darkness.
Climbing, he lay there in shadow, and, watching his opportunity
when the old man paused for breath, spoke a dozen words.

The old druid nodded and dismissed him with a gesture. The
younger druid worked his way back through the crowd to chariot
wheel and whispered to Caswallon.

The man with the spear received another whispered order from the
chief, and he repeated it to the others. Without any appearance
of concerted action, the torchmen began to edge themselves in
both directions toward the far side of the rock, until the near
side was almost in total darkness.

Then Caswallon took the reins without a word to Tros, and the man
with the spear spoke to Commius the Gaul, who climbed into
another chariot. The horses began to plunge, but Caswallon pulled
them backward, edging the chariot gradually into deeper shadow.

Two other chariots followed suit; and in one there was a woman,
who drove, and who had magnificent brown hair that reached below
her waist. Conops jumped in and, curling on the floor, made ready
to cling to Tros's knee in case of need; being a seaman, he had
no love and less experience of chariots.

Suddenly Caswallon wheeled his team and sent it at full gallop
toward the end of the lane that led into the forest. She who
drove the second chariot wheeled after him; and a third, in which
Commius the Gaul was clinging, bumped over the rotting tree-roots
in the wake.

The pace, once the horses sprang into their stride, was furious.
Tros, forever mindful of his dignity, clung nevertheless to the
chariot side, setting his teeth as the wheels struck ruts and
branches, feeling as if the dimly seen milk-white of the horses
were foaming waves, and himself in a ship's bow on the lookout
for unknown rocks.

They plunged into the forest, where the oaks met overhead. There
was a sound, that might have been the sea, of wind in the upper
branches--a sensation of tremendous speed--and nothing visible
except the sudden-looming tree-trunks, which seemed to miss the
wheel by hair's breadths.

There was a thudding of wheels and a thunder of pursuing hoofs, a
splash now and then where shallow water lay in unseen hollows, a
smell of horse-sweat, and of rotting leaves, and a whirring of
unseen bats. One bat struck Tros in the face, and fell to the
floor of the chariot, where Conops drew his knife and slew
it--believing then, and forever afterwards, that he had
killed a devil.

The horses appeared to be frantic and out of hand, and yet
Caswallon managed them with art that concealed all method,
standing with one foot resting on a sort of step, no more than
feeling at the horses' mouths, balancing his weight as if by
instinct in advance of sudden turns and low obstructions that the
horses took in their stride but that threw the chariot a yard
in air.

Long--endless to Tros--darkness, and then moonlight silhouetting
ghostly tree-trunks, a splash through a shadowy ford, then
through a mile of stumps and seedlings at the forest's edge into
a belt of fern and lush grass glistening with dew, and at last a
rolling down, where patches of chalk gleamed milk-white under the
moon and the track swung around a hillside under a scattering of
fleecy clouds.

Then Caswallon glanced at Tros, and Tros forced a good-natured grin:

"O Chief," he said, "you are the first who has made me feel that
kind of fear!"

Caswallon smiled, but the ends of his long moustache concealed
what kind of smile it was. Instead of answering he glanced over
his shoulder at the second chariot, not fifty yards behind. There
was a woman driving it.

Then, with one swift look into Tros's eyes, he shook the reins
and shouted to the team--a trumpet shout, that held a sort of
note of laughter, but not of mockery to which a guest could take
exception. He seemed pleased to have shown his prowess to a
foreigner, that was all.





CHAPTER IV

FFLUR

Mark my words, ye who are deceived and undone and betrayed by
women; ye who fight each other for a woman's favors; ye who value
women by the numbers and strength of their sons, and by their
labor at the loom. Lo, I tell you a secret. There is laughter in
the eyes of some--aye, even within their anger, and beneath it.
Those are the wise ones and the worthy. They are not ambitious.
They know ambition is the yoke-mate of treachery. They will not
betray themselves. How then can they betray another?

--From the Sayings of the Druid Taliesan



Wolves worrying a kill yelped and vanished into shadow as the
chariot thundered around a shoulder of the down and passed a
cluster of low, flint-and-mud-built cottages with wooden roofs,
surrounded by a wall, within which was bleating and the stifling
smell of sheep.

Beyond that the moonlight shone on a big thatched house
surrounded by a wooden paling. It was high and oblong, but of
only one story with projecting eaves, built of wooden beams with
flints and chalk packed into the interstices. Light shone through
the chinks of the shutters. There were no trees near it.

They were expected, for a gate was flung wide at the sound of
their approach and a dozen men with spears and shields formed up
in line outside the entrance, raising their spears as Caswallon
drove full-gallop past them.

Within the paling there was a smell of horses that stamped and
whinnied at their pickets under a lean-to roof. The house door
opened, showing a blazing fire on a hearth exactly facing it.
Caswallon drew the team up on its haunches, and almost before
their forefeet touched the ground again he let go the reins,
jumped along the chariot pole, touched it lightly once with one
foot, and seized their heads.*

-----------
* This was a favorite trick of the Britons in battle.
-----------

Six women stood in the doorway, with three children clinging to
their skirts.

Some one with dark, shaggy hair, who wore nothing but a wolfskin,
led away the horses just in time to avoid the second chariot that
thundered through the gate and drew up as the first had done.

And, as the horses pawed the air, the woman who was driving
dropped the reins and exactly repeated Caswallon's feat,
springing along the pole to the ground to seize their heads.
There was no sign yet of the third chariot and Commius. A man
stepped out behind the chariot the woman had been driving and
held the horses until another man dressed in skins came and led
them away.

"O Tros, this is Fflur. She is my wife," said Caswallon, taking
her by the hand.

She stepped forward and kissed Tros on both cheeks, then stepped
back to her husband's side, and Tros wondered at her, for she was
good to look at--strong, modest, matronly, gray-eyed, and dressed
in embroidered woolen stuff, with a bodice of laced leather that
showed the outlines of her graceful figure. There were pearls in
her hair and in the big round brooches on her dress.

It was she who led the way into the house, scolding the dogs,
throwing an arm about one of the women in the doorway, asking why
the children were not asleep in bed--a very gracious lady, full
of dignity and laughter and sincerity.

"This is not my house," said Caswallon, taking Tros by the arm.
"I am the chief. They pay me tribute from the fen-land to the
sea. It is a good kingdom. You shall tell me about Caesar."

He did not wait for Commius' chariot but followed his wife into
the house and shut the door behind him, pushing away the dogs,
rolling one of them over playfully with his foot--then tasting a
tankard of mead that his wife took from a woman's hand and
brought to him.

He only sipped, then handed the tankard to Tros, who drank the
half of it and passed it back. Caswallon swallowed the remainder,
gave the empty tankard to a woman, wiped his wet moustache on a
woolen towel that the woman passed to him, smiled and handed the
towel to Tros.

"So one of us clove your chin? Was it a good blow?" he asked,
laying a big white hand with rings on it on Tros's shoulder.

"No. A blow in haste," said Tros. "He was not strong."

"He is very strong. His name is Erbin. He can throw a good-sized
bullock by the horns. You broke his ribs," said Caswallon. "Can
you break mine?"

"I will not," Tros answered.

Caswallon laughed, half-disappointed, wholly admiring Tros's
strength, flexing his own great shoulder-muscles as he led to
where two high-backed oaken seats faced each other on opposite
sides of the hearth.

He threw himself on one, shoving the dogs away as he thrust his
skin-clad legs toward the fire, signing to Tros to take the
other. Then he unbuckled his long sword, and Tros followed suit,
each man setting his weapon against the wall. Conops sat down on
the floor beside the hearth, within reach of Tros's legs, and a
woman brought him a tankard of mead all to himself.

It was a high, oblong room, with great black beams overhead, from
which hams and sides of bacon hung in the smoke that rose from
the hearth and lost itself up in the shadows below the thatch.
There was no light except from the fire, but one of the women
prodded that to keep it blazing, and when she disappeared Conops
assumed the duty.

Three sleepy children, two boys and a girl, came and clung to
Caswallon's legs, begging him to tell them stories, but after he
had tousled up their hair and rolled one of them on the floor
among the dogs, he dismissed them, calling to one of the women to
make them go to bed.

His wife Fflur was already busy with her women in another room;
there was a clattering of dishes.

"And Caesar?" said Caswallon. "I am told you know him? We can
talk here."

He leaned against the back of the seat with his hands on his
knees and looked at Tros confidently. His was the gift good
breeding produces, of putting a guest mentally at ease. He spoke
as to an equal, without any fuss of dignity.

"Has Commius not told you?" Tros asked, and Caswallon nodded.

"Commius also is a guest," he remarked. "But the chariot in which
he rides will come more slowly. I ordered it."

"Commius," said Tros, "owes his life and his wealth to Caesar. If
I know anything of men, then Commius hates Caesar, but is
thinking of the Atrebates and the other Gauls. If Caesar should
invade this island, Commius might persuade the Gauls to rise
behind him. If that is not his plan, at least he thinks of it.

"He is a Gaul at heart, but afraid for his own skin and his own
possessions. He does not dare speak openly, lest some one should
betray his speech to Caesar. Commius is a watchful and secretive
man. He will stop at nothing to help the Gauls, provided he can
save his own skin."

Caswallon nodded.

"And you?" he asked. "Did not Caesar send you?"

"My father is a hostage in Caesar's camp. I was to show the coast
and the harbors to Caius Volusenus. I risk my own life and my
father's; but I warn you to oppose Caesar--to resist his landing
in all ways possible."

"Why do you do that?" asked Caswallon. "If you were my own
brother, or my wife's son, I could understand it. But you are
neither a Briton nor a Gaul."

"Ask the druids," Tros answered. "They will tell you, if
they see fit."

"You are a kind of druid?"

"No," said Tros.

"Perhaps you are a greater than a druid?"

"If you speak of my father--yes. As for me, I am young. Most of
my life I have spent voyaging. In that way a man learns one
thing, but not another. I am not deep in the Mysteries, but my
father Perseus is a Prince of Samothrace."

Caswallon nodded again, but did not pretend to understand more
than vaguely.

"I have heard of the Mysteries of Samothrace," he said respectfully.
"I am a king. The druids say I am a good enough one. If Caesar
wants my kingdom, he must fight for it. I have said so to Commius."

"Have you quarreled with Commius?" asked Tros.

"No. He is my guest. He brought presents from Caesar, a lot of
trash that the women laughed at. I will send him back to Caesar
with some valuable gifts, to show him how a king is generous."

"Thus whetting Caesar's appetite!" said Tros drily. "If you send
a gift like that to Caesar, lay your plans well, Caswallon. Good
enough, if you bait an ambush for the Roman wolf. Be ready for
him, that is all! Be sure what you are doing!"

The humorous, middle-aged-boyish face of Caswallon began to look
puzzled. He was plainly meditating a blunt question, and yet too
polite to ask it.

"Some men seek revenge, some fame, some riches, some authority,"
he said at last, twisting at his long moustache. "All men whom I
ever met sought something for themselves."

Whereat Tros grinned.

"I seek to keep my father's good opinion and to earn the praise
of Those who sent me into Gaul," he answered.

"Nothing else?" asked Caswallon, watching his face steadily.

"I need a ship."

"I have ships."

"So has Caesar. Big ones, that can out-fight yours."

Caswallon pushed a dog out of the way and stirred the fire with
his foot.

"Do you propose to help me against Caesar if I offer you a ship?"
he asked, looking at Tros sideways, suddenly.

"No," said Tros. "I swear no oaths. I make no bargains. I will
help you if I can, and freely. It is Caesar who owes me a ship,
having burnt mine. If a day comes when I think you owe me
anything, I will demand it of you."

"You will demand a ship of Caesar?"

Tros laughed. "As well demand a fat lamb of a wolf! But you are
not Caesar. I would ask a debt of you, and you would pay it."

"If I thought I owed it, yes," said Caswallon. It was evident
that he liked Tros finely. "I will give you a ship now, if you
have need of it."

But Tros shook his head.

"What is the matter with my ships?" Caswallon asked him. There
was challenge in his voice.

"You forget. My father is a hostage. I must set him free before I
play my own hand."

"Yes. A man should do that. You want me to help you set your
father free?" asked Caswallon, lowering his eyebrows. "How could
I do that? My men would laugh at me, if I talked of invading
Gaul! The druids would forbid it. Fflur would say no to it.
Besides, I have never seen your father. Has he a claim on me?"

"No claim," Tros answered. "None. But Caesar says he has a claim
against you."

"He lies!" remarked Caswallon.

He himself did not look like a man who dealt in lies.

"And he will invade your island to levy tribute."

"It is I who levy tribute here!" Caswallon said slowly,
scratching a dog's back with his foot.

He stared at the fire for about a minute, frowning.

"If you resolve to oppose Caesar, will your men obey you?"
wondered Tros.

"They have had to hitherto. I am the chief. There have been a few
disputes, but I am more the chief than ever," he answered.

"Are you over-confident?" asked Tros. "Caesar's method is to send
his spies who promise big rewards and make atrocious threats,
thus undermining a chief's authority."

"I have kept close watch on Commius."

"No doubt you have," said Tros. "Nevertheless, this night a woman
offered me your kingdom if I would play Caesar's game with her."

At that Caswallon suddenly threw off his thoughtful mood and
laughed boisterously, hugely, spanking both knees with his hands
so thunderously that the dogs yelped and Fflur came in with her
wrists all white with meal to learn what the joke might be.

"Fflur--hah-hah-ho-ho-hoh!--yah-ha-ha-hah! Fflur, have you heard
the latest? Britomaris' wife offers our kingdom to this man! What
do you think of that?"

"I mentioned no name," said Tros.

"No! Hah-ha-ha-ho-hoh! That is a good one. Haw-haw-hah-hah-hoh!
She hasn't a name worth mentioning! Hah-hah-hah! What say you,
Fflur? Shall I put her in a sack and send her for a gift
to Caesar?"

"You know she is dangerous," his wife answered.

"She!" laughed Caswallon. "If she had a man like Tros here, she
might be dangerous, but not with Britomaris! And if she were
truly dangerous, she would have poisoned both of us--oh, years
ago! I will let her try her blandishments on Caesar."

"You are always over-confident," said Fflur, and left the room
again, adding over her shoulder, "it is only thanks to me you are
not poisoned."

Caswallon chuckled amiably to himself and shouted for some more
mead. A woman brought two tankards full, and, as if it were a
joke, he made her taste from both of them.

"She lives!" he laughed. "Tros, at the first sign of a bellyache
call Fflur, who will give you stuff to make you vomit."

Tros laughed and drank quickly, for he was anxious to have more
serious speech before Commius should arrive.

"Caesar prepares a fleet and plans to sail for the coast of
Britain before the equinox," he said abruptly.

Caswallon stiffened himself.

"How many men can he muster?"

"Many. But he has not ships enough for all, and he must also hold
down the Gauls, who hate him. I think he will come with two
legions, and perhaps five hundred cavalry."

"I laugh!" said Caswallon. "I will gather dogs enough to worry
his two legions! Nay, the sheep shall chase him out of Britain!"

"Your lips laugh," said Tros, "but your eyes are thoughtful. My
face is sober, but I laugh within. A deep plan pleases me. You
have ships, but how big are they? And have you sailors for them?"

"I have three longships," said Caswallon, "that are rowed by
twenty men, and each can carry fifty. Now and then they go
a-fishing, so the crews are always ready. But do you think I will
fight Caesar on the sea? Not I! I went to sea once, as far as
Gaul, and I vomited worse than Fflur makes me when she thinks I
have been poisoned! I will fight Caesar on dry land!"

"Where Caesar will defeat you unless heaven intervenes!" said
Tros grimly. "However, you could not fight Caesar with three
ships. Where are the ships?"

"In the river,* by the marsh edge, well hidden from the North
Sea rovers."

-------------
* The Thames--which was always _the river._
-------------

"Could you send those ships, unknown to any one but you, around
the coast, to a point that you and I will choose as the most
dangerous landing place for Caesar, and hide them near by
at my disposal?"

Caswallon nodded, but the nod was noncommittal, not a promise.

"It is a long way by sea," he said slowly, as if he doubted that
such a plan was feasible.

"Because, if you will do that," said Tros, "and if the crews of
your three ships obey me, I believe I can wreck the whole of
Caesar's fleet and leave him at your mercy on the beach with his
two legions. I can do it! I can do it! If I can only find a man
who knows the tides."

"Ah!"

Caswallon sat bolt upright. Then he summoned his wife with a
shout that made the dogs wake up and bark. She came and sat down
on the seat beside him, her jewels gleaming in the firelight, but
not more brilliantly than her eyes.

"I like this man. I like his speech," said Caswallon.

"He is good," said Fflur, looking straight at Tros. "But he will
not obey you. He has the eyes of a druid and a brow that is
harder than bronze. He will never be a king, because none can
serve themselves and make him take the blame. Nor will he ever be
a slave, for none can tame him."

"He is like the wind that blows; if he blows your way, you may
use him. He will tell no lies. He never thinks of treachery. But
if he blows away from you, you can neither hold him nor call
him back."

"So, Tros, now you know yourself," said Caswallon. "Fflur is
always right."

Tros smiled, his lion's eyes half closing.

"I would like to know what she says of Commius," he answered.

"She says that he will surely betray me."

"If you let him," Fflur added.

"Mother of my sons, I will not let him!"

Tros smiled within himself and Fflur saw the change in his
expression. She was very lovely when her gray eyes shone with
hidden laughter. Suddenly, as if ashamed of a moment's mood, she
put an arm around her husband's shoulder and nestled close
to him.

"What is it I should hear?" she asked.

Tros repeated what he had said to Caswallon about the ships, and
Fflur listened with her eyes closed. Her husband signaled to Tros
to wait in silence for her answer. She sat quite still, with her
head against the woodwork, hardly breathing.

"I see blood," she said at last, shuddering. She was not seeing
with her eyes, for they were shut. "I see men slain--and
doubts--and a disaster. But there is brightness at the farther
side of it, and a year, or longer, but I think a year--and then
more blood; and I do not quite see the end of that.

"There is another way than this one you propose, but it would
lead to failure because of rivalry. This way is the best, because
it gives the victor's crown to no man, yet it will succeed. But
you--" She opened her eyes slowly and looked straight at Tros.

"You will suffer. You will not return to Samothrace, although you
will attempt it. In a way you will be a king, yet not a king, and
not on land. More than one woman shall bless the day that you
were born, and more than one woman shall hate you; and those that
love you will come very near to causing your destruction, whereas
those who hate will serve your ends, though you will suffer much
at their hands."

Conops stirred by the hearthside, prodding the fire with a
charred stick, seeming to thrust at pictures that he saw within
the embers. That was the only sound, until Caswallon spoke:

"I envy no man who shall have a kingdom, that is not a kingdom,
on the sea. Fflur is always right. If you should suffer too much,
Tros, Fflur shall find you a way of relief. I am your friend, and
you are welcome."

"After a while he will go away, and he will not come back,"
said Fflur.





CHAPTER V

A PRINCE OF HOSTS

The Law is simple. There is nothing difficult about it. Why ask
me to peer into your souls and say ye are good or evil? Judge ye
for yourselves. Ye know your own hearts. Whoever could betray
his host or his guest; whoever could misuse hospitality by
treacherous betrayal of the secrets learned beneath a hospitable
roof, that one is lower than any animal, he is capable of all
treasons; he is vile, and virtue is not in him. He to whom
hospitality is genuinely sacred, whom torture could not compel to
yield the secrets learned by hearth and broken bread and mead,
that one has manhood. He is capable of all the other virtues.
He will be a god when his lives on the earth are finished.

--From the Sayings of the Druid Taliesan



There was a great shout at the gate and a thudding of hoofs on
soft earth. The dogs awoke and barked with glaring eyes and their
hair on end, as the other chariot brought Commius the Gaul. Some
one struck the door three times with a sword-hilt and opened it.
In strode Commius with his cloak across the lower portion of his
face, and paused a moment, blinking at the firelight. He seemed
annoyed at the sight of Tros, but let his cloak fall and
contrived to smile.

He was followed into the room by all the armed men who had
been standing at the gate; they stacked their weapons in
a corner after lifting their right hands one by one in salute
to Caswallon.

"So this is your palace?" said Commius, glancing about him and
assuming admiration.

Caswallon laughed.

"This is where we will eat and rest," he answered. "This belongs
to Britomaris and Gwenhwyfar. Since they can not speak to me
civilly, but pay me tribute nonetheless, they play the host from
far off. They always go when I announce my coming. After I have
gone, they say I stole the furniture! Yet they accept the gifts I
leave. Be seated."

"Where is your palace?" Commius asked, taking the seat beside
Tros after bowing with grave dignity.

"I have none," said Caswallon. "I have a home that Fflur keeps,
where I give judgment."

"Where?" asked Commius, but Caswallon did not answer. For excuse
he found fault with the men, who were carrying in a long table
and arranging it on trestles opposite the hearth. They worked
clumsily, being evidently men of rank, not far below the chief
himself in station, laughing when the women made fun of them.

When the table was set, and a heavy cloth laid on it, they
dragged up a bench before the hearth and as many as could sat
down on it, while the others sprawled on the floor between
their legs.

Two of them were short and swarthy, but the others were tall,
with long hair carefully combed and oiled; one man's hair
was golden, and another's like spun flax. Not one but wore
beautifully made brooches, and their arms were all covered with
devices painted on with blue woad; they wore woolen breeches, and
their legs were enclosed in leather stockings, cross-gartered to
the thigh. Clean men, all of them, and courteously dignified, but
thirsty and not at all retiring.

"Mead!" they shouted. "Where is the mead?"

And the women brought it in great brimming tankards.

They pledged the health of Fflur and of Caswallon; then, sending
the tankards back to be refilled, they drank to Tros and to
Commius, courteously wishing them a dozen sons apiece:

"Which will keep the good-wife busy," as one of them remarked.
"Aye," said another, "a childless woman is a restless curse, so
drink we to the midwife! If there were a son or two to this
house, Britomaris would have more reason to call his wife his
own! Hah-hah-hah-hah! Guest Tros, they saw thee track Gwenhwyfar
to the herdsman's house--so says the charioteer who just brought
Commius. Does he lie? Nay, out with it! All know her."

"They know more than I, then," Tros answered, and Fflur glanced
approval. "My man Conops here attended that tryst. Let him answer
for me."

"He has but one eye! Hah-hah-hah! A dozen pairs of eyes can watch
Gwenhwyfar, and she will give them all the slip! Ho! Caswallon,
what say you to it?"

"That you lack manners!" Caswallon answered. "I can throw the man
who insults my guest as far as from here to the paling. This is
Tros, who broke the ribs of Erbin. If I give him leave, he can
break thine."

"Oh, well, I will save my ribs for another purpose. Let him have
Gwenhwyfar! Whoever takes her from Britomaris does us all a
service, for he will kill her very soon when he has found her
out! And besides, without her Britomaris might become a man! Ho!
I drink to the Lord Tros of the yellow eyes, who stole his
shoulders from an oak tree, and who keeps a one-eyed servant lest
the fellow see all that is happening in herdsmen's houses!"

"Ho-hah-hah-hah!" they chorused, and drank deep.

The women had to leave off loading food on to the table, to fill
up their tankards, and they made so much noise that the children
woke up and had to be bundled back to bed again behind a painted
ox-hide curtain that cut off the far end of the room.

Then the meal was declared ready and they all fell to, Fflur
sitting on the chief's right hand and Tros on his left hand, next
to Commius, the other women serving and the dogs alert for bones
or anything that anybody threw; for they cut the meat with their
daggers, and tossed to the floor whatever they did not care to
chew. There was a thunderstorm of growling underfoot and
dog-fights most of the time, but no one took much notice, except
to kick occasionally when the fighting was uncomfortably close.

There was bread, beef, mutton, pork, butter and cheese, onions,
and a sort of cabbage boiled in milk, but no other vegetables.
Conops received his food on a bench beside the hearth, and the
women helped him to enough for three men. The Britons ate too
steadfastly to do much talking, but Tros, possessing the
Mediterranean temperament, had time for speech between the
mouthfuls, and Commius had no appetite; so they exchanged words.

"Did Gwenhwyfar speak of me?" asked Commius.

"Aye, and of Caesar."

A long pause, during which Tros listened to such sporadic
conversation as passed between the Britons--mainly about horses
and the scarcity of deer. One man, with his mouth full, urged
Caswallon to summon all the able-bodied men to a wolf hunt.

"I will lead you to a wolf hunt soon enough," said Caswallon. "I
will give you your bellyfull of wolves."

Then:

"When do you return to Caesar?" Commius asked.

"Soon," said Tros.

"You return with Caius Volusenus?"

"If he waits for me."

Caswallon did not appear to catch that conversation, but Fflur
was watching Commius intently, and it may have been that
second-sight involved the corollary of second-hearing. She
glanced at her husband, making no remark, but he read some sort
of warning in her eyes and nodded, looking then steadily during
three slow breaths at Commius, slightly lowering his eyelids.
Fflur appeared satisfied.

A moment later Caswallon left the table, muttering something
about seeing whether the serfs were being fed. He strode outside
and slammed the door behind him.

"He is forever thinking of the serfs," said Fflur. "That is why
he is a great chief and none can overthrow him. Some of you think
more of horses than of men and more of hunting than of other
people's rights. And some of you are very clever"--she looked at
Commius again--"but your chief is wiser than you all."

To please her, they began telling stories of Caswallon, pledging
him in tankards full of mead as they recalled incident after
incident, adding those imaginative touches that time lends to the
deeds of heroes, until, if one had believed them, or even they
had believed themselves, Caswallon would have seemed not much
less than divine. He was a long time absent, and the glamour of
him grew each minute.

Commius took advantage of the roars of laughter--as one man told
how the chief had trapped a Norseman's ship that came a-raiding
up the Thames, and how he had killed the pirate and enslaved the
crew--to resume a conversation in low tones with Tros.

"I pledge you to keep this secret," he began.

But Tros was a man who made no rash pledges, so he held his peace.

"Do you hear me?" asked Commius. "Caesar has a high opinion of
me, and I of you. I trust you. I am minded to warn Caesar that he
will prod a wasps' nest if he sails for Britain. I have seen and
heard enough. I will advise against invasion."

Tros's amber eyes observed the Gaul's face thoughtfully. He
nodded, saying nothing, and helped himself to gravy, mopping it
up with bread from the dish in front of him.

Commius waited for another roar of laughter, and resumed:

"I must go in haste to Caesar. One of us should stay here. If I
could say to Caesar I have left you here to watch events and to
spy out the strength and weakness, he would excuse the haste of
my return. If you permit me to return with Caius Volusenus in
your place, I will use my influence to set your father free."

Tros kept silence, munching steadily. After a minute Commius
nudged him, and their eyes met.

"You agree?" he asked. "I pledge myself to set your father free,
and to warn Caesar not to invade Britain."

"If you heard a man warn the winter not to come; and if you heard
him promise to pull Caesar's teeth, how much of it would you
believe?" asked Tros.

"Then you prefer not to trust me?"

"Oh, I trust you. A man is what he is. I trust you to work for
Commius. But if I should trust you with my father's life, I
should be a worse fool than even you suppose."

Commius' face darkened.

"I have influence with Caesar," he said grimly.

"And I none," Tros answered. "Yet I will play a bolder hand than
yours against him. Each to his own way, Commius!"

"Remember, I pledged you to secrecy!" the Gaul retorted.

"Hah! When you have my pledge, you may depend on me," said Tros.
"My tongue is mine!"

Commius' eyes glittered coldly.

"I have seen men with their tongues torn out for saying less than
you have said," he answered.

Caswallon entered, standing for a moment with the moonlight at
his back, until they yelled to him to shut the door and keep the
bats out. He strode to the fire and threw a faggot on. His eyes
looked full of laughter.

"Commius," he said, "I go north in the morning. Will you come
with me?"

"I have a boil," said Commius. "It irks me to ride in chariots;
and I would as soon die now as try to sit a horse before the boil
is healed."

Caswallon had to turn his back to hide some sort of emotion. "You
must be my guest then in my absence," he said over his shoulder.

"You are a prince of hosts," Commius answered, bowing and
smiling leanly.

"Then when I return after two or three days, I will find
you here?"

"By all means," said Commius.

There was a gleam of something like excitement in his eyes.

"You know this is Britomaris' house," Caswallon went on. "I have
sent word to him that I shall leave at dawn. He and his wife
Gwenhwyfar will be here soon after daybreak."

Commius was breathing very slowly. Almost the only sound came
from a dog that cracked a bone under the table.

"Is my meaning clear to you?" Caswallon asked. "Britomaris pays
tribute, but he is not my friend. You say you are my friend."

"Never doubt it. I am proud to be," said Commius.

"And you are my guest--here--wherever I may be. Britomaris will
try to plot with you against me. Will you be for me, or for
Britomaris--and Gwenhwyfar?"

"Over and above all laws is that of hospitality," said Commius
without a moment's hesitation. "Even if my sympathy were not
yours, as I think you know it is, I must nevertheless uphold you
while I am your guest."

"Good," said Caswallon, turning with his back to the hearth and
his hands behind him, legs well apart to avoid a dog that had
taken sanctuary between his feet to gnaw a bone in safety. "I
call you all to witness how I trust our friend, Lord Commius. I
bid you all to trust him in like manner--exactly in like manner."

Commius stood up and bowed, and the men who sat at table murmured
his name politely, raising their tankards to drink to him. But
their eyes were on their chief, although no sign that a stranger
could have noticed passed between them. Two or three times
Commius looked as if about to speak, but he thought better of it,
and it was Tros who spoke next:

"I am weary. Do the Britons never sleep?"

"I had forgotten that," said Caswallon. "Aye, we had better
sleep. Do we? We are the soundest sleepers this side of the
grave! But Lud pity those who sleep a minute later than I do in
the morning, for I will prod them out o' blanket with a spear
point! So away with all the kitchen-stuff, and one last drink!"

The women cleared away the dishes and the cloth, but left the
table, for two men needed that to sleep on. The others laid
their blankets on the floor, quarreling a little as to who
had precedence.

Tros received two huge blankets and a pillow from Fflur, who led
him and Conops to an inner room where she kissed him good night.

"Is your man with that one eye watchful?" she asked.

"Better than a dog!" said Tros.

"Bid him guard you against Commius. The Gaul will lie on the
fireside seat in the outer room, but the others will sleep like
dead men. I know murder when I see it in a man's eyes. Be sure he
means to kill you one way or another. He believes you know too
much about him."

"I fear no knife of his," said Tros.

"Yet you fear," she answered. "What is it?"

"I fear lest he will run to Caius Volusenus, and cross to Gaul,
telling Caesar I have joined with your husband. I fear for my
father's life. Commius would sell me and my father, and another
dozen like us, for a pat on the back from Caesar."

"You need not fear," she answered. "Caswallon is awake. Commius
will not return to Gaul--not yet. But be on guard against his
knife, if he ever suspects that we suspect him."

She spread Tros's bed for him with her own hands, and called to
one of the women to bring a pile of fleeces for Conops, bidding
him spread them before the door as soon as it was shut.

"So you may both sleep," she said, smiling, "and if one tries to
open in the night he must awaken Conops. Can you shout loud?"
she asked.

"Aye, like a sailor!" Conops assured her with a nod.

"Shout then, and at the first alarm; and if the intruder takes
flight, go to sleep again. Let there be no slaying in my house."





CHAPTER VI

CONCERNING A BOIL AND COMMIUS

It is wiser to take a liar at his word and oblige him to eat his
lies, than to denounce him and too soon expose his enmity. It is
wiser to seem to believe than to boast of your unbelief. Lies,
like the moles, can burrow faster than ye dig. It is wiser to let
them creep into the open.

--From the Sayings of the Druid Taliesan



Almost the next that Tros knew, day was breaking through
the shutter chinks and there was a great row in the outer
room--shouts, oaths and laughter. Caswallon was keeping his
promise to rouse late sleepers with a spear point. Dog barks and
the high-pitched laugh of children added to the din. The table
upset with a crash. A dog yelped. Then there came a succession of
grunts and thuds as one man after another was thrown, laughing
and protesting, through the front door.

"Are we all awake?" cried Caswallon. "Come and wrestle with me,
Tros! Let us see if your back is stronger than I can break!" So
Tros rubbed the sleep out of his eyes, and went and wrestled with
him on the dew-soaked grass before the door, two dozen men
admiring; for the horse-grooms and the herdsmen came and looked
on, laughing like lunatics and offering to bet their freedom on
the British chief.

But neither had the best of it, and they were locked in a
grunting knot of arms and legs when Fflur came and summoned them
to breakfast. Caswallon's oldest son, aged sixteen, promised on
his honor to break Tros's neck the moment he was old enough.

"Gods! But he will have to fight a man!" laughed Caswallon,
rubbing his woad-stained skin. "Yours is a neck worth breaking,
Tros!"

They washed in tubs of water that the women set outside the door,
combed their hair carefully, and went in to the business of
eating, which was serious, devotional and too faithfully
performed to allow much conversation. Commius, making notes on
tablets, which he thrust cautiously into his bosom, was the last
to the table and the first to use his mouth for anything
but eating:

"You Britons," he said, "are you irreligious nowadays? In Gaul,
our people all worship at sunrise. That is the first act of
the day."

"Before strangers?" asked Caswallon. "No wonder the Romans have
subdued you."

"What can the observance of religion have to do with that?"
asked Commius.

"All," said Caswallon, "everything. If an enemy learns your
thoughts, he is a fool if he can't throw you down and pin you
under him. Religion not kept secret is weakness. Tell me my
thoughts, Commius!"

Tros chuckled. Commius assumed the vaguely pained look of a
financier who discovers that some one knows as much as he
does.  Caswallon studying him shrewdly between mouthfuls,
which he washed down with beakers of warm milk, proceeded
to amuse himself.

"You tell me you have a boil. Then I know where to kick you,
don't I?"

"Would you kick your guest?" asked Commius.

"No," said Caswallon, "and I would kill the man who did. But let
us suppose you were my secret enemy; for I have met such men, who
spoke me fair and did me evil when my back was turned.

"Let us suppose you were my secret enemy. I know you have a boil.
What would be easier than to lance that boil for you, and to put
a little gangrene on the knife? You see, two can play at being
secret enemies!

"It is just so with religion, which is why the druids keep it
secret, and why we practice it in secret, and why Caesar hates
the druids, and why I like them. Caesar never conquered Gaul
until he slew the druids first. He will never conquer me, because
he does not know my thoughts. Tell me my true thoughts, Commius!"

But before Commius could answer, Fflur put a word in:

"Ah! But what if the boil were feigned?"

She did not look at Commius; she was putting salt on an enormous
skillet-full of fried eggs that one of the women had brought for
her inspection.

"If the boil were feigned," said Caswallon. "Bah! What fool would
pretend to have a boil? The truth would be too easy to discover.
A dangerous man would pretend to have a toothache, or the
bellyache. We risk offending the honorable Commius if we carry
such a theme too far. And by the way, Commius, shall I send for a
druid to come and make you easier? They are very clever with
their little knives."

"No," Commius answered. "It will burst soon of its own accord."
Followed boasting with excruciating details, by a man who claimed
that he had ridden from Cair Lunden all the way to Pevensey, with
boils so bad that, although he was weak with pain, a horse could
not throw him because he had stuck to the saddle. And that
naturally led to rival reminiscences, including one by Tros,
concerning a man who grew such calluses from friction on a
rower's bench that when he was ashore, running away from King
Ptolemy's press-gang, six arrows stuck into him like feathers in
a bird's tail without his even knowing it.

So breakfast broke up in a storm of anecdotes, not all of them
polite, and Commius was able to avoid attention to himself by
simply keeping silence.

Then there was a clatter of hoofs and wheels outside, and a dozen
serfs entered to carry out the bedding and other luggage, while
Caswallon and his friends went outside to inspect the horses.

There were ten magnificent gray and white teams yoked to
chariots, whose sides were built of wickerwork and wheels of
bronze; and there were twelve more horses for the escort, mostly
stallions, squealing and rearing with excitement.

Caswallon mounted a gray stallion and put him through his paces
while the luggage chariots were being loaded, exhibiting such
horsemanship as made the sea-wise Tros gasp, until the owner of
the horse complained that there would be no strength left in the
animal and Caswallon, jumping the horse over a chariot, vaulted
to the ground beside him.

There was very little leave-taking from Commius, who stood in the
door and bowed his pleasantest, pretending he was sorry not to
make the journey with them. The only man he had much conversation
with was Conops, to whom he gave a gold coin surreptitiously; but
Conops, thanking him effusively, displayed it in his right palm
so that Tros and the rest might see and draw their own
conclusions.

Fflur did not kiss Commius, although from the hostess a kiss was
customary. Caswallon shook him by the hand, signing to his wife
and children and the other women to make haste into the chariots.
His last remark sounded almost like a warning:

"Remember, Commius; you are my guest. Britomaris and Gwenhwyfar
pay me tribute. They are not my friends."

Then they were off, with Tros up beside Caswallon and Conops on
the floor, bracing his feet against the chariot's wicker sides
that squeaked as Caswallon wheeled the team and sent it headlong
at the open gate, with dogs barking, serfs shouting, the rattle
and thump of the other chariots wheeling into column one by one,
and then the thunder of the hoofs of the escort kicking up the
dust a hundred yards behind.

For a long while Caswallon drove as if driving were life's one
employment and speed the apex of desire, stooping to watch how
the horses placed their feet. He never once glanced back at
Fflur, who drove her own chariot with equal skill, her long hair
flowing like a banner in the morning breeze and the heads of
three children bobbing up and down beside her. At last he eased
the pace a little and glanced at Tros sidewise, smiling:

"There will be fun with Commius," he remarked. "I like to see a
fox caught in a trap. He will plot with Britomaris, who does
exactly what Gwenhwyfar tells him, as long as she is there to
make him do it. That will be treachery, he being my guest. Some
men of mine, and a druid, will pick a quarrel with him. He having
been my guest, they will spare his life. Alive, I can use him. He
is no good dead. And they will spare Britomaris and Gwenhwyfar
because I have so ordered it, for I can use them also.

"But they will fasten the fetters on Commius, and the druid
will look for the boil, since it is his duty to attend to
that.  Finding none--the fool should have bethought him of a
bellyache--the druid will denounce him as a liar. We have
failings, but there is this about us Britons: When we have proved
a man a liar, we disbelieve whatever else he says. Thus the harm
that Commius has done by too much talking when he thought my back
was turned will be undone."

"I see you work craftily," Tros observed.

"A man must, if he proposes to remain a king," said Caswallon.
"Kingship is the first of all the crafts. This Caesar who has
conquered Gaul is bold and treacherous and fortunate and rather
clever; but is he crafty?"

"Very," Tros answered. "If kinging is a craft, he is the master
craftsman of them all."

"Has he a Fflur?"

"No. Women are his tools, or an amusement"

"Then I will beat him!" said Caswallon.

And at last he looked back at his wife, who laughed and waved a
hand to him.

"You owe your life to Fflur," he remarked. "You sleep deep,
friend Tros, and with the shutter off the thong--a compliment to
me, no doubt, but dangerous! Commius stirred three times. Twice
he was at your window. He carries poison with him, which he
bought from a woman near the seashore where he landed when he
first came. One drop on a man's lips in the night--"

"Who watched him?"

"Fflur heard him and she roused me. So it happened there were two
kings at your window in the night--and twice!--each lying to the
other as to how he came to be there! We agreed that from that
spot there was the best view of the moon's eclipse, and that the
cry of a strange night-bird had awakened both of us."

"There is no reason why Commius should fear me," said Tros. "I am
not _his_ enemy."

"There is no reason why Gwenhwyfar should fear me, and I am not
_her_ enemy," Caswallon answered. "But, man or woman, it is all
one when they plan treachery. They are like a wolf then. None can
say why they pursue this victim and not that one.

"But perhaps it would have suited Commius to have it said I
poisoned you. You were sent by Caesar, Tros. Thus Caesar would
have a plausible excuse for quarrel with me. But let us hear what
the one-eyed fellow says."

Conops exhibited the gold coin, tossed it in air and missed it as
the chariot bumped a hillock. They had to stop to let him recover
it, and the escort galloped up full pelt to find out what
was wrong.

"He said," Conops remarked when they were under way again, and he
spat on the coin and polished it, "he said, if I should remember
to tell him at the earliest moment all that is said and all that
is done while my master is out of his sight, he for his part will
remember to advance my cause with Caesar, who has many lucrative
employments in his gift."

Tros laughed. Caswallon glanced down at Conops half-a-dozen times.

"I will buy that man from you," he said at last. "How much in
gold will you take for him? Or shall I swap you three for one?"

"He is a free man," Tros answered.

"Oh. Then I would kill him if he offered to change masters."

Caswallon lapsed into one of his silent moods, merely waving
with his arm occasionally as they skirted mud-and-wattle
hamlets, beautifully built, invariably fenced about with heavy
tree-trunks, clean and prosperous, but containing no stone
buildings and no roofs other than thatch.

There were sheep and cattle everywhere, and great numbers of
horses, all carefully watched and guarded against wolves by
herdsmen armed with spears; but there was surprisingly little
grain, or stubble to show where grain had been, and such as there
was, was fenced as heavily as the villages.

The main road seemed to avoid the hamlets purposely, but here and
there the villagers seemed to have repaired it, and wherever
there was much mud it was rendered passable by tree-trunks felled
across it. There were no bridges whatever, but the fords were
good and were evidently kept in order.

They changed horses at a village that Caswallon called a town,
where a hundred armed men, very variously dressed, lined up to
salute the chief in front of a big thatched house with painted
mud walls. They saluted him more or less as an equal, calling him
and Fflur by their names and gathering around the chariots when
the formal shouting with their spears in air was finished.

The man who owned the house was a long, lean, fox-haired veteran
with a naked breast covered with woad designs, whose wife was
young enough to be his daughter. But she knew how to play the
hostess and to command the village women, who brought out bread
and meat and mead for every one, turning the half-hour wait into
a picnic.

They all seemed much more impressed with Tros than with Caswallon
and wanted to know whether he was one of Caesar's generals or
an ambassador.

But Caswallon warned Tros to keep silence, so he pretended not to
understand their speech; instead of talking, he and Conops kissed
the girls who carried mead to them, and that started a kissing
riot that kept everybody busy, while Caswallon talked in
undertones with the red-haired man and the group that stood about
him leaning on their spears.

Then Caswallon mounted the rehorsed chariot and addressed the
crowd, standing very splendidly and making his voice ring until
even the giggling girls grew silent and the children gaped
at him.

"Caesar will not come yet; but he will surely come!" he told
them. "Get ye to work and harvest all the corn. Make double store
of dried meat. Increase the sheaves of arrows. Mend the chariots,
and let no blacksmith put on fat in idleness!

"When the invader comes there shall be a sudden call to arms, but
until then, he who wastes time leaning on his spear is a traitor
to his wife and children! When Caesar comes, he will lay waste
the land, as he has laid all Gaul waste; he feeds his horses in
the standing corn and burns what he does not need. So get ye the
harvest in! It will be time enough to lean on spears when I
send warning."

The man with red hair showed his teeth and leered with puckered
eyes, but Caswallon beckoned him and clapped him on the back,
pulling him up into the chariot beside him, bidding him make
friends with Tros "who knows Caesar well."

"Tros, this is Figol, whose grandfather came like you from over
the sea, although from another quarter. He is a better man than
Britomaris, for he looks like a lean fox but he acts like a fat
Briton, whereas Britomaris looks like a Briton but acts like a
fox. Figol pays me tribute of all between this forest and where
Britomaris' land begins; and the old fox doesn't cheat me more
than I permit for the sake of his young wife!"

With that he lifted Figol with one arm and hoisted him over the
chariot-side into the crowd, waving him a merry good-by, and was
off almost before Conops could scramble into the chariot. They
plunged into a forest at the outskirts of the village and drove
amid gloomy oaks for leagues on end, with clearings here and
there, and well used tracks at intervals on either hand that
evidently led to villages.

Caswallon had lapsed into silence again, for a long time studying
the new team and then whistling to himself. He seemed to think he
was alone, until suddenly he turned to Tros and grinned at him.

"Figol is a fox, but I out-fox him!" he remarked. "If I had let
him keep a hundred men at hand, he would have dared me to come
and fetch the tribute that is nine months in arrear! He would
have talked to them against me, instead of making ready against
Caesar. But now they will get the harvest in, and when they have
it I will have my share! We will deal with Caesar when the
time comes."

"When Caesar does come, you will find he has made all ready in
advance," said Tros.

"This is a good kingdom," said Caswallon. "Let Caesar come, and
he shall have a bellyful of fighting for it! But if I should
raise an army too soon, they would grow tired of waiting; and
first they would race the horses on the downs, and then they
would drink all the mead, carousing through the night.

"And after that, because there was no more mead, they would say I
was mistaken about Caesar. Whereafter they would laugh a great
deal, and they would all go home. I know my Britons. And when
Caesar came there would be no army.

"Some day you shall see my town, Cair Lunden, and when you have
stayed there awhile you will understand how crafty a king must
be, if he is to earn--and also get--the tribute money."

"Crafty!" said Tros. "Are you crafty enough to trust me to tell
Caesar that if he comes soon, with a small force, he will find
you unprepared?"

"Fflur trusts you. She knows," Caswallon answered. "I never knew
her to be wrong in the matter of trusting a man."





CHAPTER VII

GOBHAN AND THE TIDES

Knowledge? Any fool can have it. But wisdom, with which to
interpret knowledge and to use it, that is something that each
one must learn for himself in the school of existence. It is a
mark of the wise man that he can listen to fools and learn from
them, although their speech is folly.

--From the Sayings of the Druid Taliesan



The sun had crossed the meridian about two hours before, and they
were still cantering through lush, green forest when Tros smell
tidewater and nudged Conops, who smelled it too and grinned. Four
of the escort had been cantering behind them for an hour,
screening the view down the track to the rear, and it was not
until the horsemen maneuvered into single file to avoid a mud
hole that Tros knew the other chariots were missing. When he
asked where they had disappeared to, Caswallon merely motioned
toward the northwest and said:

"Home. Cair Lunden."

"And we?"

"I will show you the longships."

But first they met Gobhan, in a house of logs and mud that
overlooked long marshes where the snipe swarmed between the
forest and the river Thames. In places the forest crept down
almost to the water's edge; and there were creeks innumerable,
crowded with wildfowl that filled the air with mournful longshore
music. There was another huge forest on the far side, more than
two miles away. The river rolled between the mud-flats, lonely
and immense, with only one small boat in sight, working its way
with oars and sail across the tide.

"Our weakness!" said Caswallon, pulling up the team where the
trees ended and they could see the vast expanse of river. "If
Caesar only knew this river he could sail up with his hundred
ships and have us at his mercy! The Northmen come now and then,
which is why we hide our ships."

There they left the chariot, with the horses nibbling at the
trees, and walked, all seven in single file with Caswallon
leading, toward the mud-and-log house in the foreground, that
stood with its front door almost in the marsh. There was smoke
rising from a hole in the wooden roof, but no sign of an
inhabitant until they reached the front by a narrow foot-path,
and Caswallon shouted:

"Gobhan! Come out there, Gobhan!"

Almost instantly through the door showed a face that made Tros
want to laugh, but that rather frightened the four members of the
escort. It was comical, and yet immensely dignified, without
a single feature that explained the dignity, old beyond
calculation, toothless, nearly bald--there was a forehead that
mounted so high it resembled a waxen skullcap with a gray-haired
tassel on the top--and bearded, but with the beard enclosed in a
leather bag and tied back behind the ears. The nose nearly met
the chin. There were no eyebrows; a pair of lashless eyes
as bright as a weasel's peeped alert and inquisitive from
sunken sockets.

"What do you want?" the face asked, mumbling the words because
of toothlessness.

Then a body followed the face; lean, scrawny, twisted, suffering
apparently from ague caught from the marsh. He was dressed in a
long brown smock with a leather apron over it and nothing to
proclaim his rank in life except a plaited woolen girdle such as
druids wore. He showed no respect for Caswallon, but stood and
looked at him, his hands shaking, his hollow cheeks moving as he
worked his gums.

"Such a host you are, Gobhan! Such welcome you offer us! Such
courtesy!" said Caswallon, striking an attitude.

The ancient addressed as Gobhan grinned at last--if it was a grin
that quaked among the wrinkles. He muttered something, shrugged
his bony shoulders, turned, and led the way into the house.
Caswallon strode in after him and Tros followed; Conops would
have followed Tros through a furnace door, whatever his private
feelings; but the escort withdrew toward the chariot, expressing
strange emotions.

"Wizard!" was a word that one man used; and another one said
something about "dirty magic and abominations."

The interior of the house--it had only one room--was almost as
remarkable as its owner. There were two truckle-beds at one end,
with a table between them and two stools, but the whole of the
rest of the interior was given up to furnaces and clay retorts,
instruments for measuring, benches piled with jars, mortars,
ladles and a work-bench down the middle of the room on which were
appliances whose object Tros could not guess. The room was not
exactly in confusion, but there was hardly standing room for the
three who did not belong there.

Over in a corner a blind man clothed in skins plied an enormous
bellows steadily, as if he did it in his sleep. There was the
roar of a charcoal furnace and the stench of heated metal, but no
sign of anything being made, although there were an anvil and
great tongs and hammers near the door.

The owner of the place made no remark but simply waited in front
of Caswallon, holding his apron to keep his hands from shaking
and constantly moving his toothless gums. He seemed neither
afraid, nor yet pleased to see his visitors.

"So now you see Gobhan," said Caswallon. "Look at him! My people
wanted to roast him alive in his own furnace for wizardry; but I
said no to it, for one reason and another. It cost me quite a
quarrel with the younger druids, who proclaimed him an outlaw
from their Mysteries, which I daresay is more or less true. And
there is trouble now and then because the Northmen come to him,
and he will not see the difference between a Briton and a
foreigner, but teaches anything he knows to any one who asks him.

"If the druids know more than he does, I will say this: They
conceal it! I never could have saved him, if I hadn't thought of
using him to trap a longship full of Northmen, who sailed up the
Thames to plunder Lunden.

"I sent a man to fall into their hands and tell them about
Gobhan; so they turned aside to steal him, meaning to take him to
their own country to teach the trick of metal to their
shipwrights. And I caught them there, yonder where the creek
flows through the rushes.

"We drew a chain across the creek behind them, and they burned
their own ship rather than let us capture it, cattle and all; the
forehold of the ship was full of bulls. It took three to kill the
last man; never were such fighters! I would have saved him; I
would have given him a wife and let him live in Lunden; but I
could not reach his side before they ran a spear under his armpit
and drowned him. He was fighting waist-deep when he fell.

"Northmen are thieves, and they come a-roving summer or winter,
whenever they're least expected; but the fault I find with them
is wearing armor, which is not the way a man should fight. We
Britons fight nearly naked, not esteeming cowardice."

"You have brought me a long way to see Gobhan!" Tros interrupted
drily.

"Aye, I was coming to that. You spoke of Caesar's fleet, you
remember. Now Gobhan owes his life to me. If you can understand
that noise he makes between his gums, he shall tell you things
that Caesar does not know. Gobhan knows the Book of Domnu." *

----------
* The very ancient sea-god of the Britons.
---------

"Does he understand the tides?" asked Tros, nudging Conops. In
Samothrace, where he came from, they knew more of "Domnu" and the
inner meanings of the word than any druid did.

"Tides, full moons and the weather--he knows it all," said
Caswallon. "Make shift to understand his yammerings, and I will
send him south for you in one of the longships. He shall lie in
wait at Hythe."

"There are strange tides around this island," said Tros,
observing Gobhan closely.

"Aye," said Caswallon. "Our tides puzzle the Northmen badly. And
the worst of it is, that this old wizard teaches them as readily
as he teaches us, when they can find him! He has no discretion. I
have often wondered why I did not let my people burn him."

"Let me talk with him," said Tros, beckoning the old man.
Together they went and sat on logs up-ended near the furnace,
where Tros could draw patterns with his finger in the charcoal-dust
on the floor. Caswallon stood and watched them, with his legs
astride and hands behind his back.

The only light in that corner came from the door and in a red
glow from the charcoal furnace that the bellows-man was tending.
Tros's eyes glowed like a lion's, but most of his bulk was lost
in shadow, as his fingers roughly traced an outline of the shore
of Kent and the coast of Gaul with the narrow sea between.

The old man wiped it out and drew a better one, and for a long
while Tros studied that, until at last he laid a finger on the
spot where he supposed the quicksands lay.* At that Gobhan
nodded, and looked strangely pleased. The ague left him. He began
to grow excited.

---------
* The Goodwins.
---------

Mumble-mumble--Tros could hardly understand a word of it, until
Gobhan prodded the blind old bellows-man with a long stick. Then
the purring roar of the furnace ceased, and the blind man sat
beside them to interpret the toothless noises into more or less
intelligible speech.

The blind man seemed to know as much as Gobhan did about the
tides and winds and weather; as the two of them became aware of
Tros's inborn understanding of the sea, they vied in their
enthusiasm to explain to him, clutching him, striking each
other's wrists, interrupting each other, croaking and squeaking
like a pair of rusty-throated parrots, answering his questions
both at once and abusing each other when he failed to understand
exactly--Caswallon smiling all the while as if he watched a
dog-fight.

Sun and moon--there was interminable talk about them. Gobhan
suddenly wiped out the channel map and drew a diagram of sun and
moon and earth, with circles to describe their courses.

But the blind man did not need the diagram to argue from; he used
his two fists for earth and moon, and Gobhan's head to represent
the sun, gesticulating with his foot to show the action of the
tides as their positions changed.

Once in his excitement he would have burned himself by getting
too close to the furnace, but Gobhan hurled him away, and the
argument resumed with both men kneeling as if they were throwing
dice, and Tros's heavy face, chin on hand, two feet from theirs
as he leaned forward, studying first one and then the other, then
the diagrams that Gobhan traced and the blind man kept on wiping
out because he could not see, and did not need them.

At last Gobhan struck the blind man into silence and sat still
with his eyes shut, counting days and hours, checking them off on
his fingers; and by that time it was the blind man who appeared
to have the ague, for he was sweating and trembling with
irrepressible excitement. Gobhan on the other hand had grown as
calm as if he were saying prayers.

"Mumble-mumble."

"Eight days," interpreted the blind man. Gobhan nodded.

Tros rose, facing Caswallon.

"What present shall I make?" he asked.

"None," said Caswallon. "If you give them money they will have no
further use for you. And as for their needs, they eat at my cost.
Have you learned what you came for?"

"Aye, and more," said Tros.

"I will send them both to Hythe to await you there, in the harbor
with the three ships," said Caswallon.

And then Conops entered; he had slunk out to explore the marsh,
and came back with slime up to his knees, resheathing the long
knife in the red sash at his waist.

"Master, I have seen the ships. They are no good," he remarked in
Greek. "They are too long for their beam, too high at bow and
stern to steer in a breeze; and they would swallow a quartering
sea and lie down under it as a Briton swallows mead, or my name
isn't Conops!"

"That is their affair," said Tros.

"They are leaky," Conops insisted. "Their seams are as open as
the gratings on a prison window. I vow I could stick my fingers
in! I would as soon put to sea in an orange-basket. Some of the
cordage is made of wool, and some of leather! Some of it is good
flax, but you never saw such patchwork!"

The blind man returned to his bellows. Gobhan peered into a clay
crucible that was set in the charcoal furnace, shaking again with
ague and not pleased, because the crucible had cooled. Both of
them appeared to have forgotten Tros, and they took no notice
whatever of Caswallon who beckoned to Tros to come out and see
the three longships.

They lay berthed in the mud up a creek well concealed from the
river by a bank of rushes. There were branches fastened to their
masts to render them invisible against the trees. They were very
small, but not ill-built, and they were much more seaworthy than
Conops made them out to be.

The woolen cordage Conops had described turned out to be the
lashings that held in place the tent-cloth with which they were
covered, but it was true they were moored with horse-hide warps
made fast to the nearest trees. Nor were they very leaky; they
were well tarred, and a day's work on their seams by half a dozen
men would make them fit for sea.

"Where are the crews?" asked Tros.

"Doubtless carousing!" said Caswallon. "It needs a month to sober
them when they have beaten off a North Sea rover. Three weeks
gone, the three of them together sunk a longship down at Thames
mouth, and I paid them well for it."

"There is need for haste," said Tros.

"There shall be haste! I will promise them another big reward.
And there will be Gobhan with them, whom they fear a great deal
more than they fear me--for they who follow the sea are bigger
fools than they who live on land!

"I will say that if they fail to reach Hythe and if they fail to
obey you, Gobhan shall turn them all into fish. They will believe
that, and they are too familiar with fish to wish to grow scales
and fins! The rest is for you to contrive."

"Very well," said Tros. "Understand me: I do not know what the
gods will have to say about all this. The gods prevent many
things that men design; but I think the gods are not in league
with Caesar. Unless Caesar's cold heart changes, I am likely to
be pilot when he sets sail for the coasts of Britain.

"I will lead him to the high cliffs that are nearest to the coast
of Gaul, and if it may be, I will wreck him on the quicksands in
midchannel. I will surely do that if I understand the tides
aright and if the wind should favor.

"In that case, you and I will never meet again, because, of all
the certainties the surest is, that if I set Caesar on the
quicksands he will slay me. And we may miss the quicksands; or
Caesar's men may see the water boiling over them and steer clear.

"So watch for his fleet, and be ready with an army to oppose his
landing. And if he succeeds in landing, count on me nevertheless,
provided you are sure that Gobhan and these three ships are safe
in Hythe, and that the crews will obey me when I come."

"Tros!" said Caswallon, and seized him by the right hand. Their
eyes met for the space of seven breaths.

Then the Chief spoke again:

"You are a man. But I do not know yet why you do this."

"I have not yet done it!" Tros answered.

"Nevertheless, in my heart I know you will attempt it. Why? What
am I to you? And what is Britain to you?"

"What is fire to water?" Tros answered. "One stream serves as
well as the next when it comes to checking forest fires. If you
were invading Caesar's rightful heritage, then I would side with
him against you! I am a free man, Caswallon. A free man mocks
himself, who sits in idleness while Caesars burn up freedom!"

"I see you are not a man to whom I may offer a reward," said
Caswallon, gripping his hand again. "But I am your friend, Tros;
Fflur is also your friend."

"I am glad of it," Tros answered. "But be careful not to judge
too hastily, for thus far we have only dealt in words. And next,
I must trade words with Caesar, who values nothing except deeds
that glorify him. Remember: I will tell Caesar that if he comes
swiftly with a small force he will catch you unprepared. First
then, prove me a false prophet and a liar! Then call me
friend--if both of us deserve it--when we meet again!"





CHAPTER VIII

AN INTERVIEW NEAR A DRUID'S CAVE

Treason betrays itself. There was never a treachery yet that did
not yield its secret. But not to the treacherous. He who is
blinded by his own treacheries, how shall he read and understand
the signs in others? In the presence of integrity treason must
boast; it can not keep silence.

--From the Sayings of the Druid Taliesan



Tros drove back in the night, with a purse of gold at his waist
that Caswallon gave him for expenses, in a chariot horsed with
four of the finest stallions Britain could produce, driven by a
long-haired charioteer whose pride was that no chariot had ever
overtaken him since he had been made chief's messenger.

They were followed by a dozen riders, partly for protection from
wolves that bayed in the forests all night long, but equally for
the important business of compelling wayside autocrats to furnish
fresh teams when required and to provide their best, instead of
leading out old lame horses.

Even so, because of a bent bronze chariot-wheel, that caught
between two sunken tree-trunks in a dark ford, and the time it
took to find and awaken a blacksmith, and the time he took to get
the wheel hot, straighten and replace it, the sun was up an hour
before they came to Britomaris' house, where the charioteer
shouted for a fresh team.

There was a rabble of men and women in the yard, and of all
sorts, light- and dark-skinned, tall and stocky, some so dwarfish
as to seem deformed. And they were not disposed to make way for
the chariot, or to bring out horses at the charioteer's command.

Some one shouted for Britomaris; but it was Gwenhwyfar who came
to the door and stood looking at Tros long and sullenly before
she spoke.

"You? You dare to come here?" she said at last, curling her lip
and glowering under lowered eyelids.

"Horses!" roared the charioteer, but she acted as if she had
not heard him, and the mounted men rode off to the stables
to help themselves.

"Look!" said Gwenhwyfar pointing. "These are my people. They have
come to see the shame you brought on Britomaris and on me!
Dog--that have slept in my house and betrayed me to Caswallon!
Dog--that are servant of Caesar and false to Caesar, too!
Insolent dog--with the eyes of a druid, the teeth of a wolf and
the breath and the speech of a viper!"

There was none, now the escort were gone, except Conops,
crouching in the chariot, to protect Tros from violence. Conops
loosed his long knife, for the crowd looked ugly, and the
charioteer felt at the reins to get the stallions on their
toes--ready to wheel them and charge through the crowd at a
moment's warning.

"Draw your sword, master!" Conops whispered. But Tros touched him
on the back to calm him.

"Where is Commius?" he asked.

"Aye! Where is Commius! He was my guest. Who betrayed him?"

Gwenhwyfar sneered and tossed the hair out of her eyes. "Commius,
who was your friend! Commius, who ate at the same table with you
in this, my house! Commius, who slept under my roof! Where is
Commius, whom you betrayed?"

"I asked, where is he!" Tros had a voice like rolling thunder
when the mood was on him.

Gwenhwyfar looked startled, but her eyes glared defiance.

"Go ask the druids! Go! You shall eat no more in my house! Drive
him forth, men! Drive him!"

She threw out both arms in a gesture that condemned him to mob
mercy, and the crowd hardly hesitated. Some one threw a javelin,
that missed and stuck quivering in the house wall; and before the
twang of that ceased, Tros was almost off his feet from the
sudden jerk as the charioteer wheeled his team and sent it
headlong at the crowd. There were no scythes in the sockets on
the axles, or he would have mowed a dozen of them.

"Kill him!" screamed Gwenhwyfar.

But the words froze on her lips; for the escort arrived on the
scene from behind the house, charging with lowered spears, riding
fresh, corn-fed, frantic horses they had seized. No one was
slain. The crowd scattered and ran, those who had weapons
throwing them away; but many were knocked down, and some were
soundly thumped with spear butts.

The charioteer laughed and wheeled the team around again to face
the door, while four of the escort went to bring a fresh team for
the chariot. They were laughing, and not in the least annoyed by
the disturbance; two of the remaining escort chaffed Gwenhwyfar
mercilessly, calling her "Caswallon's scornling," but she ignored
them as if they were a mile away. Her whole hatred was aimed at
Tros, concentrated on him, glaring, venomous.

"Do you love your father as you love your friends?" she asked.

But Tros, listening with both ears, pretended to be careful how
they changed the team.

"Drive fast!" she mocked. "Aye, drive like the wind! You shall
not reach Gaul before your father dies! Casar will avenge me!
Caesar will draw blood in exchange for Commius! Hurry, before the
crows leave nothing you can recognize!"

Tros's face showed no emotion, but his grip on Conops' shoulder
told another tale. The one-eyed sailor winced and tried to loosen
the grip with cautious fingers.

"Who knows where Commius is? I will speak with him," said Tros;
and one of the escort seized a man who tried to slink away around
the corner of the house.

Backed against the wall and held there with a spear point at his
throat, the man soon gave his information and was let go. The
four fresh horses were yoked by that time.

And at last Tros spoke to Gwenhwyfar:

"Gwenhwyfar, wife, of Britomaris, you will fall to Caesar yet!
Caesar will treat you less kindly than I did. You may offer him
ten kingdoms, and yourself thrown in, but I see you walking
through the streets of Rome at Caesar's chariot tail; and, if by
then you are not too worn from weeping, and too sore-footed, and
too thin, there will be an auction afterward.

"Rome stinks, Gwenhwyfar! You will miss the sweet earth smell of
Britain, and the freedom, and the green oaks and the thick turf
underfoot! Rome's streets are hard, and her heart is harder. But
harder than all--aye, harder than that heart of yours--is
Caesar's! Farewell!"

He bowed to her as the chariot wheeled away, and the men of the
escort paid her scurvy compliments; but she stood still, leaning
back against the doorpost with her head erect, glaring her anger
until the chariot and its escort were lost to view.

"Lonely she looks, and I am sorry for her, for she will be
lonelier still if ever she meets Caesar," Tros said to Conops.

But she had friends; for as they galloped by the corner of the
wall that shut the house from view, a stone hurled by an unseen
hand missed Tros by so little that he almost felt the weight of
it, and it broke the tough turf where it landed.

"But, master--your father!" Conops was clenching and unclenching
his fingers. "Has she sent a messenger to Caesar? Has she
betrayed us?" Conops clutched his knife and spoke to Tros between
thin, vindictive lips. "If your father is slain, my master, I
will beg one favor of you: Let me live that I may bury this
in her!"

He showed six inches of his knife-blade.

"I think she lied," said Tros.

But his voice betrayed him. He did not think that. He knew she
spoke the truth; he knew some messenger had gone to inform Caesar
what had happened to Commius the Gaul, along with, doubtless, a
long story about himself. His blood ran cold. He knew how much
mercy his father would receive from Caesar when that sort of tale
should reach the Roman's ears.

"There is room for things to happen between here and Gaul," he
said after a minute. "It is one thing to send a messenger;
another for the man to reach his goal. Moreover, Caius Volusenus
has a fairly swift ship. We may arrive there first."

There was delay, though, before they resumed the ride to where
Caius Volusenus waited for them. The escort led into the forest
and then wheeled out of the fairway down a lane that bore no
tracks of wheels, where they had to stop a time or two to lift
the chariot over fallen trees, and the bronze wheels cut deeply
into moss.

At the end of a mile or two of winding between ancient oaks,
where the deer fled suddenly in front of them and rabbits
scampered for the undergrowth, they entered a wide clearing.
There a dewy hillside faced them, scattered with enormous stones;
and in the midst of the hill there was a considerable clump of
very ancient yew trees, with a cave mouth just below that, its
entrance arched with three adze-trimmed monoliths. Above the
trees there was a cluster of neat, thatched dwellings.

Among the trees sat druids in their long robes, and one of them
was the ancient who had held forth on the night when Tros first
met Caswallon.

The druids, led by the old one, came solemnly down the hillside
and surrounded Tros's chariot. He greeted them, and the escort
jumped down from their horses to show respect, yet it was a
peculiarly masked respect; they looked as little interested as
they could, perhaps because Tros was a stranger.

"Is Commius here? May I have word with him?" asked Tros when the
greeting was all done.

The old man sent two younger druids to the cave. They brought
out Commius, with fetters on his wrists but not ill-treated
otherwise. The Gaul's black-bearded face was set so as to mask
emotion, and a lean smile hid whatever he might think of Tros. He
nodded a curt greeting, holding the clasped hands in front of him
to ease the bronze fetters' weight.

"Commius, I am on my way to Caesar," said Tros.

The Gaul inclined his head slightly to signify that he understood,
but he said nothing; nor did he glance at the druids, or make
any sign except that unnoticeable nod.

It was only by imagining himself in the Gaul's position that Tros
realized there would be no conversation while the druids
listened. But the druids also realized it. Almost before Tros
could face about to beg their indulgence the oldest of them made
a signal and they walked away in silence and sat down at a
sufficient distance to be out of earshot.

"Now!" said Tros. "What shall I say of you to Caesar?"

Commius smiled thinly.

"You will say of me to Caesar what you wish to say, if he
permits," he answered. "My message has already gone."

"Have you a message for your Gauls?" asked Tros.

"Yes. Bid the Atrebates obey Caesar. Caesar will avenge me."

The voice was cleverly controlled, but the expression of his face
masked contempt too studiously for Tros not to see through it.

"You think you have contrived my downfall, Commius," he answered.
"I doubt it. A man is hard to kill until his time comes. For my
own part I am not a dealer in men's lives. I have sought you out
to see what I can do to help you."

"Can you set me free?" asked Commius, and the sneer in his voice
was biting; it brought the fire into Tros's amber eyes.

"You could set yourself free very easily if you were not a
traitor to your race," he answered. "Commius, we are two fools, I
because I did not know how wholly you are Caesar's slave--"

The word stung; Commius' black eyes blazed at last. He almost
answered, but controlled himself.

"--and you, because you think to promote your own ambition before
you do your duty to the Gauls. You have eaten from Caesar's hand.
You like the food! But he will treat you as he does the other
dogs in due time."

"Dogs?" snarled Commius, losing his control at last. "The dogs
shall tear your carcass before you are twelve hours older!"

"So that is it! I thank you for the warning, Commius!"

Tros laughed and turned away, having learned what he came to
learn. The druids, observing that the conference was over, came
forward in a group, and the two who had brought Commius from the
cave took charge of him again. Tros spoke to the oldest druid,
greeting him respectfully:

"Lord Druid, before Commius became your prisoner, he sent a
messenger toward the coast. Where would such a messenger be
likely to lie in wait to slay me before taking ship?"

The old druid glanced at the escort, who were munching bread in a
group beside their horses, having washed their hands and faces in
the dew.

"My son, those horsemen will take care of you," he answered.

"But a messenger did go?"

"Aye, a man went, with a letter to Etair, son of Etard.
Gwenhwyfar, wife of Britomaris, wrote it. Etair is her
half-brother, and his place lies near the seashore where you
landed from the Roman ship. It was his men who attacked you when
you landed."

Tros scratched his chin, grinning thoughtfully, and Conops went
and stood where he could watch his master's face. Conops' only
remedy for anything was that long knife he carried in his sash,
but he knew that Tros despised fighting if a craftier way might
be found out of a difficulty. Craftiness is much more nervous
work than fighting, and Conops held his breath.

"If a druid might ride with me," said Tros at last, still
scratching at his chin, "a druid who would lead me to a small
seaworthy boat, whose owner would obey my orders--"

The old druid nodded and, turning his back on Tros, gave orders
very swiftly in rumbling undertones. It was not clear why he
did not wish Tros to hear what he said, unless it was the
habit of keeping his own counsel and establishing a mystery
whenever possible.

He had hardly finished speaking when the young druid, who had
befriended Tros when he first landed, went and sat down in the
chariot, tucking his long robe in under his feet.

Then the old High Druid dismissed Tros with one sentence:

"Caius Volusenus grows impatient because his ship lies close to a
dangerous shore."

But he did not explain how he knew that. He held up his right
hand in an act of invocation and boomed out words that sounded
like a ritual, then gestured to Tros to be gone.

The escort mounted at once with an air of relief and began
laughing and chattering; the charioteer preferred not to wait
another second, but drove toward Tros, and the moment he and
Conops had stepped in they were off at full gallop, returning
down the same glade by which they had come.

"These druids," said Conops in Greek, thumbing his long knife for
the scandalized druid's benefit, "are too much like specters from
another world for me. They are not enough like honest men or
criminals for me to trust them."

Tros smiled.

"Never mind," he answered. "I would trust you less if you should
trust any man too much! Put your knife away!"





CHAPTER IX

TROS DISPLAYS HIS SEAMANSHIP AND A WAY OF HIS OWN OF MINDING HIS
OWN BUSINESS

If it were true, as ye say, that to slay is to prevail, then why
not kill me?

Ye could wear my robes and occupy my seat. But could ye know what
I know? Could ye think what I think? Could ye do what I do? Could
ye have my vision, and enjoy that, merely by proving that
violence slays and that flesh becomes dust?

--From the Sayings of the Druid Taliesan



The forest went down to the sea along the route that Tros took
that morning; and because the druid ordered it they made a detour
to the westward that brought them, near midday, to a swampy
harbor hidden amid trees, not far from where the chalky downs
begin that draw nearer to the shore southeastward until they form
the white cliffs of Kent.

"Hythe," said the druid, pointing to where roofs over a
mud-and-wattle wall could be seen between wind-twisted branches.

The town was hidden from the sea; there were no signs of
cultivation or of human dwellings that would be likely to tempt
sea rovers into the reed-infested harbor mouth. There was not
even an inhabitant in sight, although there were boats drawn up
into the reeds, amid which narrow, winding paths led mazily
toward the town wall. Gulls and other sea-fowl by the thousand
filled the air with harsh music, under a bright sky flaked with
fleecy clouds.

"Hythe, a high tide, and the wind in the southwest!" said Tros,
meditating. "How often does the wind set thus?"

"More often than not," said the druid. "It is the winds from
the west that save this land from pirates. Northwest, west,
southwest--most days in the year. The Northmen set forth, but
three times out of five storms blow them back again." *

---------
* Great Britain has always had the "weather-gage" of an invader.
---------

"And a fair slant for Gaul, but a rising sea," said Tros. "Caius
Volusenus will be fretting at his anchor, if he has not gone away
and left me."

They went and stood on the shingle beach, where the rounded
stones sang sharply of the weight behind the waves and they could
see, amid the white-caps in the distance to the eastward, a
galley that pitched at her anchor and rolled until her heavy
fighting top looked like a plaything of the spray.

"The Romans are the worst seamen I have yet seen," Tros remarked,
screwing up his eyes to stare along the waves. "They think weight
is strength, and pit their strength against the sea. They hang on
by brute force, when a seaman would employ a little strategy to
use the sea against itself.

"If Caius Volusenus were a seaman, he would not be lying off a
lee shore until his crew was weak from vomiting. If he were any
kind of man except a Roman soldier, he would have explored this
shore-line, instead of waiting for me to bring information.

"But that is the Roman method: Seize a hostage, threaten him,
then send his son or his brother to save the hostage's life by
betraying some one else! And because the world is what it is, and
men are what they are, the plan succeeds too often!

"But I have seen the Romans lose a fleet of ninety ships on the
coast of Sicily, because a land general ordered thus and so, and
they knew no better than to obey the fool! What is that group of
men along the beach a mile away?"

The druid, peering under the palm of his hand, looked anxious but
said nothing. It was clear enough that the men were forcing a
small boat into the sea, and at the first attempt it overturned
in the surf. They had to haul it back on the beach and bail the
water out.

"Now that is a strange state of affairs," said Tros. "They look
to me like Britons."

"They are Britons," said the druid.

"Don't they know this harbor? Can't they take a boat from here?"

The druid nodded, putting two and two together, frowning:

"You are too late, Tros! That will be the messenger whom Commius
sent to Caesar. They who are helping him to launch the boat
belong to Etair, son of Etard, who is against Caswallon, whereas
the men of Hythe are for him. They plan to reach Caius Volusenus'
ship ahead of you. They will succeed, because it will take us too
long to procure a crew. The men of Hythe are doubtless on the
hills behind us, tending cattle and watching Caius Volu--"

The druid coughed, for Tros clapped him on the back so suddenly
that he bit a word off midway.

"Quick!" said Tros. "Show me a boat with a sail!"

"But a crew?" said the druid.

"I have one!"

"Those horsemen? They can hunt deer; they can drink and sing and
fight, but--"

"I said, I have one! He is enough! Make haste, man!"

That druid never hurried faster in his life. They found a boat
within a quarter of an hour, whose sail had not been carried
ashore and hidden. They found oars and a pole in another boat,
and from a third boat lifted a dozen yards of good hemp rope with
which to repair the running gear.

Tros said good-by to the escort, gave them all the gold out of
Caswallon's purse, and nearly broke the hand of one in his hurry
to get the good-bys over and be gone. Then he kissed the druid on
both cheeks, cried out to Conops to raise the sail and shoved the
boat out from the reeds, jumping in as the keel slid free of
the mud.

It was a strong boat, but awkward and as slow as a drifting log,
although they labored at the oars like Titans.

But at last they worked their way over the bar at the harbor
mouth and caught the southwest wind that laid her over until the
gunwale was awash. Then Tros took the steering oar and made
experiments to discover the best point of sailing, but he found
her a clumsy tub at best.

Her blunt bow checked her constantly, and he had hard work to
keep from being swamped by the rising sea. Conops was bailing
half the time.

They had made a drenching, wallowing mile of it, and Caius
Volusenus' ship seemed farther off than ever, her hull down out
of sight between the waves or rising over a big one with her nose
toward the sky, when Conops shouted, pointing shoreward:

"They have launched that other! They are giving chase!"

It was a faster boat and a bigger one, manned by half a dozen
men, who had forced her through the surf at last and were
following in Tros's wake. Her big square lug-sail bellied in the
wind and lifted her along a good three yards for his two.

Rolling dangerously as the helm changed, she began to work to
windward, not more than a quarter of a mile astern, two men with
bows and arrows standing in her bow and a very big man in a
bearskin coat leaning his weight against the steering oar.

"He is reckless--they have promised him a fat reward for our two
heads!" said Tros.

"Master, make for the shore!" urged Conops. "They are too fast
and too many for us!"

But Tros headed farther out to sea, edging his boat craftily to
keep the quartering waves from swamping her. He lost a little
speed by doing that, and Caius Volusenus' ship was still a good
six miles away.

"The tortoise who runs, and the hare who fights, are equal
fools!" he growled in Conops' ear.

But Conops drew his long knife nervously, returned it to its
sheath and then drew out Tros's sword, examined its keen edge and
drove it home again into the scabbard.

"We two against seven--and no arrows!" he said in a discouraged voice.

But Tros, making no remark, continued his experiments, discovering
a trick the awkward hull possessed of falling away from the wind
stern-first whenever he relieved the pressure from the oar.
Nothing saved her then from swamping but the pressure of the
wind that heeled her over and exposed more broadside to the
waves--that, and instant skill at the helm.

As Tros eased her off from one of those experiments, an arrow
hummed into the sail and stuck there. "Take cover below the
weather gunwale," he ordered; so Conops knelt, begging leave to
take the oar and run the risk himself.

"For if you die, master, and I live, can I save your father?"

Tros paid no attention to him. He was watching the approaching
boat and her crew out of the corner of his eye and considering
the flight of three more arrows that winged their way into the
sail. The pursuing boat was to windward now, nearly abeam,
changing her course so as gradually to reduce the distance
between them.

"They shoot across the wind, yet all the arrows find their way
into the sail," he said at last. "That is not bad shooting. That
is done on purpose. They propose to make us prisoners. Let them
see you throw up your hands!"

"Master! We have had enough of being prisoners!"

"Obey!" commanded Tros.

So Conops stood, throwing his hands up, while Tros edged his boat
cautiously toward the other, which turned at once and came
downwind toward him.

"They are seven," he growled between his teeth, for he did not
want it seen that he was talking. "Return your knife to its
sheath, Conops! Four of them will jump aboard us. See! They stand
ready in the bow. That leaves three for us to tackle. When I give
the word, jump! I like their boat better than this one. Leave the
big man in the bearskin coat, and that other, to me. Take you the
fellow with the bow and arrows who kneels by the mast. Are
you ready?"

As he spoke, a big sea lifted both boats, and in the trough that
followed the man in the bearskin shouted, shoving his helm hard
over. They rose together, side by side and almost bumping on the
crest of the next wave. Tros suddenly let go the sheet, exactly
at the moment when the four men in the other boat's bow jumped.

They had calculated on his veering away from them, if anything;
but it was his stern that fell to leeward; his bow came up into
the wind. They missed, the pitch and roll assisting Tros as he
plied the helm.

Three sprawled into the water and the fourth just grasped the
gunwale, where he clung until the two boats crashed together and
the force of the collision shook him off.

The man in the bearskin roared an order, leaning his whole
strength against the steering oar, but he was too late; the
collision spilled the wind out of his sail and he shipped the top
of a wave over his stern that almost swamped him.

Tros, calculating to a hair's breadth, had timed the turn so that
his bow struck the stranger amidships and, continuing the swing,
he let the other boat bear down on him until for a second they
lay parallel and bumping, facing opposite directions.

"Jump!" he shouted then. He and Conops sprang for the bigger
boat, where the three men stood to receive them with drawn
knives. But each of them had to cling to something with one hand
to preserve his balance because the boat was beam-on to the sea
and wallowing, as the loose sail flapped and thundered.

Tros took his oar with him, and landed with the blade of it
against a man's throat. That man went backward overboard, and
Conops' knife went home to the hilt into the third man, striking
upward from below the ribs.

The man in the bearskin thrust at Tros, but stumbled over the
dead man, who flopped and slid to and fro, bleeding in knee-deep
water. So the blow missed, but the butt of Tros's oar did not; it
struck the out-thrust hand and spun the knife overside.

The fellow in the bearskin, shaking his hand because the blow had
stung him, jumped in on Tros with a yell; but the boat lurched;
Tros had the better sea legs. Roaring to Conops to keep his knife
away, he seized his opponent by the neck and slowly forced him
backward overboard.

"Haul on the sheet!" he shouted then, jumping for the steering
oar that swung and banged in its iron bracket. In a moment they
were paying off before the wind, and the boat they had left was
down between the waves a hundred yards behind, half-full of water
and sinking.

"Take that bucket and bail for your life!" Tros shouted; conning
the rising sea as he headed up a bit toward the wind; for the
tide set inshore; they had made a lot of leeway while the short
fight lasted.

For a long time after that he made no remark, until Conops had
bailed most of the water overside.

Then Conops, with his back toward Tros, searched his victim
carefully and, finding nothing worth appropriating, picked him up
and threw him into the sea to leeward. When he had seen the body
sink he came and sat down by his master.

"Clean up the blood!" Tros commanded.

Conops went to work again, using a piece of sail-cloth that he
found in a box under a coil of rope. Presently he returned, and
resumed the seat.

"So now you have a dead man to account for," was all Tros said,
sparing him one swift glance as they rose over a big wave. Conops
looked surprised, indignant, irritated. He had expected praise.

"It was him or me," he answered after a moment's pause.
"Well--you killed him. Can you give him back his life?" "But,
master, _you_ killed two men!"

"Not I! I gave them leave to swim!" said Tros.

"They could not swim. They are all drowned, master."

"That is their affair. I never forbade them to learn to swim."

"But that fellow clad in a bearskin--how could he have swum? His
coat drowned him."

"He never asked my leave to wear that coat," said Tros. "I could
have slain him with my sword as easily as you slew your man. But
I spared him. I gave him leave to swim. No enemy of mine can hold
me answerable for the bearskin coat he wears!"

"I am glad I slew," said Conops, glaring fiercely through
his one eye.

"Laugh, if you wish," said Tros. "But a man should mind his own
business. At some time or another, you will have that fellow's
life to answer for, which should have been his business and
not yours."

Conops was silent for a long time.

"Well. At least you have a stolen boat," he said at last.

"So?" said Tros. "When, then? One I borrowed, by a druid's leave.
This one I exchanged for that one; and who started the exchange?
I tell you, Conops, you have nearly as much as Caesar has to
learn about the art of living! It is a coward's act to kill, if
there is any other way."

"Then you call me a coward, master?"

"Yes," said Tros, "but not as bad a one as Caesar; which, if you
were, I would contrive to get along without you, instead of
trying to teach you wisdom. Ease off the sheet a little--
so--plenty. Now get forward and see whether Caius Volusenus
signals us."





CHAPTER X

CAIUS JULIUS

Ye invite me to blame the conqueror. But I find fault with the
conquered. If ye were men, who would truly rather die that eat
the bread of slavery or bow the knee to arrogance, none could
conquer you. Nay, none I tell you. If ye were steadfastly
unwilling to enslave others, none could enslave you. Be ye your
own masters. If ye are the slaves of envy, malice, greed and
vanity, the vainest, greediest, most malicious and most envious
man is far greater than you. His ambition will impel him to prove
it. Your meanness will enable him to prove it.

--From the Sayings of the Druid Taliesan



Tros went about between two waves as he came nearly abreast of
the plunging galley and, falling away before the wind as close to
her side as he dared, shouted for a rope. But none was thrown to
him. He had to work like fury at the steering oar, bump the
galley's side and jump for it, thanking the clumsy shipwrights
who had left good toe- and finger-hold.

For that galley had been thrown together by unwilling Gauls at
Caesar's order, very roughly in the Roman fashion under the eyes
of Roman overseers, and had been rendered fit for sea by laying
strips of wood to hold the caulking in the seams.

Tros and Conops clambered aboard and let the small boat drift
away. There were seasick Romans lying everywhere--they all but
stepped on two of them--but not a sign of Caius Volusenus.

Lemon-countenanced and weak from vomiting, a legionary summoned
him at last. He came out of his cabin below the after fighting
deck and dropped himself weakly against the bulkhead--a
middleaged man, dignified and handsome even in that predicament,
with his toga nearly blown off in the wind and his bare knees
trembling. His eyes were a bit too close together to create
instant confidence.

"How dare you keep me waiting all this while?" he grumbled,
trying to make a weary voice vibrate with anger. "We might have
lost the ship, plunging in this welter at a cable's end!"

"You will lose her yet!" said Tros; but his eye was up-wind, and
he knew the wind was falling. "Have you a spar to make fast to
the cable? You had better let the anchor go and make sail as she
turns before the wind."

Caius Volusenus doubted that advice, but Tros was in haste now to
return to Caesar, so he talked glibly of a lee shore and a gale,
and pointed to the rocks where the tide would carry them.

One thing was certain--that the crew was much too weak and
discouraged to haul the anchor up; so while Caius Volusenus and
two young decurions aroused and bullied the crew into a semblance
of activity, Tros and Conops lashed a spar to the cable-end and
tossed it overboard.

Then, when Caius Volusenus gave the signal, they slipped the
cable and the galley swung away before the wind with three reefs
in her great square-sail.

Tros took the helm and no man questioned him. It was not until
they reached mid-channel and the wind fell almost to a calm that
Caius Volusenus climbed up to the after-deck and leaned there,
yellow and weak-kneed, resuming the command.

"Not for Caesar--not even for Caesar," he grumbled, "will I take
charge of a ship again on this thrice cursed sea! He would not
trust a crew of Gauls. He said they would overpower us Romans if
a gale should make us seasick. Well, I would rather fight Gauls
than vomit like a fool in Neptune's bosom. What news have you?"

"News for Caesar," Tros answered.

"Speak!" commanded Caius Volusenus.

"No," said Tros. "You are a faithful soldier, I don't doubt; but
you are not Caesar."

Caius Volusenus scowled, but Tros knew better than to let his
information reach Caesar at second-hand, for then Caius Volusenus
would receive the credit for it. He, Tros, needed all the credit
he could get with Caesar, and on more counts than one.

"Well, there are two of you," said Caius Volusenus. "I will have
them flog that man of yours, and see what he can tell me."

He stepped toward the break of the deck to give the order to a
legionary who was standing watch beside the weather sheet.

"Better order them to row," said Tros. "There is not enough wind
now to fill the sail. Flog Conops, and you injure me. Injure me,
and I will fashion a tale for Caesar that shall make you sorry
for it. Hasten to Caesar, and I will say what may be said in
your behalf."

Caius Volusenus turned and faced him, his skin no longer quite so
yellow since the wind had ceased.

There was an avaricious, hard look in his eyes, not quite
accounted for by the ship's rolling over the ground-swell.

"Did you find pearls?" he demanded.

"Plenty," said Tros after a moment's thought.

"Have you any?"

"No. But I know how to come by them."

He thought another moment and then added:

"If I should return as Caesar's pilot, and you, let us say, were
to lend me a small boat in which to slip away by night, I could
lay my hands on a good sized potful of pearls, and I would give
you half of them."

Caius Volusenus ordered out the oars and watched until the rowing
was in full swing, beating time for the discouraged men until the
oars all moved in unison. Then he turned on Tros suddenly:

"Why should I trust you?" he demanded.

"Why not? By the gods, why not?" Tros answered. "Have I played
you false? I might have stayed in Britain. I might have wrecked
this ship. For the rest, you shall hear me speak in praise of you
to Caesar's face. What do you find untrustworthy about me?"

"You are a Greek!" said Caius Volusenus.

"Nay, not I! I am a Samothracian," said Tros.

Caius Volusenus did not care to know the difference. He snorted.
Then he ordered the idle sail brailed up to the spar; and for a
while after that he beat time for the rowers, who were making
hardly any headway against the tide that was setting strongly now
the other way.

At last he turned again to Tros, standing squarely with his hands
behind him, for the ship was reasonably steady; and except for
those too narrowly spaced eyes he looked like a gallant Roman in
his fine bronze armor; but he spoke like a tradesman:

"If you will swear to me on your father's honor, and if you will
agree to leave your father in Gaul as a hostage for fulfilment of
your oath, I will see what can be done about a small boat--in the
matter of the pearls. You would have to give me two thirds of
the pearls."

"Two thirds if you like," said Tros, "but not my father! He knows
these waters better than I do. He is a better pilot and a wiser
seaman. Unless Caesar sets him free on my return, Caesar may
rot for a pilot--and all his ships and crews--and you along
with him!"

Caius Volusenus faced about again and cursed the rowers volubly.
Then, after a while, he ordered wine brought out for them and
served in brass cups. That seemed to revive their spirits and the
rowing resumed steadily.

After a long time Caius Volusenus, with his hands behind him,
came within a pace of Tros and thrust his eagle nose within a
hand's length of his face.

"Where are these pearls?" he demanded.

"In a woman's keeping."

"Why did you bring none with you?"

"Because, although the woman loved me nicely, there was scant
time, and she has a husband, who is something of a chief. She
begged me to take her with me. But I did not see why Caesar
should have those pearls, and I had thought of you and what a
confederate you might be."

Conops, squatting on the steps that led to the after-deck, was
listening, admiring, wondering. Greek to the backbone, he loved
an artful lie. His face rose slowly above the level of the deck;
his one eye winked, and then he ducked again.

"Well, let us leave your father out of it," said Caius Volusenus.
"He is Caesar's prisoner; let Caesar free, keep, or kill him.
That is nothing to me. I have a wife in Rome. Strike the bargain,
Tros--" Tros nodded.

"--and remember this: I hold no Greek's oath worth a drachma, but
I hold my own inviolable. If you fail me, I swear by the immortal
gods that I will never rest until you, and your father both, have
been flogged to death. Bear that well in mind. I have the
confidence of Caesar."

"You are a hard man," Tros answered, looking mildly at him; he
could make those amber eyes of his look melting when he chose.

"I am a very hard man. I am a Roman of the old school."

Caius Volusenus called for wine, and his own slave brought it to
him in a silver goblet. He drank two gobletsful and then, as an
afterthought, offered some to Tros. It was thin, sour stuff.

There was no more conversation. Caius Volusenus went below
into his cabin, to sleep and regain strength after the long
seasickness. The rowers just kept steering way, and Tros plied
the helm until the tide turned; but even with the changing tide
no wind came and they made but slow progress until moonlight
showed the coast of Gaul and Caritia* sands still ten or twelve
miles in the offing.

---------
* The modern Calais.
---------

Then Caius Volusenus came on deck again and fumed because the
anchor had been left behind. He feared those sand-banks, having
seen too many galleys go to pieces on them and he did not want to
do the same thing under Caesar's eyes.

Beyond the banks the masts of half a hundred ships stood out like
etchings in the haze, and the glow of Caesar's campfires was like
rubies in the night. The sea was dead, flat calm, but Caius
Volusenus would not risk the narrow channel in darkness, and the
rowers had to dawdle at the oars all night long, while Conops
took the helm and Tros slept.

As day was breaking, with the tide behind him and a puff of wind
enough to fill the sail, Tros took the helm again and worked his
way into a berth between galleys that lay with their noses lined
along the shore.

There all was bustle and a sort of orderly confusion, with the
ringing of the shipwrights' anvils and the roar of bellows, the
squeaking of loaded ox-wains and the tramping of the squads of
slaves who carried down munitions and the provender to put aboard
the ships.

At the rear was a fortified, rectangular camp, enclosed within
a deep ditch and an earth wall, along which sentries paced
at intervals.

Within the camp the soldiers' tents were pitched in perfectly
even rows, with streets between, and in the center, on one side
of an open space, where four streets met, was Caesar's, no better
and no larger than the rest, but with the eagles planted in the
earth in front of it and sentries standing by.

The huts, where prisoners and supplies were guarded, were at the
rear end of the camp, enclosed within a secondary ditch-and-wall.
The horse lines, where the stamping stallions squealed for
breakfast, were along one side, but Caesar's special war-horse
had a tent all to himself behind his master's.

In a line with Caesar's sleeping tent there was a bigger, square
one, with a table set in it and an awning spread in front; it was
there, in a chair of oak and ivory, beside the table at which his
secretary sat, that Caesar attended to business.

He was up betimes and being shaved by a Spanish barber, when
Caius Volusenus marched up and answered the challenge of the
sentries, swaggering with the stately Roman military stride and
followed by Tros and Conops, who made no effort to disguise their
deep-sea roll, although it made the sentries laugh.

There were a dozen officers in waiting underneath the awning, but
they made way for Caius Volusenus; he passed through, nodding to
them, leaving Tros and Conops to wait until they were summoned.

But they were not without entertainment, although no man spoke to
them; for in the middle of the open space exactly in front of the
eagles,* a naked Gaul, held down by four legionaries, was being
flogged by two others for stealing, each stroke of the cords
laying open the flesh.

---------
* Standards bearing the insignia of the different legions and the
letters S.P.Q.R.
---------

And there was a row of prisoners to be considered, women among
them, lined up under guard awaiting Caesar's will concerning them.

It was a long time before Caesar sent for Tros. The Gaul was very
nearly flogged to death, and the earth was purple with his blood
when Caius Volusenus thrust his way between the other officers
and beckoned.

Having satisfied his dignity to that extent, he came forward a
stride or two to be out of earshot of the others, and whispered
as Tros fell into stride beside him.

"Caesar is in a good mood. I have spoken for you. Make your news
brief and satisfactory, and all will be well. Remember: Caesar
has decided to invade Britain. Speak accordingly, and offer no
discouragement. I have told him you are a splendid pilot. Let him
know that you and I explored the coast together."

Tros, smothering a smile, followed him between the officers
and stood before the table where the Lombard secretary eyed
him insolently.

Caesar sat with a rug over his knees and his scarlet cloak hung
on the back of the chair behind him. He was hardly forty-five,
but he looked very bald and very old, because the barber was not
yet through with him and had not yet bound on the wreath he
usually wore. His cheeks looked hollow, as if the molars were all
missing, and the wrinkles at the corners of his mouth twitched
slightly, as if he were not perfectly at ease.

Nevertheless, he was alert and handsome from self-consciousness
of power and intelligence. He sat bolt upright like a soldier;
his pale smile was suave, and his eyes were as bold and
calculating as a Forum money-lender's. Handsome, very handsome in
a cold and studied way--he seemed to know exactly how he
looked--dishonest, intellectual, extravagant, a liar, capable of
any cruelty and almost any generosity at other men's expense;
above all, mischievous and vicious, pouched below the eyes and
lecherously lipped, but handsome--not a doubt of it.

"So Tros, you return to us?"

His voice was cultured, calm, containing just the least
suggestion of a challenge. He crossed one knee over the
other underneath the rug and laid his head back for the
barber to adjust the golden laurel wreath. It made him look
ten years younger.

"I claim my father," Tros answered.

Caesar frowned. Caius Volusenus coughed behind his hand.

"Tell me your news," said Caesar in a dry voice; the note of
challenge was much more perceptible, and his eyes all but closed,
as if he could see straight through Tros to the British coast
beyond him.

"I landed. I was wounded. I was rescued by a druid. I met
Caswallon and his wife Fflur. I was shown an army of a hundred
men, and I saw it dismissed for the harvesting. I heard
dissensions. There was some talk of an invasion, but none ready
to repel it. I saw Commius, and he is held a prisoner in chains.
I stole a boat and came back."

"Examining the coast with me," put in Caius Volusenus.

"Saving the interruption, that is a very proper way to turn in a
report," said Caesar.

"You may withdraw." He glanced at Caius Volusenus sharply,
once, and took no further notice of him as he backed away
under the awning.

"Harbors?" asked Caesar.

"None," said Tros. "There is a good beach for the ships, good
camping ground, and standing corn not far away."

"And the equinox?" asked Caesar, glancing at the blue sky.

"I spoke about that with the druids. Yesterday's gale will be the
last until the equinox arrives; that period is accurately known
but none knows how soon thereafter the storms will begin, since
they vary from year to year. But for the next few days there is
sure to be calm weather."

"Why do they hold Commius prisoner?"

"Because he urged them to permit your army to land on the shore
of Britain."

"Do they not know my reputation? Do they not know that I punish
insults? Do they not know Commius is my ambassador?"

"They say he brought trashy presents that the women laughed at.
They say he is a spy, not an ambassador," Tros answered.

Caesar's face colored slightly.

"Barbarians!" he sneered, and then smiled condescendingly. "What
kind of man is Caswallon?"

"He fights nearly naked," said Tros. "He thinks armor is a
coward's clothing."

Caesar looked amused.

"Has he ships?" he asked.

"I heard him boast of three."

Caesar drummed his lean, strong fingers on the chair-arm.

"Well--I will wait until after the equinox," he said after a
moment. "I have some small experience of druids. They are sly and
untrustworthy. I am afraid these storms might catch me in
midchannel and scatter the fleet. I have only one strong ship;
the rest were built in haste by inexperienced Gauls, good enough
for calm weather, dangerous in heavy storms. And now of course,
you wish to see your father?"

Tros nodded and smiled. For a moment he was off guard--almost
ready to believe that sometimes Caesar's word was worth face value.

"A splendid, dignified and noble looking man, your father. All
the fault I find with him is his affection for the druids; a
strange affection, not becoming to him. A great sailor, I am
told. You say he knows these waters around Britain as well as
you do?"

Tros nodded again, but the smile was gone. He forefelt trickery now.

"I will speak with him first," said Caesar. "You shall see
him afterward."

"Is he well?" asked Tros nervously. "Has he been treated
properly, or--"

"I always treat people properly," said Caesar in a suave voice.
"There is nothing done in this camp except by my orders. You
may retire."

He said the last words in a louder voice, and an officer marched
in, who took Tros by the arm and led him out under the awning.
Another officer was summoned.

Tros heard Caesar's voice speaking in undertones, and less than a
minute later he was marching between two officers toward the far
end of the camp, where the prisoners were confined within the
inner ditch and wall. There, in the gap that served as gate, he
recognized the centurion who had promised to treat his father
kindly, but he had no opportunity to speak with him.

He first knew that Conops was dogging his steps when the
centurion on guard demanded weapons, and Conops swore in Greek
because they took away his knife with scant ceremony.

"Unbuckle my sword. Hand it to them," he ordered, and Conops obeyed.

A moment later they were both shut into a low shed that had no
window; a door was locked on them, and for fifteen minutes they
listened to the steady tramp of a sentry, and the clank of his
weapons as he turned at each end of a twenty-yard beat, before
either of them spoke.

Then Conops broke the silence

"Master," he whispered, "I can work my way out of this place.
Look, where the wall is broken at the top. Lift me, and I can
crawl out between wall and thatch. Let me find your father."

Tros hesitated for a moment, looking troubled.

"If they catch you, they will flog or kill you, Conops."

"I am a free man," Conops answered. "I may do what I will with my
own life."

"Look like a slave, and speak like one. They will take less
notice of you. Strip yourself," said Tros.

So Conops pulled off everything except a sort of kilt that he had
on under the smock. Tros lifted him, and he crawled into the
narrow gap where the top of the mud wall had crumbled because
rain leaked through the thatch.

He had to force his way through carefully to make no noise, and
he was delayed by having to wait until a sentry on the outer
rampart passed on his regular beat. Then he dropped to the ground
outside, and Tros heard him whisper:

"I may be a long time. Don't despair of me."

Tros picked up Conops' clothes and stowed them under his own,
then paced the hut restlessly, for there was nothing to sit down
on but the damp earth floor, and nothing to do but worry. At the
end of an hour the door opened, and a slave in charge of a
centurion brought in a bowl of boiled wheat.

"Weren't there two in here?" asked the centurion.

"I don't know," said Tros. "The hut was empty when they put me in."

The centurion shrugged his shoulders, slammed the door again and
passed on. Tros heard him ask another officer whether any record
had been kept of the beheadings since a week ago, but he could
not catch the reply.

There began to be a lot of trumpeting, the clang of arms and the
tramp of horses. A voice that spoke in stirring cadences appeared
to be addressing Roman troops, but the voice was not Caesar's.
Trumpets again, and then the sound of cavalry moving off in
regular formation. Half an hour after that a Latin slave-dealer,
with his secretary slave and tablets, looked in while a legionary
held the door open.

"I tell you, this one is not for sale," said the legionary.
"Caesar has another use for him. There was another, a one-eyed
man, but I suppose he has been executed."

"Extravagance!" said the slave-dealer. "You soldiers kill off all
the best ones. What with the beheadings and the draft for
gladiators, males are worth a premium and females are a glut. I
could bid a price for this one. He looks good."

"Save yourself trouble," said the legionary. "I tell you, Caesar
needs him."

And he slammed the door.

An hour after that came Conops, scrambling through the hole under
the eaves and knocking down dry mud in handfuls. They picked it
all up carefully and tossed it through the opening. Then Conops
resumed his clothes.

"Master, your father was in a round hut at the other end of this
prison yard."

"Was?" asked Tros.

"Was. He has gone. There is a window to that hut, with wooden
bars set in the opening; and the window is toward the rampart, so
I stood in shadow and had word with him. He has not been harmed,
but he suffers from confinement. He was very grateful for the
news of you.

"While I hid below the window, between the back of the hut and
the rampart, an officer came who led him away to Caesar. Then a
sentry on the rampart spied me; so I pretended to be one of the
slaves who clean the camp of rubbish.

"I picked up trash and climbed the rampart to throw the stuff
into the ditch, as the others do; and so I saw them take your
father into Caesar's tent. Then I kept gathering more rubbish,
and kept on climbing the rampart to throw the stuff away; so I
saw them bring your father out and set him on horseback.

"The cavalry was lined up then--five hundred of them--and when
they went away your father rode with them between two soldiers."

"Was he wearing his sword?" asked Tros.

"Yes."

"Which way went the cavalry?"

"Alongshore to the eastward."

"Did my father send me any message?"

"Yes, master. He said this: That after you started for Britain,
Caesar sent for him and told him he must pilot one portion of the
fleet to Britain when the time comes, if he hopes ever again to
see you alive.

"And your father added this: That that fleet will not reach
Britain if he can prevent it.

"'Tell him,' he said, 'it is better to die obstructing Caesar
than to live assisting him to work more havoc.'

"Then he told me to bid you not to be deceived by anything Caesar
may say, but pretend to serve Caesar for your own life's sake,
obstructing him in all ways possible, for the sake of Those who
sent you forth from Samothrace."

"That will I!" said Tros, scowling.

"Then I hid awhile and watched them change the guard at this end
of the prison yard. None saw me, although the sentry on the
rampart passed me twice as I was making shift to climb in,
setting a forked stick against the wall to set my foot on, and
kicking it away afterward."

Tros paced the floor like a caged animal, his hands behind him
and his chin down on his breast.

"What if Caesar should leave me here!" he exploded at last. "He
can find other pilots than me."

But Caius Volusenus was too eager for imaginary pearls to let
that happen. He came striding to the hut and gained admittance
after the officer on duty had sent him back, fuming and indignant
to obtain a pass from some superior.

"Now Caesar would have left you here in chains and have used your
father only, for he trusts neither of you," he began, when he was
sure the door was shut and none was listening. "But I spoke up
for you, and I told Caesar you are a man whose instincts compel
you to navigate safely.

"I suggested he should send your father as a pilot for the
cavalry, who are embarking a few miles down the coast. He agreed
because that will keep the two of you apart. It is no use arguing
with Caesar."

"No use whatever," said Tros. "What then?"

"Pluto paralyze him! He began to wonder why I set such store by
you! Caesar would suspect his mother if she brought him milk!

"He decided you are not to go with me on my ship, but with him on
his, where he can keep an eye on you. And he has told me off to
bring up the rear of the expedition."

Tros had not ceased to pace the floor all the while the Roman was
speaking. Suddenly now he turned and faced him where a stream of
sunlight shone through a crack beside the doorpost.

"How much of this is true?" he demanded. "Caesar told me he will
not start until after the equinox."

"All of it is true," said the Roman, showing his decayed front
teeth in something between a smile and a snarl. "Shall Caesar
tell his real plans to every prisoner he questions? Listen to me
now, Tros: You would never dare to play a trick on Caesar; but
perhaps you think because I am only Caius Volusenus I am easier
to trifle with.

"I remind you of my oath! At the first chance I will take care to
provide you with a small boat. That is my part of it. Thereafter
you bring pearls, and the woman with them, if you see fit. You
may keep the woman; but two thirds of the pearls are mine,
according to agreement. And if the pearls are not enough, or if
you fail me"--he showed his teeth again--"remember my oath, that
is all!"

"Do your part," said Tros. "I will do mine."

Caius Volusenus nodded drily and shouted to the sentry to unlock
the door and let him out. When he was gone, Tros took Conops by
the shoulders.

"Little man, little man!" he exclaimed, "that Roman's avarice
will thwart a worse rascal than himself! Caesar, for this once at
least, shall fail!"





CHAPTER XI

THE EXPEDITION SAILS

Ye have heard, ye have seen the sea and all its waves come
thundering against the cliffs. Lo, it fails; it is hurled back
upon itself. But does the sea cease? Neither shall envy and all
its armies cease. It shall thunder and roar and suck and
undermine, until ye learn, at some time in this Eternity, that
Motion is Law. But ye think of the motion of chariots, whereas I
speak of the growth of Wisdom.

--From the Sayings of the Druid Taliesan



Nothing further happened until midnight. Then the trumpets
sounded. There began the steady tramp of armed men and the sharp,
staccato orders of centurions. After that, Caesar's voice, hard,
brilliant, not saying much, but saying it with vigor. Then a
shuddering clang as two whole legions raised their shields--a
pause, two deep breaths long--and a roar like the bursting of a
wave on fanged rocks.

"Ave!"

Short, sharp commands and the clang of shields, as cohort after
cohort tramped away in fours toward the harbor. Silence at the
end of half an hour, and then a dog howling and screams from a
woman prisoner. At last gruff voices and a heavy tread at Tros's
door, a glare of torchlight through the crack, a clang as a
bronze shield touched another one--and the door opened slowly.

"Come!" said a pleasant voice. Tros, whispering to Conops to keep
close behind him, strode out into the torch-glare. The red light
shone on the bronze body-armor of a veteran-officer, who
beckoned and turned at once, leading through the opening in the
prison-yard wall, where half a dozen legionaries sprang to the
salute. The two men who had held the torches stayed behind to
search the hut for anything worth appropriating.

The officer led toward mid-camp, where Caesar sat on horseback,
erect and splendid in his scarlet cloak, surrounded by a dozen
torches and about two-score officers on foot, who were crowding
in to listen to his last instructions.

No finer horseman ever lived than Caesar; he looked like a god in
the glare of the sputtering firelight, and the helmeted faces
peering up at him shone with enthusiasm. His voice was calm,
confident, unforced, and it vibrated with authority.

"Who is that?" he demanded, as Tros stepped into the zone of
light. Tros bulked bigger than any Roman near him, standing like
a monarch in his gold-edged purple cloak. Sea-water stains and
the dirt of travel did not show at midnight.

"Tros the pilot, General."

"What? Has he been put to an indignity? Where is his sword?"

Caesar frowned, glaring at the faces all around him, but omitting
Tros. Some one ran away into the darkness, shouting as he ran.
Caesar leaned forward and spoke to a slave who stood near him
with tablet and stylus.

"Write," he commanded: "'Caesar will ascertain who submitted Tros
to indignity and will punish the offender.' Pilot," he went on,
meeting Tros's eyes at last, with a smile that would have
mollified an angry woman, "not all of Caesar's men are as
thoughtful for Rome's friends as Caesar is. On the eve of great
events mistakes occur. You will understand that this indignity
was not inflicted by my order. The offender shall be called to
strict account for it."

The man who had deprived Tros of his sword was standing in the
torchlight almost straight in front of Caesar; he turned his head
and looked at Tros brazenly, unblinking, with a faint, sarcastic
smile. Some one came running through the darkness and thrust
Tros' sword into his hands. The same man gave Conops his knife.

"That is better," said Caesar. "I don't doubt that now you
feel better."

He surveyed the sea of faces.

"Officers," he went on, "learn from this that there is nothing
Caesar overlooks."

With that he pressed his greave against the horse's flank and
rode away at a walk, the torchmen marching to his right and left
hand and the officers following in a group, their helmets
gleaming, Caesar's scarlet cloak like a symbol of Rome's majesty
looming above them.

Tros was not left alone; two officers marched with him, one on
either hand, and he knew himself, as they intended that he
should, as much a prisoner as ever. Conops was no more noticed
than a dog that follows a marching regiment.

All was in darkness along the harbor side, but Tros noticed that
the usual beacon fires around the camp were burning as brightly
as if the troops were still there.

A nearly full moon shone on rows of ships that had been pushed
off from the shore and anchored; only one ship, and that the
highest pooped and longest of them all, lay broadside to a wooden
wharf, from which a heavy gangplank with handrails reached to her
deck amidships.

Most of the officers stepped into small boats and were rowed off
to their separate commands, but Caesar, followed by five of them,
rode straight to the wharf and urged his horse across the
gangplank, laughing cheerfully when the animal objected.

Two legionaries started forward along the plank to seize the
horse's head, but he ordered them back sharply and compelled the
horse to do his bidding.

"A good omen!" he shouted, as the horse reached deck. "The gods,
as ever, befriend Caesar!"

"Ave!" roared the legionaries, packed so closely in the ship's
waist they could hardly raise their shields; and the soldiers in
the other ships took up the roar, until across the moonlit water
in the distance came the last dull din of the salute.

An officer nudged Tros, motioning toward the gangplank, so he
walked aboard, followed by Conops, and neither man dreamed of
going anywhere except to the high poop, swinging themselves up
the ladder as if the ship belonged to them. Then men on the dark
wharf pulled the gangplank clear, and some one lighted a beacon
in the ship's bow.

A man on the poop roared an order at once. Rowers, ready on the
benches, thrust their long oars through the port-holes and shoved
the ship clear of the wharf.

Then another sharp order, and they swung together in the short,
quick starting-stroke, their heads in line resembling the
remorseless to-and-fro beat of a battering ram. That illusion was
heightened by the thumping in the oarlocks and the hollow clang
of metal striking on a shield as some one marked the time.

Caesar stood gazing astern, with his scarlet cloak wrapped
tightly, and a shawl over his shoulders, watching the other ships
haul their anchors and follow one by one. There were a dozen
biremes, clumsy with engines for hurling stones and shooting
volleys of arrows, their great iron dolphins swinging from heavy
yardarms and their midship sections looking like a fortress.

But the remainder--nearly a hundred ships--were for the most part
unarmed transports and high-sided, heavy-laden merchant ships
with corn, oil, wine, munitions and supplies.

The harbor became noisy with the thump of oars, but there was no
shouting, and no light on any of the ships but Caesar's, where
half a dozen men stood by the beacon with sand and water, ready
to extinguish sparks.

There was no wind outside the harbor. Caesar's ship worked out
beyond the shoals and waited until nearly all the fleet was clear
and had taken station in four lines behind him. Then, in keeping
with Caesar's usual luck, a light south wind began to fill the
sails. He turned at once to Tros:

"Pilot," he said, "make haste now and show me that anchorage
on the shore of Britain. I will show you how Caesar leads
Roman soldiers."

Tros went and stood beside the helmsman, a Roman making way for
him. There was a great deal of low-voiced talking on the poop,
where a dozen officers were gathered; it annoyed him, he was
trying to recall what Gobhan had explained about the tides, and
to remember where the quicksands lay. He ordered the ship headed
up a point or two to eastward, and Caesar noticed it.

"Pilot," he said, "this is a Roman fleet. Each ship will follow
me exactly. Carry that in mind."

Then he turned to laugh and talk with his staff officers. There
was excitement in his voice. He was like a boy setting out on a
great adventure, although the moonlight shining on the back of
his bald head considerably weakened that illusion. He was the
only Roman on the poop who wore no helmet and one of the officers
warned him of the night air, so he tied the shawl over his head,
and he looked like a hooded vulture then.

"For two years I have longed for this!" he exclaimed with a
conceited laugh. "It will interest the Roman crowd, won't it, to
see Britons walking in my triumph! They paint themselves blue. We
will have to take some of their blue paint along with us to
redecorate them before we enter Rome.

"I want it understood that any pearls taken in the loot are for
me; I need them for the Venus Genetrix. I will be generous with
everything else--you may tell that to the men."

Tros changed the course another point or two to eastward. Caesar
noticed it again. He came and stood beside him, staring toward
the coast of Britain, where two or three enormous fires were
burning on the cliffs that would have resembled dark clouds
except for those dots of crimson.

"Druids at their beastly practices!" said Caesar. For a moment he
looked piercingly at Tros.

"Some one may have told them I am coming; they are probably
burning human sacrifices to ward off the Roman eagles! However,
they will find the eagles take their sacrifices in another way!"

Suddenly his mood changed, and the tone of his voice with it; he
became even more conceited as he toyed with condescension--he
would probably have called it mercy.

"I hope for their own sakes the British will not be foolish. The
Gauls have shown them what must happen if they oppose Romans
under Caesar's leadership! Is there any wisdom outside Rome, I
wonder? Sometimes I am forced to think not. I trust that you are
wise, Tros. I reward as richly as I punish."

He returned to the group of officers and chatted with them for a
while, Tros seizing the opportunity to head the ship a trifle
more to eastward. But Caesar noticed it. He came and stood by the
helm again.

"Show me the place for which we are sailing," he commanded; and
Tros pointed out the highest cliffs that overlook the channel
from the British shore.

"Why not sail straight for them, as a Roman road goes straight
over hill and valley?" asked Caesar.

Tros dissertated about tides and currents, that would carry the
fleet too far to westward unless they made good their easting
before the ebb; and for a moment after that as he watched
Caesar's face he trembled for the whole of his plan and for his
friend Caswallon.

"Why not westward?" Caesar asked. "Those cliffs frown gloomily.
To me they look ill-omened--an inhospitable shore. Yonder to the
westward, there are no cliffs."

And, as Tros well knew, there were harbors to the westward, where
a fleet might anchor safely through autumn storms.

"Swamps!" he answered curtly. "Mud, where ships stick firm until
the high tides fill them! Unseen quicksands! Rocks! However--it
is your business."

He made as if to change the helm, but Caesar checked him:

"No, I hold you responsible. You are the pilot. It will be my
pleasure to reward or punish."

The wind increased, and the following fleet began to lose
formation, the heavily loaded provision ships falling behind and
the others scattering according to their speed. Caesar's ship was
fastest of all and was a long way first to reach the "chops,"
where wind and tide met and the sea boiled like a caldron.

Most of the legionaries, crowded in the waist, groaned and
vomited, and Caesar's war-horse had to be thrown and tied to
prevent him from injuring himself.

Then Tros swore fervidly between his teeth, and Conops came to
him to find out what was wrong, leaning on the rail behind him,
tugging his cloak to call attention.

"Wrong?" groaned Tros. "I am! I have missed the quicksands!"

"Then we live!" laughed Conops. "I see nothing wrong with that!"

But Tros swore again.

"I misjudged the tide. An hour earlier, and all this fleet had--"

Caesar returned to find out what the talking was about; his sharp
ears possibly had caught a word or two of Greek. He stood and
stared eastward, swaying, watching where the current boiled
around shoals. The moonlight gleamed on the projecting spur of an
island that was hardly above sea level.* There was white water
within an arrow-shot of the ship's side.

---------
* There was an island at one end of the Goodwin Sands until
comparatively recently.
---------

Caesar stared at Tros coldly and then looked southward for a
glimpse of following sails; the nearest ones were sweeping
westward; tide, wind and current all combining to carry them
clear of the shoals. Tros felt the goose-flesh creeping up
his spine.

"You Romans are no sailors," he remarked. "If Rome were an
island, you would be a vassal nation. Do you see those shoals? A
Roman pilot would have wrecked this whole fleet on them. As it is--"

Caesar nodded; he could hardly keep his feet on the heaving deck;
a cloud of stinging spray burst overside and drenched him; he
clung to the rail.

"Let me not doubt you again, Tros," he answered grimly.
Tros laughed.

"Caesar," he answered, "do you let your troops doubt you? When
danger seems imminent, do you let them doubt you?"

"You are a bold rogue," Caesar answered.

"Yet you live--and I could drown you easily," said Tros, "as
easily as any of your men could kill you with a javelin in
battle. Yonder is Britain, Caesar. There are no more shoals."

Caesar did not answer, but kept glancing from the ship's bow,
where a long stream of sparks from the beacon flew downwind,
toward the fleet, that had been forbidden to show lights. The
rowing had ceased long ago; all sails were spread and glistening
like wall ghosts in the moonlight.

Suddenly a ship a mile astern lighted a warning beacon and
changed course westward. Fifty ships answered, and a blare of
trumpets, like the bleating of terrified monsters, came
fitfully downwind.

"Romans! Romans!" Tros exclaimed. "The Britons sleep deep, eh?
Will you blame me if they know now how many ships are coming?" he
asked Caesar, jerking his head in the direction of the crimson
flares that dotted the dancing sea for miles around.

Caesar walked away to leeward and sat on a camp-stool where his
staff, most of them seasick, were sprawling on the wet deck.

"He suspected you," Conops whispered. "Master, he was nearer
death that minute than ever you brought him. My knife was ready."

Tros made a sound between his teeth. "Any fool can slay a
Caesar," he remarked.

"What would you have done to him?" Conops asked resentfully. "Was
it accident that--"

"I would have given him a true emergency in which to play
the Caesar."

Conops was puzzled.

"Then--then you favor him, master?"

"If I ever should, may my guiding star forget me."

"Then--"

"I gave the gods an opportunity to do their part," Tros went on.
"It may be there are honest men on these ships, for whom the gods
have other uses than to drown them. Or it may be that the gods
prefer a second opportunity; the gods are like men, Conops; they
delight in choosing. I will offer the gods a second choice. Bid
that Roman yonder to set his crew of duffers hauling on the main
sheet, if they are not all seasick. Up helm a little. So."





CHAPTER XII

THE BATTLE ON THE BEACH

It is better to die in battle than to emerge victorious. Is the
victor not convinced that violence prevails? How seldom he
perceives, until too late, that what he has gained at another's
cost is nothing--aye, and less than nothing. But he who dies in
battle may have learned that nothingness. When he returns to
earth for another existence, he may be wiser. He will at least be
no more foolish. Whereas the victorious, convinced by violence,
proceed from one stupidity to worse.

But battles happen. They are a consequence of cowardice, not of
courage; of deceit and treachery, not of truth and high ideals;
of contemptible lies, not of honor and virtue. But they happen,
because ye are liars and worse. So face the consequences of your
own self-slavery to treasons such as animals believe are
necessary. Eat the consequences. Die. And in death ye may advance
one step at least, toward the manhood that ye claim.

--From the Sayings of the Druid Taliesan



The wind grew flukey toward morning, and at dawn it died away.
The white cliffs of Britain loomed out of a gray mist as Caesar's
men unlashed the coverings of the war-engines and set basketsful
of arrows in position.

A doctor moved about among the men reminding them how to apply
first aid, and two or three veterans inspected the armor of the
younger men. The standard-bearer and his chosen inner-guards
stood erect and splendid in the bow, and beside each rower two
men stood ready to protect him with their shields and two more to
fight for him.

But there was no sign of the fleet. A few lone trumpets bleated
through the mist in proof that the ships were not entirely
scattered, and the sound stirred the gulls; thousands of them
swooped and circled alongside, filling the air with melancholy.

One of Caesar's staff officers approached him on the poop and, in
a voice that every man on the ship could hear, announced:

"Caesar, we Romans are ready!"

But Caesar ordered a delay until at least a few more ships should
come within hail; so the rowers dipped lazily, just keeping
steering way, and the men in charge of the commissariat served
coarse dry bread in basketsful.

At the end of an hour's drifting a light breeze scattered the
jeweled mist and Britain's cliffs shone dazzling in the sun,
hardly a bowshot distant. To seaward the fleet lay spread over a
dozen miles of steel-blue water, the supply ships almost out of
sight and only eight or ten of the lighter galleys near enough to
come within hail in less than an hour; but among those, and
almost the nearest of them, Tros recognized the small ship with
the heavy fighting top commanded by Caius Volusenus.

Caesar ordered the trumpets sounded; and almost before the blast
reechoed from the cliffs an arrow plunked into the water fifty
feet away; whoever had shot it was invisible, but along the
summit of the cliff, beyond the range even of the war-machines,
there had appeared a swarm of men, who looked like dots against
the skyline.

"There is no beach to land an army on," Caesar remarked, looking
sternly at Tros.

Tros glanced eastward to where, several miles away, the beach was
wider and the cliffs gave way to lower and more rounded hills
that seemed to offer an opening inland.

"Have you a Roman who could have brought you thus near in the
night?" he retorted, pointing. "Yonder you can land--or nowhere.
And you had better make a landing this day, for I warn you, I can
smell the weather breeding. Tomorrow, or the next day, or the
next, the wind will scatter all your ships."

As the nearest galleys came within a mile Caesar ordered the
officers' assembly sounded. There was a race to obey the summons,
and the first to arrive was Caius Volusenus, stepping out
of a rowboat manned by Gauls; he stepped on to the poop and
saluted Caesar.

"I commanded you to bring up the rear with your ship," said Caesar.

"General, where is the rear?" he retorted, sweeping his arm
toward where the fleet lay spread on the horizon.

As he turned his head he spared a swift, wrinkled glance
for Tros.

Other small boats arrived, and other ships' commanders climbed up
to the poop, eager-faced and looking splendid in their armor, but
some of them deathly white from seasickness.

Caesar, making a great show of consultation, nodding as each man
made his swift report, ordered them to signal as many fighting
ships as could be gathered in a hurry and to follow him along the
coast toward that break in the cliffs that Tros had pointed out.

And meanwhile, Caius Volusenus, working his way gradually out
from the group of officers, had opportunity for a hundred words
with Tros.

"This is a farce. It will be a failure," he said grimly. "Caesar
will force a landing, because he is Caesar. I smell defeat. We
shall be driven back into our ships. Now, about those pearls."

Tros smiled.

"You left an anchor down there to the westward. Conops and I
could recover it," he answered.

"Good. It was a good, new, heavy one. It were a shame to lose it."

Caius Volusenus slipped back into the group of officers and
presently returned to his own ship.

Then ten or twelve ships, Caesar's leading, rowed in double line
along the coast in search of a practicable landing place;
and Tros noticed that the Britons on the summit of the cliffs
had vanished.

They rowed slowly, observing the beach, and before they reached
that gap between the hills, where the shingle sloped into the sea
at an angle that looked as if beaching might be fairly easy, a
small, fast galley overtook them, bringing word that the ships
conveying cavalry had become scattered in the night and, finding
themselves too near the quicksands with a rising wind and rough
water, had put back to Gaul to save disaster.

Caesar glanced sharply at Tros, who overheard the news and very
nearly let a smile escape him. He could not altogether keep the
laughter from his eyes. Caesar beckoned him.

"Your father piloted the cavalry," he said. Tros nodded.

"If I heard aright, he would seem to have preserved them from
the shoals."

"And me from victory," said Caesar, scowling. Then suddenly he
laughed. "Whether or not you and your father are to be given to
the executioners, shall depend on the outcome. Pray for my
victory, Tros."

But he had grown thoughtful, and when they drew abreast of the
chosen landing place he waited until nearly three in the
afternoon for the heavier fighting ships to overtake him. That
gave the Britons ample time to gather in hundreds to oppose him,
waiting for the time being out of bowshot, chariots, horse and
foot all massed together, the men nearly naked and armed to the
teeth, the stallions neighing and the war-horses braying as party
after party arrived from inland.

"Barbarians," said Caesar in a loud voice. "They will be no match
for Romans."

And the legionaries laughed; but Caesar continued to wait for
more ships to arrive, until at last the whole of his two thousand
infantry lay rolling within a bowshot of the shore.

But by that time it had been discovered that none except the very
lightest ships could approach the shore close enough for the men
to jump overboard without the certainty of being drowned in their
heavy armor.

The lightest ships were ordered forward, but the Britons charged
into the sea on horseback and in chariots and met them with such
showers of javelins and arrows that the Romans had to lock shields.

One centurion leaped over the bow, shouting to his men to follow,
and twenty of them did, but the Britons rode them down and
drowned them, managing their horses in the sea as skillfully as
on dry land.

Meanwhile, a score more men had been killed on board ship by
arrow fire and javelins, in spite of locked shields. Caesar
ordered the ships back out of range, and the Britons yelled
defiance from the beach, showing off, wheeling their chariots
like whirlwinds.

But Caesar ordered the ten heaviest warships into position on his
right flank, as close as they could get to shore without
grounding, and a hail of rocks and arrows from their engines
swept the beach and then the rising ground beyond the beach,
scattering the chariots and spreading death.

The Britons scampered out of range, leaving a writhing swath
behind them, and Caesar ordered the lighter ships inshore again.

The Britons wheeled, yelled, trumpeted and charged through the
hail of stones and arrows into the sea once more to meet them.
Fifty of them boarded one ship by the bow, leaping from the
chariot poles and from horseback, and the warships could do
nothing to aid in that emergency, for fear of killing their own
men. The Britons were all slain, but they wrought red havoc first.

Roman after Roman plunged into the sea, only to be ridden down
and killed; for they jumped in shoulder deep and the weight of
their armor made them helpless, whereas the Britons seemed to
know the very underwater holes and were as active as their horses.

But when a Briton was slain, he floated with the water crimsoning
around him, whereas the legionaries with their heavy armor sank;
so that at the end of an hour's fighting there were scores of
British corpses floating, and some horses, but no Roman dead in
sight; and that fact encouraged Caesar's men.

Moreover, the hail of arrow fire from the warships' engines had
had its effect on the British reserves drawn up at the back of
the beach to await their turn in the crowded fighting line--for
the British method was to rush in and fight until they had a
stomachful and then to retire and give fresh men a chance to
prove their mettle.

"These Romans are cowards and Caesar is a fool," said Conops in
Tros's ear. "Two thousand Greeks would have landed an hour ago,
against twice that number. Watch Caesar's face. I wager we return
to Gaul tonight."

But Tros had hardly taken his eyes off Caesar, even when the
great war-engines twanged and whirred and almost any other man
would have been fascinated by the grim, mechanical precision of
the gangs who worked them.

But it was Caesar himself who fascinated Tros. Caesar in his
scarlet cloak was looking ten years younger. His cold eyes were
glittering. He stood in one place, motionless, except that his
head turned swiftly now and then. His men were flinching and
discouraged, but not he.

"Bring me the standard-bearer of the Tenth!" he ordered suddenly.

A small boat went to bring the man, who left his "eagle" in
another's hands and came and saluted Caesar on the poop.

"Who can die better than in Rome's behalf?" asked Caesar, looking
straight at him.

It was a calculating, cold look, but the man smiled proudly.

"None," he answered. "I will gladly die for Rome."

"Lead the Tenth to the shore!" commanded Caesar. "I will
watch you."

The man grinned and saluted, Caesar merely nodding. Nothing more
was said, no other order given; but, as if the eyes of all the
fleet had watched that incident, there was a sudden stiffening
and an expectancy that could be felt.

The man was rowed back to his ship, and in another moment he was
standing in the bow with his standard raised. In all that din of
twanging engines, clatter of the javelins on shields, grinding of
sea on the beach and the creaking of cordage, the man's words
were inaudible, but his gesture as he courted death was
histrionic, dignified, superb.

He made a short speech, raised the standard high above his head,
and plunged into the sea, neck deep, working his way toward the
nearest Britons, daring the immortal Tenth to let their standard
fall into enemy hands.

With a roar and a clanging of shields they plunged in after him,
many drowning instantly because the ship had backed off into
slightly deeper water and the Britons were there in hundreds,
leaping from horseback to swim and meet them where armor
was a disadvantage.

The standard-bearer fell, but the eagle passed to another soldier
of the Tenth, who carried it farther inshore before he went down
and yet another soldier raised it; and by that time shipload
after shipload of Romans had leaped into the sea and men were
trying to lock shields, neck deep, around whatever standard
happened to be near them.

As they worked their way shoreward they had to meet the British
chariots that charged in, hubs awash, six fighting men in each,
who leaped along the pole between the horses and over the heads
of the front-rank Romans, turning then to break up the formation
from the rear.

Twice the legionaries quailed and fell back toward deeper water,
but Caesar withdrew the ships behind them, forcing them to stand
and fight, or drown. And in the end it was that, and the British
system of rushing forward to engage and retreating to give a
fresher man a chance, that decided the battle.

The engines of destruction on the warships swept the beach,
making it more and more difficult to reenforce the fighting line,
smashing chariots with catapulted rocks and cutting down the
horses with volleys of low-flying arrows.

And the legionaries knew their Caesar; knew that he would let
them drown unless they gained the day for him. So the standards
swayed forever nearer to the shore; and in the shallower water
they could hold their close formation, although the chariots,
with scythes set in the wheel-hubs, mowed them again and again.
But they learned the trick of slashing at the horses before they
could wheel to bring the scythes in play.

And at last a standard reached the shore, with twenty men around
it, and the standard-bearer raised it high to plant it in British
earth. The catapults and arrow-engines had to cease fire then, as
one standard after another gained the margin of the shore and
paused an instant for the men to lock their shields in solid
lines behind it.

The legions sang then--they were ever noisy winners--roaring to
the British chiefs to lock their wives away because they brought
Rome's common husband with them, who would leave a trail of
Caesarlings to improve the breed.

They sang of Caesar; and they warmed themselves pursuing Britons
up the beach. For after a few more chariot charges the Britons
withdrew toward the forests inland, carrying off most of their
dead and wounded, not exactly beaten, but in no mood to continue
the battle.

"Barbarians," said Caesar blandly on the high poop. "Such people
rarely care for fighting when the sun goes down. We will anchor
here. Put provisions ashore."

A centurion came rowing out to say that there was good ground for
a camp within a furlong of the shore, so Caesar ordered the picks
and shovels overside. Then he jumped his horse into the water
very splendidly in sight of the men of the Tenth, who cheered him
to the echo, and rode ashore to hear the roll called and to
weep and moan over the list of slain--for he was very good
indeed at that.

"Anchor here for the night?" said Tros in Greek to Conops.
"Caesar is mad. The gods--"

"Aye, anchor!" said a Roman voice beside him. "Can you pick up an
anchor in darkness, Tros?"

Tros turned and looked into the eyes of Caius Volusenus. A small
boat rocked alongside.

"Come," said Caius Volusenus with a sidewise gesture of the head.

But Caesar habitually did not overlook much, even in the hour of
victory. A centurion stepped up, who announced that by Caesar's
order Tros and his servant must remain on board the ship. Caius
Volusenus cursed the fellow's impudence, but there was nothing to
be gained by that.

"He who obeys Caesar can afford to be impudent," said the
centurion, leaning back against the rail and spitting overside.
"What nice dry feet has Caius Volusenus!"

His own were wet, and he had a slight wound in the shoulder. So
Caius Volusenus, cursing savagely, climbed into his boat and had
himself rowed ashore, while Tros watched the bustle of unloading
and studied the sunset thoughtfully. He observed that no ship had
more than one anchor out, nor much scope to her cable.

"Caesar is quite mad," he remarked to Conops pleasantly. "If
Caswallon is not so mad, and if he happens to be sober, and
remembers, I can see the end of this."

An hour or so later in the deepening twilight, leaning over the
stern, he saw three shadowy ships that ghosted westward, three
miles out to sea.

They were smaller than the smallest Caesar had with him, and the
silhouettes were nearly crescent-moon shaped, so high they were
at prow and stern. His seaman's eye observed how clumsily they
yawed over the ground-swell, and how different the oar stroke was
from Roman practice.

The centurion also observed them.

"Gauls," he suggested. "Barbarous looking craft--how I would hate
to put to sea in them. I suppose Caesar ordered them to follow
the fleet and guide the stragglers, or perhaps to scout, in case
the Britons should have a ship or two. But I wonder that he
trusts such fishy looking rabble."

"So do I," said Tros, noticing that the three dim ships had
picked up a light wind that carried them westward finely.

He said nothing more until a slave came to call the centurion
down to the surgeon, who had established a rough dressing station
in the ship's waist. Then he turned to Conops.

"Caswallon is not mad. He is not drunk. He has not forgotten," he
remarked. "Those three ships were his."

Inland, campfires began glowing on the earthwork that the
legionaries raised with pick and shovel--they had brought the
firewood for the purpose with them on the ships. From the camp to
the shore there was a line of sentries posted, but they were
invisible; only the clank of their shields sounded as they moved
occasionally, and a rising and falling murmur as they called
their numbers, each man to the next one.

It was pitch dark, and the full moon not yet due for an hour,
when Caius Volusenus came with an order from Caesar in writing.
"I am to take my ship and pick that anchor up," he said to Tros.
"You and your servant are to come and help me find it."

The centurion, with a bandage on his shoulder and his bronze
waist-armor laid aside, objected. It appeared that the surgeon
had hurt him, for he spoke between his teeth.

"Bite that!" said Caius Volusenus, thrusting the written order
under his nose. "He who obeys Caesar has the last word!"

But the centurion called for a torch and demanded to see what was
written, and it was he who had the last word after all:

"Be careful. I am sure that Caesar would be sorry if you should
wet your feet or get hurt!" he sneered, and turned his back
before the other man could answer.





CHAPTER XIII

HYTHE AND CASWALLON

Though I have condemned you for brawling, never have I counseled
peace at any price. I know but one man meaner than the coward so
self-loving that he will not face the consequences of the common
treasons against manhood. He is too mean to be worthy of death by
ordeal; let him run; let him hide; let him live and be humiliated
by his meanness. But he is a paragon of manhood in comparison to
him who might have fought, and should have fought, but dared not
fight, and who afterwards sneers at the vanquished.

There is nothing wholesome, nothing good in war except the
willingness of each to face the consequences of the mischiefs ye
have all wrought and condoned. It is your war and ye made it.
Face it like men. There is no peace other than an earned peace
worth the having.

--From the Sayings of the Druid Taliesan


Caius Volusenus' galley picked up the same wind that had wafted
the three ghost-ships on their way, but it began to blow
considerably harder, and Tros, with his eyes toward the weather,
chuckled to himself; for a nearly full moon rose astern with a
double halo, and was presently so overcast with clouds that
Caesar's campfires seemed to grow doubly bright.

There were no lights on the ships that pitched and rolled at
anchor, nor any on that of Caius Volusenus; but great fires
burned in forest clearings and along the cliffs in proof the
Britons were awake and stirring.

Caius Volusenus fretted on his poop, anticipating seasickness and
fearing it as some men dread an evil conscience.

"Is this that cursed equinox?" he asked, squinting at the wan
moon as it showed for a moment through a bank of clouds.

"A foretaste," Tros answered.

But he was not so sure. He was afraid old Gobhan had miscalculated,
for the gale blew fresher every minute and, with a rising sea
behind, the galley pitched and yawed like a barrel adrift.

"Keep a lookout for the bearings," he ordered Conops. "Remember
that bleak headland and the level land to westward of it."

Conops waited until Caius Volusenus went and lay to leeward
vomiting. Then:

"Master," he said in a low voice, "neither you nor I can find a
spar tied to an anchor on a night like this. Why not run into the
port of Hythe, if we can find the entrance, and seize this ship
with the aid of those Britons, and--"

"Because we would have to fight for the ship, and there would be
men slain, of whom you and I would be the first, and we have work
to do."

"Then what? Are we to wait until the morning, and quarter the sea
until we find that spar?"

"I am a liar on occasion," Tros answered. "If I lie like a Greek
this night, and you lie like a Trojan; and if Caius Volusenus'
brains are all aswim from vomiting; and if his crew is not much
better off, who shall know we lie, except we two?

"Look out, then, for the bearings of that spar; for I hate to lie
like a Roman, without appearance of excuse. Pick them up soon,
Conops, pick them up soon. For if I am ever to bring this
wallowing hulk into the wind I must do it presently, before the
gale grows worse."

So when they bore down by the great grim headland near where the
galley had pitched at anchor while Tros was in Britain, Conops
cried out suddenly and pointed to where the moon shone for a
moment between black waves.

Tros roared out to the crew and wore the ship around, at a risk
of swamping, dousing the sail then and letting her high poop
serve the purpose of a sail to keep her head to the waves.

Then Conops tied an oil-soaked bundle of corn sacks to the ship's
bow, and in the smooth, slick wake of that he launched a small
boat, forcing four of the crew to help him by pretending he had
orders straight from Caius Volusenus.

But the Roman commander was in no condition to give orders.
Dimly, in between the throes of vomiting, he understood that they
had reached the place where the anchor had been buoyed; it
certainly never occurred to him that, even if the dancing spar
should have been seen, the ship had drifted from it downwind long
since, and that no small boat could hope to work to windward.

He groaned and wished whoever came to question him across
the Styx.

Had he given orders, it is likely they had come too late; for
Tros held the boat while Conops jumped in--then followed in the
darkness, pushing off before a man could interfere, and the last
they saw of Caius Volusenus was his pale face over the ship's
sternwhether vomiting, or watching to see them drown, they
never knew.

They had no sail. Their oars were short, and the boat was made
for harbor work--an unsafe, rickety, flat-bottomed thing that
steered like a dinner dish.

"To the shore!" yelled Tros, pulling stroke, "and when she
upsets, cling to your oar and swim for it."

But when a man and a loyal mate give thought to nothing except
speed and are perfectly willing to upset if that is written in
their destiny, they upset not so easily. It is the men who
hesitate and calculate who lose out on a dark night in a stormy
sea. Strength, and a vision of what is beyond, work wonders.

So it happened that the breakers pounding on the shingle beach
that guards the marshes to the east of Hythe threw up a boat and
two men clinging to it, who stood still, shivering in the wind
awhile and watched by the light of the moon a ship a mile away
that rolled her beam ends under while her crew struggled to make
sail and run before the storm.

"May they drown," remarked Conops bitterly, perhaps because his
teeth were chattering.

"They will not," said Tros, half closing his eyes as he peered
into the wind. "There is no real weight to this. It is a
foretaste. It will die before daylight. Old Gobhan was right
after all--I was a fool to doubt him. The equinox will come after
the full moon. Caesar's men will ride this out successfully and
think they can repeat it when the full gales come. Now--best foot
forward and be warm."

Tros wrung the salt water from his cloak and led the way, keeping
to the beach where the going was difficult, but the direction
sure, swinging his sword as he went along, until he found dry
sand into which to plunge the blade.

There was no sound to break the solitude except the pounding of
waves on shingles; no light except the wan moon breaking through
the clouds; no sight of Caius Volusenus' ship. They could no
longer see the lights of Caesar's camp behind them, but on the
hills to the right the Britons had huge fires burning, that made
the wind-swept beach seem all the lonelier.

Hungry and utterly tired, they reached the swamp beside Hythe
harbor three hours before dawn, and chanced on one of the narrow
tracks that wound among the reeds, between which, once, they
caught a glimpse of four shadowy ships at anchor, one much
smaller than the other three.

But though they hailed, crying, "Gobhan! Oh, Gobhan!" there was
no answer; their voices echoed over empty wastes of water, and
the track they were following came to an end at a place where a
boat had been hidden in the rushes. But the boat was gone.

"Shall we swim for it?" asked Conops.

Tros had had enough of swimming for one night. He roared again
for Gobhan and, disgusted with failure, turned to retrace his
steps and find another track, jerking his heels out of the soggy
mud and stumbling, until suddenly he heard a voice among the
reeds ten yards away, and crouched, sword forward. Then he heard
three Britons talking, and one voice he thought he recognized.

"I am Tros," he shouted, louder than he knew. A laugh he could
have picked out of a hundred answered him:

"Why not call for me? As well cry out for the Sea-God as
for Gobhan."

Caswallon broke through the reeds, seized Tros by the hand and
dragged him on to firmer ground, where two other Britons, one of
them wounded, leaned on spears.

"Gobhan died, say I. The sailors say the Sea-God called him. If
you should tell me that the sailors threw him overboard, I would
think three times before giving you the lie," said Caswallon.
"I knew you would come, Tros. My chariot is yonder. I heard
you shouting."

He led the way with long, sure-footed strides to where his
chariot waited with at least a dozen mounted men who wore
wolf-skin cloaks over their nearly naked bodies.

"I left Fflur with the army, because she can hold them as none
else can," he explained. "What do you think now of us Britons?
Did we fight well?"

"Not so well as Caesar," Tros answered. Caswallon laughed, a
shade grimly.

"Two thirds of my men were late. They are not here yet," he
added. "If Caesar's cavalry should come--"

But it was Tros's turn to laugh. He knew the cavalry would not
come.

"My father is the pilot for the cavalry," he answered. "He is a
wiser man than I--a better sailor. If he has not wrecked them on
the quicksands--"

"Yonder with my three ships is a little one from Gaul," said
Caswallon. "The Gaul brings word that Caesar's cavalry have put
back into port."

"They will never reach Britain, if my father lives," said Tros;
to which Caswallon answered two words:

"Gobhan died."

He seemed to think that was an evil omen.

There was no more talk until they reached a long, low building
just outside the town of Hythe, where women were serving mead and
meat by torchlight to a score of men who had evidently not been
near the fighting.

Caswallon was in a grim mood, with an overlying smile that rather
heightened than concealed it, hardly nodding when the new men
greeted him, refusing mead, refusing to be seated, saying nothing
until silence fell.

But Tros ate and drank; the chieftainship was none of his affair.

"We are beaten," said Caswallon at last, "and for lack of a
thousand men to answer their chief's summons. Caesar has landed
and has already fortified his camp. It is your fault--yours and
the others' who have not come. I am ashamed."

There was murmuring, particularly in the darker corners where the
torchlight hardly reached.

"We defend Hythe. Caesar fears us, or he would have brought his
fleet to Hythe," a man remarked. "He does not fear you, because
he knows you are a weak chief. Was he wrong? Has he not defeated
you?"

Caswallon made a gesture of contempt, then folded both arms on
his breast--and it was naked, as he had exposed it to the enemy.

"Hold Hythe then," he answered. "Ye are not worth coaxing. The
men who fought today are my friends, and I know them. Ye are not
my friends, and I will never know you. But I bid you hold Hythe
for your own sakes.

"For if Caesar learns of the harbor and brings his fleet in here,
he will stay all winter; and then, forever ye are Caesar's
slaves. But it may be, ye would sooner be the slaves of Caesar
than free men under Caswallon."

They murmured again, but he dismissed them with a splendid gesture.

"Get ye gone into the darkness, where your souls live!"
he commanded.

But a dozen stayed and swore to follow him, and when he had
repudiated them a time or two he accepted their promises,
although without much cordiality.

"They who fought today, have fought. I know them. Ye who have not
fought, have to prove yourselves."

And presently, one by one, the others who had gone out at his
bidding into darkness began to slink back, until the room was
full again. The women brought in mead, and Caswallon consented to
drink when they begged him two or three times, but he only tasted
and then set the stuff aside.

"And now, Lord Tros--my brother Tros," he said, smiling
gratefully at last, "so your father is safe? I am not in debt
to you for that life yet?"

"I am a free man and you owe me nothing," Tros answered. "My
father is a free man, and his life is his, to give or to withhold
until his time comes. And I told you that I drive no bargains,
for I never knew the bargain that was fair to both sides; so I
give or I withhold, I accept or I reject, as I see right, and let
Them judge my acts whose business that is.

"But I warn you: If I live, and if my father lives and is a
prisoner in Gaul, I will invite you to help me rescue him. As to
what your answer will be, that is your affair."

"I am your friend and your father's friend," said Caswallon. "I
have spoken before witnesses."

There was a pause, a long, deep breathing silence, until
Caswallon glanced around the room, and said:

"I would be alone with Lord Tros."

They filed out into darkness one by one; but Conops stayed, and
Caswallon nodded to him.

"What said Gobhan of the tides?" he asked, and sat down on a
roughly carved chair, leaning his head against the back of it. He
seemed tired out. "I can wear out Caesar and his little army. But
if more ships come, and cavalry, and more supplies--"

He shrugged his shoulders.

"The full moon, and the high tide, and the equinox," said Tros
grimly. "Three more days, and then the storm will burst. For my
part, I would rather that the gods should kill men than that I
should be the butcher. How many were slain today?"

"Of my side? Three hundred and nine. And of Caesar's?"

"More than four hundred," said Tros. "That is death enough for
the sake of one man's glory and a helmet full of pearls. Are you
a crafty liar? Can you lie to Caesar and delay him while I loose
his ships for the storm to play with?"

"How shall I convince him?" asked Caswallon.

"Give him Commius. Promise to give other hostages and to pay him
tribute. Promise him pearls."

Caswallon nodded.

"Aye--he is welcome to Commius the Gaul."

"A lie well told is worth a thousand men," said Tros. "Truth is
good, and pride is good. But Caesar measures truth by bucketsful,
and he is prouder, with a meaner pride, than you or I could be if
we should live forever. Therefore, swallow pride and lie to him."

"That is what Fflur advised," said Caswallon. "She has vision.
Her advice is good."

"And the longships?"

"Will the crews obey me?" asked Tros. "If they slew Gobhan, what
will they do to me?"

"You are a man after their own heart. Gobhan was a wizard and
they feared him," said Caswallon. "They will stand by you, for I
have promised each man coin enough to buy mead for a year."

Tros thought a minute.

"Hide two ships among the reeds," he answered then, "and put all
three crews on the third ship. Select the worst ship for me, for
you will lose it. See that the men have knives or axes. Then
leave me here; fetch Commius the Gaul, and send him to Caesar
with a man you trust, to offer hostages and tributes.

"But don't trust yourself within Caesar's reach, because he is a
craftier liar than ever you can hope to be. He will speak you
fair, but he will hold you prisoner if you approach him near
enough; and he will march you in his triumph through the Roman
streets, if he has to lose a thousand of his men in order to
accomplish it.

"Thereafter they will cut your head off in a stinking dungeon and
toss your carcass to the city dogs and crows--they keep a
dung-hill for the purpose."

They talked for an hour after that, and then went and routed out
the ships' crews, who had come ashore to drink in Hythe. Half
drunk already, wholly mutinous, they challenged Tros, telling him
they had no use for autumn storms and still less use for lee
shores where Roman fleets were anchored. They had seen enough of
Caesar on their way down.

But Tros smote a captain with his fist and flung the mate
crashing through a shutter. Thereafter, disdaining to draw his
sword on fishermen, he seized a wooden bench and cracked a skull
or two with that, until the bench broke and the Britons began to
admire him.

Caswallon looked on grimly, offering no aid.

"For if I help you, Tros, they will say I helped you. It is
better that they learn to fear you on your own account," he
remarked. They also learned a quite peculiar respect for Conops.
He knew all the tricks the longshore press-gangs used in the
Levant for crimping sailors. He could use the handle of his knife
more deftly than those Britons used a blade, and it was hardly
dawn when all three crews decided they had met their masters,
piled, swearing but completely satisfied, into small boats and
rowed themselves to one ship, ready to continue to obey their
new commander.





CHAPTER XIV

"IF CAESAR COULD ONLY KNOW"

Ye call yourselves the heirs of this or that one who begat you. I
say, ye are heirs of Eternity. What does it matter who saw your
triumph? Whose praise seek ye? And whose hatred stirs your pride?
Eternity is Life. Life knows. And as ye do, it shall be done unto
you. No matter what your generosity, I tell you malice is a mean
man's comfort and begets its own humiliation.

--From the Sayings of the Druid Taliesan



That ship, with sixty men aboard, was something worse than Tros
had ever known in all his sea experience. It would have been bad
enough, if he could have put to sea at once, with hard labor at
the oars to keep the three crews busy; but a three-day wait, with
all provisions short and Hythe in sight, full of mead and women,
and no news--but a mystery--and fires along the hills at night
was invitation to the Britons to display the whole of their
inborn and accumulated zeal for doing just the opposite of what
they should.

They knew a thousand reasons why they ought to go ashore; not one
for staying where they were. They wanted to revisit the two other
ships and make sure all was well with them in the mud berths
where they lay concealed.

They demanded money, mead, more food and better; they insisted on
new cordage; they proposed to go a-fishing; they fought with one
another, with the new knives Caswallon had provided; they refused
to make repairs, and pointed out whatever needed doing as a good
enough excuse for going ashore forever.

They listened to Tros's promises with leering grins that told of
disbelief; and when he scuttled the small boats, to keep them
aboard ship, eleven of them swam ashore and yelled from a place
of safety amid the reeds to all the others to swim and join them.

That same night the eleven swam back again, reporting that the
men of Hythe were a scurvy gang, and the women worse; they
proposed to storm the town and burn it in revenge for having been
refused free food and drink, and they promised Tros full
obedience thereafter, if he would only lead them to the
night assault.

And Tros suffered another anxiety, even greater than they could
provide. The weather held calm and gray, with varying light winds
that might have tempted Caesar's ships to look for safer
anchorage--or might have tempted the cavalry to sail again
from Gaul.

He had no means of knowing whether the cavalry had come at last,
nor where his father might be; and all that held him from setting
sail for Gaul to find his father, was the knowledge that his
father would despise him for having left a promise unkept and a
duty unattempted.

Thirty times in three days his determination nearly failed him,
only to return because he had to show himself a man to Conops,
and a master on his own poop to the Britons.

But at last the night of full moon, and an offshore wind that
blew the reeds flat. That afternoon there was a tide so low that
a man could have walked knee-deep across the harbor mouth. The
gulls flocked close inshore, and by evening the sky was black
with racing clouds.

By night, when the raging wind kicked up steep waves against the
tide, the crew swore to a man that they would never put to sea in
that storm even if Tros should carry out his threat to burn the
ship beneath them by way of penalty.

Yet he had his way, and even he could hardly have told afterwards
how he contrived it. It was Conops who slipped the cable, so that
the ship drifted toward the harbor mouth.

Tros steered her for the boiling bar, guessing by the milk-white
foam that gleamed against the darkness and the thunder of the
waves; and when the ship pitched and rolled, beam-on, the crew
took to the oars to save themselves.

Once clear of the bar, in darkness and a howling sea, there was
nothing left for them but to hoist a three-reefed sail and pray
to all the gods they had ever heard of.

There was no risk of Caesar's men seeing them too soon, nor any
other problem than to keep the ship afloat and close inshore. If
the wind should blow them offshore, there would be no hope of
beating back; and the oars were useless, with the waves boiling
black and hungry and irregular.

The one hope was to hug the beach until they should work under
the lee of the high cliffs, where Caesar's fleet had more or less
protection as long as the wind held in the north-northwest; and
to that end Tros took all the chances, judging his distance from
shore by the roar of the surf on the beach--for he could not see
a ship's length overside.

Once he sailed so close inshore and the crew were so afraid, that
six men rushed him at the helm, meaning to beach the ship and
jump for it; but Conops fought them off, and Tros held his
course--in good deep water within thirty feet of shore.*

----------
* A modern battleship can approach the shore between Hythe and
Sandgate close enough for a stone to be thrown on her deck from
the beach.
---------

And presently the crew began to wonder at him and to think him an
immortal. When the moon broke through the racing clouds he looked
enormous at the helm, with his cloak and his black hair streaming
in the wind, one leg against the bulwark and his full weight
strained against the long oar.

Then the rain came, and the lightning gleamed on the gold band on
his forehead. And when he laughed they knew he was a god and he
knew something else--that Caesar's fleet was at his mercy.

For the lightning flashes shone on high white cliffs with foam
below them, tossing Caesar's anchored ships; and he knew old
Gobhan had been right about the high tide and the full moon; knew
that he, too, had been right when he declared that Caesar and his
men were mad.

For they had beached the lighter ships, and as they lay careened
the high tide had reached and filled them. Flash after flash of
lightning showed the Romans laboring at cable-ends to haul them
higher out of water, while the surf stove in their sterns and
rolled them beam-on, while at cable-length from shore the bigger
ships plunged madly at short anchor-ropes, without a crew on
board to man them if they broke adrift.

So Tros laughed aloud and sang, and Conops chanted with him. And
because they reached the lee of the high cliffs it grew a little
calmer; but the Britons thought that Tros, being superhuman, had
so ordered it, so when he roared to them to shake out all the
reef and man the sheets and stand by, they obeyed him, knowing
there would be a miracle.

They hauled the yard up high and let the full force of the wind
into the sail, all sixty of them working with a will. Then Tros
put the helm up and turned square before the storm, for he had
picked out Caesar's galley, with the high poop, plunging closer
inshore than the rest.

"Belay the sheets! Stand by to grapple!" he commanded, bellowing
bull-throated downwind.

Conops leaped into the waist to hammer men's ribs with his
knife-hilt and drive them aft along the bulwark ready for
the crash.

They struck the galley head-on, crashing in their own bows on the
Roman's beak. No need then to tell those Britons what do; they
had fought too many Northmen at close quarters. The galley's
cable parted at the shock. The sail bore both ships seaward,
grinding as they plunged, until the sail split into ribbons and
Tros let go the helm at last.

"Jump!" he roared.

There was no need. He was the last man overside, scrambling up
the galley's bows as the British longship heeled and filled and
sank under the grinding iron beak.

He was at the helm of Caesar's ship more swiftly than she swung
her broadside to the wind. Before Conops could compel the Britons
to make sail--they were bent on looting, and the knife-hilt had
to go to work--he got control enough, by straining at the helm,
to drift across a warship's bows and break her cable, sending her
loose into the next one.

Then, wallowing in the trough of steep waves, clumsily and
fumbling in the dark with Conops jumping here and there among
them, the Britons hoisted sail. And Tros, caring nothing whether
the sail held or parted, nor whether he sank the galley and
himself too, broke cable after cable down the line until the
whole of Caesar's anchored fleet was drifting in confusion,
galley crashing galley, timbers splintering, and here and there
the cry of a Roman watchman for help from nobody knew where.

Black night and sudden lightning shimmering on the white cliffs.
Darkness again and the crimson of Caesar's campfires streaming
down the wind. Thunder of the hollow warships dueling together in
the trough between the waves.

Cracking of spars and masts--shouts--panic--trumpet blowing on
the beach--and then a roar from Tros as he brought the galley
head to wind:

"Three reefs!"

He had drifted too far seaward. There was another line of forty
ships he hoped to smash. But though Conops, laboring like
Hercules and cursing himself hoarse, did make the Britons reef
the thundering sail, he found he could not work the galley back
to windward.

So he kept her wallowing shoulder to the sea and watched the
havoc on the beach, where men were drowning as they tried to save
the smaller vessels.

"Master, for what do we wait?" asked Conops, climbing to the poop
to stand beside him.

"For Caesar!" Tros answered. "I must see him! He must see me!"
But the lightning flashes were too short, and the fires the
Romans lighted on the beach too dim and wet and smoky for that
perfect climax to a perfect night.

"If only he might know who did this to him," Tros grumbled "I
could die then."

"And your father?" asked Conops. "If we knew that your father was
safe," he shouted, with his mouth to Tros's ear. "But if he is
Caesar's prisoner--"

"Ready about!" roared Tros. "All hands on the sheets!"

Conops sprang into the waist, translating that command with the
aid of fists and knife-hilt, bullying but one third of the crew
because the rest were searching like a wolf pack for the loot,
ripping open sacks and using axes on the chests of stores. The
twenty wore the ship around, and Tros headed her south by east.

"Where to, then, now?" asked Conops, climbing to the poop again,
breathless and exhausted. "Caritia?" *

-----------
* Calais.
-----------

"In Caesar's ship? With such a crew? To fight ashore with
one or two of Caesar's legions?" Tros answered. "Nay. I am
not so mad as that."

"What then?" asked Conops.

"I think we have given Caesar all his bellyful. I think he will
return to Gaul, if he can gather ships enough--for if he doesn't,
Caswallon will destroy him.

"Then I will claim that Caswallon owes a debt to me. I think that
he will pay it. He is worth ten Caesars. He will help me free my
father. Find me one of those British captains. Shake him from the
loot and bring him here before they ax the ship's bottom loose!"

Conops returned with two of them.

"Gold!" one Briton exclaimed, gasping. "Chests of gold coin!"

"Can you find the way up Thames-mouth to Lunden?" Tros roared,
making them stand downwind where they could hear him plainly. For
the wind shrieked in the rigging.

They nodded.

"Do you dare it in this weather?"

They nodded again, hugging armsful of plunder beneath stolen
Roman cloaks. All they craved now was to take the plunder home,
and time to broach the wine-casks in the ship's waist.

They were afraid of nothing any longer, except Tros; he had not
quite lost his superhuman aspect. But he knew the end of that
would come as soon as they should broach the wine-casks.

"With a different crew and a south wind I would dare it too,"
said Tros. "You Britons will never become sailors if you live a
thousand years, but I must make the best of you. Do you think, if
you were dead, that you could work this ship to windward?"

They shook their heads as if they had not understood him.

"You can do it better with your life in you? Well then, throw all
that wine overboard--all hands to it! You have your choice of
dying two ways. I will kill the man who dares to broach a cask.
And if you think you can kill me and then drink Caesar's wine,
you will all die of a burning bellyache!

"You doubt it? Hah! That wine was meant for Caesar's gift to
Caswallon. He poisoned it with gangrened adders' blood and
hemlock! Drink it, will you? Heave it overboard, if you hope to
live and see Thames River!"

They doubted him, and yet--he had done wonders; it was hardly
safe to doubt him. It was difficult to rig a tackle in that sea.
They were very weary.

"Die if you wish," said Tros. "Or make Thames-mouth if we can;
for I am ready to attempt it. Choose!"

They elected to obey him and, to save hard labor, broached the
wine into the ship's bilge, where not even a rat would care to
drink it.

"How did you know that Caesar poisoned it?" asked Conops, as the
empty casks went overside one by one.

"I didn't," Tros answered. "But I knew we could never make
Thames-mouth with a crew of drunken Britons. And a lie, my little
man, well told, on suitable occasions, sounds as good in the
gods' ears as a morning hymn--as good as the crash of the
breaking of Caesar's ships!

"Set ten men in the bows on watch. Bring those fisher captains
back to me to help me find the way. Then turn in, and be ready to
relieve me at the helm."

He turned and shook his fist at Caesar's campfires.

"Ye gods! Ye great and holy gods! This were a perfect night if
only Caesar could know who smashed his ships! Who has his
pay-chests!"





CHAPTER XV

EARLY AUTUMN: 55 B.C.

It is not victory, which either side may win by chance, but
what ye do with victory that weighs for or against you in
the eternal scales.

--From the Sayings of the Druid Taliesan



Tros found the Thames. His stolen bireme with a long slit in her
sail and half of her cordage hanging overside, lolled on the in
coming tide up Thames-mouth. The shore, far away on either hand,
was mud with dense forest behind it. Thousands of sea-birds flock
and screamed over the mussel beds, and hundreds followed the
ship's wake; but the five and sixty men on board had had no
rations for two days, so there was no waste for the gulls to get
excited over. The crew was even short of water.

Tros sat on the only water-cask on the high poop, beside Canops
who held the steering oar. There were half a dozen sullen Britons
in the bow. The remainder sat, chin on knees, in the ship's
waist, abaft the low, square citadel.

Tros's amber eyes were heavy from lack of sleep. The gold band
across his forehead that held his heavy black hair in place, was
awry, giving him a drunken look. His purple cloak, creased and
sea-stained, was torn; one slit looked as if it might have been
done by some one's knife. The knuckles of his left hand were
bruised and bleeding.

One Briton in the ship's waist kept feeling at his teeth, as if
to count those that remained.

Forward, on the ship's bow, there were two machines for shooting
flights of arrows. There were two more on a kind of citadel
amidships and two on the poop. But all except those on the poop
had been put out of commission by removing the gut strings. The
Britons had no knives nor any other weapons and looked sullenly
aware of it.

Conops, after hauling at the long steering oar half a dozen times
to keep the ship from drifting beam-on to the tide, cocked his
one bloodshot eye at Tros.

"Master, they have not drunk since yesterday."

"Nor I. Nor you," Tros answered.

"Better give them a drink now, master, else I think they will
come at us again. They look ugly. They are close to home."

"Aye, too close." Tros hitched his long purple scabbard so that
the sword hilt lay readier to hand.

"When a man has been paid off he is no more use until he has
spent the money. When a thirsty Briton has had drink--back
there!" he roared, striding toward the ladder that led down into
the ship's waist.

His hand was on his sword hilt. The Britons retreated and sat
down again. But an iron bolt thrown from forward of the citadel
missed Tros by the thickness of the whiskers on his dark,
determined jaw. He squared his shoulders.

"Bring me that man!" he commanded.

For a moment or two there was no response. Conops let go the
steering oar, fitted the iron crank to one of the after
arrow-machines and, laying twelve long arrows in the grooves,
wound the bow taut. Four of the Britons went then and fetched a
man who was hiding forward of the citadel, hustling him aft,
toward the poop ladder. He climbed up alone and stood glaring at
Tros--dark-skinned, dark-eyed, nearly a head shorter and not so
broad as he, but lithe and active looking, with a week's growth
of straight black hair on his face and a desperate stare
in his eyes.

"What have you to say?" Tros asked him.

"I threw. I missed. If I loved you, I would not have thrown. If I
were not parched and hungry, I would not have missed."

Tros laughed, with his hands on his hips and his head thrown
back. His was a volcanic "Ho-ho-hoh!" that shook his shoulders.
"That is a man's answer! Hah! I like it. So you love me not? Let
us see whether the sea-gods or the gods of Britain love you."
Suddenly he tripped the man, seized him as he fell and, lifting
him by arm and leg, hurled him down among the others in the
ship's waist, where a dozen of them broke his fall because they
could not get out of the way in time. Tros stood, arms akimbo,
and laughed again.

"I am a better shot than he was," he remarked. "How many have I
hit with one bolt? Six-seven. And the bolt still good for a day's
work. Man the oars now, every mother's son of you, before I--"

He made a gesture with his thumb toward the arrow-engine, but his
eyes were scanning the northern riverbank. One Briton dived off
the bow and began swimming like a seal toward a drifting log.

"Down off that bow, the rest of you!" roared Tros, and Conops
took aim.

They had more sense than to wait for a flight of arrows that
could hardly miss one of them. They might have hidden forward of
the ship's citadel, but panic is uncalculating stuff. They went
to the oars instead. Thirty oars on each side went out through
the ports and the steady thump and swing began, Tros beating time
with his sword hilt on a Roman soldier's bronze shield--Caesar's
own, for aught he knew; it was a work of art, embossed with
figures of Alexander of Macedon and his generals, in high relief.

"Now!" he shouted. "Two hours' strong rowing, and I broach the
water barrel. You shall drink as you shall row--enough or not
enough. My word on it."

Conops no longer had to strain at the steering oar. The galley
steered easily with all that way on her. He and Tros watched the
swimmer, who was steadily pushing the log in front of him across
the tide toward where three crowded, unsafe looking craft had put
out from a creek two miles away.

"Better shoot him, master. Of twelve arrows, one would surely hit."

"Aye, but what use, Conops? If he drowns, that is the gods'
affair, and his. The men in those boats have already seen us. If
they think we are some new kind of northern rover, I like their
spunk. If they recognize this for a Roman galley, I admire their
spunk still more. It is no child's play, Conops, to put out in
skincovered baskets and offer fight to a warship! And I think
these Britons of ours may help us fight them off--plunder
being plunder."

"It looks to me as if there are at least thirty or forty of them
in each of those boats," Conops answered. "Look! Three more
boats. Spunk? They will come close and throw fire into us."

"Not they," said Tros. "What plunder is there from a burned ship?
They will follow until the tide turns, or our rowers tire, or
until we stick our beak into a mud bank. Then they will try to
fight their way aboard, as wolves attack a cornered stag. And it
would be no use ramming them," he mused. "That basket-work they
build with wouldn't crush; they would simply climb over our beak."

"That swimmer will tell them we are only two, and our crew
against us. Turn, master! Put to sea again," Conops urged, making
ready to throw his weight against the steering oar.

"Without water enough for a day!"

"But look! There come three more of them."

"Four more, making eight. There will be others as we go upriver.
We have but a netted fish's chance, Conops, unless we get a slant
of wind. They are all pirates along the riverbank. Unless we
reach Lunden and find Caswallon this will be our last journey in
this world, little man. Keep her more in midstream; we need the
full force of the tide."

Tros went and stood by the poop ladder, watching the rowers. One
of them drew his oar back through the port and offered argument:

"What is the use? Our friends come. Wait."

"Out with that oar and row!" Tros thundered. "If you don't, you
shall sizzle like eggs on a skillet, for I'll burn the ship
before one Briton comes aboard without my leave."

Eight days of thrashing to and fro in storms, from Kent to the
coast of Belgium and half way to Germany before they made
Thames-mouth at last, had taught them that he did everything he
said he would, including the breaking of heads.

They rowed steadily for half an hour, but the galley was heavy;
two feet of solid water flopped in her bilge. The pursuing
Britons gained, as the rowers could see from time-to time, when
their heads swung by the oar ports and the galley turned at a
bend in the river. He who had been a captain, and was still one
in his own opinion, gave tongue again, but this time did not
slacken at the oar:

"You are a fool, Tros. You make us work for nothing. They gain on
us all the time, and now the river narrows. We have no anchor.
When the tide turns we shall drift into the mud, and there they
will have their will of us, unless we come to terms. For how can
we fight? You made us all throw our new knives overboard."

"Aye, a fool, and none can argue with a fool," said Tros. "I am
like the tide, that has not yet turned. Row, you sons of
fish-wives! Row! Row harder!"

He resumed his beating on the shield, and then, because the crew
was obviously weakening, he broached the water-barrel and, taking
the helm himself, sent Conops down to give them drink one by
one--Conops with a two-edged knife in one hand and a copper bowl
in the other, ready to jump and fight his way back to the poop.
The Britons were less afraid of him than of his lion-eyed master.

The drink did the rowers good. But even so the pursuers gained. A
rather futile and ill-shapen arrow plunked at the planking of the
poop deck and stuck there quivering within a yard of Tros's foot.
He called Conops back to the helm, swung the arrow-engine around
on its swivel and fired it.

Twelve arrows swept into the crowded boat that had ventured
closest. There was an answering yell, but six or seven men
dropped out of view below the gunwale and, at once, all the
pursuers fell back out of range, presently dividing themselves
into two columns that began again to overtake the galley, four
long, crowded boats on either hand, with withes erected all
around them now, crossplaited into a sort of screen to protect
the crews. They had set up the withe screens incredibly swiftly.

They were unsafe, unseaworthy looking craft, too narrow for the
length and having to be bailed incessantly. The men who manned
the paddles were inconvenienced by the screen erection around the
sides, but nevertheless comparatively safe at anything but very
close range, because an arrow would have to be marvelously aimed
to strike straight between the withes except by sheer luck. In
the bow and the stern of each boat there were skin-clad men
who brandished shields and yelled to the paddlers, exposing
themselves recklessly and dancing to attract attention.

"They have fought many Northmen," Tros remarked to Conops. "They
know how to draw a longship's fire and to protect the paddlers."

"Master, let them have the ship," Conops answered nervously.
"While they loot this galley you and I can swim ashore, and then
find our way along the bank to Lunden. Our own Britons will cease
rowing presently and then--"

"Little man, all Caesar's pay-chests lie under the hatch in the
cabin below us."

"What is gold to a dead man, master?"

"Or death to a live one. Nay, I think we are not far from Lunden."

"But I see more boats," urged Conops. "Look--by the bend in the
river ahead of us."

Arrows began humming into the galley. One rower fell off his
bench, shot through the eye. The other rowers stopped work and
began shouting to the Britons in the boats, who answered with
yells and drew closer. Conops let go the helm and jumped for the
arrow-engine, twisting at the crank and shouting to Tros to lay
arrows in the grooves.

But Tros took a torch from a box beside the water barrel, lighted
it at an earthen firepot and brandished it around his head to
make it blaze.

"Now," he roared down at the rowers. "Tell those pirates I'll
burn the ship unless they haul off!"

He jumped into the ship's waist and stood with his back to the
cabin door, just as Conops sent a flight of arrows twanging from
the engine. If the ship were burned and beached there would still
be one chance in a thousand of recovering the gold, and at any
rate he was determined not to let longshore pirates have it. The
best place to fire the ship would be in the cabin under the poop,
where there was plenty of stuff that was inflammable.

There began to be a lot of shouting back and forth as the galley
swung beam to the tide. Some of the rowers jumped overboard and
swam for the already overcrowded boats; some stood on the benches
to show they had no weapons and would not fight even if they had.
Another flight of arrows twanged and whistled from Conops'
engine, but the galley's crew yelled to the attacking parties not
to answer it.

"There are two men--only two men!" they kept shouting. "Keep
away, or they will burn the ship!"

Five or six more plunged overboard, and Tros decided to let them
all go; he would be better off without them, better able to make
terms. He swung himself up onto the poop, still brandishing the
torch, and a spear thrown from alongside slit his cloak. He
caught the spear and raised it as whalers hold a harpoon, leaning
overside to hurl it through the bottom of the nearest boat, and
paused, rigid, in that attitude.

"They run," remarked Conops from over by the arrow-engine. In
some way he had jammed the mechanism and was jerking at it
nervously. "Likewise, we drift into the mud."

He jumped for the helm and began straining his whole strength
against it, with one foot on the bulwark rail, but Tros saw it
was too late to keep the galley off the mud bank.

"Let her take it as she drifts," he ordered. "If she buries her
beak she will lie here forever."

The galley's oars sprawled this and that way like the legs of a
drunken water beetle as she swung round on the tide and settled
herself comfortably on the mud.

The hide-and-wattle boats were scurrying away as fast as the
paddles could drive them, but fourteen other boats, all wooden,
rowed with oars and crowded with armed men, were coming on,
down-river, against the tide, and in the stern of one of them,
that had a gilded figurehead carved like a swan, there sat a
woman, whose fair hair streamed over her shoulders.

"Fflur!"

Tros waved the torch and flung it overboard. There were still
about thirty Britons in a cluster in the galley's waist, and Tros
had promised that every member of the crew who should stand by
faithfully until the journey's end should have a fair share of
the loot. Not one of them had been what he considered faithful,
and they were not at Lunden yet.

"Whoever fears Fflur, swim for it!" he shouted. Nine or ten men
heeded that suggestion.

Tros counted the remaining men and made the count nineteen,
including all three captains of the three crews he had started
with. "Little man, we have the lion's share," he remarked
to Conops.

"I would sell mine for one drachma in hand," said Conops.

Then Fflur came, jumping up the galley's side as actively as if
she had been born to sailoring, not taking Tros's outstretched
hand, until her leather-stockinged feet were on the poop deck.
She kissed him on both cheeks, laughing and friendly.

In less than a minute after that the galley was a-swarm with
Britons of the white-skinned, fair-haired type, some in peaked
iron caps and all dressed handsomely, with their legs in dyed
woolen trousers and their long shirts embroidered in three
colors. They examined and laughed at everything, ignoring the
crew as if they were some sort of inferior animals.

"Keep them out of the cabin below this poop," said Tros.

Fflur nodded.

She had been a chief's wife long enough to take hints swiftly.
She gave an order in low tones. Four men did her bidding,
standing by the cabin door in the attitude of bored alertness
that the British climate breeds in gentlemen. They said nothing,
did nothing, drew no weapon; but none offered to encroach on
their preserve.

Fflur's gray eyes appeared to take in everything, including the
slits in Tros's cloak.

"Caswallon will be in Lunden tonight," she said quietly. "Caesar
has left Britain with all his troops, after two battles and some
skirmishing. He ordered us to send him hostages to Gaul, but
Caswallon has been trying to prevent the men of Kent from doing
that. Is this ship stuck fast? The beacon warned us of a Northman
in the Thames, and when Caswallon is away that is my business."

Tros answered that the tide would probably lift them off the mud
before long, but that he had no anchor. Then he whispered what
lay under the cabin floor.

"It is yours," she said promptly, but Tros laughed.

He had a way of smiling, when the laugh was finished, that was
irresistible, holding his great head a little to one side and
half closing his eyes.

"Life and money are his who can keep them," he answered. She
nodded again.

"Yes. And Britain is his who can keep it. Caswallon is a king
still. You helped us, Tros. I will help you."

She went down the poop ladder before Tros could offer her a hand,
and into the cabin, he after her. There was hardly more than head
room underneath the beams, and the place was crowded with
Caesar's personal belongings--his bed, tent, chests of clothes,
toilet articles and a chest full of memoranda written by his
secretary, not yet annotated.

Tros stirred among the tablets and parchments, with his cloak in
Fflur's way. Then together they moved the chest from off the
hatch and discovered gold in bags beneath it, bags that even Tros
found heavy.

There were ten, and Fflur's eyes glistened in the dim light
through the partly opened door; but not so keenly as Tros's eyes
had blazed at the sight of Caesar's seal in the box with the
memoranda. While she looked at the gold he took the seal
and hid it in a pocket in his cloak. Fflur called to her
iron-capped gentlemen:

"Put these ten bags into my boat. Guard them."

They obeyed without comment, summoning the inferiors to do the
portering, two men to a bag, themselves surveying the proceedings
leisurely, arranging among themselves which three should guard
the gold when it was safely overside, and which one should wait
with Fflur.

He looked like the most casual cockerel who ever lived--a
youngish man with a very long, tawny moustache, which he twisted
whenever anybody looked at him. He wore a cloak of yellow dyed
linen trimmed with beaver fur, and a golden-hilted sword in a
scabbard inlaid with gold. There had been a big dent in his iron
cap, but it had been hammered out again until only a vague shadow
of it showed.

"Anything else?" he asked in a bored voice, that was hardly
insolent and yet contained no hint of deference.

Tros gestured toward the chest of memoranda. The Briton ignored
him, absolutely, seemed unaware of his existence.

"Take that too," Fflur ordered, pointing at the chest, and the
Briton strolled to the door to summon a sailor, who carried the
chest overside.

Fflur examined Caesar's bed and all the other odds and ends that
filled the cabin.

"Is Caesar a woman?" she asked scornfully, opening a small chest
of cosmetics that reeked of eastern scents.

"I have heard strange tales of him," Tros answered. "But it may
be all that stuff is for the women he meets in his wanderings."

"And this?" she asked, holding up a bowl, in which lay a strange
four-bladed knife.

"He has the falling-sickness,* and at such times they bleed him
with that," Tros answered. "He has them use a silver bowl
because, he says, his blood is Caesar's, which is blood of the
gods, since he claims descent from Venus Genetrix. The blood is
laid before her altar afterwards, and then burned with great
ceremony."

--------
* Epilepsy.
--------

The Briton in the iron cap returned and was at pains to appear
disinterested, stroking his moustache and leaning his back
against the doorpost. Fflur introduced him at last:

"This is Orwic, son of my husband's cousin. Orwic, this is Tros,
my husband's friend, a son of a Prince of Samothrace."

Orwic bowed almost imperceptibly; it was only his eyes that
betrayed any real emotion.

"Oh, are you Tros? I saw you smash Caesar's fleet off the beach
eight days ago. I am glad to meet you."

His manner altered. He looked more cordial.

"Were you in that fight on the beach?" Tros asked him.

"Oh, yes."

Fflur added details:

"His chariot was the first into the water. He was the first to
slay a Roman hand to hand. It was he who slew the Roman
standard-bearer of the Tenth, and he who led the boarding of a
Roman galley. He was the last in retreat when the Romans won
their landing on the beach. Caswallon sent him with me, in my
chariot, to Lunden as a mark of honor."

"I liked the ride with you, of course," said Orwic, looking
miserably self-conscious. "Fflur, do we wait here forever, or--"

"Choose twenty of the safest men and put them in charge of this
ship, responsible to me," Fflur answered. "I will take Tros and
his man to Lunden in my boat. Order all the captains of the other
boats to fasten ropes to this ship and tow it to Lunden as soon
as the tide lifts it off the mud. Tell them to be sure that the
men who came with Tros have food and drink, and say that if a
thing is stolen or a man harmed, Caswallon will do the punishing."

"And I?" asked Orwic.

"Come with me in my boat."

Orwic heaved a deep sigh of relief and strolled out on the deck
to issue orders, pulling his moustache and looking languid, as if
the mere suggestion of having anything to do bored him to the
verge of death.

"A man?" Tros asked, raising his heavy eyebrows.

Fflur met his gaze and nodded, nodded twice.





CHAPTER XVI

LUNDEN TOWN

None can lie concerning nothing. Never hath lived the liar who
did not hear, or see, or imagine a truth, that he might betray
it. Truth is necessary to a lie as bones are necessary to a man.
But concerning any truth whatever, a resourceful, or a reckless,
or a stupid man can tell as many lies as there are stars on the
face of heaven. Look ye, therefore, for the truth amid the lies
that men tell for one sake or another.

--From the Sayings of the Druid Taliesan



Lunden lay amid the marshes in a forest so dense that the
nearness of a town was unsuspected until one came on it around a
river bend.

Then there was a gray mist on the river and the wooden buildings
were wreathed in that and in smoke that rose straight up and hung
like a veil between earth and sky. The sunset glowed through the
haze as if all earth to westward were on fire, silhouetting the
masts and spars of nearly a dozen ships, at which Tros wondered.

He had dozed away a time or two on the long row up the Thames
--Conops snored shamelessly, with his head on one of Caesar's
bags of gold--and now, between sleeping and waking, he was not
sure at first whether he was awake or dreaming.

"How came such ships to be here?" he demanded, speaking first in
Greek, because that was his native tongue, and not remembering to
talk Gaulish until Fflur laughed.

Eight storm-thrashed days and nights he and Conops had stood
watch and watch over a mutinously superstitious crew, who would
have sacrificed them to the sea-gods if they could have managed
it. Now to Tros, with his weary frame relaxed and the rhythmic
oar thump in his ears, his head on a seat beside Fflur's knees
and good cool mead under his sword belt, it almost seemed as if
he had died and were in another world. There was nothing in
focus, nothing as he had supposed it should be. However, Fflur's
quiet voice enlightened him:

"Those are all merchant-ships from Gaul, and from the lowlands
where the Belgae live, and from the cold lands to the northward."

He began to remember, as in a dream, how the longshore Britons
had hunted him up Thames-mouth.

"How get they here?"

"None harms a merchant-ship," she answered. "It is only when the
longships come in quest of slaves and tribute that there is any
fighting, except when the merchant crews get drunk in Lunden and
a little blood flows."

"I have been told, and I told Caesar, that there is no such place
as Lunden," Tros said sleepily. "I was told it is a myth place,
like the land-locked sea to northward of which a man named
Pytheas told two centuries ago on his return from many wanderings."

"Three of yonder ships are from that land-locked sea," Fflur answered.

Tros felt all the blood go tingling through his veins anew, for
he would rather journey into unknown lands than be the emperor of
all the known ones. Fflur felt, or saw the change in him and
ceased smoothing his hair--he had hardly felt it.

"If the Romans knew of this river and this town," he said, musing.

"Too many know," Fflur answered. "Never a year but we must fight
a dozen times to keep the Northmen from laying Lunden waste. And
that is strange, because we like the Northmen, and they like us.
Some we have made prisoners and have given wives to, and they
have settled down among us, some even becoming lesser chiefs, and
helping to fight their own folk when the longships come.

"In the spring of the year they come, and in the autumn now and
then, when their own harvests have been scant and they dread the
long dark winter without corn enough to keep their bellies easy,
and no seed in the spring.

"And in the spring, if they have eaten all the seed that winter,
they come in twos and threes and dozens, fighting one another for
the right to enter Thames-mouth first. Then there is red war that
lasts sometimes for weeks, and we have been hard put to it at
times to drive them forth, but sometimes we burn their ships
behind them.

"Once, when Caswallon had been chief not more than a few months,
they sacked Lunden and burned it. But he rallied his men, and
burned one ship, and sank another and made Thordsen the Northman
prisoner--him and all his men.

"So Thordsen rebuilt Lunden for us, using wood and teaching us
the trick of chimneys and adze-hewn timber. Caswallon gave
Thordsen his own sister to wife, and she lives where the nights
and days are half a year long, or so I have been told, but the
Northmen are great liars.

"None of us has seen the girl since then, although we hear of her
at times. It was after that Caswallon married me. My folk are the
Iceni, who breed the best horses in Britain and have fought the
Northmen since the world began."

Orwic, who steered the boat, and the three other young bloods,
who guarded the bags of gold without appearing to admit, even to
themselves, that they were doing anything unusual, betrayed
interest in nothing except the wild-fowl that swarmed among the
reeds on either bank, commenting on those and naming them, as
grebe, duck, mallard, geese, snipe and half a dozen other sorts
appeared and vanished.

To listen to their conversation, nothing was wrong with Britain
but the vermin that destroyed the game. Twelve rowers labored at
the oars, and nodded when game was discussed, but they seemed to
disapprove of Fflur's remarks about the Northmen.

They skirted the swamps around Lunden and brought the boat
alongside a tiny pier that jutted out into the river where a
shallow brook* flowed out between the bulrushes. To their right a
low hill rose jeweled in the setting sun, enormous oaks and the
roofs of painted wooden houses glowing in a mystery of mist and
smoke.

---------
* In later years known as the Fleet; nowadays a sewer under Fleet
Street, not far from Ludgate Hill.
---------

There was a wall of mud and wattle, reenforced at intervals with
oaken beams, that curved around the hill and out of sight; and
there were thatch-roofed houses close to the wall, with their
backs toward it.

Chariot tracks, some rutted deep into the clay, crisscrossed in
every direction toward other houses half-invisible among the
trees, but there seemed to be only one regular street, that ran
between two rows of solemn and tremendous oaks toward the summit
of the hill, where the red roof of a mansion bulked above ancient
yews against the skyline.*

----------
* Where St. Paul's Cathedral now stands.
----------

There were not many people in evidence, although a number of
swarthy-skinned, dark-eyed serfs, men and women, were filling
water bags and buckets at the brook and carrying them uphill with
an air of having done the same thing since the world began.

But wood smoke came from a thousand chimneys and from holes in
thatch roofs, suggesting supper time and plenty. The air was full
of the cawing of rooks that wheeled over the trees in thousands,
and the lowing of home-coming cattle, with the occasional
bay of a hound or the neigh of a horse who heard the corn bin
being opened.

"Lunden is a good town," said Fflur, springing out of the boat
and waiting for the chariot that came galloping downhill toward
them. "The druids say Lunden was a town a thousand years ago, and
will be a town forever until Britain disappears under the sea,
because the gods know no dearer place and will preserve it."

"The gods will have to show you how to build a better wall," said
Tros, eyeing the defenses sleepily.

He had seen walls twenty times a man's height, of solid stone and
thicker than a house, go down before the Roman battering rams.
But Orwic betrayed interest at last:

"That wall keeps the serfs at home, and the knee-high children
within call," he said. "We have the forests and the swamps to
fight behind. Time and again we have caught the Northmen in the
swamps by felling trees around them. As long as we can hunt the
wolf and stag and fox, and know the forest better than the beasts
do, it seems to me likely that our wall will serve its purpose
well enough. Besides, as Fflur just said, the gods love Lunden."

Tros laughed.

"I have heard them say the gods love Rome," he answered, "and I
know Caesar."

"Caesar is beaten," Orwic answered.

He spoke with an air of calm, assured finality. One might as well
have argued with the sunset--better, because the sunset could not
have looked bored.

The bags of gold were heaped on the chariot floor. Fflur drove
the impatient stallions with Tros beside her, and Conops asleep
again beside the charioteer.

But Orwic and the other Britons waited for their horses to be
brought, their youth and strength apparently too precious to be
squandered on a mile's walk, or perhaps it was contrary to their
religion. At any rate, walking was something a man did not argue
about, but did not do.

The chariot galloped past a hundred houses that looked as if
their roots were in the very soul of Britain, each in its own
oak-fenced garden, with flower-beds, bee-hives, stables,
cow-sheds, and a great front door of oak six inches thick.

The window openings were screened with linen, loosely woven,
grayed and yellowed by the wood smoke. The soft, mouse color of
the woodwork was relieved by beautifully weathered paint on doors
and shutters, blue, yellow, red--the earth colors that blend with
autumn leaves and dew and lush green grass.

The great house on the hill-top was surrounded by an oak fence
half a foot thick, but not so high that a tall man could not see
over it.

Within the compound there were giant yews clipped into fantastic
patterns and almost a village of stables, cow-sheds, quarters for
the serfs and barns for the storage of corn and what-not else.

The great door, with the deep, roofed porch in front of it,
resembled nothing Tros had ever seen, although in some vague,
indefinable way it recalled to memory the prow of a longship
manned by reddish-haired, bearded strangers, that he had once
seen ostensibly whaling off the western coast of Spain.

"This is the house that Thordsen built," said Fflur, as serfs ran
forward to seize the stallions' heads and she tossed the reins to
them. "There is none other like it in Britain, although Thordsen
told us that in his land all the kings are housed thus. The
Northmen are great liars when they speak of their own land--good
friends, bitter enemies. We never believe them unless they swear
on their great swords, and even so they lie, if they are made to
swear too often. But somewhere Thordsen must have learned to
build like this."

Women of all ages, from dried-apple-cheeked old hags to young
girls with rosy cheeks and skin like white rose petals in the
dew, came out to the porch to greet Fflur and to stare at Tros.

Fflur sent them running to prepare a bed for the distinguished
guest, and he stared for a while at the great oak-paneled hall,
with its gallery at one end and a fireplace big enough to
roast an ox whole, with a chair like a throne under the
gallery, and spears and shields hung on the walls, and rich,
embroidered hangings.

Then they all came back and kissed him one by one, until Fflur
took him by the hand and led him to a small room off the great
one, with no door between, but a leather curtain dyed and
figured, and showed him a huge wooden bed all heaped with furs
and woolen blankets.

"Here you are safe among friends, Tros, and you may sleep to your
heart's content."

Fflur watched while the women pulled his outer garments off,
taking the stained, slit cloak away, and brought him meat and
mead, watched them lay a mattress on the floor for Conops,
ordered the women away and watched, standing by the curtain,
while a great, gray, shaggy hound went to the bedside, sniffed
Tros cautiously and then lay down beside him.

Then she nodded, as if the hound's behavior had confirmed
her own opinion.

"Sleep until Caswallon comes," she said. "He drives fast. He will
be here at midnight."

Food, strong mead and the knowledge that he lay with friends,
combined with sheer exhaustion to make Tros almost instantly lose
consciousness. But he was first and last a seaman, with a
seaman's habit of responsibility. An eight-day battle with the
wind and waves had fixed in that portion of the consciousness
that never sleeps an impulse to arouse the senses suddenly, all
nervous and alert.

He could sleep deep, awaken, and be conscious of his whole
surroundings in an instant; then fall off to sleep again when he
discovered all was well, his senses swaying as if a ship still
labored under him.

The first thought that roused him was the gold. He remembered
Fflur's eyes when she first beheld it in the hole beneath the
floor of Caesar's cabin. But he dismissed that, knowing he was
helpless if Fflur should see fit to deprive him of it. The gold
seemed relatively unimportant with a mattress underneath him
stuffed with goosebreast feathers.

Then he awakened suddenly to think of the galley being towed
up-Thames by rowboats, to wonder how they would manage when the
tide turned, whether they would not moor her out of sight among
the marshes and then plunder her, sink her, perhaps, or burn her
to destroy the proofs of pilfering.

He desired that galley above all things except one, and even more
than all that gold. She was much too heavy and unwieldy, and
steered like a house in a gale of wind, but she was strong, with
any amount of bronze in her, and there were changes he knew he
could make that would render her almost un-Roman, by which he
meant almost seaworthy.

However, he remembered that the galley, like the gold, was in the
hands of people who presumably were friends.

The next he knew it was very dark and only a faint suggestion of
crimson firelight gleamed between the curtain and the wall,
making the darkness move a little as the low flames danced on the
hearth. There was a coming and going of cloth-shod feet, with
occasional clatter of dishes, as if women were spreading tables
in the great hall.

There was considerable noise in what he supposed must be the
kitchen, several rooms away. But the arresting sounds, that held
attention, were the voices of two men beside the curtain.

He had a mental vision of them seated on a low bench with their
backs against the wall, and after a minute or two he recognized
one voice as Orwic's. Orwic sounded rather bored, as usual, and
spoke, when he did speak, as if he were yawning between every
other sentence. It was the other man who carried the brunt
of the conversation.

"No, Orwic"--Tros heard the words distinctly--"I was not in the
fighting on the beach, because a man cannot be in two places. I
was at Hythe when Caswallon came to turn out every able-bodied
man. He made a fine speech, but all they promised was to hold
Hythe, and very few went back with him to fight the Romans.

"I would have gone with him, but I thought of a better idea. You
remember what a storm there was three or four days later?

"Well, there was a man named Tros in Hythe, a Syrian or a Greek
or a Phoenician, I am sure I don't know which, a big fellow, but
a fool, with lots of pluck, who helped me drive three of
Caswallon's crews aboard two ships.

"He took one ship, I the other, and we stormed along the coast
ahead of the gale until we came on Caesar's fleet at anchor and
crashed into them, breaking the cables.

"Tros was afraid at first, but I led the way and that encouraged
him. And he was a pirate born, take my word for it, that fellow
Tros was a pirate if ever there was one--hah!"

He had a heavy, sonorous voice that carried distinctly, although
he seemed to be trying not to speak loud. Tros, as wide awake now
as he had ever been in his life, proposed that Conops should hear
too, and reached out with his foot, but Conops was already awake
and crouching by the curtain.

"Master," he whispered, creeping to the bedside, "there is a
fellow out there claiming to have done what you did!"

Tros laid a hand on his mouth and pressed him to the floor.

"Pirate, you say?" said the voice of Orwic.

"Aye, a pirate! I wish you had been there to see him. He was no
sooner alongside a Roman ship than he boarded it and put out to
sea. He did not wait to finish the work we had begun--not he!

"He had what must have seemed to him a good ship after that leaky
old trap he had smashed on the Roman's bows, and no doubt he knew
there was loot in the hold. Anyhow, he put to sea and left me to
do the rest of it alone."

"You mean you were all alone?"

"Not quite, but the crew wasn't much good. They were afraid. I
did all the work at the helm. You see, it was simply a matter of
seamanship and steering straight before the wind.

"Seamanship is in my bones. I was brought up on the South Coast,
near Pevensey. I have crossed to Gaul a hundred times, in every
kind of weather; and you know my father was a Northman. I sailed
downwind and smashed those galleys, wondering why Caswallon had
never thought of it. However, I did think; and I live to remind
him of it. Caswallon owes me a turn now."

"What became of Tros?" asked Orwic.

"Ask the sea-gods! But I wager he was drowned, and I know those
channel waters. The gale shifted and I was driven back toward
Vectis,* where my rotten ship went to pieces under me. I crawled
out on the beach near by the place where they trade tin to the
Phoenicians. But it was a long time before I could find a boat to
bring me back to Pevensey, and then I had a hard time getting
horses. However, here I am."

-----------
* Probably the Isle of Wight.
-----------

"Yes," said Orwic. "And you look well preserved for a man who has
done all that storming, and galley-smashing and swimming and
what-not else. You look to me, Skell, more like a man who has
sunned himself on benches of an afternoon."

"Aye, I have a strong frame and a great endurance," said the
gruff voice.

"Orwic!" It was the voice of Fflur now, just a shade excited.
"Summon our guest. Caswallon comes."





CHAPTER XVII

A HOMECOMING

Listen to me, ye who judge a horse's value by his paces, I will
tell you a man's paces.

He who seeks a violent revenge upon one who has wronged him,
trust ye that man never. That one is a coward; he is untrustworthy;
he is afraid to trust the Law that in his act of vengeance he
pretends to serve. Boasting of right, he does wrong;  and he
will do you a wrong when opportunity permits.

But beware, and behave justly to the man who, seeing wrong done
to himself, is neither humble nor yet vengeful but abides the
time that Law shall choose to force the doer of the wrong to make
such restitution as is meet. That man's wisdom is like a wheel
and its circumference is greater than the earth's rim that ye see
around you; whereas vengeance is only a sharp spear that a shield
can turn aside and that a turning wheel can smash into a
thousand pieces.

--From the Sayings of the Druid Taliesan



Caswallon came by torchlight, standing in a four-horse chariot,
with fifty chariots behind him and a hundred mounted men in
single file on either side of the procession.

Lunden, man, woman and child, turned out to greet him, though it
was midnight, and the windows glowed red behind shadowy trees
that seemed afire in torch-smoke. They had Julius Caesar in
effigy hanging from an arch of boughs under which Caswallon must
pass--a thing with a long nose made of beeswax and a wreath on
its head.

The mist, that deadened voices, spread the light in moving
whirlpools that made men seem like specters and Caswallon himself
a great god in a golden chariot drawn by monsters.

"The Lunden fog! The Lunden fog!" Fflur exclaimed. "I can't see
his face!"

The crowd, on the whole, was silent. Now and then a horn blew.
Here and there a woman cried half hysterically, as they lighted
the bonfires and the smoky glare increased. Three times a cheer
went in waves up-street and volleyed down again, the long,
deep-throated, sobbing "Aa-a-a-a-a-h" of men who are too pleased
with another man to care to say exactly what they think, a good,
back-straightening, gutful sound.

There was a bigger crowd than Lunden had any right to. Men had
come from all the countryside, and even from the grassland beyond
the forest to the north, where the Iceni raised horses. The Iceni
had come south in scores, in the hope of selling remounts to the
men who fought the Romans on the Kentish shore, and a group of
them, by right of blood relationship, was standing not far from
Fflur, all big men, fair complexioned, wearing sleeveless
embroidered tunics over their long-sleeved shirts and woolen
trousers--friends, in a sense, but not henchmen, and sarcastic
when they spoke at all.

Tros, clad in a new cloak that Fflur's women had brought him,
stood beside a lean Phoenician, a black-bearded man with a long,
hooked nose, wrapped and wrapped again in shawls of camel-hair
against the chill of the night, his black eyes red-rimmed, his
whole body shaking as he coughed.

He owned the lateen-rigged ship that lay with her nose among the
rushes half a mile away and was a prince by British reckoning--no
mean man by his own.

Around Fflur there were druids, trousered philosophers in long
robes whom Orwic treated with courteous contempt, ordering
stools brought for them "lest they should tire out all their
righteousness before the time for blessings came."

And behind the druids were the women, nearly fifty of them,
fluttering with excitement, some fussing because Fflur had
refused to wear hood or cloak.

Fflur's three young children stood beside her, sleepy and wrapped
in woolen shawls, but her sixteen-year-old son was with his
father in the second chariot behind him, driving his own team and
laughing as if it were he alone who had sent Caesar sneaking back
to Gaul.

Fflur's jewelry and her fair hair, beaded with the mist, shone in
the flickering torchlight; but when she turned her head a moment
it seemed to Tros that her eyes outshone them all and that her
face was lighted from within.

"If I should ever find her equal, I would marry," he said quietly
to Conops.

But Conops demurred to that: "Master, you would be the slave of
such a wife. Freedom is good--the world is full of easy women."

"Aye, and of whoring seamen," Tros answered testily.

Then he saw Orwic, plucked him by the cloak and asked who Skell
might be. Orwic, now apparently not bored at all, grew tersely
communicative.

The cheering increased in volume as the procession came slowly
uphill* to where Fflur waited in the open gateway. There was much
more torchlight there, for all the notables of Lunden were on the
green common in front of the gate to see Caswallon greet his
wife, without missing the burning of the effigy of Caesar
afterwards and all the dancing around bonfires that was sure to
take place.

--------
* Nowadays Ludgate Hill.
--------

They had their serfs with them--two or three serfs to each man
and woman--and some of Fflur's own domestics were having hard
work to keep the space clear. Serf to serf was simple enough, but
Lunden's citizenry took it ill when they were smitten on the
shins with holly cudgels.

There was quite a little shouting about freemen's rights, and a
couple of dark-skinned serving-men were roughly handled, until
Orwic took five other stalwarts like himself and swaggered
blandly around the circle a time or two. There was no argument
with Orwic. He was roundly cheered and most abominably bored by
the ovation.

Then, into the torch smoke and the glare, Caswallon came, holding
back the four dun stallions to a plunging walk, until he wheeled
them in front of where Fflur stood, threw the reins to the man
beside him, and reached over and lifted her in his arms. No fool
for ceremony was he, simply a shock-headed gentleman who loved
his wife and did not even greet the druids until he had hugged
her and kissed his children.

Then the druids crowned him with oak leaves as he stepped
down from the chariot. Horns blew a blare that split the
ear-drums--for every Briton had a hunting horn--and the crowd
called him king!

"King Caswallon! King!"

He turned and faced them in the gateway, laughing, holding
Fflur's hand, with the children clinging to his knees, signing to
the other chariots to open up to right and left. And then,
because the crowd still could not see him, he shook off the
children and the great hound that sprang at his shoulders
whimpering affection, and, leaping on the gate-post, stood there,
upright as a graven image, with his right hand raised until they
all grew still.

"Not bad," Tros muttered. "Nay, not bad. That man is fit to rule."

"Men of Lunden," Caswallon said, "and men of the Iceni--for I see
a number of you--ye are pleased to call me king, and I am proud
to answer you that this our land is free. No living Roman rests
on it. Our own dead and the Roman dead lie buried where the sea
sings dirges. And I listened to the dirges. And the sea said
'Again--and again--and again!' And I listened, and the wind blew.
And the wind said: 'I blow sails over the waters.' And the rain
fell and I listened. And the rain said: 'He who owns this shall
defend it.'

"Then the sea gulls mewed above the surf, and I could see the
cliffs of Gaul and the short seas between, and I listened.
And the gulls cried: 'Gaul was set against Gaul--_Ohe_--Gaul
is Caesar's!'

"So I think not many new moons shall look down on us before we
fight once more. For the Romans come as the springtide rolls up
Thames--little by little at first, and then in full flood, with
the eagles screaming overhead.

"Now ye are free, and ye have called me king. I am king. But ye
shall choose between me and Caesar before long. Caesar shall not
rule me, for I will die first. I will lie beside those men whose
widows mourn them on the shore of Kent. I know a thousand who
will die with me, aye, more than a thousand, rather than submit
to Caesar.

"Bear ye in mind: That if ye let a thousand of us die, lacking
your aid, in defense of this good land we all call ours, they
will have died in vain; and ye who value life more than you do
your friends shall learn what a mean and melancholy thing is life
under Caesar's heel.

"Ye men of Lunden, whose chief I am--ye men of the Iceni, whose
friend I am, whose chief I am not--I have spoken."

He jumped down from the gate-post, hugged his wife again and led
the way into the house, followed by his sixteen-year-old son, and
all the owners of the other chariots, many of whom bore Roman
shields in proof that they had stood their ground against the
invading legions.

He did not see Tros. He was too busy talking with Fflur and his
three children and laughing at the antics of the hound that
wriggled and yelped in front of him.

At the threshold a young girl gave a golden cup to Fflur, and he
accepted it from Fflur's hands, drinking deep and murmuring a few
words of ritual before striding into the hall. There all was
horse-play and pandemonium in a minute, as the servants lighted
the torches in the sconces and the guests swarmed in to jockey
for the best seats at the two long, laden tables, some shoving
each other backward off the benches and wrestling on the floor,
laughing as they held each other's wrists to keep the little
daggers out of play, until a master of ceremonies pulled them
apart and placed them at table arbitrarily, threatening to feed
them on the floor with the dogs unless they acted seemly.

"Ye are not drunken yet--not yet," he scolded.

The hall was splendid with woven hangings and stags' antlers.
Great gold pitchers, marvelously chased, stood at the chief's end
of the table. There were silver and golden goblets, and many of
the trenchers on which meat and cakes were piled were of solid
gold. When they had dragged the throne chair to the table-end
Caswallon led Fflur to a smaller chair beside it, everybody
standing while the women poured mead into the goblets and every
man raised his goblet high, waiting for the chief to give the
word to a High Druid to pronounce the blessing.

It was then that Caswallon saw Tros, ten places down the table on
his right hand, and paused, almost setting down his golden cup.
But Tros shook his head and raised a hand, smiling, requesting
silence, catching Orwic's eye next. And Orwic nodded to
the chief.

So the sonorous chant of the druids began, and none drooped his
head, but raised it because the hymn was of Mother Earth, who
uplifts, from whom all human life emerges and to whom full
reverence and loyalty and love is due.

There was chant, and response led by Caswallon, until the great
beams rang to the refrain and they tossed the cups high, drinking
deep to Mother Earth and to the gods who had sent the Romans
sneaking back to sea at midnight.

"For let none doubt," Caswallon said, thumping down his golden
goblet on the table and following that with a blow of his fist
that made the rafters ring, "that the gods sent a man to preserve
us! I pay honor to the men who died. I swear fellowship with them
who fought and did not die.

"I say that but for the gods who sent a storm, and a true man in
the midst of it to harry Caesar's fleet and break it, we were all
dead men this day, or worse, with our wives at the Romans' mercy
and our homes destroyed."

He sat down, and there was a little murmuring, because the men
who had not fought were at least as proud of British heart and
muscle as those who had. Let the druids praise the gods.
Themselves were there to toast the men who fought, to eat beef
and venison and to drink themselves drunker than the drunkest
Roman who ever coveted in vain a good land fit to stay at home in.

Piety--good in its proper place, of course--struck a flat note at
a banquet table, and a few men at the far end began a song about
the stout hearts of Cair Lunden and the Northmen they had
vanquished in the Thames.

Then the women took away the goblets--for they were precious--and
put beakers in their place, made of a dull metal that the Britons
knew how to blend of tin and iron, and the feasting began in
earnest, each man's mouth too full of meat and mead and cakes,
and anything else he could reach, to talk at all.

For a while there was no other sound but munching, and the
laughing of the girls who poured the mead and took fresh
trenchers of hot food from the serfs to the table--for no serf
touched the tablecloth or poured a drink. It was Orwic who was
first to speak above a murmur, three places down the table on
Caswallon's right hand with two rosy-cheeked maids in very close
attendance on him.

"We have thanked the gods, who are no doubt gratified," he
remarked. "Shall we forget the man?"

Caswallon glanced at Tros and raised his fist to beat on the
table for silence, but something in Orwic's eye restrained him.
The chief stroked his long moustache instead, caught Fflur's eyes
beside him, and waited.

"Skell of Pevensey," Orwic went on, nodding with a dry smile
toward a heavy-shouldered man, red-bearded and rather white-skinned,
who sat exactly facing Tros, "has been telling me how he destroyed
Caesar's fleet with the aid of a man, who, says Skell, was a
pirate. Should Skell not tell that tale to all of us?"

Skell's mouth at the moment was too full for speech, and, it
might be, there was a lump in his throat beside; when he tried to
wash the stuff down with a draught of mead it made him cough so
that the man beside him had to thump him lustily between
the shoulderblades.

There was plenty of time for Caswallon to meet Tros's eyes again.
Tros laid a finger on his lips. But Conops, acting serving-man
behind his master--to the annoyance of the girls, who would have
enjoyed the sport of serving both of them since any foreigner was
good to giggle at--leaned over his shoulder, pretending to reach
the meat, and whispered:

"Look to yourself now, master, before the mead brews madness.
Flout that liar to his teeth before they are all too drunk
to understand."

But Tros thumped him in the belly with his elbow, being minded
not to let a servant do his thinking for him and aware of
how much mead he could drink safely. By that time Skell had
finished coughing.

"Skell shall tell us," said Caswallon.

So Skell squared his shoulders and stood, after quarreling a
moment with the men on either side, who did not want to let him
push the bench back--it caught him in the knees, and a man can't
boast to advantage with his knees bent forward between bench
and table.

And the tale he told was an amazing one of storm and daring,
better by far than what he had told Orwic, because he now had a
gallon of mead beneath his belt.

He spoke of himself standing in a British ship's bow--he
had stood at the helm when he told it to Orwic the first
time--sword-slashing at the cables of the plunging Roman ships;
but he said nothing of Caesar's campfires streaming in the gale,
or of the shouts of the Roman legionaries drowning in the surf as
they tried to haul the smaller ships up-beach, as really happened.

He spoke only of himself, and once or twice of Tros, the lees of
a neglected intuition keeping him from some liberties he might
have taken with the name of the man who really had done the work.

His egotism stirred by mead, but not yet to the point of actual
drunkenness, he told his tale well, when no facts hampered him
and he reached the account of his swim from a broken ship to the
rockbound shore of Vectis, in a gale that he had already
described as the worst that ever rocked the cliffs of Britain. He
described the swimming stroke he used, and how the crew of his
broken ship cried out to him to save them:

"But sailors never can swim," he went on, "so the fish had their
revenge. But I was sorry for them. When I reached the shore at
last, and lay exhausted, I bethought me of that fellow Tros, and
for a while I prayed for him to the gods who loose the winds and
hurl the lightnings, that I might meet him again and shake him by
the hand."

"By Nodens,"* said Caswallon drily, "your prayer was granted.  Tros--"

But Tros had already made excuse to leave the room and was
standing in the porch outside the great front door, filling his
lungs with the clean night mist, and watching the yelling crowd
downhill burn Caesar's effigy in chains.

----------
* A sea-god of the Britons, later confused with Neptune by
the Romans.
----------

It was not usual for a host to leave his place at table before
all the courses had been tasted, but Caswallon called his oldest
son, Tasciovanus, to take his place and followed Tros out to
the porch.

And first he embraced him silently, then looked him in the eyes
in the light of the horn lantern that hung from the porch beams.

"Tros," he said, "my brother Tros, if it had not been that Fflur
received you and made you free of this, my house, I would not
have sat still. I would have had you at the table end beside me,
next where Fflur sits. But Fflur whispered of the gold, and it
lies in her bed, where none but I dares go.

"She spoke of Caesar's galley. My men shall bring that ship and
all that it contains to Lunden. She whispered of what she had
heard Skell say to Orwic. And you know Fflur, but you do not know
Skell. Her gift I know. She has a second-sight, that forever
leads me wisely when I heed her, but I find it strange that you
should have sat so still while Skell stole for himself the glory
that is rightly yours."

"How is it strange?" Tros answered. "There is nothing for nothing
in this world, and I am in dire need. If Skell desires that
glory, he shall pay for it, unless you beg me to release the
debt, for I am your friend, and I will not make trouble for you."

Caswallon laughed.

"Brother Tros, if you lack anything," he answered, "you have me
to look to. But I would rather see Skell put to honest use than
receive three favors from the gods."

"Then leave him to me," Tros said, stroking at his black beard,
grinning like an ogre.

Caswallon grinned, too, pulling at his long moustache. Like all
Britons, he admired guile, as long as it observed unwritten rules.

"He is yours--as the gold is yours--and the galley is yours," he
answered. "But I warn you: Skell has a dark spirit that is too
much even for the druids. He is a doer of evil, a thief of
reputations, a crafty coward, whose lies are as bold as his deeds
are treacherous. And yet, by promises and what-not else he always
has enough friends to keep him out of danger from the druids or
from me.

"Four months ago he made believe to uncover a plot to poison me.
He struck the goblet from my lips and slew the serf who brought
it. I think he poisoned the mead with his own hand, but now he
boasts of having saved my life and how can I deny it?

"I sent him to Gaul on an embassy, hoping Caesar would pack him
off to Rome, perhaps. But Caesar gave him presents, and now Skell
boasts he has more influence with Caesar than an army of a
thousand men. If I had killed him for acting as Caesar's spy,
there are plenty who would rebel against me--for Caesar sends
money now and then, some of which Skell distributes.

"Skell was in Hythe when I went there to raise men, and when you
put to sea in the storm to break up Caesar's fleet; but he did
not see you, because he did not want me to see him. There was a
doubt in his mind then as to whether the Romans might not make
good their foothold. No doubt he saw what happened, from the
cliffs, and doubtless he believed you drowned, as I did, as we
all did, until the beacon told of another Northman in the Thames
and Fflur set out to fight an enemy and found you.

"Skell knows I can not swear he didn't put to sea in one of those
ships from Hythe, for the one you took, you smashed, and another
is missing. It is likely Skell sunk that other one to lend truth
to his boast that it was he who did the work that night. It will
be hard to prove, for he covers his tracks well sometimes. But
what can you want, Tros, with such a fanged louse as this Skell
is? He will fasten to you like a limpet to a rock. He will suck
you dry."

"He seems even a worse rascal than I hoped," Tros answered. "My
father, who is Caesar's prisoner in Gaul, might not like to come
free, if a good man were the victim in his place."

"I had forgotten your father," Caswallon said awkwardly.

"My father may be in chains, and I must make haste," Tros
replied. "If Caesar should learn it was I who smashed his fleet,
my father would be made to pay the penalty. Skell seems sent by
the very gods."

"You shall speak with Skell."

Caswallon clapped Tros on the shoulder and returned into the
house. Tros stood watching the bonfires that had been heaped in
midstreet at fifty-yard intervals all the way up the hill. Wild
figures like demons danced around them, yelling, with long hair
streaming, some waving torches, some holding hands. The mist was
crimson with the bonfire glare, distorting things, making men and
trees seem nearer than they were, but the din seemed very far
away, because the mist refused to carry it.

Tros watched until Skell came out alone and, closing the heavy
door with a thud behind him, stood eyeing him in silence.

Very slowly indeed, almost inch by inch, Tros faced him,
conscious of his sword-hilt but avoiding any semblance of a move
toward it.

"You touch your dagger. Why?" he asked.

Skell blinked at him. His eyes, perhaps, were not yet quite
accustomed to the fog-dimmed lantern light. But his throat moved
too. He had a face that looked strong rather than crafty, except
that the mouth was thin-lipped and a bit irregular. His red
moustache was bushy, instead of drooping as most Britons wore
theirs. His hair was shorter than the ordinary, and his neck was
like a bull's.

"Speak!" he commanded, still clutching at the dagger-hilt. "Why
did you not name yourself to me? I am a dangerous man on whom to
play such tricks."

The snarl and the sneer in his voice were icy cold. He was a
calculator of men's fears, but not so Tros, who liked to turn
strength to his own use.

"So I tricked you?" Tros answered.

His voice was almost friendly. There was a laugh in it. He even
turned a little sidewise, as if off guard, being able to afford
that because he could see the blade of Conops' knife.

Conops had found another way out of the house, a good manservant
being better than the best dog, and was crouching in the shadow
where the honeysuckle had been blown through the open porch side
by a recent wind.

Skell sneered again, his thin lip curling until one side of his
moustache pointed almost at the corner of his eye. He said
something in a low voice and had to repeat it, because a salvo of
applause and laughter in the hall echoed under the porch and
drowned his words:

"Do you think you can make a fool of me?"

Tros's amber eyes grew narrow as he judged his man.

"I have heard men lie for many reasons," he said, smiling, and
again his voice was almost friendly. "When I tell a lie, it is to
save my skin, or possibly some other man's. Boasting gives me no
amusement, because I have found I must pay for it sooner or
later. Do you pay like a man, or do you bilk your creditors?"

Skell's hand was on his dagger hilt, but he relaxed and leaned
against the door, with his head to one side, trying to read
Tros's eyes by the lantern rays.

"I supposed you were drowned," he said at last. "There was no
harm in taking a dead man's credit. You should have made yourself
known if you wanted--"

"Ah-h-h!"

Tros interrupted, with a sudden gesture of his right hand that
made Skell almost draw the dagger.

"Does a trader want the skins he sells? Because he does not want
them, does he give them without price?"

"Money?" Skell asked him, sneering.

"My price--at my convenience," Tros answered.

And at last he stood square up to Skell, and drew his long sword
six inches from the scabbard. Skell did not move, because Conops
came out of the shadow then and slapped a blade on the palm of
his left hand.

"I am able to care for myself," said Skell, "but I will listen to
your proposal."

His heel struck the door behind him twice.

"A third time, and when they open they shall carry you in feet
first!" said Tros. "For if I should run a sword point into you,
none could blame Caswallon for that. If I should say that I did
it, is there a Briton who would blame me?"

"Speak your proposal," Skell answered, "and make haste."

He spoke on the intake of breath, for Tros had drawn the long
sword, taking one step backward. Skell's angry eyes recognized a
man who knew his own mind on land as well as sea, and knew how
not to tell his mind, which is a sign of great strength.

"I have spoken it," Tros answered. "There was no price named when
you took my credit for your own gain. Now the credit is yours,
for I have no use for spoiled goods. But the price of it is mine.
Do I deal with a thief, or with a man who pays willingly?"

"I pay," said Skell, "if you are reasonable."

"Skell," said Tros, "I am so reasonable, I would not give a
drachma for your promise, at sword's point or before a thousand
witnesses. You shall plight a pledge. Thereto I will add
persuasions, since a thrashed horse runs slowly unless fed."

"Pledge? I have neither money nor jewels by me."

"I have money and I have jewels. I would let both go for a
friend's sake," Tros retorted. "You would forfeit yours to vent
your spleen. Nay, Skell, you shall give a pledge that you will
risk all to redeem."

"I think they will come for us soon," said Skell.

He was growing nervous. He could no more stand his ground against
a strong will and uncertainty than a bull can face the whip.

"I am cornered; I yield," he said, trying to say it proudly.

"You shall come with me into the hall," said Tros, "and you shall
say this: that you have wagered you can bring my father safely
out of Gaul, or wherever else he is Caesar's prisoner. And the
stake is your life against Caesar's galley that they are now
towing up the Thames."

Skell made a gesture of ridicule, but Tros continued, speaking slowly:

"They will ask why you made such a wager, for they know you,
Skell, and they will doubt your word. You will answer, in terms
of what you have already said without my leave, that you and I
did a venture together against Caesar, whereby we are pledged
to mutual esteem, but that I seized plunder, and you none,
concerning which an argument arose between us, you claiming a
share in what I seized, but I dissenting.

"They will believe that tale readily enough. So you will tell
them that, you, knowing Caesar and being fond of daring exploits,
proposed this wager to me, and I agreed. Thereafter, Skell, I
think it would be dangerous for you to play me an act of
treachery, for these Britons are strict about wagers and bargains
and the treatment of a guest--I being their guest, remember.

"They will watch me, and they will watch you, so the temptation
will be very small to stick a knife into my back, which if you
should do, or if another should do, they would instantly suspect
you of having done."

"I neither know your father nor where to look for him," Skell
answered. "The thing is impossible."

"Skell, so was your story about smashing Caesar's fleet
impossible, since it was I who did that, and you were not there.
You will say what I bid you to say, or I will march you now into
the hall and name you liar before all the company.

"I see you understand what that would mean, Skell. Your sword
against mine, in the fog, before a hundred witnesses. Choose
then. I have offered you a chance to win a Roman galley and all
the power that should go with owning such a ship, or a swifter
chance to prove your manhood with your sword against mine
this night."

He did not give Skell long to think, but ordered Conops to open
the front door wide, and there they stood, the three of them
together with the firelight in their faces, Tros with a naked
sword in his right hand, Conops with a naked knife and only Skell
with his weapon sheathed.

A roar went up as a hundred voices asked the meaning of drawn
weapons, and a bench upset as the feasters faced about. Caswallon
rose from his great chair at the table end, and Skell had only
time to draw three breaths before he had to answer, for Tros kept
still and some one had to speak.

"It seems, in Samothrace men bind a wager by an oath made on a
sword blade," Skell said, with a catch in his throat.

Then, because he had gone too far to withdraw, he continued in a
loud voice, laying his hand on Tros's broad shoulder:

"This is Tros, who aided me in smashing Caesar's ships. I did not
recognize him until now, but he knew me on the instant. Tros will
tell you of the wager we have made."

But Tros was not to be caught so easily. When they had done
drinking to him and shouting his name until the rafters rang with
it, he stood--his toes beyond the threshold still, because he had
not sheathed his sword--and, showing his strong teeth in a grin
such as men do not learn the use of without earning the right to
it, let loose a "Ho-ha-hah!" that shook his shoulders.

"Nay," he answered. "For you all know Skell, so you shall have
Skell's word on what has passed between us."

And he smote Skell such a slap between the shoulder-blades as
made him take a quick step forward. Whereat Caswallon, bending
his head to catch Fflur's whisper, sat down and called on Skell
to speak, and all the company roared to Tros to shut the door to
keep the fog outside.

But Tros continued standing at the threshold, and did not sheathe
his sword until Skell stood thoroughly committed by his own lips
and had vowed before all that company that he would rescue Tros's
father, Perseus, Prince of Samothrace, from Caesar's camp in Gaul
or from wherever else Caesar might have sent him, or die in the
attempt. Skell made the best of a bad bargain, boasting with his
chin high and with an easy, reckless motion of the shoulders.

"And for my part," Tros said then, "I will gladly give Caesar's
galley to a man so shrewd and brave as can accomplish that."

He sheathed his sword then, and strode in, shutting the great door.

And from then until nearly dawn, while the company, growing more
and more uproarious, wove Skell into a net of lies of his own
spinning, Caswallon remained very sober, not summoning Tros to
sit beside him lest Skell should appear slighted, and he did not
care to have Skell sit at the table end.

Skell also remained sober, because the strong mead could not bite
a brain that had so much embarrassment to think of. And Tros, who
was the son of Initiate of Samothrace, never drank more than
comforted the stomach without touching the brain at all, because
"drink that dulls the senses," say the Ancients, "is an insult to
the Soul, and to refuse the hospitality of strangers is an
insult to their kindness; wherefore, wisely observe temperance
in all things."





CHAPTER XVIII

THE TIN TRADER

As the wind blows pollen, so are the bolder spirits blown forth
by their own necessities and by their own desire and by
their courage.

--From the Sayings of the Druid Taliesan



At dawn, when the company was mostly drunk and Fflur had sent
away the women--but she stayed, since none dared offer her
indignity--Caswallon strode out to fill his lungs with air and
to watch the watery sun rise over the swamps to eastward.

There was a bank of white mist where the Thames flowed, and the
tops of oak trees loomed like phantoms through a cloud that blew
before the morning breeze. Downstreet, above the smoky embers of
abandoned bonfires, was the blackened shred of Caesar's effigy
still swinging from its chain, stretched from tree to tree. In
lamplit darkness by the waterside was singing, where sailors from
the foreign ships held revelry of their own. And here and there a
house light made a pale halo in the fog.

"No need for Northmen to burn Lunden," Caswallon said, yawning
and stretching himself. "One of these drunken nights we will do
it for them, and that were worse than a defeat. Oh, Lunden is a
good town."

Tros, kneeling to wet his hands and face in the dew on the grass
before the gate, looked up and laughed at him.

"If Caesar had known of Lunden, he would be here now," he
answered. "In war he is unconquerable if he knows of a point
to drive at. Now the boasting is over, how did he really
leave Britain?"

"Oh, he used the metal of some broken ships to repair the others,
and a few more small ships came from Gaul. And while we made
ready to storm his camp he slipped away at midnight, leaving the
campfires burning."

"He would not have gone," said Tros, "if he had known of Lunden.
I know Caesar. He will write to Rome of a victory, but defeat
will rankle in him. It will eat his heart. I will wager you, this
minute he is laying plans to try again, and his spies are on the
way. The spies will tell him you eat off golden dishes, and that
your wife--Caesar would rather steal a king's wife and enjoy her
shame than play at any other sport the world holds."

"You are as black-haired as a raven, and you croak like one,"
Caswallon answered.

"I am your friend."

Tros stood up, his beard all wet with dew. Caswallon looked him
in the eyes and nodded, then wetted his hands at a yew tree and
laved his face in the dew until his long moustache dropped in
untidy strands below his chin.

Fflur came then, all new-dressed and smiling, wearing amber
jewelry, and twisted the moustache until it hung respectably,
then kissed him and called him some absurd name in an undertone.

Two girls and Orwic were in attendance on her, but Orwic was so
drunk he could hardly walk straight although he used a spear to
lean on, and the girls were pushing him surreptitiously, giggling
at his attempts to appear dignified. The only remark Orwic made
was that druids were more trouble than they were worth.

"If they drank more and preached less, a gentleman could have
more patience with them," he concluded.

Caswallon, with an arm around Fflur, led the way toward a grove
of yews within a wooden paling. In a clearing in the midst six
druids stood before an unhewn rock, whose highest point faced the
rising sun. A druid knelt, peering along the rock and down a
vista between the yews, toward where the sun's rim was beginning
to appear above the mist.

There were rock seats spaced at intervals around the clearing,
with a bank of grass-grown earth behind for less important folk.
Caswallon sat on the seat that faced the altar and the others
took places on either hand, the women to the left.

"The sun has been up for an hour," said Orwic, hiccoughing. "It's
all nonsense waiting for it to touch the top of that old rock.
Who cares anyhow?"

But he bowed his head when the kneeling druid raised both hands
and those who were standing chanted the orison, each in turn
advancing as he sang to lay flowers, corn, honey, earth and water
on the altar stone. Then the old High Druid turned with his back
to the sun, the others facing him, and blessed them sonorously.
That was all.

"Doubtless you do these things better in Samothrace," Caswallon
remarked as they filed out.

He seemed in a mood to find fault with anything at all.

"I know nothing better than the best a man can do," Tros
answered, "and no hour better than the dawn."

Fflur smiled at that and stroked Caswallon's hand that was on her
shoulder, but he turned and faced Tros as they reached the gate
in the paling:

"I like that you accepted Fflur's word that the galley and the
gold are yours. That you promised the galley to Skell, I do not
like," he said abruptly.

"Is it yet Skell's? Has he earned it?" Tros replied.

"Skell never did earn the cost of a horse's bellyful, but he has
made me more trouble than I can count," Caswallon said grimly.
"You have set the mischief working in his mind. You have forced
him to be up and doing. It had entered my thought to kill him for
his lies about Caesar's ships; now I can not kill him, because
you have given him the right to make good his pledge before any
other man may call him to account. That is our law."

"It is a good law," Tros replied.

"Now Skell will go to Caesar. And I must let him go, or else
discredit you, who have been my friend."

Tros grinned craftily. "The man who claims he wrecked all
Caesar's ships will go to Caesar."

Caswallon shook his head. Fflur glanced from one man to the
other, and Orwic poked with his spear at the tip of Tros's
sword.  "You should have gutted Skell last night with that
thing," he remarked.

But Fflur was pleased that there had been no murder done. There
was seldom a drunken feast without bloodshed afterwards, and she
had the name of being too tight with the purse-strings, because
she opposed feasting whenever she could make her voice heard.

She suggested it was time to sleep and led her grumbling lord
and master by the hand, making the girls laugh by the way
she tugged at him as if he were a stubborn horse being led
to the chariot pole.

They entered the hall--it reeked of mead and wood smoke and the
after-stench of food--where most of the men were snoring on the
floor, or on benches against the wall, and the dogs were cracking
bones under the table.

Caswallon strode off to his own room, but Fflur went first with
Tros to the guest chamber and stood by while he threw out two
Iceni who had made themselves free of the bed. Then she kissed
him and said:

"Tros, you did well, because you must certainly set your father
free by some means. And Caesar will try again, so you did doubly
well, for you are more dangerous to him and a stronger friend to
us as long as Caesar does not know you broke his ships. But he
will know it, if Skell should reach him; I suppose you understand
that and are counting on Skell's treachery. Sleep well, and at
noon Caswallon will have changed his mind."

But Tros did not sleep for a long time. First he sent Conops to
find Skell and watch him.

"If Skell goes, I wish to know where he goes, and what reason he
gives. Let him not see you are watching him, but make talk with
the maids and serving-men and grooms," he commanded.

Then, very shortly after that, there came the old Phoenician
trader, still wrapped in his camel-hair, greeting Tros, between
bouts of coughing, with courteous eastern phrases, sitting
cross-legged on the bed when Tros invited him, and naming
himself Hiram-bin-Ahab.

He had gold rings, chased with strange designs, on all his
fingers, and a gold band on his forehead very much like the one
that Tros wore. They exchanged peculiar signs, and then strange
passwords in a said-to-be-forgotten tongue that sounded like
challenge and answer or some sort of magic ritual.

After which they shook hands, taking a long time about it,
looking straight into each other's eyes. Thereafter they
conversed in Greek.

"My son, I am sure now you are not mad," said the Phoenician.
"Why did you act like a madman? The Britons keep their secrets
well, but even I know Skell lied and that it was you who wrecked
Caesar's fleet. The very maids who wait on table know it. Why did
you let Skell take the credit to himself?"

"I take what the gods send my way," Tros answered. "Skell is a
mean fish, but I have him in my net."

"Son, you are a stranger in a strange land. I foresmell difficulties.
Skell is an older man than you, and I am older than the two of
you together. I warn you, such men as he is are the same the
wide world over. Skell--"

"--will run to Caesar," Tros interrupted. "What else can he do?
He fears to fight me. The good gods know it is not in him to keep
faith. He has no more thought of rescuing my father than of
loving me. Yet he can not lie idle here with that wager on his
hands or the Britons will mock him, and he will have no rights
whatever--and no peace.

"He must pretend to keep faith. And how can he do that unless he
leaves Britain for Gaul? I wish I knew a captain who was sailing
for Caritia* presently, and who would take Skell with him."

"Son," said the old man, screwing up his face and rubbing the end
of his nose with a lean forefinger, "I would not go near Caesar
for all Caesar's gold--_keh-keh-keh-khaah,_ these fogs!--because
Caesar would take my cargo of tin and would give me for it an
order on Rome for money--_phaagh!"_

"Did you obtain tin here in Lunden?" Tros asked him.

"Nay, at Ictis,** where they make it into ingots like sheeps'
knuckles. I traded my Tyrian dye and my silken stuff for tin and
did well, for the Britons are a reasonable people when they want
a thing badly enough.

---------
* Calais.

* Some authorities say Thanet, which was really an island in
those days.
---------

"Then I came here to hide, because I heard of Roman galleys off
the coast of Gaul. You know, if those overbearing rogues catch
sight of you they send their liburnians* in chase and ask for all
sorts of documents until they chance on one you haven't. After
which, if they want your cargo, they just take it. It is all very
legal, I don't doubt. They say the Romans are great law-makers."

"And you count on the Roman ships being laid up for the winter now?"

"Surely," he answered. "You know the Romans are no sailors. I
have stepped a new mast. My men have made and rove new cordage.
The British women have sewed me a sail out of linen that I think
will stand the storms off the west coast of Hispania.** It is a
small sail, very stout, with good, wide strapping on all the
seams and with a stout cord all around the edge of it. My crew
have scoured the hull and payed the seams.

--------
* Liburnians: small, fast boats, very lightly built.

* Spain.
--------

"We have food aboard, good dry venison and apples. Those are very
good against the scurvy, Tros, and they keep better than our
Mediterranean fruit. Water for four months in new oaken casks
that have been well soaked to kill the bitter taste. I have
raised the freeboard more than half a cubit from bow to stern,
using oaken planks."

"Better a big sea on an open deck than a lesser one caught
between bulwarks where it can't escape," Tros cautioned him.

"Ah! But I have hinged the planking from above, and the waves can
pour off as the ship rolls. You had better come with me, Tros,"
he said, red-eyed from another bout of coughing. "I have lost
three of my men in a drunken brawl by the riverside. I bought
three Britons to replace them, but--I will pay you, I will pay
you a percentage if you come. I grow old, too old for storming
the Gates of Hercules* in winter. This is my last journey. Come
with me to Alexandria, you and that one-eyed fellow, Conops, and
when I have sold my tin to Esias the Jew, the ship is yours, Tros."

----------
* The Straits of Gibraltar.
----------

Tros shook his head, grinning kindly.

"I must go to Caritia," he answered. "My father was the pilot who
had charge of Caesar's cavalry. The cavalry never reached
Britain. Caius Julius Caesar will blame my father for that, and
justly. My father Perseus is a Prince of Samothrace; he will not
lend himself to such purposes as Caesar's.

"I don't doubt he led the cavalry astray, even as I tried to
wreck all the rest of the fleet in the quicksands--I being no
Initiate and therefore not wholly averse to drowning a few
thousand Romans."

"Your father must be dead long since," said the Phoenician.
"Caesar will have had him beaten to death."

"I think not," Tros answered. "My father is wise in the
Mysteries. He would know how to speak with Caesar. Caesar might
torture him; I have seen him torture others, with fire and ropes
and wedges and all manner of cruelty; it was Caesar who ordered
Conops' eye put out in return for a saucy answer. But Caesar is
not such fool as to kill whom he hopes to use. I expect to find
my father living."

"He were better dead."

The Phoenician coughed until every sinew of his frame was
wrenched and he lay back gasping.

"So you and I might think, Hiram-bin-Ahab. But such men as my
father, by the oath of their Initiation, must live as long as
life can be spun out, enduring all things. That is a charge
imposed on them when they are chosen for the Inner Secrets."

"God spare me from such initiation," said Hiram, coughing again
with his face among the shawls. _"Kuff-kuff_--this one last
voyage and--_heyh-yeyh_--then I am ready if my time has come."

Tros sat thinking, cudgeling his brain.

"It is early yet for the Roman ships to be laid up for the
winter," he said after a while.

"But I will die if I stay here. I must go, I must go," said the
Phoenician, breathing through his nose.

"Then you need a safe-conduct that Romans will recognize," said
Tros, slapping his thigh, for a bold idea had dawned on him. "The
liburnians might put to sea in any moderate gale and overhaul
you. What if I escort you with a Roman bireme all the way to the
farthest western limit of the coast of Gaul? If I promise to do
that, will you give Skell a passage to Caritia first?"

The Phoenician propped himself against the wall and stared
through red-rimmed eyes. The shutter was closed tight, but a dim
light filtered past the edges of the leather curtain that hung in
the doorway and they could see each other's faces well enough.

"Your eyes are the color of gold, and you do not look mad," said
the old man.

"Nay," Tros answered. "And I will pass you by the Romans
as far as the corner of Gaul, if you will first pass Skell
into Caritia."

Hiram-bin-Ahab turned that over in his mind. His cargo of tin was
as good as lost if the Romans should learn of it. They claimed a
monopoly of all commerce in tin, because of their own tin mines
in Spain and their own need of tin for making bronze for
military purposes.

Even if he should succeed in passing the Gates of Hercules
undetected, he would still risk being caught in the Mediterranean,
in which case he would be made to hand over his tin against Roman
promises to pay, promises which he would have to discount with
the Roman money lenders if he ever hoped to cash them.

And all of that Tros understood so well that he could almost read
the thoughts passing in the old man's mind. Almost, but not
quite. Hiram-bin-Ahab was fifty years older than Tros and could
see four sides to everything, plus a fifth that included
unpredictable contingencies.

"I see what you intend, Tros," he said, at last, after another
long bout of coughing. "You will take that galley and keep far
enough to sea to escape detection. But that will not help me if I
should run in close to Caritia. They would ask for documents."

"Easy. You shall have them!" Tros exploded. Hiram-bin-Ahab stared.

"I will give you an order in Latin with Caesar's seal on it."

Tros's ribs began to shake with silent laughter, for the idea was
growing in his mind.

"Silly! A child's notion," said the Phoenician. "Talk sensibly.
Skell would tell the Romans all about the bireme in the offing.
What then?"

"He will not," Tros answered, "for he will not know."  And he
laughed again, because his humor reveled in far-seeing subtleties.

"We have a perfect instrument in Skell. If I say one thing to
Skell, and you say another--wait! Your ship is loaded? Water and
stores aboard? The crew drunk half the time?"

"Aye, forever drunk, and I can't prevent. They earn money
caulking boats and mending cordage for the Britons, and they
spend it like madmen along the waterside. They will be fit for
nothing until we have been a week at sea."

"Why spend that week at sea?" Tros answered. "The ship can lie at
anchor down Thames, with the crew all snug aboard and sobering
up. Have you a good mate, or shall I lend you my man Conops? We
can trust Conops to keep Skell safe aboard, even if the ship lies
at anchor a month.

"Moreover, maybe I can frighten Skell so that he'll be willing
enough to hide down Thames on shipboard. Then, when I have made
the galley ready, you row down to your ship and wait one more
day, making the tide the excuse, or the wind, or whatever
you please.

"And I will take the galley on the tide, being careful to pass
you in the night-time, so that Skell shall not see the galley,
but I will make a signal in passing that you will recognize."

"Madness! Madness!" said the old Phoenician.

But his eyes were brighter than they had been, and his thin lips
twitched with the beginnings of a smile.

"And at sea," said Tros, "when you have left the cliffs of
Britain on your starboard quarter and are headed toward Gaul, I
will put about, discover you, and hoist a challenge in the name
of the Senate and the Roman People.

"You douse your sail. You lower a boat and send Conops to me,
with two other men. I do as any Roman commander would and keep
Conops on my ship as hostage for your obedience; but I send
the other two men back with permission to you to land Skell
in Caritia.

"Thus Skell will not know I am not a Roman, and you will
have a good excuse for landing him in a small boat as swiftly
as possible."

"But suppose, then, that the Romans put out from Caritia and
search me?" the Phoenician objected. "And they will," he added.
"And they will.  I know the Romans."

"The officers who put out in liburnians to search ships are not
important people who will dare to question Caesar's seal or act
high-handedly with the commander of a bireme looking on," Tros
answered. "And now I have thought of a better idea.

"You will wait, tacking to and fro outside the bar until the
liburnians do come out, since that will look more regular, and
one of the documents that I shall give you will be an authority
to proceed to Ostia with tin, under my escort.

"They will see my bireme waiting for you in the offing. And we
will take care to persuade Skell thoroughly in advance that you
really are sailing for the Roman port, not Alexandria. Thus, if
they should ask Skell anything, he is likely to confirm what
you say."

"Maybe, and maybe not," said the Phoenician. "Skell would be more
likely to tell the truth by accident, if one should depend on him
for a lie. He has an evil spirit."

"I can cover that point, too," said Tros. "The man is vain. I can
suggest to him that, since you are on your way to Ostia, he
should write a letter to the Roman Senate, for you to deliver,
recounting his own services to Caesar. Let him ask for a minor
appointment of some sort. He will be so full of that notion, once
the thought is in his head, that he will never suspect you of not
intending to sail to Ostia."

Hiram-bin-Ahab folded and unfolded his hands in sudden jerks,
sucked his yellow teeth and shook his head.

"It is a grave risk. It is a foolish risk, as if the sea and the
storms were not enough."

"I have gold," said Tros, and for a moment the old man's eyes
looked brighter, but he shook his head again.

"I would not take gold or any payment for a service to a Prince
of Samothrace," he answered. "Nay, nay! I am no Roman to put a
price on such things."

"But if you should lose your cargo at the Romans' hands, would it
be unseemly of me to reimburse you for it with Caesar's gold?"
asked Tros. "I guarantee your cargo, as far as the corner of
Gaul, subject to your service in this matter. Moreover, the
letter I shall give you bearing Caesar's seal should pass you
through the Gates of Hercules, if there are any triremes
thereabout, and should make you free of any port you happen to
put into for supplies and water, or repairs. I will forge it
skillfully, using good sheep's parchment, of which there is
plenty in Caesar's chest."

"Well, I will have to see those documents before I strike a
bargain with you."

Hiram-bin-Ahab frowned pessimistically, but without effect on
Tros, who understood Phoenicians as well as he knew Greeks. If
the Phoenician had smiled, he might have been in doubt as to the
outcome. As it was, he was sure the old man was considering the
proposal in all its bearings.

Craftily then, he struck his master stroke, judging his man,
giving him full scope without the prejudice of bargaining.
"Hiram-bin-Ahab," he said, "you are old, and you say this is your
last voyage. I will forge that document and give it to you,
whether you see fit to help me or not. You shall have it freely
to help you pass the Roman ports. Now feel free to say yes
or no concerning Skell, because I will do what I can for
you in any case."





CHAPTER XIX

SITTING OF THE COURT OF ADMIRALTY: 55 B.C.

There is nothing beautiful or valuable under heaven but that some
one wishes to destroy it in the name of virtue. Sons of darkness!
Ye believe triumph is a virtue. Ye believe revenge is a virtue.
Ye believe it proves your prowess if ye burn the product of
another's labor. Ye believe ye burn up evil. Ye are like the
dogs--I say the dogs, who bite the stick that smites them. And
why are ye smitten? Because ye are blind, who need not be;
because ye are proud without reason; because ye forget ye are
sons of Light and dig into the darkness lest the Light should
burn the shadows that ye love.

--From the Sayings of the Druid Taliesan



At noon, when as many as had slept away the fumes of mead had
eaten, and Fflur had set some women in making a new purple cloak
for Tros after the pattern of the torn one he was wearing when he
came. Tros asked for the box containing Caesar's memoranda and
went through the documents carefully, whistling to himself.

Now and then he laughed. Now and then he rolled a parchment
thoughtfully and stowed it in a small, square wicker basket he
had begged from Fflur, and when he had finished he entrusted that
basket to her to keep for him.

"There is better in that than a mint," he said darkly.

But as Fflur could not read the Roman script, and especially not
the shorthand notes of Caesar's secretary, she had to take his
word for it.

Then Caswallon came, in a great good humor because he had
been to the stables, where the sight of new horses had pleased
him mightily.

As Fflur had prophesied, he had changed his mind already. He sat
on the porch rail, where Tros was listening to Conops' account of
how Skell slept at last after whispering with a man who afterward
went away toward the riverside.

"Sleeps with one eye open, I wager," Caswallon in interrupted,
scratching on the porch with the point of a throwing spear. Then,
as if the news were unimportant:

"They have rowed that galley of yours to the pool below the
ford.* They ask my leave to burn it when night comes. They say
there are Caesar's clothes on board; they want to make a new
effigy of Caesar wrapped in his own scarlet cloak and burn it,
galley and all, in mid-Thames. They love a bonfire. What say you?"

--------
* Just below where London Bridge now stands.
--------

"I say what Fflur said, that the ship is mine," Tros answered,
trying not to betray alarm.

But Caswallon detected and enjoyed it thoroughly. His blue
stained white skin, his trousers and the spear almost suggested a
barbarian, but his easy manner and the quiet smile under the long
moustache belonged to a man of many parts, and he could play them
all well.

"But you wagered the galley with Skell. Why not dress up
Skell in Caesar's clothes and burn the lot?" he suggested.
He looked deadly serious. "Skell would fancy himself in Caesar's
second-best scarlet cloak. We could trick him aboard with the
promise of that, and the rest could be recorded as an accident."

"Skell must not even see that galley," Tros exclaimed excitedly.
"God of fogs and foolishness! Can you think of no better use for
a well-found ship than to burn her for fools to shout at?"

Caswallon pulled at his moustache and did not let his hand drop
until his face was fixed in an expression of boiled stupidity. He
was enjoying himself thoroughly, and so was Orwic, who had got
down off a squealing horse to discover what his chief's and
Tros's talk was about.

"Use for a galley?" said Caswallon. "If she lay here in the
Thames my men would never rest until they had put to sea in her
and drowned themselves. They would all be captains and the ship
would have to go a dozen ways at once to suit them!

"As for my using her, I crossed to Gaul once in a fair-sized
ship, and I suppose I returned, since here I am. I remember I lay
on my back to stop the vomiting, but the sea went on pitching
victuals out of me.

"When I stood, clinging to the mast, I acted like an eel
up-ended, so weak-kneed I was, with the world going round and
round and the ship spinning in the opposite direction. It was a
rotten waste of good food, Tros, to make no other argument about
it. The sea was intended for fish, but I am no fish. For me, not
one foot farther than I can ride a horse into the surf. What say
you, Orwic?"

"She would make a fine sight burning with her sail set. There
hasn't been such a sight since the Northmen burned Cair Lunden,"
Orwic drawled.

"Well, come and let's look at her, before they burn her anyhow,"
Caswallon suggested, adding, as Orwic whistled to the grooms to
bring a chariot:

"Wake Skell. Tell him the word he sent that they should burn the
galley has reached my ears. Warn him I am angry that he should
try to creep out of a wager made at my board by causing the stake
at issue to be burned! Bid him keep out of my sight. And then set
men to watch him, or he will run before Tros is ready, for Lud
knows what.

"Tell the men to mock him for a shirk-bet if he shows his face
outdoors. Tell the girls to mock him. Tell the grooms he is not
to have chariot or horse and let them steal his own two horses
from the stable behind his house. Tell him his only chance of
being reckoned a man is to take ship very soon for Gaul."

He jumped into the chariot and drove away almost before Tros
could swing up beside him, sending the horses headlong over the
rear of the hill toward the river, watching their forefeet,
taking more delight in them, apparently, than in all the other
details of a kingdom.

"For a horse is a horse and you know where his feet will land,"
he said presently, continuing his thoughts aloud. "But Skell is
neither horse nor herring. None knows what Skell will do, except
that he will do a mean thing and in some way filch men's praise
for it.

"I spoke with Fflur, and she said let him go to Gaul, where if
Caesar whips him none can blame me. Fflur is always right,
although I know Skell will offer himself to Caesar, because there
is nothing else left for him to do. I hope Caesar flogs him and
flays him!"

He double-cracked the driving whip over the horses' heads until
they galloped madly.

"I hate to own that I dare not throw Skell's carcass to the
crows, but that is truth, Tros. He has few friends, if any, but
he has bought the loyalty of men who look for more at his hands,
and it is not wise just now to stir their anger."

It was no road they took, but a track deep-rutted in the clay
where ten-horse teams had dragged sledloads of cord wood and
charcoal, and it ended at a ford.

"Where I will some day build a bridge," Caswallon said.

The galley lay in midpool, made fast to an oaken pile that bent
like a bow under the weight of ship and tide, and she was in
worse shape than when Tros left her, because the twenty men in
charge had seen fit to carry all the loot on deck, and there had
been some fighting with the crew, who claimed sole right to all
of it.

Caswallon drove into the ford until the horses were almost
swimming, then roared at the top of his lungs to know whether
Lunden had no boats, that a king must get his feet wet. So they
brought him a boat and rowed him and Tros to the galley, where
the twenty men in charge were all sulky because they had missed
the feasting of the night before.

"And not drunk yet," as one of them complained, "although the men
who did the towing are ashore and drunker than bees already."

Liquor they had, however. There was an earthen jar of _curmi_* on
the poop and they were dipping it out with their little peaked
helmets.** They pledged Caswallon in the stuff, and then Tros,
after which they staged a dance in all the Roman costumes they
had found aboard, putting Caesar's scarlet cloak and a golden
laurel wreath on Caswallon and dressing Orwic in the bed sheets
to represent the King of Bithynia, of whom even Britain had
heard. There were some very improper interludes at that stage of
the game, of which the druids and Fflur, for instance, would have
disapproved.

---------
* A sort of beer, made without hops--for there were none in
Britain in dose days--producing, according to the Roman writer
Posidonius, "pain in the head and injury to the nerves."

** Just like modern jockey-caps, only made of iron. They may have
been the origin of the modern jockey-cap, since the Britrons were
a race of horsemen, and Britain is a country in which scores of
traditional customs, the wearing of trousers included, have
survived until today.
----------

Caswallon did a very excellent imitation of the falling sickness,
much more realistic than the real thing, because he had never
seen an actual case of it and only knew Caesar's reputation,
which had naturally been exaggerated.

They pretended to bleed him in the silver bowl, using _curmi_ for
the blood, and the ceremony following would almost have shocked
Caesar himself, because they had only heard vague stories about
Roman Gods, and the Venus Genetrix had been represented to them
as a most improper lady.

They had fired away all the arrows from the two poop arrow-engines
at ducks on their way up Thames and, having hit nothing, were of
opinion that mechanical contrivances were no good, having
already forgotten the dreadful work those engines did in the
fighting off the Kentish beach.

And they thought the iron dolphin swinging from the yardarm was
some kind of Roman deity hung there to pacify the waves, until
one of them cut the halyard--"to introduce the foreign godlet to
the good god Lud who keeps the Thames"--and it crashed through
the bottom of a boat alongside, sinking it instantly.

Tros did not recover the dolphin until next day, when Conops
dived and found the halyard, after which it took a dozen men two
hours to haul the murderous contrivance from the mud.

It was only little by little that Caswallon, at Tros's urging,
persuaded them to lay all the loot in heaps on the main deck,
after which he announced that Tros had promised full and fair
division among such seamen as remained of the sixty who had first
set out with him.

But Tros and Caswallon had done some whispering, and Caswallon
claimed the ship as lawful prize by right of capture, Fflur and
his own men having saved it from the river pirates. He declared
that was the law of Britain and, since there was no higher court
than himself, it did not do the seamen any good to grumble,
albeit they did grumble noisily, until some of the gentlemen
in peaked iron caps struck them for improper language to
their betters.

Then Caswallon held an auction, Orwic acting auctioneer, and Tros
did all the bidding, naming what he considered fair prices in
view of the state of the market.

The Britons had spent all their money on horse flesh and, except
the seamen, who, of course, never had any money, were mostly in
debt to the Iceni in the bargain. It was distinctly a falling
market, but Tros was generous. The total came to a bigger sum
than those seamen had ever dreamed of owning.

Caswallon, after eight or nine attempts, succeeded in dividing
the total equally and--what was much more difficult--in
persuading them that the calculation was correct. Then he ordered
Tros to pay them in gold pieces out of Caesar's treasure,
undertaking himself to change the money into honest British coin
from his own mint at Verulam, whereby the seamen learned for
the first time what they had missed by failing to kill Tros
and throw him overboard at Thames-mouth. And being seamen,
they changed their opinion of Tros and began to consider him
a right good captain.

By that time it was dusk, and women and children had flocked
aboard to laugh at everything, especially at Caesar's underwear.
The women were set to carrying everything that could be carried
to Caswallon's house, shields, armor and swords included, and
when a new guard had been set over the ship they sent for
chariots and all drove home to supper.

But first Tros went alone to the house where Skell lay sulking, a
small house, very well built and thatched with wheat straw, two
hundred yards away from Caswallon's paling. Some said that he
owned the house, and some that he did not, but he lived in it,
which was the main thing.

And the seamen, who had followed Tros to get their money, joined
with the children and grooms outside, who were pointing fingers
at the house and singing a sort of nursery-rhyme about a man who
boasted and ran away. It seemed to delight them hugely that
Skell's name fitted in the rhyme, and to Tros's ears it sounded
something like:

Skell, Skell the Northman's son

Told a lie and away he run!

The sailors would have burned the thatch and pelted Skell as he
ran from cover if Tros had let them, not that they knew anything
about the facts, but they made common cause with the children on
general principles.

Tros found Skell on a frame bed strung with deer-sinews before a
good oak fire, at which an old woman was stirring a stew in an
earthen pot. He had a cloak over him, and shivered as if he were
suffering from ague, but he sat up when Tros entered, offered
Tros a stool and threw off his fit of depression along with the
cloak. He was still wearing the dagger, as Tros noticed, and he
touched it, which was not good manners; but he sent the old woman
for mead and two beakers, bidding her warm it at the fireside
when it came, and he had the good sense to make no reference to
the caterwauling and insulting song outside.

Tros kept an eye on the hag and on the mead beside the fire, for
he knew Skell's reputation and yet did not wish to refuse to
drink with him.

"I am ill," said Skell, "and I wish you would cry this bargain
off that we have made between us. I am willing to do whatever you
say, provided I can do it. Name me another tryst that I should
keep instead."

But Tros had expected that.

"You are too late, Skell," he answered. "They have brought that
galley up the river. Caswallon has claimed it, to hold it in
trust until he shall decide the outcome of the wager."

"But I can not cross to Gaul. No ship will take me," Skell
objected. "At this season of the year they lay up all the ships
in mud berths. Now if you would let me take that galley,
Caswallon might consent to that, then perhaps I could get a crew
together and--"

But Tros had thought of that, too. He interrupted:

"The galley is unfit for sea, Skell. She needs alterations and
repairs, which I will make in good time. But I know a man who
will take you to Gaul. He is Hiram-bin-Ahab, the Phoenician,
whose ship sails soon."

And then, with both eyes on the hag who warmed the mead, for he
knew Skell could not spring at him to use the dagger without the
string bed squeaking a warning, he baited a trap into which he
felt sure Skell must walk.

"I have a plan, Skell, to make it easy for you to get my father
out of Gaul. There is a river called the Seine that flows
northwestward into the channel between Gaul and Britain, reaching
the sea a good long journey to the westward of Caritia.

"I will take a ship, and there, in the mouth of that river, I
will wait for you, so you can deliver my father alive to me
without much difficulty, making your way across country in the
night-time until you reach the river-mouth."

"But how shall I find your ship?" asked Skell.

The mead was warm enough and would be too warm in a minute, so he
signed to the hag to pour it. Tros took the beaker that was
farthest from him and held it while the hag poured, withdrawing
it suddenly before it was full so that the hag spilled quite a
little, after which he watched Skell's face in the firelight.

Skell said the lip of the other beaker was dirty and bade the hag
go and wash it, then went on talking in a hurry.

"How shall I find your ship?" he repeated. There was a thin smile
somewhere in the midst of his foxy beard. "You will be in hiding,
I suppose?"

"Among the reeds and with my mast down, yes," Tros answered. "But
ashore, near where I hide, I will set up a cairn of white stones,
and if you shout my name three times from there, I will come
for you."

Skell's eyes betrayed that he was tempted by the bait, but Tros
proposed to tempt a bigger fox than Skell. The man he wanted out
of winter camp was Caesar, the restless aspirant for fame who
spent all winter editing a secretary's summer notes.

"I said I would make it easy for you, Skell. Now listen: I have
Caesar's memoranda and his seal, to recover which, Caesar would
set all his prisoners free, to say nothing of my father. I, on
the other hand, value my father higher than Caesar's secret
papers, although I have read some of them and there are documents
that I daresay Caesar would be glad to have. What if I should
bury that box of documents and seals under the cairn of white
stones? Knowing that was there, would you not find it easier then
to bargain for my father's freedom?"

"How do I know you would do that?" Skell demanded, trying to look
indifferent, but his eyes betrayed him.

"I must trust you, and you must trust me, Skell."

"Yes, we must more or less trust each other." Tros played his
favorite trick then, of raw, cold frankness:

"You see, Skell, I do not pretend to like you. You are a man who
did me an ill service. I am compelling you to pay the price for
that, and I do not think you like me any better than I like you.
I am offering to help you carry out your bargain, because I know
that you are not to be trusted otherwise. For my part, you shall
have the seal and documents, and the galley, if you deliver my
father alive into my hands at the mouth of the Seine within a
month from now."

Skell stroked his red beard. He could hear the singing outside,
as the fox hears hounds in the covert.

"All right," he said. "Caesar knows me. He will listen. But I
must have money for my expenses."

But again, Tros was not to be caught. He hoped it was true that
Skell needed money.

"I will settle with the Phoenician for your passage to Caritia,"
he answered. "Nothing more than that."

"Then I must have a pledge from you that you will really wait for
me at Seine-mouth."

"My father is in Caesar's hands," Tros answered. "I could not
give a more compelling pledge."

"Nevertheless, as you said just now, you and I are not friends.
Something of value is needed, to make your word good to me,"
Skell objected.

The glint of avarice was in his eyes, and a vague look, as if he
were hopeful still of finding an excuse to back out. But Tros
laughed, kicking his sword-point to the rear and drawing the
blade six inches.

"Very well," he said. "You shall have this sword, the best sword
in the world, a sword that once was Philip of Macedon's. You
shall have it through the middle of your heart, Skell, if you
fail to deliver my father at Seine-mouth and I ever set eyes on
you again! Is that a pledge you value? Would you like to test it?
If so, arm yourself and come outside."

"I can not fight I have the ague," Skell answered. "When does the
Phoenician sail?"

"In a few days. If you go aboard his ship tonight, or tomorrow
night, you will be rid of all this annoyance."

Tros jerked his head toward the door, against which clods of
earth were thumping.

"They are likely to burn your thatch if you delay," he added.
"Shall I tell the Phoenician to send his seamen for your baggage?"

Skell agreed, with a mean, exasperated glare in his eyes,
scratching his teeth with his thumb nail, grinning as Tros turned
his back to go. But Tros turned again suddenly, because of that
dagger and its possibilities, and caught the grin before Skell
could cover it, which put him in a marvelous good humor, because
he was sure then that Skell was contemplating exactly such
treachery as would fit in with his own plans.

So as he left the house he caught a clod of earth intended for
Skell's door and pelted one of the children with it. Then,
because that frightened some of them--since they knew Tros was
Caswallon's friend--he found a lump of chalk and drew a
caricature of Skell, beard, moustache and all, on the oaken door
and left them pelting rocks, earth, acorns and all manner of dirt
at that.

Later, on the grass before Caswallon's porch, he paid the
seamen and, as their eyes glinted at the gold coin, he made
them a proposal:

"Ye have found me a hard captain but a profitable man to serve.
If ye had served me with less knife throwing and with more
goodwill, ye should have had the double of all that money."

He picked up handfuls of gold from one of Caesar's bags and let
the coins dribble through his fingers.

"What now if I promise you two for one of what you have received,
for one more short voyage before winter sets in? Think of it.
Money enough to buy a farm apiece and to live the rest of your
lives ashore like gentlemen!"

They agreed, for never sailor lived who did not covet a farm,
until he had one. But Caswallon laughed.

"Buy farms? They will buy drink and the caresses of the womenfolk
who gut fish by Ludgate wharf!"

"Maybe," Tros answered. "They are no doubt better at that than at
seamanship. But they don't spew their victuals overside whenever
a ship rolls, and I shall need them when some of your peak-capped
cockerels are lying belly upward on that galley's deck praying to
the mast and sky to stand still!"

"You will find my cockerels crave money too," Caswallon answered.

"For a venture against Caesar?"

"Oh! No, perhaps not, not, that is, if Caesar can be made to foot
the reckoning!"





CHAPTER XX

HIRAM-BIN-ARAB STIPULATES

Bargains! Bargains! Listen to me: Who but the highest bidder
names the price of that which can be bought and sold? And does
Eternity make bargains? Unbidden, unbought, unpaid for, all the
affluence of all Eternity is poured upon you, aye, unceasing. And
ye bargain? I will tell you a secret. Though I tell it, it
remaineth secret, saving only to the wise; and the wise are they
whom Wisdom guideth through the maze of other men's illusions.
That which is freely given without thought of recompense, and
without stipulation or pity or blame, but given simply from the
storehouse of the giver's affluence, whether it be goods or deeds
or good-will--that is a free gift. It setteth the giver free and
him to whom the gift is given. Because it is a free gift, it is
free to go forth as the sunshine and the wind, unlimited by
ignorance, envy, greed, ambition and the bonds that ye impose on
one another. And I tell you, in all this universe there is
nothing as good as freedom. But ye seek to burden tomorrow with
the harness of today's necessities; and your necessities, I say,
are nothing but the shadows of your fear of that very freedom ye
pretend to seek.

--From the Sayings of the Druid Taliesan



Tros sat by the hearth in Caswallon's hall, staring with leonine
eyes at the fire, reading pictures in it. Caswallon sat beside
Fflur, his long legs stretched toward the blaze, his skin, where
it showed at neck and breast, looking whiter than ever because
the firelight threw it into contrast with the fading blue designs
that were drawn on it with woad.

Three hounds slept on the warm tiles. Red apples simmered in the
warming mead. Orwic faced the fire with knees clasped in his
hands and his back against an upset table.

A dozen men snored on the benches that lined three walls. Wind
whined under the eaves, rattling the shutters, and now and then a
gust of smoke was blown down chimney, followed by soot and enough
rain drops to make a splutter.

"Of what are you thinking?" asked Fflur.

She had been watching Tros, marveling at his strength and at his
brow under the black hair, that was as splendid as the carving of
an ancient king's.

"Of Skell, of Caesar, of you," Tros answered,

"What of Skell? You named him first."

"He will go to Caesar, saying that I, Tros, son of Perseus, am
the man who wrecked that fleet off the shore of Kent. That I,
Tros, have bribed him with the promise of Casar's own galley, to
go to Caesar and make terms for my father's freedom.

"That I, Tros, will be waiting at Seine-mouth for my father to be
delivered to me, having with me Caesar's own seal and Caesar's
chest containing all his private memoranda.

"He will say to Caesar. 'Make haste! Set an ambush at Seine-mouth!
Thus you will recover your seal and documents, and will have two
prisoners instead of one--one of whom knows much about Caswallon
and the Britons!' Thereafter, Skell will say,
'Reward me commensurately with the dignity and sense of justice
of a Roman Imperator to whom important service has been done.'
Thus Skell will speak to Caesar."

"And Caesar?" asked Fflur.

"He will listen, and smile. He will see through Skell as readily
as you see through a serf who comes telling tales about the
kitchen wenches. He will ask whether Skell has seen the seal and
documents; and he will not be sure whether to believe Skell when
that foxy-haired liar says Yes.

"But Caesar is a restless man, and by that time he will have
grown tired of a woman, that being his habit; and maybe there
will be no other woman there just then who pleases him. He likes
them educated, entertaining. He grows difficult to please. He
will bethink him that the Gauls along the coast might be caught
brewing mischief if he should pay them an unexpected visit, for
he knows the Gauls squirm under his heel. It will occur to him
that life in camp is stupid, more particularly to a man of
scholarly mind who has lost his secretary's notes.

"And he will remember that among those notes are some that would
be very dangerous to him, if they should happen to reach Rome or
fall into the hands of one of his own lieutenants, who might have
brains enough to use them. So he will not dare to send a
subordinate to Seine-mouth; he will go in person, with a cohort
or perhaps two cohorts of cavalry, moving secretly and very
swiftly, as his habit is. At Seine-mouth he will lie in wait
for me."

"And me?" asked Fflur.

"Skell will tell Caesar of you. To suck himself into Caesar's
good grace, he will fill Caesar's mind so full of you that Caesar
will never rest until he shall have made you prisoner. And that
is why I need Orwic and as many other young blades as will endure
the sea a while and pledge themselves to obey me. If my good
fortune holds, Fflur shall have Caesar and hold him to ransom!"

"By Lud of Lunden, nay!" Caswallon swore. "If Caesar again sets
foot in Britain, he shall die here. I will give him his choice
of weapons, and he shall fight me, without armor, before
all my men."

"He will choose scent bottles and powder puffs," said Orwic,
glancing at Caesar's neat case of cosmetics that Tros had
bestowed on Fflur. "I like this venture against Caesar, though I
hate the sea. Say more about it."

"Is not all said, except what the gods shall say to it?" Tros
answered. "We have the galley. We must fit her like a well-found
Roman warship straight from Ostia with a despatch for Caesar from
the Roman Senate. The despatch, you understand, calls for
delivery of my father, Perseus, Prince of Samothrace, who is to
be taken to Rome for trial on charges of conspiracy against the
Senate and the Roman People, which is how all those robbers refer
to themselves.

"First we set Skell ashore, and he talks. When we return, Caesar
will not be there, because he will have gone to wait for me at
Seine-mouth, hoping to catch me. I, commander of the bireme,
deliver the despatch by Hiram-bin-Ahab, the Phoenician, and will
not wait, but order it to be opened by whoever is in command in
Caritia, declaring I am in great haste to return to Rome because
of winter storms."

"If I were a Roman in Caritia," said Orwic, "I would ask why you
had not delivered that demand for Perseus when you came the first
time. The Romans will think it strange that you should return
with a message which you might just as easily have sent ashore
with Skell."

"You don't know the Romans," Tros answered. "In the first place,
they will never dream that one of their biremes might fall into
the hands of an enemy who could use it. They think Caesar's
galley was sunk when his fleet was destroyed off Kent.

"In the second place, Hiram-bin-Ahab shall say the omens were
unfavorable when I came the first time. Romans are mad on the
subject of omens. Furthermore, Hiram-bin-Ahab shall say that I
did not, nor do I, care to bring my crew too near the shore, for
fear of desertions, they having grown discontented because of
contrary winds, much labor at the oars and scurvy.

"Omens, tides, contrary winds, scurvy, they know those well. That
list will satisfy their curiosity."

"It wouldn't mine," said Orwic. "But perhaps we Britons are less
stupid than the Romans. Lud knows, they were stupid enough in the
fighting at Kent. They won the first battle by being too stupid
to know they were beaten! What if their liburnians, as you call
them, should come out to investigate you?"

Tros, who was an opportunist first and last and liked to fit his
plans to each emergency as it arose, began to wish he had worked
out the details thoroughly before taking Britons into his
confidence. They were good friends, and generous enthusiasts, but
so full of their own superiority to foreigners of any kind that a
man needed all his wit to manage them.

Orwic began suggesting wild plans of his own, that included
loading horses on the galley, sailing to Caritia and setting fire
to Caesar's camp.

"And if we do that at night, we can ride 'em down in darkness as
they run downwind in a panic!"

"I have it!" Tros slapped his thigh so suddenly he woke the dogs.
"The first time Hiram-bin-Ahab puts in to Caritia, he lands Skell
and says I wait offshore because I suspect my crew of sickening
with smallpox.

"My name for the occasion, let us say, is Caius Marius Poseidonius.
The Phoenican shows an order signed by Caius Marius Poseidonius,
commander of the bireme, authorizing him to land Skell in
Caritia. And he, also, prefers not to stay in port because his
men who visited my galley may have caught the sickness."

"Good," Caswallon nodded. "That should satisfy them. The worst
plague we ever had was caught from a ship. We burned the ship and
slew the crew, kindly and with dignity. The druids saw to that;
but the sickness spread all over Britain, because the Iceni
carried it north on their way home from selling horses. The
Romans will want none of that stuff."

"And Caesar," said Tros, "will have another good excuse to leave
Caritia. He is afraid of smallpox. He will think Hiram-bin-Ahab
may have brought it into port. He will certainly go that same
night, very likely throwing Skell into a pest-house under
observation of the surgeons, who will set fire to the hut and say
it was an accident. Caesar will go that very day to Seine-mouth
to investigate Skell's story."

Fflur nodded, and nodded, and nodded, her gray eyes watching
Tros. Caswallon held a finger up for silence; he knew that mood
of hers. But all she said was, "You are right now, Tros."

"And when I appear the second time," said Tros, "Hiram-bin-Ahab
shall say I have seen Caesar at a place along the coast. He shall
add, it is true about smallpox. They will understand that Caesar
wishes to kill my father Perseus without risk of being blamed for
it. They will put him aboard Hiram-bin-Ahab's ship and order
Hiram-bin-Ahab out of harbor with all speed."

"If the druids had more sense and less sanctity," said Orwic,
"they might visit some real smallpox on the Romans. Why can't
they do an honest day's work against Britain's enemies, instead
of pulling long faces at the sunrise? I believe in results. By
Lud's ill-smelling mud," he went on impiously, "I'd sooner sail
with Tros, vomit or not, than be blessed by all the druids
between here and Mona." *

----------
* Anglesea, a very sacred place.
----------

"Don't blaspheme the druids," Tros retorted. "As for me, I would
rather have their blessing than all Caesar's gold."

"Well, you have both, you have both!" said Orwic pleasantly. "The
druids like you, and the gold rings genuine. What have you to
worry about?"

"This," Tros answered: "that a number of you young horse-performers"
--Caswallon and Orwic laughed delightedly at that--"must be on
that galley and obedient to me. That is worry enough. Everything
aboard a ship is just so, with one man giving orders and the
rest obeying, or the ship sinks."

"What of it?" Orwic asked.

Caswallon held a finger up again for silence. Fflur's eyes were
looking dreamy. A great gust of wind blew down the chimney,
sending a cloud of smoke into the room. The wind howled, and a
log fell suddenly sending up an explosion of sparks. Fflur's
voice, when she spoke at last, was far-away and colorless,
pitched in a middle monotone.

"Whatever you do, or whatever you do not, Caesar will come again,
but not yet. He will cross the Thames; but I see Lunden standing
after Caesar has gone, taking many with him--prisoners, hostages,
slaves, women.

"Do what you will, you can not prevent Caesar from coming. Do
what he will, he can not win Britain, although Gaul is his, and
so are the lands of the Belgae. Tros shall injure him, but not
much, and again a little, and that time more severely, only to
befriend him in the end.

"Tros shall do Caesar a service that neither he nor Caesar will
value at the moment; but it will place the world at Caesar's
feet, and kill him before he can grasp it. Tros and a woman, whom
he shall serve to her own undoing."

She ceased, coughing in the sharp smoke, and Caswallon sent a
serf outside to climb on the roof and fix a slab of wood against
the chimney top. When that was done, he drank heavily of mead
with apples in it, and, wiping his mouth on his sleeve,
pronounced judgment.

"I never knew Fflur wrong when she is in that mood. So I think it
is a good thing to launch this venture against Caesar, because
Tros, she says, shall injure him. What of the Phoenician?
Is he willing?"

Tros admitted with a gruff laugh that the Phoenician had not yet
given his consent.

"But I have gone the right way to persuade him. I have promised
him my help to get past the Romans on his way home, whether he
helps me or not. He will do more in that way, than if I bargained
with him."

At which Caswallon roared with laughter.

"Try that trick on the Iceni!" he shouted. "Eh, Orwic? Let him
try to buy a horse or two on such terms. Lud! Oh, Lud of Lunden
Town! Hey there! Send for the Phoenician."

He threw a lump of wood at one of the sleepers on the benches and
sent him to bring Hiram-bin-Ahab "shawls and all."

"Bring him in a basket if he won't walk."

Tros urged that the Phoenician was a brave old sailor who should
be treated with the courtesy due to a blood relation. But that
was because he and Hiram-bin-Ahab were members of the same secret
fraternity, although of different chapters of it.

"I know these blood relations," said Caswallon. "Aye, he
is a very bloody one. Eh, Fflur? Eh, Orwic? He underpaid
us for the tin and overcharged us for the dyes. He has lived
at our expense, and his crew have robbed our townsmen, mending
boats that the lazy rascals should have mended for themselves,
demanding twice what the work is worth, and saving money
for their master, who pays them nothing while they are in
port. Drunken, knife-throwing thieves! What's worse, there
will be a lot of little half-Phoenician bastards for us to
try and make good Britons of!"

However, he was courteous when the old Phoenician came, coughing
and shivering in his camel-hair shawls. He had a great chair set
for him before the fire and woke up the dogs to make room for
him, offering him warm mead, saying that Fflur knew how to cure
all kinds of coughs.

"Only she will purge you worse than druids do," he added
reminiscently. "The last time she cured me of a headache I had
belly burning for a week."

"She's better than the druids, though," said Orwic. "Druids put
you on rations of dry bread and carrots, and make you drink water
like a horse. When you're properly famished they preach about
your latter end and being born again into another body, until you
feel like burning all the undesirables, so that it won't be into
one of their bodies anyhow. I'd rather be purged by Fflur than
preached at by a druid."

"None can cure me," Hiram-bin-Ahab answered, coughing. "This is
my last journey."

"Hah!" remarked Caswallon. "Then make it one to be remembered. On
a man's last journey he should play a man's part."

The old Phoenician glanced from face to face, his fingers
twitching nervously.

"You will reach home," Fflur assured him.

Hiram-bin-Ahab coughed, perhaps to hide a grin, or so at least
thought Tros.

"If I knew surely I would reach home, I would put into no port on
the way," he answered.

"Fflur is always right," Caswallon retorted, almost angrily. "So
it is certain you will reach home. Therefore you can afford to do
your friends a service on the way."

"I have done you many services," said the Phoenician. "I taught
your women how to use the dye so that it would not wash out. I
taught your sailors how to make boats water-tight; how to make a
proper rope by twisting seven sets of linen strands; how to bind
the edges of a sail, and how to cut the sail so that it will
catch more wind. What more do you want of me?"

"No more than you shall do," Caswallon answered, laying a great
blue-and-white fist on his knee and leaning forward. "You wish to
go before the winter storms. But unless you will do what I
propose, you shall not sail until spring comes."

The Phoenician coughed, perhaps to hide embarrassment, but it
racked his frame for all that.

"What could you profit by keeping me here all winter?" he asked.

"I am thinking of you," Caswallon answered. "If you will do what
I wish, I will send an escort with you, a great bireme, as far as
the end of the coast of Gaul to protect you against Romans and
Northmen and pirates. But if not, then I could not spare the
escort. And I should be a mean host to let you go away alone
before the spring in that case. There might be fewer pirates in
the spring, and fewer storms and possibly no Romans. Name a price
if you will; but you shall do what I demand."

"There is nothing I could ask," said the Phoenician, "except,
perhaps, a pair of pretty slave girls for the court of Ptolemy."

But he knew Caswallon would not grant that favor, because he had
tried before and Fflur had vetoed it.

"I have sold you three rowers," said Caswallon. "I will give you
back the price of them, if that will satisfy you."

Hiram-bin-Ahab coughed again and spat into the fire. The
expression of his face might have been due to physical agony, but
Tros thought not.

"I am a trader," he said at last, and his words were arresting
because he spoke slowly in a foreign accent, with harsh gutturals
and none of the soft, swift, liquid sounds the Britons used.

"I fill a ship. I buy men or I hire them, and I drive them to the
world's end. Some die; some live; all suffer. I trade and I fill
my ship again and go home, I suffering more than any, because it
is my ship, my risk. You understand me?

"Sickness, mutiny, Romans, pirates, rocks, tides, quicksands,
storms, all these and more I struggle with, day and night, month
after month. Ever I swear each journey is the last. Ever I set
forth again, because two spirits in me urge. One beckons and the
other drives.

"Trade I must, because I am a trader and I itch for trade.
Adventure I must have, because I am an adventurer; it is in my
blood, my bones, my dreams. It frets me when I count the profits
of a journey and men say to me, 'Hiram-bin-Ahab, you are rich
at last. Go not again. Remember the pot that went too often
to the well.'

"And yet I go again, because I love adventure and I love trade,
being wedded to them as to two wives, each of whom is jealous of
the other and I striving to serve both equally, giving each her
turn, yet living, as it were, in one house with the two."

The howling wind blew away the board from the chimney top,
sending it clattering along the roof. A great cloud of smoke
filled the room and the old Phoenician coughed until it seemed as
if his lungs would burst under the strain.

Caswallon scolded the serf and sent him to fix the board in place
again, threatening to make him stand and hold it there all night
unless he should fasten it properly. Then when the smoke had
thinned a little and they had thrown fresh oak knots on the fire,
Hiram-bin-Ahab cleared his throat with warm mead and, biting an
apple, went on talking:

"Trade and adventure, two jealous wives, helping, hindering each
other. _Hey-hey!_ I have been a good husband to both of
them--_keh-keh-keh_--and I am old. A too good husband ages sooner
than a bad one.

"Trade and adventure--the same and not the same. For when I
trade"--he thrust his hands forward, palms upward, and moved the
fingers in a "hither! come ye hither!" gesture--"I look to
profit. That wife is a thrifty one, you understand me? Eh?
_Keh-keh-keh-ka-a-gh_--these fogs! These fogs!

"And when I go adventuring--_eh-h-h,_ but I have seen strange
sights in my day: mountains of ice in the sea, and whales around
them, and the big fish warring with the whales until the sea was
blood-red; land where you could see the sun at midnight, where
fir trees taller than British elms came to the sea's edge and the
men wore bearskin and ate fish; black stone that burns--"

"We have that," said Caswallon. "Our fishermen bring it from the
country north of the Iceni. We have burned it on this hearth."

"Have you seen fish fly?" asked the Phoenician.

"No," said Caswallon, "but I have listened to a lot of lies
in my day."

"Oh, well. When I go adventuring, it is for love of the adventure.
That wife is a mistress, teases, coaxes, is extravagant"--he
threw his hands outward, and smiled as if he were pouring a
fortune into a woman's lap, a lovely, lucky woman to be wooed
by that tough old master of experience--but I never forget
that I have _two_ wives.

"I have carried the stone that burns, all the way from an island
where it snows at midsummer and the sun shines at midnight* to
Alexandria, where I sold it to King Ptolemy the Piper** for its
weight in corn, which I took to Ostia in four ships and sold to
the Romans for silver. _Hey-yey!_

-----------
* Spitzbergen?

** Father of Cleopatra.
-----------

"And Ptolemy burned the black stone all in one night, when he was
drunk, to entertain a Roman money-lender; made a circle of it in
the execution place and burned I don't know how many convicted
criminals, throwing in more and more until the fire was finished.
But he would have killed them anyhow, so that is not on my head.
Let Ptolemy answer for that.

"Of all the men who set sail with me on my first voyage--I was
younger than Tros then; that is fifty years ago--not one man
lives but I. Storms, sickness, strife: I have enough to
answer for."

"You haven't answered me," said Caswallon firmly. "Tros spoke to
you of what I require. Will you do it, or no?"

Hiram-bin-Ahab took a drink of mead. Then he looked at Fflur a
long time. Then he met Caswallon's eyes.

"If it is for Tros and his father Perseus, I will do it gladly
and for nothing," he said, drawing up his legs and folding them
under him, as if he were sitting on his own poop. "But if it is
for you, you pay."

Fflur nodded. She understood him perfectly, but Caswallon looked
piqued and Orwic swore under his breath.

"Have I not been your good host?" Caswallon asked.

"Aye, and I have been your good guest. As to that there is no
account awaiting settlement. But Tros, who might have made a
bargain, and a hard one--for I will need that permit he can sign
with Caesar's seal--Tros chose to make none, but promised, as a
young man to an old one--"

Caswallon stood up suddenly. He was a giant, and he looked like
the god of battles when he tossed his head to throw back the
long, fair hair.

"By the Blood of Lud!" he thundered, "I am not behind Tros in
this my kingdom! Take what you will! Help yourself to anything
your old eyes covet, and go free. For I think as you say, this is
to be your last journey. I ask nothing of you."

"Then I must do the best I can," said the Phoenician, sipping at
the mead again and glancing at Tros slyly. _"Hey-yey!_ When a man
has two wives, it is not always the thrifty one whose counsel
guides him."

Later, when the men-at-arms were very fast asleep, Caswallon went
and fetched a druid, who had lived in Gaul and learned great
skill with the pen. Then they brought out Caesar's chest, and
after much confabulation between Tros and Hiram-bin-Ahab the
druid copied Roman documents on parchment, making changes at
Tros' dictation, and forging Caesar's signature so perfectly that
not even Fflur's keen eyes could tell the difference when she
compared copy and original.

At last, with a great laugh of contentment, Tros affixed Caesar's
seal, and went out with his arm around the shivering Phoenician,
to greet the golden dawn.





CHAPTER XXI

IN WHICH THE WOMEN LEND A HAND

Ye think obedience is indignity; and so it is, if ye obey your
baser selves, or if ye serve another's avarice. But will ye all
be kings and captains? It is neither freedom nor love of freedom
that makes you disobedient, but envy, and fear lest a leader
should prove what muddleheads ye are.

--From the Sayings of the Druid Taliesan



The Britons called it fun, until the third, or maybe the fourth
day, when even Orwic tired of it. The women had enough to do to
copy Roman costumes, and all the blacksmiths on the countryside
were set to making Roman shields and swords in imitation of those
captured on the Kentish beach.

The helmets were the greatest difficulty, until they found a way
of imitating them with basketwork, at which Britons were experts.
They stretched skin over that and painted it, making plumes of
horse-hair.

Conops had a hard time keeping the Britons from making their own
improvements. They wanted to make the plumes three times the size
and to lengthen the swords, and to paint the shields blue because
that was the color that always brought them luck.

Tros saw to the galley, which needed such an overhaul as was next
to impossible to make in haste in that undisciplined community.
They had a Celtic kind of individuality, that fused them into one
mercurial mass in opposition to authority, but made them units in
deciding what to do and when to do it. When all other excuses for
not working had been tried, they discovered that the day was
sacred to some god or other and decamped to the woods to listen
to a sermon from the druids.

So the druids had to be won over, and Tros did that by letting
them into the secret that he hoped to capture Caesar, enemy of
their religion. Their forest dwellings were a-hum with fugitives
from Gaul, who had brought details of the tortures Caesar used in
his efforts to learn druidic secrets.

So the druids came down in procession from forest to waterside
and blessed the bireme, with dew and earth and mistletoe,
proclaiming the ship sacred and whoever should lend a hand to
recondition her, or whoever should sail in her under Tros's
command, thrice blessed.

"You'll find we'll have to fight for what we want though,"
Orwic commented.

The galley had been built in Gaul, from a Roman model but by
unaccustomed shipwrights, and in haste, because Caesar did
everything in half the time that other people liked to squander.
So, to a practiced eye, she would have been an obvious fraud if
she had appeared off Caritia pretending to have come from a Roman
port through the Gates of Hercules.

She was too small, too clumsily built, and undersparred. It
called for a very great deal of crafty reconstruction to make up
for the lack of size, and, even so, pitch and linen-covered
wickerwork had to masquerade in many instances as heavy timber,
not that timber was lacking, but time. And the Britons were
nimble with their favorite wishes.

Tros built a whole new bow and stern of wickerwork on light oak
frames, and covered that with painted cloth to make the ship look
larger, praying to all the gods he had ever heard of, and they
were many, not to send even such a half-gale as should break it
all away.

In all that, he was ably helped by Hiram-bin-Ahab, who had sent
his own tight ship downriver, with Skell on board, to lie up in a
creek and wait for him. Thus they lost the services of the
Phoenician's crew, but prevented Skell from seeing the galley or
learning of what was taking place.

They mended the great arrow-engines and crammed the baskets full
of new-made arrows nearly a yard long, Tros stowing those below
deck to keep the Britons from firing them at marks across the
river--they claiming they must have practice; he swearing he
would have ammunition. They filled the water casks. That was a
prodigious business, because the Britons swore that any sort of
water was a miserable substitute for mead; but Tros made them
clean the casks with charcoal and then haul water from a dozen
miles away, having seen too many crews die of the stuff they put
into ships from longshore wells. And by that time the Britons
voted him a despot, although, and perhaps because, he had only
used up ten days for the entire business.

But it was not until the ship was ready and the crew had to be
broken in that his real trouble began.

Fflur, Caswallon and Orwic had chosen a hundred of the brassiest
young coxcombs Britain could produce. Most of them had ridden
into the waves in the teeth of Caesar's legions and had slain
their Romans, hand-to-hand, but were chosen chiefly for their
horsemanship. That was not so foolish as at first appeared,
because the men with the highest courage and the strongest
sense of manhood took the trouble to excel at that. But they
were coxcombs.

Orwic himself would have challenged Tros a hundred times if the
other ninety-nine had not been so continually challenging him
that he had to stand by the commander to uphold his own lieutenancy.

Their theory was that they should stand around the deck in
imitation Roman armor and look handsome until they came in sight
of Gaul, when they would land by some unexplained stratagem by
night and rape the lair of Caesar.

The twenty paid seamen who had brought the galley up the Thames
with Tros, and perhaps a few more pressed for the occasion, were
to do the work; and they were perfectly willing to help Tros lick
those seamen into absolute obedience.

Tros stood on the poop with arms akimbo and laughed gaily at
them, because if he had shown his real feelings there would have
been no chance that he could handle them at all.

"Why not have me do all the work, and you all be the captains?"
he suggested amiably.

He bulked big in a Roman's armor that the blacksmiths had
enlarged to fit him, and he wore his own long sword as well as a
short Roman one, which made him look dangerous. An imitation
Roman helmet--none of the captured ones was big enough--cocked at
a bit of an angle suggested an indifference to consequences. The
toga thrown back over his shoulder gave him dignity.

And there were always those leonine eyes, that a man could not
see without knowing there was a volcano not exactly slumbering
behind them, but under control until needed.

"You!"

He singled out the most opinionated of them all, a youth of
twenty, whose wife had painted new blue pictures on his white
skin, and whose moustache was like a fox's, about ten reddish
hairs on either side.

"Come up here on the poop and show me how to set that sail! Stand
by, the rest of you, to take his orders!"

The coxcomb had the good sense to refuse, but that did not
save him from being laughed at, and when the laugh had died
and they had all done imitating what they thought were deep-sea
orders--such as they had heard along the riverbank when the
fisher-crews put out for herring in the North Sea--Tros dealt out
information. He was growing very fluent in the Gaulish dialect
they used.

"Ye know the feel of a horse's backbone, when ye ride ten leagues
without a saddle. Ye know soreness of the hams and how the spine
can tremble like a stick with a weight of pain atop. Those are
beginnings. I deal now in middle matters. And the end is not yet.

"Ye shall learn now what hard corns feel like on the hams; and
how red hot the blisters grow on hands that have pulled on an oar
a day or two. Ache? Ye have never ached as ye shall before this
journey ends.

"Ye need now spines like oak trees, sinews like new ropes, belly
muscles like a bear's. Ye need guts such as go into a wild boar's
constitution, and a lot more courage than ye showed there on the
beach when ye stood off Caesar's men!

"I saw that fight. I watched it from this poop. I saw each turn
of it, and perceived how Caesar won. That day, ye fought by fits
and starts. Ye charged into the sea, and out again to let the
rear ranks have a turn, resting yourselves behind the fighting
line, to come at it again; whereas Caesar's men stuck to it until
they won the beach.

"And now ye are trigged like Romans, ye must do as Romans! There
is no pausing between encounters with the wind and sea. The tides
don't cease because your hams smart with the salt in open
blisters. Ye may cry, but the storm shrieks louder, and the only
answer to the storm is work.

"Ye can get off your horses and walk home if your buttocks are on
fire and your shoulders feel like a sack of wheat on a knitting
needle. Not so at sea! Ye must sit and row until the oar-handle
bucks back and lifts you by the chin, and the oar-end of the man
behind you takes you in the shoulder-blades.

"With the ship rolling and the wind howling and the water
squirting through the oar-port, ye must keep on rowing, while the
blisters burn and your bones ache as if chariots had driven over
them. This sea game is a calling that needs guts.

"So I will think no worse of any man who cries off now. I will
cry good bed to him and good mead and a fireside. I need the
daring men on this adventure, the bold spirits who would rather
die than quit, the men who can endure pain and the cold and
vomiting, and still row until I bid them cease. Ashore then now,
every man who thinks himself unfit for this adventure!"

They howled at him to show them something he could do and they
could not, mocking the sea and all its tantrums, as any young
cockerel can who hasn't tried it and who has a quart or two of
_curmi_ or some other potent liquor under his sword-belt. So he
changed his strategy then and promised, by the great North Light
that never failed a mariner, that he would leave behind whoever
should disobey one order or shirk one trick of training before
the start.

"Ye have stood up to the big bear and the lean wolf and the gray
boar. But I will make you fit to face the sea! May the gods, who
laugh, forgive me!" he added in an undertone to the old
Phoenician. "Can a man turn Britons into mariners?"

Caswallon kept away.

"They will appeal to me and I might have to side with them," he
said when Tros invited him to come and watch proceedings.

But he took care to learn how Tros had handled them and laughed
until the tears ran down his cheeks.

For one of the things that Tros did was to moor the galley by the
stern to the oak pile in mid-river, and to set those free and
fearless horsemen rowing against that, with the paid seamen
placed at intervals along the benches to set the pace and show
them an example. And that, as Orwic swore, was no amusement for a
British gentleman.

For a while they made sport of it, trying to break the warp or
else the oaken pile, but all they succeeded in doing was to stir
up Thames mud until the stink offended them, and to crack one
another in the back with oar-ends until hot words led to
fighting, and Tros had to get down among them with a mop to swab
their indignant faces and get them all laughing again.

Conops' services were lost then, when most needed. He was used to
teaching men to row. He could have run along the plank beside the
benches, singling out this man and that, showing exactly
how to hold an oar and how to throw the head back when the
blade struck water.

But word came up-river, brought by Hiram-bin-Ahab's second mate
in a small boat, that Skell was growing restless and threatening
to leave the Phoenician's ship unless something happened before
nightfall. So Conops had to be sent back with him to manage
Skell. Tros's parting words were careful.

"Understand me--he mustn't be tied. He mustn't think he is a
prisoner, or he may see through the whole trick. Also, I want him
alive and fit for treachery in Gaul. So, first, try lying to him.
Say Hiram-bin-Ahab will come tomorrow, then the next day, and so
on. When that fails, pick a quarrel with him.

"He will call you a liar, no doubt. Be offended by that and lay
him out with a belaying pin or with your knife-hilt. But mind, no
overdoing it. A sore head may stir the venom in him, which I
need. But a knife wound might let the impudence out, and he will
need all his impudence this journey."

Conops winked his only eye, bowed with a movement like a curtsey
until his weather-stained blue kirtle nearly touched the deck,
holding his right hand up, palm outward, and departed overside.
He would have gone to Gaul, to try and kidnap Caesar
single-handed, if Tros had ordered it.

Thereafter, Tros was in a quandary, because the girls came down
to the riverbank and crowded into boats, to laugh at the
oarsmen's antics and at the oar blades spraddling this and that
way like the legs of a drunken centipede.

They screamed idiotically when the galley lurched toward them,
and asked, when it lurched away again, whether Tros had his
crew chained by the foot, the way the Northmen chained slaves
to the benches.

When Orwic leaned over the side to order them away in his
haughtiest manner, they called him "sailor-man Orwic" and asked
how much a basket were the fish.

So the first day's practice at the oars broke up in rowdy
repartee and ended by the girls all being chased home, screaming,
Orwic vowing that women were the curse of the human race.

"That's one thing I concede the druids," he said scornfully.
"They are born of women, like the rest of us, but they know
enough to keep away from them when they once take vows. What
puzzles me is, why a man can't do that without pulling a long
face and singing hymns at sunrise. I was through with women long
ago. They spoil everything."

But Tros went straight to a woman, Fflur, by her fireside, where
she knitted the first trousers of her youngest son and listened
to the calf-love story of her eldest, who had seen a girl who
suited him "by Verulam, where Merlin son of Merlin keeps the
mill. Aye, Mother, Merlin's daughter."

When she had said her say concerning Merlin's daughter--and there
was much she said that was pointed, but without a barb, and much
more that was understood she might have said, had it not been
better that Caswallon should say that for her--she listened to
Tros, seeming to listen with those gray eyes rather than with her
ears, which were hidden under the gray-shot golden hair.

And that night Fflur gave a party to the women, at which no men
were present, although the men made bonfires all around the house
and caterwauled and burned a witch in effigy, pretending they
thought the women were conspiring to sell Lunden to the Romans
and submit themselves to Roman husbands. They even made a Roman
out of a pig's bladder and some meal bags, and pushed it through
the window on a stick.

But what happened at that party did not leak out, because Fflur
knew how secrets are told in such a way that women keep them. The
girls had a great air of importance when they let the men lead
them home at last, but no amount of cajoling or teasing made
them talk.

And next day, when most of his hundred--as Tros had expected they
would--refused downrightly to return to rowing and be made
ridiculous, the girls joined hands and danced around them,
mocking them, singing a new song Fflur had set to an old tune. It
was about the men of Lunden, who were such babies that they could
only ride horseback and were afraid to hurt their lily-white
hands by pulling at ash oars.

So the hundred went back to the rowing, because the girls
declared they wouldn't kiss a man who hadn't blisters on his
hands and couldn't make an ash oar keep time as it smote the
water. In fact, there were more than a hundred who offered
themselves in place of the mutineers, and several heads were
broken as the original hundred defended their claim to be the
first gentlemen rowers in all Britain, a kind of brand-new
aristocracy with first claim on the admiration of the women.

Orwic had two girls in attendance on him when he sauntered
back to duty. He contrived to look bored, but the appearance
was unconvincing.





CHAPTER XXII

MUTINY AND MAL DE MER

Ye speak to me with deference, and in my presence ye behave with
reverence for the Wisdom that I worship. But why do ye not slay
me? I will tell you. Ye fear those underlings, for whom I insist
on such small justice as your law permits. And they fear you. But
I fear neither them, nor you, nor death.

--From the Sayings of the Druid Taliesan



Then came, after a series of gales, one of those clear October
nights when Britain is hushed, as if she heard the winter coming
and were waiting in her bridal robes. The very animals were
still. The river sucked by the wharf-piles with a hint of bell
notes in the splash, and the stars shone as if wet with dew.

That was the night Tros started. He had sent Hiram-bin-Ahab
downriver in the afternoon, the rowboat keeping close inshore to
avoid the incoming tide. There were no farewell feasts or mead
drinkings, because the old man protested he could not sit through
another such ordeal.

Caswallon permitted him to vanish like a specter of the past,
wrapped in his camel-hair shawls and seated in the stern of
Fflur's swan-carved barge.

But twenty of the young girls kissed him first, lest Britain be
disgraced, and hung three garlands around his neck, filling the
boat so full of flowers that the rowers had hard work to take
their seats.

And Tros would have no feasting because he wanted his crew sober.
If they had sat down in Caswallon's hall to meat and mead there
would have been no hope of getting them on board before morning.

But he could not keep Fflur and Caswallon off the ship, and
although Caswallon, at Tros's request, gave out that the galley
would leave on the following day, all Lunden was there,
nevertheless, two hours after sunset, when the tide changed, and
the girls so flocked around the ship in punts and rowboats that
when Tros ordered the warp cast off and struck the first beat on
the bull-hide drum to time the oarsmen, there were upsets,
screams, girls in the river, and it needed Tros's voice, roaring
louder than the drum, to keep the oars at work.

Even so, as the tide took hold of the galley, she almost buried
her beak in the mud below the pool.

But Caswallon had brought along three druids to forfend ill luck.
There was mistletoe at the masthead. The moon was just exactly
right, a crescent with the points so oriented as to gather
fortune from the sky and pour it on the undertaking.

So nobody was drowned, as Orwic, leaning out from the fighting
top at the masthead, where he was supposed to be conning the
course, reported.

Orwic said he knew those reaches of the Thames. So Tros had sent
him up there, chiefly to flatter him, but he sent a seaman up
there too, and Caswallon made Orwic his admiral afterwards, he
was so impressed by the way the ship was piloted in darkness.

They rowed downstream to drumbeat, towing Caswallon's barge,
filling the night with throbbing until the ducks awoke and
stuttered into deeper reed beds, until the singing of the girls
by Lunden Pool grew faint and died away in a murmur, until mud
appeared, as the tide receded, and Tros held the galley in
mid-river, not trusting even Orwic's skilled assistant to know
short cuts in the gloom.

And at last they saw a dim light in the marshes, which was
Hiram-bin-Ahab's riding light, and there Fflur, Caswallon and the
druids were put overside to wait for the tide to change again and
bear them back, upstream, to Lunden Town.

But first Caswallon made a speech to the gentlemen adventurers
who leaned on the white-ash oars to listen, each man with an
imitation Roman helmet, sword and armor under his rowing bench.
"Sons of good British mothers! Let none return to Britain less a
man than he set forth! Into Tros's hands I have given you,
charging him that he shall lead you nobly. Do ye obey him. Trust
him. I hold him answerable. If he brings you back with honor, I
will honor him; and I think he will lead you craftily to great
deeds, the which I would that I might share in.

"But I am the king, whose foot should not leave Britain, save in
extremity. Smite, each of you, a blow for me! For lo! I am a king
who strikes at Caesar with a hundred sword hands, with the
cunning of a hundred brains. So be ye valiant!"

They did not cheer, lest Skell should hear them on the old
Phoenician's ship. Caswallon, Fflur and the druids went overside
into the lapping darkness and were rowed into the reeds to await
the coming tide.

Then Tros called to Orwic to light a masthead flare, and when
that had burned for the space of a hundred heart-beats the
pitch-dipped branch was cast into the river like a plunging
meteor and Tros set the drumbeat going, low, slow, regular,
muting the drum with his knee, lest Skell should catch the rhythm
and add two and two together later on.

Then, when they had cleared the mouth of Medway and at dawn the
river broadened out of view on either hand, he set the drum to
thundering and made the oarsmen grunt and sweat until they felt
the long swell under them and, as the tide was near the slack, an
off-shore breeze awoke.

"This Lud of Lunden is a god with brains," Tros shouted then.
"Tide he gives us, and then a wind exactly in the quarter whence
we need it!"

He laughed when the hirelings manned the halyards and the wind
filled the bellying sail, for he had those young cockerels at his
mercy now. Soon he could hear Orwic's groan and vomit from the
fighting top, for the tide had turned against the wind.

There was a lively motion in the dark, uplifting rollers and a
drift of white scud splashing through the oar-ports. Now was not
much need to bid the rowing cease; good half the oars were idle
before the order came.

And as Tros leaned on the helm to make the utmost of the wind to
gain an offing before he should turn, with tide abeam, southward
along the coast of Kent, he chuckled--first at the silence in the
ship's waist, then at the noise of resurrected mead and venison
that gurgled overside or in between the benches, anywhere at all!

The twenty sea-wise hirelings, who had fought him all the way
from Gaul to Lunden not so long ago, gave him no trouble at all
on this adventure, since he had them too, at disadvantage.

As surely as they were none too many to man the sheets and
braces, they were all too few to offer disobedience, with a
hundred of Caswallon's blooded cockerels, seasick though those
were, at hand to put them in their place. The scorn was mutual
and thorough.

The more sick the aristocracy became, the less they admired such
human cattle as could thrive in a box on a heaving sea and, by
the same compelling instinct, the less pleased it made them
to be patronized.

One seaman, who dared to grin between decks when sent below to
wedge a shifting water cask in place, was almost killed, which
set Tros thinking.

He put a seaman at the helm and went below, discovering more than
twenty oarsmen who were only sick enough to feel ill-tempered,
chilly and ashamed. He gathered them in the ship's waist, abaft
the citadel.

"Choose," he ordered gruffly. "Take mops and clean up all that
mess of vomiting, or stand a watch on deck and let the seamen swab."

They chose the deck, and Tros, in no hurry at all, since he must
let the Phoenician overtake him after the next tide, spilled the
wind out of the sail repeatedly until they learned the use of
brace and sheet. There being no such cure for seasickness as work
aboard a plunging ship, he quartered the sea in every possible
direction to keep them busy at the ropes and to accustom them to
every kind of belly-empty motion, until they grew new sea legs
under them and were aware of appetite.

When they had eaten of the sacked dry venison and bread, such
sleepiness came over them as only sea produces, sleepiness of
bone and brain and muscle, eyes, skin, all the senses, until an
oak deck felt like a feather bed and any kind of wind-break was a
haven of dreamless bliss.

So he let them sleep wherever they lay down to it, and the seamen
stood watch and watch that night, but later, when the storm came,
Tros had a score of proud men he could call on, half of them in
either watch, not expert, but enthusiastic. Thus he was able to
rest ten tired-out real seamen at a time.

And that worked wonders. For the aristocracy discovered they were
not so far behind the seamen after all, stronger than they when
their muscle counted, lacking only knowledge of what to do, and
how to do it with the least exertion.

That led to rivalry, even to blows, until Orwic, green-cheeked,
swaying and self-conscious, crawled down from the fighting top at
last, compelled himself to eat, and took charge of his friends.

Then Tros rearranged the watches, keeping gentlemen and seamen to
themselves, and matched one against the other. By the afternoon
of the first day out the men who had lain groaning in the
scuppers began appearing one by one on deck, and some of them
added themselves to Orwic's watch, getting in one another's way,
but learning rapidly.

So all went increasingly well until Tros hove the ship to in fine
weather, the second day out from Lunden, with the Kentish cliffs
in sight on one hand and the cliffs of Gaul just visible through
a haze to southward.

Being hove to was another kind of motion. There were prompt
defections from the ranks of Orwic's men. But Tros was more
concerned about the blue haze masking the cliffs of Gaul and a
change of weather in the northwest where a bank of gray
cold-looking clouds looked full of wind.

Watching that cloudbank and the line of white across the sea
beneath it, his eye detected two specks that he liked still less,
for they followed a third, which was certainly the three-reefed
mainsail of Hiram-bin-Ahab's ship. He knew that Phoenician curved
spar as he knew the cliffs of Samothrace, and, though he had only
seen the spar and lug-sail of a Northman once, he did not
need Orwic's voice from the fighting top to warn him that
Hiram-bin-Ahab was running from a pair of North Sea pirates.

The Britons began roaring for a battle on the deep, and even the
seasick oarsmen crawled on deck, recovering their strength from
sheer excitement, some of them demanding food, that they might
gain strength for the fighting. But Tros stood scratching at his
beard, perplexed.

The gods--and he was a whole-souled pantheist, who saw the hand
of one god or another in every splash of spray and change of
circumstances--were staging a conundrum for him that demanded wit.

He felt reasonably sure he could beat those Northmen off, for he
knew his Britons and the dreadful havoc he could wreak with six
great arrow-engines. Too, if he could trust his oarsmen, by a
deft maneuver he might wreck one Northman, catching her in a
following sea--it was boiling white now under the racing clouds,
and the following sea would swamp her as her slim bows crumpled
on the galley's oak-and-iron ram. That would leave but one
Northman to deal with, and six arrow-engines for the work: one
slim-waisted longship, that had run too long before the rising
sea to dare to turn about.

He smiled at the nerve of the old Phoenician, who had dared to
reef down snugly even though the Northmen gained on him and he
had no fighting crew. He supposed old Hiram-bin-Ahab had counted
on the sight of a Roman bireme to send the pirates scurrying for
shelter, calculating speed and distance with the accuracy that a
man learns in fifty years at sea.

But what if the Northmen did not know the bireme's possibilities?
Had Rome ever sent a ship up their way? They might mistake her
for some freakish foreign thing hove to and helpless, as she
surely would be presently, unless he should go about in time. The
storm would burst on him as the galley lay a-rolling with her
yard braced nearly fore and aft.

Tros felt at the helm, watching all three ships, and there was
hardly a mile between them, or more than three miles between them
and himself. The Northmen seemed not far behind the old
Phoenician in seamanship.

If he should fail to put the galley about before the thundering
northwester hurled high seas on him--and it would be too late
then--they would simply storm along past him and pursue the old
Phoenician until they could close with him at their own
discretion, perhaps in the lee of Vectis or wherever the wind and
sea should offer opportunity.

But if he should go about in time, ahead of that tumbling sea,
and run, he was afraid the Northmen might think he ran from them,
and that involved a second problem: that his own Britons might
believe the same thing and be mutinous.

Then, though he had improved her, the galley still steered like a
house when a following sea lumped under her high stern. There was
the risk, amounting almost to a certainty, that a high sea under
that stern would break away the wicker false end he had erected
at such pains to increase the ship's apparent size.

However, he went about, and squared away under a three-reefed
mainsail before the storm struck him, boiling along beam to beam
with Hiram-bin-Ahab three-quarters of a mile to starboard and one
of the Northmen half a mile astern. The other lurched and pitched
off the Phoenician's quarter like a lean wolf keeping a stag
in view.

Then Tros began to curse the day when Romans ever left dry land
and built themselves floating islands that they fondly thought
were ships. Hiram-bin-Ahab's sweet-lined little merchant-ship,
with her great eye painted in the bow, deep-laden though she was,
sailed faster than he could follow without spreading more sail
than he dared.

The Northmen raced along like hungry fish, their beautifully
molded bows preventing them from plunging. It was going to be a
hopeless stern chase, with all the ever-widening channel in
which to scatter, and small hope of coming to the Phoenician's
aid in time.

Tros made up his mind swiftly when he realized that, for the
waves were thundering under his stern and loosening the wicker
dummy work with every plunge. Already the cloth covering was
washed away and there was nothing to be gained by maneuvering to
save what seemed already doomed.

He changed his helm and ordered two reefs shaken out, turning the
reeling galley's broadside almost square to the waves, and bore
down on the nearest Northman.

It was then that he cursed himself for letting Conops go to the
Phoenician. There was no one he could trust to rush below and
make sure of the closing of the oar-ports; no one to stand below
the poop and enforce his orders on the instant that he roared
them; no one to see that the arrow baskets did not lurch overside
while the Britons wrestled with one another for the right to
serve the engines; no one to see that the gut was sheltered from
the spray.

Some fool loosed the dolphin from its lashings and the great iron
horror began swinging from the yardarm like Fate's pendulum,
threatening to chafe its halyard and go crashing through the
deck, striking the shrouds when the ship lurched, swinging the
yard and spilling wind out of the sail.

Nor had he a seaman fit to send aloft to throw a rope around the
thing and make it fast. He had to let the helm go then. He gave
it to Orwic, jumped to the main deck and up on to the citadel.
Thence he sprang into the shrouds with drawn sword, slashing at
the halyard as it swung, and the dolphin grazed the ship's side
as it plunged through the crest of a wave, forever harmless.

Orwic, laughing happily when Tros took the helm again, cuffed
another Briton away from one of the poop arrow-engines. He had
feared he might miss something by having to stand there hauling
at a steering oar, and in another minute he would have let the
helm go anyhow.

The heads of the Northmen showed plainly now between the shields
erected all along the longship's bulwark. Orwic began laying
arrows in the grooves, while half a dozen young enthusiasts got
in one another's way to turn the crank and strain the bows taut.

But it was the bow engines that fired first, ignoring the
galley's roll and shoulder plunge, that were increased by the
weight of the fighting top, where no man could have clung and
kept his senses.

One volley of arrows plunked into the sea like a flight of
hurrying fish, three waves away. The other went rocketing so high
over the Northmen's mast that the pirates did not even guess of
its existence.

What the Northmen did see was a row of tousled heads along the
galley's bulwark, and a galley plunging down on them under a
weight of sail that looked like carrying the mast away and bore
her down until the keel showed in the trough between two waves.

They could see the boiling ram, and they were smart of helm
enough to miss that easily. But they could not see much, in the
way of men or weapons, that alarmed them, until Orwic, steadying
himself with a foot against the poop rail, loosed his trial shot
exactly at the moment when the galley's stern paused swaying on a
wave. It was the sway that did the spreading. It was luck, or Lud
of Lunden, maybe, that sent twelve arrows screaming straight into
the gaps between the Northmen's shields.

The Northmen did not wait for any more of that.

Their helm went over instantly. A big man, whose long, fair hair
streamed out from under a peaked helmet, shook his fist as the
crew hauled on the braces and the longship changed her course
toward the coast of Britain.

Tros's cockerels sent flight after flight of arrows after her,
and one chance volley of a dozen plunked through the crimson
sail, but most of them went wide by half a dozen ship's lengths,
and there was no hope of pursuit.

But the other Northman, who had been edging his way gradually
closer to Hiram-bin-Ahab's flank, turned tail too, because
Northmen were easily scared when they did not understand just
what was happening, and both longships shook down a reef in a
hurry to reach shelter under the cliffs of Kent. So Tros, too,
changed his helm, to follow the Phoenician, hoping the Northmen
would suppose he had chased them from their quarry in order to
capture it himself.

But the instant he changed his course he had to deal with mutiny.
The Britons, Orwic leading, swore they would not sail another
yard with him unless he should follow the Northmen and force them
to give battle.

They called him coward, traitor, a purse-loving Samothracian.
They struck the helm away from him and tried to sail the galley
for themselves, laying her over until even Tros cried out in
terror and half of the water casks broke adrift below, thundering
and crashing as if the ship were falling apart.

But the sail did not split, because Tros had jumped to the deck
and let the sheets go. So when they all discovered they were
helpless--and that was only after they had tried to row with
heavy water squirting through the oar-ports and a dozen or more
knocked senseless as the oar-ends caught them in the jaw--they
let Tros take the helm again, threatening to hang him where the
dolphin used to swing unless he should pursue the Northmen.

"Then hang me and have done with it!" Tros answered.

He laughed at them. At which they also laughed, because they
understood that he had them at his mercy just then. What should
happen later was another matter!

The sail thundered and snapped in the wind and none had a notion
how to get it sheeted down again, while the galley rolled and
every third or fourth wave swept her from stem to stern.

It was more than Tros knew how to do, although he did have twenty
men who could go aloft and lay their bellies on the spar, once he
could get that braced and steady, but in some way he had to save
that sail. So he sent the twenty men aloft to tie a stout line to
its corner and then to cut it loose to blow downwind. When it had
flopped into the sea he towed it, to help keep his stern to the
waves, wondering what Conops might be thinking, for he knew
Conops had missed none of that performance. Conops would be
watching with one eye as good as half a dozen from the old
Phoenician's poop.

The Britons grew seasick again, the excitement having died. There
were some who said the expedition was a failure; they demanded
that Tros should put back to Lunden as soon as the storm
might permit.

"Where the women will laugh at you, and I will bid them laugh,
whether you hang me for it or not," Tros answered.

He had only one dread now. The galley would survive the storm,
but Hiram-bin-Ahab might run out of his bargain. The Phoenician's
ship was out of sight, hidden by spume and rain that made a
howling twilight of high noon.

A sudden shift of wind made even the direction doubtful, since
without a glimpse of sun or coastline, tide across the current
and the wind kicking both into a three-way mess of wallowing
confusion, there was nothing to set a course by. At dawn old
Hiram-bin-Ahab might be a hundred miles ahead.

Tros laughed at himself bitterly. His whole ingenious plan had
gone downwind, and, what was nearly as bad, he had lost his good
man Conops. He would not have willingly exchanged him for all the
Britons, Orwic included. He knew Conops could take care of
himself; but he laughed again, and not so bitterly, to think of
Skell's predicament, without friends in some foreign port, and
with plenty of press gangs on the prowl for a likely oarsman.

There was no one to consult with. Orwic was indignant because he
had refused to chase the Northmen.

"Who will be burning Hythe or Pevensey tomorrow as surely
as we've lost the way!" he yelled against the wind when
Tros said something flattering about his marksmanship with
the arrow-engine.

Nothing after that to do but pace the poop and watch the sea.
Orwic went below. Even the seaman, who relieved Tros at the helm
so that he might sleep in snatches, was impudent and made a
suggestive motion of finger to throat, prophetic of what might
happen when Orwic had done talking to the crew.

However, they were still afloat and likely to survive the storm.
The wickerwork structures built at bow and stern were almost
undamaged. The pitched cloth covering was gone, but the
marvelously twisted basketwork had offered no resistance to the
waves, which washed through the interstices, even breaking their
force without being torn loose, and keeping many a wave from
bursting on the deck.

Tros fell asleep considering that contraption, dreaming of the
sweet ship he would some day build--he had her half-designed
already in his head--and calculating on a basketwork construction
all around her above the waterline, perhaps covered with
well-pitched sail-cloth, wondering whether that might not serve
better than the metal plates he had always had in mind. He could
see the possibilities.

He set himself to try to dream of something better than the
sailcloth for a covering, and dreamed, instead, of deep-sea
monsters that came overside and threatened him with death.

When he awoke, both his own long sword and the shorter Roman one
were gone. He was not tied, but Orwic and a dozen other Britons
were on the poop, eyeing him with guarded curiosity. They were
leaning against the poop rail, an obvious committee of mutineers.

It lacked an hour of sundown, and the storm had died, but a
tremendous swell was running. The sun was an angry red ball above
a welter of gray water, and the coast of Gaul was like a pencil
line behind a curtain of haze on the left hand. The twenty
seamen were all clustered in the bow, as panicky as sheep that
smell wolf.

"We propose to go home," Orwic announced drily, definitely.

"Very well," Tros answered, standing up, arms akimbo, facing
them. "Set me ashore on the coast of Gaul."

But Orwic laughed.

"You take us home," he answered.

Tros studied the drift awhile, for there was hardly any wind,
although the waves were running too high for that crew of
horsemen to manage the oars. It was difficult to judge direction
in the gray haze, but at the end of a minute he was nearly sure
he could hear surf pounding on a beach.

"Let us see whither we go," he answered, facing them again.

"Home!" repeated Orwic, gesturing rather vaguely to the northward.

But Tros realized that Orwic was ashamed beneath that air of
well-bred calm, and that, though he spoke for the committee, he
was not its instigator. He had seen a many deep-sea mutinies. He
made a gesture to his sword-belt, saying nothing. Orwic actually
blushed, which made him look ridiculous, with his hair all blown
and tousled and a two days' growth of yellow beard.

"Give me my sword and I will fight the lot of you," said Tros,
turning his back again.

He put both hands behind him, listening. He was sure now he could
hear surf pounding on a beach, equally sure that it didn't much
matter what happened unless he could control the crew. The
mutineers consulted in whispers, which is no way to conduct a
mutiny. Out of the corner of his eye Tros could see all the rest
of the men clustered around the citadel, most of them chin on
knee, squatting on the deck, watching the outcome. And that is
not the spirit in which mutinies succeed. It was too bad to have
to make a fool of Orwic, but even nephews of Caswallon's have
to learn.

Tros leaned overside and noticed that the basketwork was still in
place. He was careful to display his interest in that, watching
the suck and movement of it as the galley rolled and the sea
swirled in and out through the interstices, as if the mutiny
were unimportant.

"We will give you your sword if you will agree to take us home,"
said Orwic.

"No!" Tros answered, facing them again. "If I have my sword I
will be captain, and you will obey me. Without my sword I
am not captain."

"Then you must obey us," said Orwic.

"No," Tros answered. "I gave no undertaking to obey you."

"But you shall!" said Orwic.

Tros laughed, for he saw the boy was desperate--between the devil
and the deep sea--obliged either to take command of a ship he
could not handle or to yield and lose prestige with his own
people. There was only one thing that a man of Orwic's breeding
could do in that predicament.

"You shall give the undertaking now," he said grimly. But he
could not challenge an unarmed man to fight. "Give Tros his
sword!" he added, snapping out the four words to a man beside him.

He was pale now, almost gray-white. He could fight on horseback,
but he had never tackled a trained swordsman on a swaying deck,
and it was growing dark. The sun's red rim was disappearing in a
smear of angry haze.

They brought Tros's sword out of the cabin, and Orwic gave it to
him, stepping back at once and stripping his own breast bare. For
it was against a Briton's code of honor to fight hand to hand
unless the opponent could see the naked skin over throat
and heart.

Tros threw his own cloak off and unbuckled the heavy Roman
breast-plate, letting it fall with a clank on deck. Then he tore
his shirt to lay bare the huge, hairy breast beneath it, and
kicked off his high-laced Roman sandals, for he knew how slippery
a swaying deck could be.

He was glad then that the sun went down, being minded to spare
Orwic what distress he could. He liked him, liked him well enough
to take a chance.

"Clear the poop!" he snarled, drawing the long blade.

He took three steps forward, straight at the committee, who were
leaning with their backs against the rail. They had to go or else
resist him. Orwic said nothing, so they went, one by one, down
the ladder. All the other Britons swarmed up on the midship
citadel to watch. But even as they were swaying shadows in the
gloom, so were Tros and Orwic no more than dim specters. Nobody
could see much. There was a catching of deep breaths, no
shouting, no other sound than the creaking of cordage and the
splosh of the waves against the rolling galley's bilge.

"Are you ready?" asked Tros.

Orwic came at him with a leap, whirling a long sword that made
the darkness whistle. Tros met him point first, meaning to stand
his ground, but the sparks flew and the blows rained on his blade
with a din like a blacksmith's anvil and two hammers going.

He had to sidestep and let Orwic flounder away to leeward down
the slippery deck, where he could have skewered him as easily
against the poop rail as a butcher sticks a sheep. There was a
gasp from the midship citadel, followed by a dozen shouts to
Orwic to use the point and not the edge, then silence, broken by
a cry from the night and the waves:

"Master! Oh, Master!"

The words were Greek. They sounded to the Britons like the voice
of a spirit howling in a wilderness of dark sea. Tros heard them
draw their breaths, could almost feel them shudder. He knew the
voice, and his heart leaped as he laughed. The old Phoenician had
kept faith! Conops! But he had to keep his eyes on Orwic, who was
crouching in shadow, watching his chance to spring.

The voice cried again as Orwic drove with the point at Tros's
throat, slipping on the wet deck as he lunged. Tros caught the
point under his own hilt, jerking with a sudden movement of the
wrist that snapped the Briton's blade. Then, swift as a loosed
bowstring, before Orwic could recover he struck upward at the
Briton's hilt. The broken sword spun overside, humming, and
Tros's point touched the naked skin of Orwic's throat.

"Now cry 'Enough!' Say it! Speak!" Tros ordered.

"Kill!" said Orwic, swallowing and breathing through his nose. He
even pressed his throat against the point until Tros lowered it.

"Will you have another sword?" asked Tros, "and fight me till I
slay you? Or will you cry 'Enough!' and take my hand? It seems to
me no shame that you should yield. Caswallon gave a hundred of
you into my hands--"

"Master! Oh, Master!" cried a hollow voice across the waves. This
time the words were in Gaulish, as if Conops had despaired of his
native Greek.

"Lo, the sea answers for me," laughed Orwic. "Did you offer your
right hand?"

Tros passed his sword into his left, and waited. Orwic stepped
closer, and Tros hugged him as a father hugs his son, though he
was barely four years older than the Briton. It is experience
that makes age.

Then suddenly out of darkness Conops climbed the ship's side,
springing for the poop, crying:

"Master! Get the anchor down! Rocks! You're drifting on rocks!"

The Britons all surged aft off the citadel to find out what
was happening, but Tros drew his sword again at the head
of the poop-ladder.

"Back!" he thundered. "Every mother's son! I'll brain the first
who disobeys me! To your oars! Out oars!"

There was no chance that they could row. He gave them something
to divert attention. He could hear the sea a-wash among
half-hidden rocks. The pounding of waves on a beach had swelled
into one continued roar.

"To the oars and save the ship!" he shouted, pounding the
sodden drum.

As they fell back, doubting whether to obey him, Conops went
scampering between them through the gloom toward the ship's
bow.  In another second there were thumps and protests as his
knife-hilt struck the ribs of seamen, then the splash of the
anchor and the hum of a hawser reeling overside.

"She holds!" he roared between his hands a moment later, then
charged back to the poop.

"Where is Hiram-bin-Ahab?" Tros asked him.

"A scant mile away, sir, anchored in a cove to leeward of the
rocks you came near splitting on!" Conops glanced about him,
baring his teeth at Orwic. "Any fighting before we work her out
of here? She's riding in twice her depth within a ship's length
of the reef. We'd better move."

But Tros could trust that hawser and knew, too, what a frenzied
panic the Britons would make of oar work unless he should wait
for the sea to die down a bit. There was no top on the sea, but
it rolled along, high backed and heavy ahead of the tide.

"Get into your boat and get the sail first, if there's any of it
left!" he answered. Then, standing by the poop-ladder: "Man
the benches!"

Half of the crew was still doubting whether to obey him. "What
does she look like?" he asked, turning his back to the crew to
give them a chance to obey him without feeling they were
being driven.

"Fine in the dark," said Conops. "She looks twice her size. I
didn't know the cloth was all ripped off the wickerwork until I
lay alongside in the boat. If we show up off Caritia Sands at
dusk, the Romans'll never doubt us."

He went overside with three of the British seamen and spent half
an hour disentangling the sail to spill the water out of it
before he shouted: "All clear!"

Then Tros stood over the rest of the twenty and made them haul
the sail on deck. Meanwhile, the mist had shifted, gathering
itself into a dense bank and following the tide. He could see the
reef now and the white line of breakers on the beach beyond it.

"Lud of Lunden Town!" he muttered. "Britons, not being sailors,
haven't yet spent their sea-luck!"

He shivered. The reef was almost near enough to spit on. "Out
oars!" he shouted, and this time they obeyed him. Conops ran to
the bow to use his knife-hilt on the seamen's ribs again, forcing
them to man the hawser and haul in the slack. Tros pounded slowly
on the sodden bull-skin drum, ready to roar to Conops to let go
if the rowers should come to grief and lose the steering way.

The oars dipped deep when the galley rolled and scudded on the
wave tops when she hove her side skyward, but the anchor came
home foot by foot, and Conops let it swing until there was half a
mile between them and the reef.

Then, after taking a sounding or two, he let it go and they
rolled to it in safety until dawn, with Hiram-bin-Ahab's small
boat dancing astern at a long painter's end.

The two men who had come with Conops were a godsend then, for
there was the sail to bend on and they had it done before the
light wind came that blew away the mist banks and showed
Hiram-bin-Ahab's ship rolling easily at anchor, like a living
thing that laughed. The great eyes painted on her bow--so that
she might see the way home--seemed to wink when the waves half
covered them.

"And Skell?" asked Tros, when Conops came up to the poop for a
moment's rest.

"First, when the Northmen hove in sight off Thames-mouth, Skell
swore he knew them and could make terms," said Conops. "He
proposed to show the Northmen the way to Lunden, saying Northmen
would not harm a merchant ship* but would be generous in return
for such aid as that. He said the Northmen's harvest must have
failed and they were coming to seize foothold in Britain.

--------
* This seems to have been the unwritten rule. A merchant ship was
not molested by the North Sea rovers.
--------

"But Hiram-bin-Ahab agreed with me there would be a storm before
long, and he determined to save Lunden from those pirates if it
might be done. So, being sure he had the faster ship, he
shortened sail a bit to let them come within arrow range. Then he
fired a volley at the nearest one, and shook out reefs, and ran,
they giving chase since he had forfeited his rights.

"So he decoyed them until the storm broke and, what with wind and
tide, it was too late for them to turn into the river-mouth for
shelter. Hey! But he knows how to handle his crew, that old
Phoenician! And he handles a ship as if she were a king's mistress!

"When he changed the helm a bit, so that the sea took us under
the quarter, Skell was seasick, and riding at anchor hasn't
helped him to recover. When I came away he was lying like a dead
man on a coil of rope on top of the cargo."

"Is he hurt? You haven't--"

"No, sir. He did call me a liar, as you said he might perhaps. He
spoke truth: I changed the lie so often, that he could not do
less than turn on me at last.

"No, sir, not the blade, although he tried to use his; no, sir, I
didn't tie him; he didn't need it. Those heavy men fall hard.
There's a world of chin sticks out under that red beard of his.
For a minute or two I feared I'd broken it adrift, and he carries
a lump there now as big as a Joppa orange, but the bone's
in one piece.

"What troubles him most is his belly. He vomits more than you'd
believe a man could hold. Now he thinks he's dead, and now he
fears he isn't, but he'll be fit enough for mischief when you
land him."

"Good," said Tros. "Get back to the Phoenician and tell him, if
we both live and ever meet again, there's nothing he mayn't ask
of me and see it done! Then come and tell me what this galley
looks like from a distance. Try to imagine yourself a Roman in
Caritia at dusk.

"If we show up at dusk, we'll have another good excuse for not
putting in--shoals, tide, wind. But I want to know whether that
basketwork looks like the real thing from a mile or two away. If
it does, tell Hiram-bin-Ahab to sail the minute there's a fair
wind for Caritia, but make sure he understands we're to turn up
there at dusk. Wait! Has Skell seen this galley yet?"

"No, sir. He's lain below ever since seasickness took him."

"Tell Hiram-bin-Ahab to use every ruse he can think of to make
Skell sure this is a Roman galley straight from Ostia. Let him
begin talking smallpox now. Let him ask Skell whether he knows a
remedy against it."





CHAPTER XXIII

TROS MAKES A PROMISE

Have I spoken of your folly? Aye, times out of number. But ye are
wizards, ye are paragons of judgment and wisdom compared to the
braggart who pretendeth to wisdom that he hath not. Again, and
again, and again I have said: if brawl ye must, because of
follies ye have not outgrown, then brawl like men. I brawl not,
because I hate not. Ye who hate, shall ye avoid the pains of
hatred by pretending to a virtue that ye have not? It is better,
I say, to die in battle than to do lip-service to the Wisdom
whose outer threshold ye have not the strength of character
to cross.

--From the Sayings of the Druid Taliesan



All that day and most of the night following, they lay at anchor
while Conops spread pitch liberally on the bows and stern and
Tros coaxed his Britons back into a friendly frame of mind. First
he had to reestablish Orwic in their estimation. Orwic had
plainly mishandled the mutiny, and some of them were disposed to
think he had deliberately lost that hand-to-hand fight in
the dark.

So he began by asking whether they thought they had a better man
than Orwic. He offered to fight any ten of their own choosing,
two at a time, which was sheer guile, because he knew their code
of honor did not permit of two men fighting one. They catcalled
at him from the benches, but none offered to match swords, and
they listened when he uttered his great rolling laugh and spoke
his mind.

"Orwic is blood of your blood. I am not. He had to listen to you,
because you are all his equals more or less. But not I. I am the
master of this ship. Who gainsays that?"

There was no answer until after a long pause; Tros was not
avoiding issues, he was forcing one.

A bow oarsman shouted the word "coward" at him.

"Since when?" Tros asked, and waited.

But that man did not answer. It was another who shouted: "You ran
from two Northmen's ships!"

"As I have eyes, it was the Northmen ran," Tros answered.

"As I have eyes, it was Orwic's work that put them both to
flight! As I am a sailor and ye are horsemen, it was impossible
to follow. But for my hand at the helm, ye would all be among the
fish this minute, belly upward, with the sea-birds pecking at
your dead eyes!"

"This minute the Northmen are burning our villages!" another
voice retorted, and at that there was a murmur of assent.

A heavy man with brown hair down to his shoulders, who pulled the
stroke oar on the port side, shouted: "Sail in search of the
Northmen now, and we will catch them at Hythe or Pevensey."

"Since when have ye so loved the men of Hythe?" Tros answered. "I
was there when Caswallon came to summon them to join him against
Caesar, but not a man from Hythe would go. They said they would
hold Hythe, and no more. If they were so sure they could hold it
then against the Romans who had beaten such gallant lads as you
are, can't they hold it now against mere North Sea rovers? What
are two ships when Caesar had more than a hundred ships full of
well-armed Roman infantry?"

He had struck the right note, and he knew it. There was no love
lost between Lunden and Hythe and Pevensey since the men of
Lunden and a handful from eastern Kent had to stand off Caesar's
legions without assistance.

"Now listen to me!" he thundered. His hairy breast was naked,
which was intimation that he stood there ready to fight whoever
challenged him.

"Caswallon gave you into my charge, holding me answerable,
bidding you obey me and be valiant. I will neither flinch nor
turn aside. Ye shall obey me, or I will fight you one by one! It
is not Hythe ye love, or Pevensey. It is your own town and the
honor of your women and the fun of burning the Northmen's ships
behind them."

There was a cheer, but he raised his hand for silence.

"And now ye help me rescue my father, in which there shall be no
fighting if I can help it, since he loves fighting no more than
the druids do. But does any man accuse me of not paying what I
owe? Has my word ever failed you? I think not. Then hear ye this."

He paused dramatically, but the histrionics were a ruse. He was
scanning faces, making sure that the moment was ripe for the
master argument.

"Ye shall obey me first, and I will do my business. Then ye shall
have your bellyful of Northmen, for I will lead you on such a
raid as ye have never imagined. No matter whether we catch those
two ships, or whether they escape us, or whether they have
wrecked themselves along the coast, or whether the men of Hythe*
have slain them all. I will take this ship, or another, and as
many of you as dare come with me, and we will raid the Northmen
in their own roosts in midwinter when they least expect us. We
will let them feel for a change what burned homes mean! Now--?"

---------
* The crypt of Hythe Church is full of bones of Northmen killed
on the beach. Historians have set a much later--post-Roman--date
to the unrecorded battle in which they are presumed to have been
killed; but, like many another date "determined" by those same
historians, this one is at least doubtful. It is certain that the
Northmen regularly raided Britain long before the Romans came.
----------

He had them. They roared him an ovation, knowing he did what he
said he would do. None doubted that promise, except Tros, who
made it; it was far too prophetic for him to believe; but it
served a purpose. They wanted to get the oars out then and hurry
through the business of catching Caesar, who was unimportant in
their minds compared to the hereditary enemies who had ravaged
their coasts and villages since, according to legend, Britain
first rose from the sea.

The Roman was an incident. Northmen were a habit, like wolf
hunting and marrying and feasting. Besides, the Northmen fought
according to accepted and unwritten rules, which made a sport of
it, whereas Caesar was no gentleman; he fought in armor, and used
cosmetics, and wore skirts, and--from what they had heard of
him--couldn't even carry liquor handsomely.

There was no more trouble after that, not even need for Conops to
keep watch while Tros slept. Tros forbade it, rather than let the
Britons think he doubted them. And, two hours after midnight,
came the favoring wind, a light air that hardly filled the sail,
so that they had to row to keep Hiram-bin-Ahab's curved spar in
sight, that could ghost along two ships' lengths to their one.

The wind failed by morning, but they were out in mid-channel
then, so that it was an easy matter to time their arrival off
Caritia, dawdling along as if they had picked up the Phoenician
at sea and were adjusting their speed to his. Hiram-bin-Ahab kept
a good three miles away. There was no risk of Skell detecting
anything wrong.

Three miles to the windward of Caritia sands Tros backed the oars
and dropped anchor, hoisting, as agreed, a white cloth signal at
the yardarm, which meant that the Phoenician should proceed.

Hiram-bin-Ahab had all the necessary documents. Tros's father's
chance depended solely now on whether the Phoenician should act
his part artfully or make some unforeseen mistake.

Tros had a strange, impersonal respect for his old father mixed
of many contradictions. As a seaman, who understood strange seas
better than most priests know human nature, he almost worshiped
him. As an obedient emissary of the Hierophants of Samothrace, he
thought him an impractical old visionary.

In theory Tros was willing to admire the mystery-teaching of
non-resistance and no vengeance. But in practice he had hung back
from initiation beyond the novice's degree--which imposed few
obligations--and he forever chafed at his father's prohibitions
against taking life. Besides, he knew that his father had been a
storming swordsman in his youth.

"Conops," he said, watching the Phoenician's ship through a light
mist that dimmed its outline, "that old mariner knows his own
mind. He keeps a promise, Romans or no Romans. You know yours.
You are a faithful man. I know mine. I will snatch my father out
of Caesar's hands by any means. But who shall know my father's
mind? I think he may blame us all because our method is
unethical, as if ethics could influence Caesar."

Conops was not quite sure what ethics were, but he knew Tros's
father, having sailed under him since Tros and he were old enough
to learn to splice ropes.

"Master, a Prince of Samothrace must be a dreadful thing to be,"
he answered. "He is not meek, for you and I have quailed under
his wrath when we displeased him. So it is not that he does not
feel anger or suffer when Caesar orders the crew beaten to death
before his eyes.

"Hey! What a crew that was! Will we ever find such another? No
drink; no women in the ports; no knifing, no neglect, never an
order disobeyed. And seamanly! Hey! Master!

"And yet your father, who had trained them, saw them flogged, saw
them flogged to death--_hey-yeh-tstchah!_ And do you suppose, if
we gave him a knife, and showed him Caesar, he would kill?"

"Not he," Tros answered. "But, as I said, I know my own mind. I
am not one to balk at killing in extremity. Mind you, I said in
extremity. I will have no brawling. I have a father, and I choose
to rescue him, whether he approves my way or not."

It was very nearly sundown. The Phoenician's sail was a splurge
of red on golden water, blurred a trifle by a mauve mist. The
galley rolled gently on the swell and all the Britons were
leaning overside, their helmets tilted back as they had seen the
Roman legionaries wear them.

But there was very little to be seen except shed roofs ashore,
the lines of Caesar's tent tops and the masts of fifty or sixty
ships that lay hauled out on balks of timber under the protection
of the camp earthwork.

The town itself, such as it was--shops, booths, drinking-dens,
and brothels--was invisible beyond the camp. Caesar kept the
front door clean.

"You see," said Tros, watching Hiram-bin-Ahab's slow, cautious
dip and drift toward the port, "in a sense I am the cause of my
father's difficulty. He married, and as long as my mother lived
he was not eligible for the higher offices.* So they sent him to
sea as Legate of the Mysteries. My mother died, but she died
giving birth to me.

---------
* Marriage was not held to be a crime, but it stood in the way
of advancement, being a concession to materiality and lust,
according to that doctrine.
---------

"So there he was with a son; whereas, if I had not been born,
they would have ceased to reckon him a married man and he might
have stayed ashore in Samothrace to attain who knows what
eminence in the Inner Shrine. Therefore, but for me, he should
never have been Caesar's prisoner. And that, since it makes me
responsible, confers on me the right to rescue him."

"Aye, and in your own way," Conops answered. He would have agreed
with Tros if he had said that the world was round and not flat.
"Zeus! But I would like to burn that camp! Look, Master. If the
wind blew from the westward, and a man should creep--"

Silence. Then a murmur all along the ship-side. A liburnian, low
in the water and rowed at high speed by a dozen oars, put out
from the harbor-mouth and headed straight for Hiram-bin-Ahab's
ship. Before the Phoenician could back his sail, the sun went
down, leaving the galley no more than a creaking black shadow,
invisible from shore. Tros ordered lights out; for he did not
want that liburnian to come and hail him.

"To the benches! Out oars!"

He sent Conops to the masthead. Then, muffling the drum, he moved
the galley slowly to a new position about three miles to the
westward, and waited again, the men resting on the oars. It was a
long time before his ears caught the sound of a splash and the
creak of cordage.

"Who comes?" he demanded.

"Both!" Conops leaned from the masthead, trying to make himself
heard without shouting. "Hiram-bin-Ahab and the liburnian!"

"Man that arrow-engine, Orwic!"

Followed a clicking and squeak as Orwic wound the crank--the
rattle of arrows laid in the grooves in a hurry. Then, dimly,
Hiram-bin-Ahab's spar loomed out of the dark and a hail came over
the water from the liburnian, invisible astern of the Phoenician.

"Oh, Poseidonius!"

Tros prayed to the gods for a Roman accent. A hoarse voice was
his best subterfuge, and his heart in his throat rendered that
trick simple. But he waited for the man in the liburnian to
repeat the hail; and then, when it came, he almost laughed aloud.

The man was no Roman. By his accent he was from Macedonia or
Thrace, one of those adventurers who sold their swords to Rome
and often rendered much more faithful service than the Romans
did. Tros could talk Latin twice as well!

"Keep away!" he roared. "Smallpox! Half the crew sickening!
They'll try to jump aboard you if you come close!"

The liburnian backed away. He could hear the hurried oars splash.
Then Hiram-bin-Ahab's voice, between coughs, croaking from the
poop. Tros could not hear what he said. Then Skell, unmistakable,
from the liburnian, in Gaulish, abusing the Phoenician in a voice
weak from exhaustion. It appeared he had left money on the ship,
and wanted it.

Tros bellowed through cupped hands, omitting verbs because of
distance, trusting to the hollow sound to hide discrepancies of
accent. The rowers in the liburnian might be Romans, although
they probably were not.

"Despatch--Roman Senate--for Caesar! Tomorrow--or next day! Fair
wind--tide--"

"Have you food and water?" he in the liburnian called back.

"Yes, for a few days."

"Keep away then! Anchor outside! Send in your despatch by the
Phoenician. If you want stores, they can be put aboard his ship
for you."

"All right," Tros answered. Then, as he heard the liburnian's
oars go thumping off into the darkness: "Now, you friends of the
god of pestilence! Let Caesar only be afraid of catching your
complaint from Skell, and I think we have him! Row!"

He beat the drum unmuffled, rolling out the strokes triumphantly,
setting a course westward along the coast for the Phoenician to
follow. Neither ship showed any lights, so there was no chance of
the troops in Caritia knowing which way they had gone.

And because it seemed the gods were blessing the adventure, a
light wind blew and wafted them along the coast of Gaul until
Hiram-bin-Ahab changed his helm and led the way into a cove he
knew. And there they anchored, side by side, a little before
dawn. Tros did not dare to leave his Britons so he sent a boat
for Hiram-bin-Ahab, who came and sat beside him on the poop.

"There is a village here," said the Phoenician. "But they will
run away inland. They will fear we need rowers."

"Skell?" Tros asked him.

The Phoenician laughed, and paid for it, coughed for nearly
a minute.

_"Ahkh_--Skell! Sick, yes; but not so very. All the while
listening. So he is very sure you are from Ostia; very sure you
have a pestilence aboard. He asked whether Tros had gone to
Seine-mouth, and in what ship? _Hey-yeh!_ I told him--dung to a
dog--lies to a liar!

"He offered me money if I would persuade the commander of this
galley to put into Seine-mouth and prevent Tros from escaping
before Caesar could come! _Hey-yey!_ I let my sailors take the
money. They took it from him just before they dropped him into
the liburnian. _Yarrh!_ But he is angry, angry! He is full
of spite."

"Caesar?" asked Tros.

"The men in the liburnian said Caesar drills his troops too much
because there is nothing else to do. The ships, he said, are all
laid up for the winter--hauled out. He was surprised when I said
I thought you had despatches from the Senate. He said Caesar
receives despatches overland.

"But I said it was none of my business, only that I was glad to
have an escort all the way back to Ostia, and I showed him my
permit, signed by you. He could read, but not readily. The seal
impressed him."

"And the pestilence?"

"He dreaded it! He did not want to take Skell, fearing my ship
might have caught infection. But I said, unless he would take
Skell I would sail into the harbor and put him ashore, having
your authority to do that.

"Then I told him Skell had information for Caesar, concerning the
Britons, and after that he did not dare to refuse to take him. He
laughed, and said, 'Let us hope Caesar will fear the pestilence,
and go away for a while, and give the troops a rest. But I don't
envy Skell,' said he, 'because Caesar will order him to the
pest-house, which is no good place.'

"But Skell did not hear that, nor would he have understood,
because we conversed in Greek. That fellow is a Macedonian from
Pontus, a long way from home. He would have liked to sail with
me, although he fears the winter storms."

"Did he ask many questions?"

"Very few. But he said Caesar would doubtless like to talk with
me about the Britons. So I said that Skell, being born in
Britain, knew more of them than I did, I being merely a trader in
tin, conveying my tin to Ostia for the bronze founders.

"He understood that well enough, but he was puzzled to know why
you should risk your galley down the coast of Hispania in
winter-time, until I told him Rome was in dire straits for tin
and you had been sent to look for me and bring me in spite of
winter and storms and everything."

"Good!" exclaimed Tros. "You are a man after my own heart, a
friend, a lordly liar in emergency!"

"We run a great risk yet," the Phoenician answered. "It may be,
Caesar will not believe Skell. It may be, he will not fear
pestilence. It may be, he will be there when we go back to
Caritia. What then?"

"We will go soon," Tros answered. "They have hauled out their
ships, you say? They can't condition a ship for fighting in less
than three or four days. So, if Caesar smells a rat and sends out
the liburnians to seize you, I will rub my Britons' noses into a
fight that'll do the rogues good.

"Understand me, Hiram-bin-Ahab: I am no Prince of Samothrace. If
I don't get my father, I will do such damage to the Romans as
shall make them remember me."





CHAPTER XXIV

ROME'S CENTURION

He who is loyal and faithful to false gods, and who beareth
himself manfully in a false cause--aye, and though that cause
mean ruin for all who obey him, and all who oppose him--that one,
in the scales of the Eternal weigheth well. Aye, he is infinitely
greater than the fool who serveth Wisdom with his lips, but in
his heart serveth malice, greed, ambition, fame or any other of
the weaknesses that strength despiseth and that Wisdom no more
knoweth than the Light knoweth darkness. Hold ye fast to faith
and loyalty; and though ye slay me for a false cause, ye shall
stand forgiven.

--From the Sayings of the Druid Taliesan



Though Tros was not a Prince of Samothrace, he had lived in much
too close association with his father, who was one, not to be
influenced by the occult philosophy that governed every detail of
his father's life.

The secrets of the Inner Mysteries Tros did not know; the power
that Samothracian Hierarchs could wield, should they decide to do
so, over circumstances and events he thoroughly believed in. He
simply was unwilling to pay the price, in abstinence and
selflessness, required of aspirants to Initiation, and it was
against the drastically administered law of the Mysteries for
his father to oblige, persuade or even to invite him to make
that effort.

Necessarily, however, he was influenced by his father's views. He
habitually ascribed to an Unseen Force things which to other
people appeared as mere coincidence.

Tros was less superstitious, more devout, and a vastly more
intelligent believer in the Unseen, than most men of his
generation. He acknowledged a whole pantheon of gods, but never
prayed to them, believing them to be innumerable aspects of a
First Cause, whose formless Being was unthinkable, and whose
name--supposing anybody knew it--it was blasphemy to utter.

Hiram-bin-Ahab, steeped in strange monotheism tinged by Jewish
teaching, was a member of a minor Mystery to which Tros, too,
belonged. The world was full of such secret brotherhoods, some
based on the Jewish Cabala, some on eastern lore, and all
intended to preserve the idea of Brotherhood in the face of cruel
superstitions and a growing atheism.

So Tros and Hiram-bin-Ahab--good pious opportunists--were of one
mind at dawn, or a little after, when Conops returned from a
scouting venture ashore and announced that Caesar had already
passed through a near-by village.

"The gods," said Tros, "have been instructed to make this easy
for us."

He did not believe that any gods did more than that; the rest was
left to human energy.

"Certainly," Hiram-bin-Ahab agreed. "Your noble father must have
seen with his third eye* what we are doing. He has summoned the
gods** to our aid. We can not fail."

Conops had his own opinion.

"Master, you have more brains than a shipload of kings' uncles!
Caesar left Caritia at once. I found one fisherman ashore there,
and he lame. He said a chariot came summoning all hands to a
place a three hours' journey inland to repair a road, Caesar
having passed along it in the night and complained of its bad
condition."***

-----------
* A synonym for occult vision.

** The gods were the various aspects of natural forces, obedient
to such men as knew how to command them. Hiram-bin-Ahab's
near-monotheism did not preclude his use of the expression "gods."

*** Caesar habitually traveled at the rate of one hundred miles a
day, and was, consequently, very particular about the condition
of the roads on which mobility depended. They were built and
repaired by forced labor.
---------

"The tide serves. No storm--no storm!" Tros warned the weathergods,
his eyes on the horizon. "Up anchor, Conops!"

So with oars and flapping sails, for the wind only came in
capsful, they dawdled back toward Caritia, keeping well off-shore
and timing themselves to arrive again at dusk.

Tros dropped anchor five miles out, but this time he left Conops
in charge of the galley and, divesting himself of Roman clothes
and armor, wrapping his head in a knotted handkerchief, had
himself rowed to Hiram-bin-Ahab's ship, where one of the crew
curled his beard for him in the Phoenician style.

"Sail in as close as you dare," he said, pacing the Phoenician's
poop. But as the masts of Caesar's ships and the tent tops began
to appear in detail through the haze--and that was nearly half an
hour before the sun went down--two liburnians came rowing at top
speed from the harbor mouth, a man in the leading one signaling
with a red cloth to the Phoenician to come no farther.

The crews of both liburnians stopped rowing when they came within
hail. The man with the red cloth stood up in the stern, bellowing
through a speaking trumpet:

"Caesar's orders! You are not to put in to Caritia! Smallpox!
Stores--water--elsewhere! Away with you! Proceed at once to Ostia."

It was Tros who answered, giving a rich Greek accent rein:

"We know Caesar is not in Caritia! We have Caesar's command in
writing to bring away a prisoner named Perseus, who is to be
taken to Rome for trial on charges of conspiracy."

"Who are you?" demanded he in the liburnian, bringing his boat a
few lengths closer. It was growing very dark.

"Mate of this ship."

"Why doesn't the captain speak?"

"His voice fails. He coughs," Tros answered, signing to
Hiram-bin-Ahab to stand up and be seen.

"When did you receive Caesar's order?"

"Last night, when Caesar visited a cove in which we dropped anchor."

"Did the commander of the bireme deliver Caesar's writing to _you?"_

"Yes. Smallpox. Five of his crew are down with it. He hopes to
reach Vectis, where he may land the crew for a while without risk
of desertions or of spreading the sickness among Roman troops.
Thereafter, if the winds permit, he will proceed to Ostia."

There was a conference between the captains of the two liburnians.
They appeared to be men of the centurion type--the noncommissioned
backbone of Rome's army--men used to emergency in every corner
of the empire, not supposed or encouraged to be original, but
marvelous disciplinarians, obedient unto death.

"Caesar's orders are: 'No communication with you!"' one of them
shouted at last.

"Our order, in Caesar's writing, supersedes that," Tros retorted.
There was another conference. Then:

"The prisoner you seek is dead or dying."

Tros swore under his breath. There was a long pause before he
could get his voice under control. His only chance of success was
to seem utterly indifferent. His impulse was to sink the two
liburnians and drown their crews.

"Torture!" he growled under his breath, and Hiram-bin-Ahab nodded.

"Maybe Caesar hopes the pestilence may finish him!" he roared at
last, for the liburnians had backed away. "Put him aboard. The
outcome is none of your affair!"

The liburnians came closer again.

"Put Caesar's writing into something that will float, and throw
it at us," shouted a centurion.

"No!" roared Tros. "Poseidonius the Roman, who commands the
bireme, spoke thus: 'Give them the writing in exchange for the
prisoner. Not otherwise!' Poseidonius must answer to the Senate,
Shall he give you his authority and whistle to the wide seas for
his man? What kind of officers are you, to try that trick? Bring
out the prisoner! There may be a wind before morning, and we want
to make the tide."

There was another conference, and then the liburnians rowed away.
Tros shouted after them:

"Poseidonius says this: 'Unless you deliver the prisoner
promptly, he will sail into the harbor at dawn, and you must take
your chance with the pestilence. Having Caesar's writing, he will
not be delayed. He is in haste to proceed to Vectis."'

Hiram-bin-Ahab gestured and croaked from out of his doubled and
redoubled shawls:

"A mistake! A mistake! They will not believe a bireme dares to
land a crew on Vectis. A trader, yes. A warship, no."

Tros clicked his teeth irritably.

"I had to tell them some place! Maybe they will think you told me
of Vectis. You are a trader. They may suppose I don't know the
people of Vectis are warlike."

But Hiram-bin-Ahab shook his head. He looked like an old vulture
of ill omen. Then worse happened--and worse again! Over the water
from the galley came the noise of singing and a row of dots of
light gleaming through the cabin ports.

"They have broached the mead!"

Tros thrust a paper into the Phoenician's hands.

"Don't part with that until they hand my father over. Hoist him
aboard with the halyard. Satisfy yourself that he really is
Perseus, Prince of Samothrace. Then throw them the document. If I
don't quiet those idiots they'll--"

He went overside into a small boat like a squall out of a dark
sky, and the British rowers nearly broke their backs to try to
please him. Ten minutes later he leaped up the galley's side, and
the first thing he saw was Conops lashed hand and foot to the
mast with a gag in his teeth. He cut him loose and rushed into
the cabin under the poop.

Orwic sat on the table drinking mead, surrounded by as many as
could crowd themselves into the place. The remainder were in the
citadel. They were roaring a long chorus about Lunden Town.

Tros stood back to the doorway, his strong teeth glinting in the
light of the horn lantern, until surprise took full effect and
all grew silent.

"You're a fine shipload of meat-fed* Romans with the smallpox!"
he growled, grinning. "Were you going to eat Conops next?"

---------
* Roman soldiers and sailors usually mutinied if their rations
contained too much meat. Caesar writes of his men's heroism when,
on one occasion, they ate meat for several days.
---------

"Your man was too full of his own importance," Orwic drawled. "He
actually knifed a friend of mine. Where's Caesar? Are we ready to
start back? Here--have some mead."

Tros drank with him. There was only one barrel of the stuff
aboard, supposed to be for medicine. The best plan seemed to be
to finish it.

"If you'll hold your tongues," he said, wiping his mouth on the
back of his hand, "and make those young asses in the citadel
douse the lights and be quiet, I'll give you a crack at Caesar
before you're two days older. Otherwise, I'll guarantee you at
the bottom of the sea by midnight! Suit yourselves!"

Orwic strolled forward to the citadel, his apparently casual eyes
alert for Conops, who fingered an empty sheath and glared at him.
Presently the singing ceased and lights went out. Tros sat on the
table, playing boon companion, for there was no other way just
then of managing those gentry.

"Here's your knife," said Orwic cavalierly, tossing the thing to
Conops as he came back out of the darkness. "Keep it for your
equals, or your betters will have to have you whipped."

"Don't you young idiots know," said Tros, "that the gloomiest
place on earth is a Roman bireme that has been two months at sea,
as we're supposed to have been? The crew are always down with
scurvy. You have smallpox in the bargain!

"To enforce discipline, the commander has used the scourge; he
has thrown men overboard; he has chained unruly rowers to the
benches. He's as sick and ill-tempered as the rest of you. He has
boils on the back of his neck. The omens are all wrong; they
always are when a man has specks before his eyes.

"You've been fed dry meat, which a Roman hates and moldy bread,
which sickens you to look at. There are rats in the water casks,
so you're afraid to drink. You're short of fuel, so you can't
boil water or cook your rations. There's a curtain of weed a yard
long on the galley's bottom, which trebles the labor of rowing.
The bottom leaks and you have to man the buckets day and night.

"The sail won't draw, because it's full of holes, which your
fingers are too swollen and cracked to mend. The ship stinks.
Such blankets as you have are full of vermin. You hate one
another even worse than you hate your officers.

"If those people in Caritia get a hint that you're merry-making,
they'll not stop to argue. They'll know we're no Romans from
Ostia! As you love Lunden Town and hope to see it, be miserable!"

He had to carry on in that vein. He had to tell them tales of
Roman ships he had seen in foreign ports, coming in with a
crucified* man at the masthead and the rowers so rotten with
scurvy that their teeth had fallen out and the skin fell away
from them like scales from a decaying fish.

--------
* The victim was hardly ever nailed. He was tied with rope, and
left to suffer from sun, flies and thirst. The same form of
punishment was used by armies in the field as recently as 1918.
--------

"You're supposed to be feeling like that," he insisted.

And when they had finished laughing at him, being Britons, they
found an entirely different reason for doing what he asked.
"You're a foreigner, so I suppose we must make allowances,"
said Orwic.

Tros got up the anchor and set them to rowing, lest the
liburnians sneak out on him in the darkness to investigate. The
Romans were quite capable of that. Julius Caesar had been known
to swim broad rivers under cover of the night, to do his own
scouting when he doubted the tales that were brought to him. But
if liburnians had come, their crews would have heard such dismal
groanings at the oars, such cries of anguish, as might have made
them believe it was a prison ship.

Orwic, with some pitch smeared on his arms and legs to represent
the scurvy, walked up and down the plank beside the rowers
flourishing a cord with which he made believe to flog them, and
nothing would satisfy them until Tros sent a man to the masthead
to pretend he was crucified up there. Now that they were over
seasickness they seemed to understand no middle course between
comedy and mutiny.

Tros, forgetting that man at the masthead, for he soon grew tired
of groaning, steered the galley slowly toward Hiram-bin-Ahab's
ship, arriving within easy hail about a minute before the
liburnians came thumping through the night. Then he implored his
crew to be silent, gesticulating with both fists, and the Britons
leaned on the oars to listen, not that they could understand a
word of Latin. There was nothing visible except the dim, shadowy
outline of the Phoenician's ship.

"Here's your man!" cried some one.

"What is his name?"

That was Hiram-bin-Ahab's voice, wheezy and suspicious.

"Perseus."

"Is he alive? I won't take him if he's dead."

"Yes, he lives. Come on, throw a line! And hand over that
written order!"

"There goes the line-catch! _Yarrh_--what duffers! Throw again
there, you. Now. What's that? No! I'll throw you down the writing
when I've seen the man. Put the rope under his armpits. Gently
now--haul away--gently, gently, gently!"

Silence, in which everybody held his breath. Then the
Phoenician's voice:

"All right. Here is the writing. Catch."

Tros sighed relief. The Britons, all eyes on his silhouette
against the poop rail, saw the shoulder movement and sighed with
him, swinging the oars for the dip. The man at the masthead heard
that, and accepted it as leave to play the idiot--he had a gallon
of good mead under his painted leather armor.

_"Wow!"_ he yelled. _"Hoi!_ You there, Romans! Tell Caesar, next
time he tries to conquer Britain--"

"Silence!" Tros thundered, but too late.

There was a roar of laughter from the hold. The liburnians came
hurrying to investigate, their oars churning the water in short,
sharp strokes.

Their officers knew Gaulish when they heard it, even if they had
not caught the words. Hiram-bin-Ahab, making no sound, let his
ship swing slowly on the tide. There came the sudden creak and
rattle of his mainsail going up, and a man in one of the
liburnians shouted to him to drop anchor.

"Poseidonius! O Poseidonius!" cried a voice from the other
liburnian, nearly alongside.

Tros did not answer. He pounded the drum and the oars began to
thump in unison. But he had to swing the ship before he could
hoist sail. There was hardly any wind at that, and the liburnians
could out-row him two for one. A low, dark, skillfully maneuvered
vessel shot in under his stern, and again a voice hailed him:

"Hey, there! Poseidonius!"

"Drown him!" yelled the Britons. "Plug him full of arrows!"

The man at the masthead offered himself for a target to the
Romans, waving arms and legs and caterwauling. Tros had to make
the best of it.

"Come aboard," he suggested in his choicest Latin, speaking
drily, imitating Caesar's voice as nearly as he could. Then:

"Stand by that arrow-engine, Conops. Man the crank there, you!
Come aboard, Centurion! Did you hear me? Come aboard!"

He beckoned. Orwic and a dozen Britons left the oars and crouched
under the bulwark. The liburnian had come in under the galley's
counter, too close for the arrow-engines, its bow nosing in under
the starboard oars. The other liburnian was keeping a safe distance.

Tros lowered a thick rope with knots in it. The centurion, half
curious, half conscious there was nothing else he could do unless
he chose to be shot or sunk, came up hand-over-hand.

He was allowed to reach the poop before the Britons pounced on
him and took his sword away. He offered no resistance so they let
him stand, with Orwic close behind him and two others ready to
jump on him if he should move. He stood like a man, with his chin
high and a short, stubby, pugnacious beard sticking out under it.

"What is this?" he demanded.

He was not afraid. He was scandalized that a foreigner should
dare to take such liberties with Rome. Tros loved him.

"Centurion," he said, "tell me first, is my father unharmed? I am
Tros, the son of Perseus, Prince of Samothrace."

"So you are he?" said the centurion. "Your father has been
treated as you will be, when Caesar catches you! They who
conspire against the Senate and the Roman People, all get their
deserts in time!"

"Has Caesar tortured him?"

"I believe he was racked."  Tros ground his teeth and spoke
to Orwic over the centurion's shoulder.

"He is your prisoner. What do you wish?"

"He is yours," said Orwic. "Do what you like with him."

"Do you hear that?" said Tros. "You are my prisoner." The
centurion nodded. He seemed perfectly indifferent. "Take back
your sword then and obey me. Tell Caesar, when the day comes I
will deal with him and not with a centurion! Tell Rome, the
Senate and the Roman People, that I, Tros, am the enemy of Rome
from this day forth!"

Tros signed to the Britons to stand aside.

"No enemy of Rome lives long!" the centurion answered. "Farewell,
Tros!" There was a clank of bronze as he saluted. "I will deliver
your message, although I think you are a fool. Caesar will
crucify you for it."





CHAPTER XXV

"GOD GIVE YOU A FAIR WIND, HIRAM-BIN-AHAB!"


Better far the good faith of one stranger to another than a
thousand times a thousand vows upon the altars of gods who look,
I say, for deeds, not promises.

--From the Sayings of the Druid Taliesan



The other liburnian tried to head off Hiram-bin-Ahab and force
him to drop anchor, but the wind came athwart tide and current,
lending the Phoenician heels and forcing the smaller craft to run
for shelter. Tros paced the poop, fretting at the galley's
slowness as he followed in the Phoenician's wake.

The Britons were all cock-a-hoop and skylarking, Orwic imitating
the centurion, thrusting out his throat and chin exactly as the
Roman did. And one of the others took off Tros so perfectly, hilt
forward, arms akimbo, feet apart, teeth showing in a large, alert
grin, that even Tros came out of his dudgeon at last and laughed.

"You young dogs! You have lost Caesar for me! You would laugh if
Lunden burned."

"Lost him? Wait and see," said Orwic.

"See? You shall see a fight, or I don't know the Romans. They can
overtake Caesar with a message much faster than we can sail to
Seine-mouth. That is why I gave that centurion something for the
messenger to say."

"Why then go to Seine-mouth? Why not leave Caesar whistling?"
Orwic suggested.

"I told Caswallon I will go to Seine-mouth, and I will. I told
Hiram-bin-Ahab I will escort him, and I will. I told Caesar, by
the mouth of Skell, that I will go to Seine-mouth. So I will. I
have promised you a brush with Caesar. You shall have one."

He was grateful for the rising sea, that made it dangerous to
approach the Phoenician closely. He did not want any conversation
with his father just then, felt too sure the old man would forbid
vindictiveness, with his dying breath, perhaps. Tros could not
stomach such an interview. He knew that if his father should
exact such a promise from him he would make it and keep it. He
preferred not to run that risk.

"Let the gods attend to it," he growled, turning to face Conops
at the helm. "My father and the gods are intimates. If it is
right for him to bind me in his violenceless peace before he
dies, let them bring us together."

Conops did not answer. He knew that mood just as well as he knew
that he and Tros could cross that intervening quarter-mile of sea
in a boat, if Tros cared to do it.

They had sailed much rougher seas together, in worse boats than
the hide-and-wicker thing they carried. Conops, lacking an eye
because he had dared to answer Caesar pertly, also would have
obeyed Tros's father if commanded with the old man's dying breath
to let bygones be.

Like Tros, though, he craved no such injunction. He respected the
old man as much as Tros did. Like Tros, loved him well enough to
run all risks to snatch him out of Caesar's hands. But, like Tros
again, knew too well, from grim experience, that the peace of
non-resistance is a warfare that does not suit uninitiated men.
It is easier and more exciting to fight Caesars than to wrestle
with emotions in oneself.

So they boiled and plunged along in the Phoenician's wake, he
standing well out from the shore, until dawn found them nearly
out of sight of land and the gale increasing. It was almost too
rough to keep footing on the deck, but Tros made Orwic drill the
Britons with bow and arrow and train them at imaginary floating
marks with the well-oiled arrow-engines. They grumbled because he
would not let them use up ammunition, even threatened to defy him.

"Very well," he answered. "Fight with bare hands if you choose.
Caesar will be lying up for us in Seine-mouth with all the ships
he can find. If we come on him at night, and see him first, we
may burn his ships. If not, and if he sees us first, we shall be
hard put to it to guard that old Phoenician's rear while he makes
his escape homeward.

"As I know Caesar, we will need every arrow we have, and pray for
more before we're through with him!"

So they loosed bows at an imaginary mark, practicing the quick
combination of hand and eye at any angle that is the secret of
efficient marksmanship.

"Speed," Tros urged them. "Speed! Three arrows in the air at
once, and all aimed straight."

"Caesar will have no arrow-engines," Conops reminded him. "His
warships are laid up for the winter. The best he can get will be
Gaulish fishermen or merchantmen, slow, slower than we are, low
in the water, leaky. Give us half a gale like this one, and--"

"I know Caesar," Tros retorted. "That fox will have a trap set."

And he paced the poop again, pounding his palm in his fist,
pondering, matching his wits against the cleverest Roman
of them all.

His main objective was to escort the Phoenician to open sea and
safety. Would Caesar guess that? Much would depend on what Skell
night have told. If they had thrown Skell into a pest-house and
conversed with him across the dung heap that surrounded it, Skell
might have said almost anything.

Tros made up his mind at last that, whatever Skell had said,
Caesar would conclude now that it was all part of one and the
same trick. Caesar would learn by messenger that two ships, one a
trader, one a captured Roman galley, were acting with forged
documents in close cooperation. He would do his utmost to catch
both ships.

And if he believed that Seine-mouth story at all, he would
probably take such ships as he could get and put to sea, with the
idea of bottling both in the river-mouth if they should enter.
Failing which, if the whole tale were a ruse, he would stand a
good chance of catching both ships in the open. Caesar was the
last man in the world likely to sit still and let things happen
to him.

The second objective--and Caesar might guess that too--was to
place his father, dead or living, among friends. If he should die
there were rites that he, Tros, only he, could properly perform.
Dry land, Britain, Lunden, with the druids helping, was the
proper place for them.

The third objective was to punish Caesar drastically, to capture
Caesar if he could.

He finally made up his mind that Caesar would be no such fool as
to risk his own life in a hurriedly conditioned ship, without
very definite information as to where the enemy might be. He
would send his men to sea, and wait for the cavalry, or whatever
other troops he might have available, at some point whence he
could signal and conduct the operations.

But he was sure of this: That wherever the fighting should take
place, there Caesar would arrive, if it were possible, to take
command if his men were having the worst of it and to seize for
himself the credit in any event.

High noon saw Tros still thinking and Hiram-bin-Ahab hove to,
waiting for him, with a big sea wetting the ships' decks as they
plunged with a couple of miles between them, nearly out of sight
of land.

When Tros had brought his galley within hailing distance and had
quieted his Britons so that he could hear, the Phoenician's mate
howled to him that the man at the masthead had reported three
sails low down on the horizon near the Gaulish shore, proceeding
westward. He added that Tros's father was unconscious in the cabin.

"Has he spoken?"

Tros waited for the answer with his fingers clenched into his
palms, and sighed enormously when it came at last, howled through
a speaking trumpet:

"No-o-o! No word!"

"Then we are not forbidden!"

He slapped Conops on the shoulder.

"Tell your master," he bawled back, "to keep behind me until
nightfall!"  Then he took the lead and set full sail, in order
to arrive within sight of Seine-mouth as near sunset as he could,
sparing his Britons all labor at the oars, making them eat
and rest, using every trick he knew to make them conscious
that the effort of their lives was coming.

There was no more sign of Caesar's ships, although he had Conops
at the masthead, and Conops' one eye was worth a score of other
men's. There was no sign even of fishing boats, a fact not wholly
accounted for by the high sea that was running. Men who fish for
a living often have to haul their nets in half a gale. The sea
was empty, in the way the fields are when a thousand men
lie ambushed.

He dropped anchor and lowered his sail within sound of the surf
that pounded on the mud banks off the estuary, a little too near
sunset to satisfy him entirely, wishing Caesar keener vision than
the eagles whose images were perched on Roman standards.

And there he waited, rolling comfortably in the mud bank's lee,
studying the color of the water and the inshore landmarks, until
Hiram-bin-Ahab came within hail and dropped anchor astern of him.
Then he and Conops rowed to the Phoenician's ship.

"What now?" asked the Phoenician.

But Tros went straight to his father, down under the poop
in the cabin crowded with skins, wicker baskets and a hundred
other marvels for the Alexandrian trade. There were several
nightingales* in a wicker cage, and a starling with a cut tongue,
who could talk a dozen words.

---------
* In Cleopatra's reign, a few years later, nightingales were
plentiful in the Grove of Eleusis, near Alexandria.
---------

Tros's father lay on the Phoenician's bed, calm as in death,
his eyes closed and the tortured wrists crossed on his breast.
His long gray beard appeared to have been combed by one of
Hiram-bin-Ahab's men, and the torn skin of his ankles had been
wrapped in linen.

_"Tchuh, tchuh, tchuh!_ They racked his joints apart!" said
the Phoenician.

Conops knelt by the tortured feet, muttering Greek blasphemies.
Tros stood scowling, hands behind him, grinding strong teeth.

"Has he spoken?" he asked.

"Not a word," said the Phoenician.

But it was as if the old man had reserved his strength for what
he knew was coming. His lips moved two or three times. Then the
voice came, as if from another world, as if the soul had left the
body and were using it for one last communication. It was so dark
Tros could hardly see his father's face.

"Tros, my son, you would obey my will. But that is not my will.
I, who was a fighter in my youth, ceased from fighting with men's
weapons. But I, Perseus, sowed the seeds of fighting when I
fathered you. And now knowing the full strength of your obedience
you dread what I will lay upon you. But I forbid nothing; since
the seed that may not sprout in one way breaks forth in another.

"Hear my last words and remember them. All warfare is with self.
All that you know of Caesar is your own image, cast in the
reflection of your own unconscious thought. Be brave. Be noble.
You shall know strange seas.

"But you shall not slay Caesar, though you try, since that is
others' destiny. Caesar shall serve you, and you shall serve him,
each to the other's undoing, but many things will happen before
that time. And now, my son Tros, I have finished with the body
that begat yours and its wanderings. In your hands, Tros, I leave
it. Let it not be cast into the sea or lie unburied."

So Perseus died, in darkness, in a creaking ship, the silence
pulsed with heavy breathing and stirred by the fluttering of
nightingales in a swaying wicker cage. After a long while Tros
and Conops wrapped the body carefully and rowed it to the galley,
where they laid it on the bed that had been Caesar's and covered
it with Caesar's own cloak.

Then Tros returned to the Phoenician and said good-by to him.

"For whether I fail tonight, or whether I succeed, you must run
when Caesar's ships come hurrying in on the tide. Your man saw
three ships. There were likely six or seven; maybe more. Caesar
has seen us anchor here. He will think we await the tide to take
us up the river.

"I am sure that beacon, yonder to westward, where a hill looms
back of the coastline, is his signal to the ships to come out
from their hiding place and follow us up-river.

"So now you and I put to sea again, showing no lights, and when
the last of Caesar's ships puts in, I follow! But you turn
homeward. God give you a fair wind, Hiram-bin-Ahab! And may we
meet again!"





CHAPTER XXVI

"NEITHER ROME NOR I FORGIVE!"

Speak not to me of forgiveness until ye first learn to forgive
yourselves for all the treacheries with which ye have betrayed
that Inner Light of which ye are the shrines, each one of you.
It is a dark saying, but I tell you: None can forgive or be
forgiven, who hath not learned to forgive himself his sins
against himself.

--From the Sayings of the Druid Taliesan



Tros boiled with mixed emotions. Had his father, dying,
not assured him he would live and know strange seas? Could
this night's venture fail, then? Such men as Perseus speak
prophetically on a deathbed.

Tortures such as Caesar had inflicted flay away personal values
and leave nothing in the thought but sheer fact, which was why
courts applied torture to witnesses. If they had tortured the
judges, too, there might have been some sense in it.

He should not slay Caesar, since that was others' destiny. Might
he not capture Caesar? He and the Roman were to serve each other,
each to the other's undoing. Nothing in that about not punishing
Caesar first.

With all his heart and strength, with all his cunning, to the
limit of the bold, storm-daring will that glowed behind his amber
eyes, Tros burned to punish Caesar. He was in a mood that night
to kill a hundred men, if only the lean rascal who had conquered
Gaul might pay the price.

And dark night favored him. Wind howled in the rigging, but there
was not much weight behind it, and presently the rain came down
in torrents, beating the waves flat. Tide served the Romans too,
perfectly. Two hours before midnight he could count eight swaying
lights to westward, and knew he had outguessed Caesar. The Roman
ships were coming into Seine-mouth from some hiding place along
the coast; they were sure he and the Phoenician were up the river
and that they could cut off their escape.

But the galley wallowed in the murk a good two miles to windward
of them, under a scrap of sail, with the oars a-dip at intervals
to keep her from drifting inshore. Farther, still, to seaward
Hiram-bin-Ahab's ship lay hove to, waiting for the last Roman
light to sway clear of Seine-mouth shoals and turn up-river
before she filled away with the northerly wind abeam and plunged
for home.

The shore line was invisible. But Caesar had set that beacon on a
hilltop to guide his own ships. Now another light appeared, up
the estuary, big, low down, almost as if a house were burning
near the shore line.

"Caesar," said Tros to himself. "That's where the troops are
waiting. Hah! He'll have twenty or thirty boats there, hidden
among the reeds. And he's as sure I'm up the river as I'm
sure--Conops," he exclaimed, taking the helm himself, "tide's
been making four hours. We've got until it turns--not a minute
longer! Up-river, at grips with Caesar--out again on the
flow at daybreak."

"And the dirtiest mess of mud shoals ever a ship sat on!" Conops
retorted. "Wind enough to drive her beak in as if she'd grown
there! A heavy sea astern!"

"Make sail," Tros answered. "Then get forward and take soundings.
Keep on crying me the cubits until I say 'Cease.' If we do hit
bottom, hurry aft and stand by me."

Came the creak and groan and thunder of a mainsail rising,
impatient shouts from Conops; then the galley heeled and headed
straight for Seine-mouth with a burst of rain behind her, that
curtained everything except a glimpse of foam boiling in the
pitch dark.

Nothing but the wind to steer by; no sign of Caesar's beacons.
Thunder, solid and continuous, of surf on mud banks; then
friendly thunder, from the sky, lightning, that made Tros swear
at first, until he laughed aloud.

It showed him a line of white surf boiling over shoals, and
Caesar's eight ships wallowing too close to it. Mean little
ships, Gaulish coastwise trading vessels, black with men, not too
near to the shoals if given sea room to the eastward, but much
too near if crowded by an enemy. White water ahead of them, where
the 'tween-shoal channel narrowed.

"Orwic! Four men in the fighting top! Man starboard arrow-engines!
Ten men on the citadel! Line the starboard rail.  Hold fire until
I give the word--dagger the man who shoots without permission!"

Flash after flash of lightning. Eight ships staggering before the
wind in rough formation like a flight of geese, the shorter arm
of the V to eastward. They were all too close together, aiming
for a channel they evidently knew, too watchful to look behind
them, or the lightning might have shown them the galley's
sail in time.

"Ten!" howled Conops, pitching his shrill voice against the wind.
The galley drew seven cubits.

"Stand by! Ready, all!" Tros thundered, not changing the helm a
hair's breadth, trusting memory.

"Nine!" yelled Conops.

Then three vivid lightning-flashes in succession, and Tros did
change the helm--excitedly. He saw dark water, headed for it.

"Eight!" yelled Conops, as if the end of the world had come.

He was heaving the lead from the starboard chains. The galley's
port side bumped the mud and her stern swung westward. But she
heeled, for they did not let go the sheet, and the next wave, and
the next, that crashed against the high poop drove her into
deeper water.

"Ten!" yelled Conops, hurrying aft, for she had hit the mud, and
that was orders. "Deep water straight ahead, sir!" he bellowed in
Tros's ear.

"Aye! And shallow to westward! We have them!" Tros answered. He
was laughing, not at what the lightning showed, for that was
tragedy; no sailor laughs to see men drown. He was laughing at
his Britons, drenched to the skin, their bow-strings wrapped dry
in their cloaks, who had not even known they were in danger when
they bumped the mud!

The Romans had seen him at last. They were in panic, with a
boiling shoal on their right hand and an enemy coming down on
them to windward. The rain ceased, but the wind rose.

Caesar's beacon shone out of the night like something that had
been asleep. There was another, lower light to shoreward of it.
Tros guessed they showed the channel and set his course straight
for the two, keeping them in line, with the wind on his port
quarter, racing to crowd those eight ships on the shoal to
westward of the channel, where the estuary curved to the
eastward. He had the wind of them and, slow though the galley
was, she could outsail any of those eight.

Three ships clawed around and tried to beat to sea again. He
could hear the thumping and the shouts as they struggled to man
the oars. One ship's sail went with a crack as if her mast had
gone, too. One was swamped within a bowshot of the galley's bows.

Tros beaked the third, driving the great iron-shod ram into her
broadside, rolling her over and sinking her as the galley pitched
on a wave.

The Britons squandered arrows, orders or no orders, Orwic with
the rest of them, smiting Conops on the mouth, backhanded, when
the Greek tried to pull him away from the poop arrow-engine. Then
arrows began to rain on the galley's deck from the five ships
that struggled with wind and tide like dancing phantoms in the
wedge-shaped channel entrance.

One of them went aground and the waves burst over her with a din
like thunder. Four, under staggering oars and badly handled sail,
raced neck and neck, masking one another's fire, Roman-fashion
risking all in one supreme effort to grapple and have the fight
out on the bireme's deck.

Tros beaked the nearest as she swung, with her sheets let go, but
a dozen Romans leaped into the bireme's bows, where they were
massacred with arrow fire from Orwic's engine, that came near
cutting down the Britons who rushed to use their swords.

There was no discipline. No order, no command could have been
heard above the shouting and the crash of breaking ships.

Two more of Caesar's ships collided, and Tros beaked them both,
breaking the first on the bows of the other and leaving both to
drift on the deafening shoal. But their arrows swept the citadel,
and the shock of collision had stopped the bireme's way, nearly
splitting the sail.

Conops let both sheets go in the nick of time to save the bireme
from capsizing. And before they could get the mainsail sheeted
down again, with ten of Orwic's Britons dragged and driven
aft to help the sailors, the last of Caesar's ships had
crashed alongside.

Grapples struck into the deck and pierced the bulwark. Fifty of
Caesar's legionaries leaped up the bireme's side, and the fight
was on in darkness, with the two ships grinding together in the
trough of steep waves.

Then the beacon lights went out, or else were screened. The wind
increased to a full gale, and though the moon showed once or
twice between the racing clouds there was nothing to show the
channel's course. The Romans, silent, shoulder to shoulder on the
heaving deck, were driving the Britons fore and aft in front
of them.

Tros trusted then to the gods, and his father's prophecy, and the
strength of the Roman's grappling chains. He put the helm hard
up, until the small ship struck the mud and the bireme's weight
hammered her into it.

Then he sprang from the poop, let go the sheets and, with a shout
that the Britons heard above the din of sea and crashing timbers
and loose sail, plunged into the fight.

Part of the bireme's bulwark broke away. She swung down wind in
mid-channel, anchored by the other grapnel to the wrecked,
swamped, smaller ship, tugging at it like a hooked sea monster,
until none could keep his footing and Tros nearly rolled through
the gap in the broken bulwark, at grips with a Roman centurion.

Blood and spray churned into scum. A dozen Britons, cornered in
the bow, loosed flight after flight of arrows humming through the
darkness, so that both sides struggled for the shelter of the
citadel. And it was there that Tros's long sword began to turn
the tide of battle, for he caught the stoutest Roman of them all
and skewered him through the throat against the bulkhead.

Then Orwic sprang beside him from the shadow, dripping blood from
scalp wounds--his Roman helmet had gone overboard--and Conops
found Tros, guarding his back with a flickering two-edged knife.
They three swept that section of the deck, rallying other Britons
to them, until Tros thought of a ruse. But as he thought
of it the bireme broke the grapnel chain at last and plunged
up-channel, beam to the waves and swaying drunkenly before
the wind.

So he seized Orwic's quivering arm and tugged him--no need to
signal Conops, who was like a dog at his master's heel. They
three, and a dozen after them, sprang for the poop, where Conops
took the helm and tried to keep mid-channel. Tros stood sword in
hand at the edge of the poop bull-bellowing, in Latin, lungs
out-thundering the din:

"Omen! An omen! Caesar's eagle, falling from the sky!"

His voice burst on a pause. Briton and Roman were gathering for
another rush. The Romans, superstitious about omens to the verge
of madness, turned to look at him.

The eagle they saw was Tros, feet first, leaping on them from the
poop. He landed on two men, ran a third through the head, and
vanished scrambling away into the darkness of the scuppers. Orwic
came next. Almost before the Briton's feet touched deck Tros was
up beside him and they two charged forward, bellowing:

"Lud of Lunden! Lud of Lunden!"

The Britons rallied to that cry until all the deck was clear,
except of dead and dying, and there were only half a dozen Romans
left to deal with, who had fought their way into the citadel and
held it.

Tros left the Britons to attend to that. He looked for the crew,
and found them at last, below-deck, hiding among water casks. He
hauled them out of darkness one by one, cuffed them and drove
them on deck. The bireme had worked under the lee of a low
hill and was turning slowly in mid-current, drifting toward
unimaginable mud banks over which the waves were gurgling as a
river gurgles when it overflows the fields.

Tros left Conops at the helm and drove the crew forward, where he
belabored them until they dropped the heavy anchor overside and
the bireme came head to wind at last.

For a while he waited in the bow, watching to discover whether
the anchor dragged or held; but there was nothing to judge by; he
could see no land-marks, only gloom, and beyond it a long, deep
shadow that was land.

The Britons were busy stripping Romans of their armor; he heard
them drag the last one from the citadel; heard the splash as the
body went overboard, then Orwic's voice:

"Nine-and-forty! Not bad! How many have we lost?"

There was a long pause, full of murmurings. Tros sat down on the
bitts, rubbing bruises thoughtfully, feeling himself from head to
foot, his spirits falling, falling as the minutes sped, and the
count was not yet done. At last Orwic's voice again:

"Are you sure that's all? Seven-and-twenty dead. How many hurt?"

Again a long count, interspersed with argument as to whether or
not a sword slash was an injury. Then an answer:

"Two-and-thirty."

"Almighty Zeus!" Tros murmured. "One-and-forty of a hundred fit
to fight, and Caesar waiting for me down the river! Caesar with
eight ships and about four hundred men! Caesar with wind in his
favor and dawn to see by! Caesar and all Gaul to draw from! Hah!"
he laughed, heaving himself to his feet, "but I'll con the
channel seaward by the bones of ships! By Caesar's grief, I'll
find the way!"

No lights. He did not dare to show a light, not even in the hold
among the water casks where they laid the wounded, with a few men
who could crawl around to serve out water to them, binding wounds
by the feel with thread-drawn linen that Caswallon's wife had
sent aboard.

The dead they laid on the deck in one long row, face upward, and
covered with the spare sail. Then Tros cast about for the
strongest men and sent them to the benches, fifteen to each side.

There were scarce two hundred arrows left of all the thousands
they had brought with them, and though they added to the number
scores more that the Romans had shot into the woodwork, there
were even then not more than ten or eleven excited Britons could
use up in as many minutes.

Then a leak to plug, below the water-line, where one of the ships
the bireme beaked had opened up a seam; thereafter, the scared
and sulky seamen to be driven into the rigging to patch that, and
to get the sail rebent where the wind had wrenched it from
the spar.

Then gray dawn; sea-birds crying over wastes of marsh; gulls
screaming where a corpse lay drifting in the mist; wind still in
the north, but less of it; a great swell rolling up the estuary
and lumping where it met the tide that had begun to flow
down-river. "Up anchor, Conops!"

Oars, and only thirty weary men to man them, the bireme beginning
to feel the flowing tide, but prone to swing before the wind,
and bucking on the lumpy water so that the oarsmen repeatedly
missed stroke.

No drum for fear of warning Caesar. Groans from the dark hold, as
discouraging as the chilly daybreak, but a fog coming in on the
wind in hurrying gray wisps, with patches of clear air between,
for which Tros thanked the gods of Gaul.

"If only Caesar sleeps."

The wish was father to that thought, as always. Tros's eyes were
heavy. Every fiber of him ached from too much strain and no
relief. His head swam and things multiplied themselves. He had to
look three times to see a land-mark once. The wrecks of Caesar's
ships, glimpsed between scurrying drifts of gray, seemed never in
the same place twice.

But minute by minute the tide flowed faster, the wind lessened
and the fog increased. There was no sound but the surge of water,
the muffled thump of oars, and the cry of sea-birds. Tros could
sense a coming shift of wind, and he knew he had twice as much
searoom as the night before, because the tide was higher.

"All's well, master! We have given him the slip!" said Conops as
the first wreck loomed in the fog for a moment and vanished astern.

He was heaving the lead from the poop, lest the sound of his
voice should carry as he cried the changing depths.

But Tros knew Caesar was the last man in the world to leave an
outrage to the Roman dignity and eight vessels unavenged.

"Drum now!" he ordered. "I want every last tremble of speed!"

Speed now. Nothing else counted. If Caesar was not in the neck of
the channel waiting for him, all the warning in the world would
reach the Romans too late. If he were there, nothing mattered but
the impact.

There was only one way that Caesar could prevent him from
escaping. Somewhere, somehow he might have collected small boats
and have moored them across the channel, using a stout cable
anchored at both ends.

That was what Tros argued he would have done in Caesar's place,
with every available man who could be crowded into the boats,
ready to jump aboard the bireme when she struck the cable.

"Faster! Faster!" he commanded, peering forward on the port
side for a glimpse of wrecks, stamping his foot to set time
for the drum.

"Zeus!" he exclaimed suddenly.

He swung his whole weight against the steering oar, as a shower
of arrows and a dozen javelins twanged aboard out of the fog.

"Row, you Britons, row!"

There were boats alongside, crowded with men. Caesar had
outguessed him! Straight ahead, moored beam on to the channel,
rolled two of the wrecks that had been floated in the night, and
only Caesar would have thought of that! Caesar, and only Caesar
could have done it. Only in the nick of time Tros saw the
movement as they wallowed in the swell, and knew they did not
mark the channel but obstructed it. In another second he would
have struck the mud bank to the right of them. Their decks were
black with men, and as he swung the helm he caught one glimpse of
Caesar's scarlet cloak, on the left-hand ship. Then the mist, and
a hail of arrows whistling through it.

"Row!" he ordered, his voice cracking with excitement.

For a marvel his eleven Britons had not fired an arrow. Orwic
jumped to the port-side arrow-engine just as the bireme's beak
struck Caesar's floated wreck amidships and the crash threw every
rower off his bench.

"Drum! Drum!" Tros thundered. "Back to your benches! Row! For Lud
o' Lunden--row!"

He heard the cable break, and through the ghosting mist he saw
one hulk go swinging toward the mud to starboard, a volley of
arrows from her rattling into the bireme's bulwark, short by the
length of the swing.

But Caesar's hulk was on the ram, transfixed by it and sinking,
holed under the bilge. Nine-tenths of the way was off the bireme.
She was down by the head and refused to steer. The crowded boats
were overtaking her. Unless the heave of the groundswell should
shake off the wreck from her ram, the game was up!

"Orwic! Lay your arrow-engine forward! Caesar is on that wreck
ahead of us!"

But Caesar was not. He was over the bireme's bows already like a
god out of the opal morning in his scarlet cloak, alone, and
beckoning to his men. Orwic fired point-blank at him, and missed
with all twelve arrows. Before he could load again there were a
dozen legionaries on the bow, shields locked and Caesar in their
midst. "Row! Row!" Tros thundered.

He did not dare let go the helm. The pursuing boats were thumping
through the mist and the air was whistling with arrows. But one
of Caesar's legionaries blew a trumpet blast. The arrows ceased.
Then Caesar's voice, calm, with a hint of laughter:

"Tros! I believe you know me. I advise you to surrender
at discretion."

Tros swung the helm. He had a chance yet. Conops hurled his knife
at Caesar, but it clanged on a soldier's shield. Ten Britons
clustered beside Orwic, crouching, forgetting bows and arrows,
ready with their swords.

"Come on!" cried Orwic, and led them, all leaping from the poop
and rushing forward past the citadel.

Marvel of all marvels, the thirty oarsmen never missed a stroke!
The bireme was gaining headway, lurched, shook herself, buried
her bow as a heavy wave passed under her stern, shook the wreck
free from her ram and crushed it on the down plunge.

The shock of that sent the charging Britons staggering in a heap
against the citadel, but the Romans, shoulder to shoulder with
locked shields, contrived to keep their footing. Then the oars
struck wreckage. An oar broke.

"Drum! Drum!" Tros thundered. "Slow beat! One-two! One--two!
Stick to it, you Britons!"

Then, as they cleared the wreckage: "Conops, take the helm!"

He drew his sword. A Roman hurled a javelin at him, but he dodged
it. Orwic and his ten were out of sight beyond the citadel. Tros
knew where they were by the eyes of the Romans, who were watching
them, alert to repel the expected charge.

Caesar seemed to be listening for the oar-beat of his own boats,
but the wind, that had fallen calm, began to shift to westward,
blowing the mist along in front of it. A sudden vista between
hurrying fog banks revealed the fleet of small boats scattered
hopelessly astern.

"Caesar!" said Tros, laying his left hand on the arrow-engine. "I
believe you know me. I advise you to surrender at discretion!"

Caesar laughed. Less than a second later Tros knew why. Orwic
chose that instant for the charge. He and his ten Britons leaped
up on the bow and hurled themselves against the locked shields,
with their own backs protecting Caesar and his men from
arrow-fire. The Romans were past masters at that kind of
fighting. The shields rose and fell almost leisurely, blocking
attack, wearing down the adversary. Tros could see Caesar's lips
move as he spoke to his men in low tones, and though they stood
the Britons off with shield and sword they made no effort to
force them backward off the bow. Orwic's point slew one man, but
the locked shields merely closed the gap.

"You are a bold rogue, Tros!" said Caesar, in his pleasantest,
amused voice that carried the effortless vibration learned in
Rome's schools of oratory.

A Briton hurled a short spear at him, but he ducked it without
taking his eyes off Tros.

"Today, it would appear you have the best of it. Tomorrow
--who knows?"

Orwic pulled his men off. He knew no Latin, thought all this was
talk about surrender. But the Britons were still in the way of
the arrow-engine's fire. Tros whispered to Conops and signaled,
trying to catch Orwic's eye but it was Caesar who saw the signal.
He made a superb gesture to Orwic, as if about to surrender to
him. It deceived Tros for a moment, and it was to him, not to
Orwic, that Caesar spoke:

"I don't doubt, Tros, you are a man of discrimination, who will
realize that Caesar's ransom is worth more to you than Caesar's
dead body. Whereas you are worth nothing to me, dead or alive.
And there is no one, Tros, whom I will crucify with less
compunction when the proper time shall come!"

His eyes were on Tros, so he did not notice Conops signaling to
Orwic. Orwic whispered to his men, but apparently Caesar was
unaware of that, too. He went on speaking:

"I advise you, Tros, to think of your predicament, since it is
dangerous to be the enemy of Rome, fatal to be the foe of Caesar!
Neither Rome nor I forgive! Farewell!"

Almost without a gesture he turned and dived into the sea. The
Britons sprang aside. Tros loosed a flight of arrows, but they
clanged against raised shields, piercing them, sweeping down
three legionaries.

Two followed Caesar, plunging after him feet first, but their
armor dragged them under. Orwic and his Britons slew the rest,
hacking them down as they tried to re-form the broken line.

"Arrows! Arrows!" Tros roared, reloading the arrow-engine,
watching the waves.

Caesar's bald head, and the scarlet cloak behind it, appeared
after a moment. Tros fired, but Caesar ducked, and all twelve
arrows missed.

Caesar shook off the scarlet cloak and towed it, breasting the
waves like a grampus, plunging into them and swimming under water
when the Britons took pot shots at him, until he disappeared into
the mist.*

----------
* Caesar was an extraordinarily strong swimmer, and a more than
usually bold one, in spite of vicious self-indulgence that should
have ruined the physique and nerve of any ordinary man. He often
swam wide rivers, whose current was strong enough to hold up the
engineers and their pontoons. The best known of his recorded
swimming feats is the incident at Alexandria, where he was caught
on the mole between forces advancing from either end. He escaped
by jumping into a rough sea and swimming, dodging missiles and
dragging his cloak after him, until picked up by a ship.
----------

There was too little sea room, too much fog and tide to turn the
bireme and pursue him. His cold, amused laugh mocked Tros across
unseen waves.

"By Lud of Lunden, that's a clever fellow who ought to have been
born a Briton!" said Orwic, with the end of a cloth in his teeth
as he was bandaging a sword slash in his arm.

"By Jupiter of Rome, he will become one by conquest!" Tros
retorted savagely, hating himself, above all hating deathbed
prophecies, that undermined a man's nerve, and created indecision.

Prophecy or not, he told himself the gods had delivered Caesar
into his hand. He, Tros, had failed them.

"Conops!" he roared. "The crew are skulking in the forehold.
Rouse them with a rope's end! Make sail! Easy now, oars! The wind
and tide serve."





CHAPTER XXVII

THE BRITISH CHANNEL

The islands, the lands and the oceans are parts of the earth. The
rivers are its veins. And even so, I tell you, races and peoples
are parts of the Being of Man. Answer me then: should a finger
destroy an arm for the sake of gain or pride or malice? Does the
mountain hate the valley? Does the valley accuse the plain of
enmity? And yet you fools make war on one another.

--From the Sayings of the Druid Taliesan



Another westerly gale. The bireme plunged and rolled, not
shipping much water, because Tros was at the helm, but swinging
her fighting top like a pendulum. The working crew of British
fishermen was miserably seasick.

Tros, amber eyes heavy with weariness, his great jaw grinding,
shaking his head at intervals to throw the black hair from his
eyes, steered a course far closer inshore than was necessary to
make Thames-mouth; from the mouth of the Seine he might have
stood nearly due east toward the Belgian sands in order to take
full advantage of wind and tide.

Orwic was still wearing his Roman costume, but his moustache
spoiled the effect and so did the fair hair that fell to his
shoulders. He swung himself up from the hold and climbed the poop
by the broken ladder. For a minute or two he leaned overside and
vomited, then worked his way hand-over-hand along the rail toward
Tros and pointed at the coast of Britain, where the chalk cliffs
stood like ghosts in a gray mystery of drifting fog.

"Too close," he objected. "A Roman ship--we look like Romans. If
we put in there, they'll"--he leaned overside, but managed to
control himself--"remember the Northmen," he went on. "Two
longships--ran from us toward Pevensey. They'll have burned
some villages. The next foreign-looking ship that runs for
shelter will--"

He vomited again, clinging to the lee rail. Tros waited for him
to recover and then gestured toward the opposite coast of Gaul,
invisible beyond a howling great waste of gray sea.

"I would run in for the sake of the wounded; this cold wind
tortures them. Better a fight with Britons than another brush
with Caesar," he said grimly. "Caesar has had time to reach
Caritia by chariot and put a dozen ships into the water. He has
had time to set a dozen traps. He'll risk storm and everything to
catch and crucify us. Twenty of us fit to fight--crew no
good--torn sail--and who is to man the oars?"

"But if you hug the shore our own Britons may put out and throw
fire into us," said Orwic. "That's what we always try to do with
the Northmen."

"Not in this gale," Tros answered. "Of two foes, shun the
stronger. Caesar is the craftiest of Romans. We have stung him,
Orwic. We have made a mock of him before his own men. We have
tricked a prisoner out of his camp by forgery and boldness. We
have made him run; he had to swim for it. And I know Caesar!"

"A pity we didn't catch him."

"Aye, I am ashamed," Tros ground his teeth. "And what shall I say
to Caswallon, who lent me a hundred gentlemen to take Caesar
alive! Half of them dead or wounded--no plunder--nothing to show
him but my father's corpse, for which I must beg obsequies."

"Caswallon will remember who wrecked Caesar's ships off Kent a
while ago. You saved Britain for us, Tros. Caswallon will not
forget that."

But Tros smiled sourly. "It is only grudges that endure. Kings'
memories are as short as Caesar's for a friendship."

Orwic, too weak to argue, lay down near the lee rail, hugging
himself in his cloak. He relished no more than Tros did
the prospect of slinking up Thames with nothing to show
but a foreigner's corpse to offset more than sixty dead
and wounded gentlemen.

Mere seamen would hardly have mattered; but by the irony of fate
not one of the twenty hirelings had suffered a scratch, except
when Tros and Conops hit them with belaying pins or knife-hilts
to stir their energy. In a sense Orwic was as much responsible as
Tros; it was he who had supported Tros first and last; he was
second-in-command of the expedition. Worse! The Lunden girls had
seen the bireme off; they would be waiting now to kiss victorious
warriors--expecting to see Caesar brought forth from the
hold in chains.

Instead of Caesar in his scarlet cloak they would see dead and
wounded friends--relations--lovers.

Orwic was as young and imaginative as the girls who reckoned him
the bravest man in Britain.

Tros gave the helm to Conops, who looked comical in an imitation
Roman tunic, with his red Greek seaman's cap pulled low over his
brow, an impudent nose beneath it, and a slit lip that showed one
eye-tooth like a dog's.

Conops was merely curious to know what was to happen next; he had
perfect confidence in Tros's ability to meet it.

"Keep the wind at the back of your right ear," Tros commanded.
"The tide'll be slack in an hour; watch for the surf on the
quicksands on your starboard bow. Keep clear of that, and follow
the tide around the coast when it starts to make. If there's any
trouble with the crew, wake me."

He went below, into the cabin where his father's body lay, with
Caesar's scarlet cloak spread over it. And for a while he stood
steadying himself with one hand on an overhead beam, watching the
old man's face, that was as calm as if Caesar's tortures had
never racked the seventy-year-old limbs, the firm, proud lip
showing plainly through the white beard, the eyes dosed as in
sleep, the aristocratic hands folded on the breast.

It was dark in there and easy to imagine things. The body moved a
trifle in time to the ship's swaying.

"Sleep on," Tros muttered.

He could not imagine his father dead, not even with the corpse
before his eyes. No sentiment, not much emotion, had been lost
between them. He actually loved his father more that minute than
he had ever done. Perseus had had scant respect for the claims of
human personality.

He had died not cursing and not blessing Caesar, utterly
indifferent to Caesar's crimes provided his own acts should pass
the critical judgment of his own conscience. Tros on the other
hand ached for revenge. He was determined to have it.

He could not have explained why. He had inherited his father's
passion for free will and full responsibility, each man for his
own acts. He did not question his father's right to submit to
torture rather than reveal to Caesar the least hint of what the
secrets of the Samothracian and Druidic Mysteries really were; he
would have done the same himself.

Nor did he question his father's right to be unvindictive; he was
rather proud of the old man's conquest over self to the point
where he could suffer torture and not shriek for vengeance. He
was immensely proud to be the old man's son.

Yet love him, in any ordinary sense, he knew he never had done;
and, strangely enough, he hardly hated Caesar. He was the enemy
of Caesar; he despised his vices and admired his genius, loathed
his cruelty and liked his gentlemanly wit.

He lay down and slept. His dreams were all of Caesar, Caesar
standing on the bireme's bow in the mist at Seine-mouth,
laughing, charmingly sarcastic, promising to crucify him by and
by, plunging beneath a flight of arrows into the waves and
continuing to laugh out of a fog-bank while the bireme pitched
over the shoals at river-mouth and left Caesar swimming safely
out of reach.

He did not sleep long. He heard Conops shout from the poop and
sprang out of the cabin, sword in hand ready to deal with mutiny.
But there was no mutiny. Conops and a dozen Britons were staring
at a Gaulish fishing boat not far astern that looked as if it had
been rebuilt by Roman engineers; it was plunging in masses of
spray toward the British coast, making for Hythe in all likelihood.

"Romans, or I'll eat my knife-hilt!" Conops sneered. "Put about,
master, and let's ram them. Did you ever see such land-lubbers!
Can't even quarter the sea. Straight from point to point like a
plowshare into a field of turnips! There--they swamp!"

But the boat was decked, and the deck must have been strong and
watertight. She rose out of a welter of gray sea, dismasted but
right side up, and Tros could see men, who certainly were Romans,
chopping at the rigging with their short swords.

"Go about and ram them," Conops urged again, and Tros considered
that for a minute. But he would likely enough lose his own sail
if he tried to turn in that wind.

"They'll smash on the rocks when the tide carries them inshore,"
he prophesied and went below again to make up arrears of sleep.
He did not wake again until nightfall, when he relieved Conops at
the helm. By that time the tide had carried them well out into
the North Sea. The wind backed suddenly to the northwest,
increasing in strength, and he had to heave to.

There were no stars visible, no moon, nothing to do but pace
the poop to keep warm, judging the drift by the feel of the
wind, with the cries of the wounded and the thought of that
Gaulish-Roman fishing boat with her Roman crew, to haunt and
worry him.

He tried to persuade himself that the boat could not be Caesar's.
But calculations, made and checked a dozen times, assured him
that Caesar would have had time to reach Caritia by chariot from
Seine-mouth and to send that boat in the teeth of the gale across
the channel; in fact, he would have had about two hours to spare,
which was ample in which to choose and instruct men for his
purpose, whatever that might be.

Black night on a raging sea was neither time nor place for shrewd
guessing at Caesar's newest strategy, but Tros did not doubt it
would run true to form and be brilliant if nothing else. To land
a dozen Romans openly on the shore of Briton would be madness; if
they were not killed instantly they would be held as hostages.
Direct overtures to Caswallon would be laughed at--Caesar would
not try any such foolishness as to send messengers to Lunden.
What then?

Caesar's notorious luck would probably throw up his men all
living on the beach, or might even cause the mastless boat to
drift into a sheltered cove. What then? What then?

Even supposing that boat should have been lost with all hands,
the fact remained that Caesar was attempting something. He would
persist. He would send another boat. For what purpose? To avenge
himself on Tros undoubtedly, but how?

Caesar played politics like a game, staking kingdom against
kingdom. Incredibly daring and swift decisions were the secret of
his campaigns; but there was something else, and as Tros paced
the poop, wet to the skin with spray, he tried to analyze what he
knew of Caesar, knowing he must outguess him if he hoped to
escape the long reach of his arm.

He tried for a while to imagine himself in Caesar's place; but
that was difficult; the very breath Tros breathed was the
antithesis of Caesar's. Caesar yearned to impose the Roman yoke
on all the world; Tros burned to see a world of free men, in
which each man ruled himself and minded his own business.

It was that thought, presently, that gave him what he thought
might be the key. Well-bred, vain, self-seeking rascal though
Caesar was, there was something splendid in his method, something
admirable in his constancy of purpose and in his ability to make
men serve him in the teeth of suffering and death. What was it?
In what way was Caesar different from other men?

His vices were unspeakable; his treachery was a byword; his
extravagance was an insult to the men who died for him and to the
nations from whom he extorted money with which to bribe Rome's
politicians. He had personal charm, but that was not enough; men
grow weary of a rogue, however successful and however personally
charming. There was some other secret.

And at last it seemed to Tros he had it. Rome! The glamour of the
word Rome. The idea of Rome as mistress of the world, with all
men paying tribute to her--one law, one senate, one arbiter of
quarrels, one fountain-head of authority. A sort of imitation of
Nature, with the fundamental truth of brotherhood and freedom
left out! Caesar served his own ends, but he served Rome first;
he might loot Rome and make himself her despot, but he would
leave her mistress of the world.

No other people, possibly no other man than Caesar had that
obsession fixed so thoroughly in mind that he himself was almost
the idea. Foreigners might send their spies to Rome and bribe her
public men almost openly, but none could set Roman against Roman
when Rome's profit was in question. On the other hand, Rome sent
spies, or openly acknowledged agents, and successfully set tribe
against tribe, faction against faction, until domestic strife
ensued, and Rome stepped in and conquered.

The Britons, for instance, were divided into petty kingdoms,
jealous of their own kings. Caswallon, when he defeated Caesar
and sent him sneaking back to Gaul by night, had been at his
wits' end to raise an army, even for that purpose. The half of
one British tribe, the Atrebates, lived in Gaul and had accepted
Caesar's rule, under a king of Caesar's making.

The Iceni traded horses to the men of Kent, but fought them
between-times; and as far as the other British tribes were
concerned, they were to all intents and purposes foreigners,
loosely united by occasional marriages but with no real bond
other than Druidism.

The druids taught brotherhood, it was true; but that was too
easily interpreted to mean friendship toward foreigners and
strife at home.

The only enemies the Britons really held in common were the
Northmen, who plundered the coasts whenever their own harvests
failed or their own young men grew restless to wed foreign wives.
But the Britons made friends with the Northmen, intermarried with
them, let prisoners settle in their midst, and absorbed them,
without making them feel they were a part of one united nation.

Self-seeking rogue though he was, then, Caesar was Rome,
to all intents and purposes; or so Tros argued it. Caesar,
driven out of Britain, being Caesar, would never rest until
he had reversed defeat.

Therefore, that boat, undoubtedly containing Romans, must be a
move in Caesar's game, a move that would mean nothing else but an
attempt to set Britons against Britons, since that was all a
handful of men could do in an enemy country.

But Caesar never neglected himself or his own feuds while he
spread Rome's power abroad. He never failed to follow up his
threats; never neglected to avenge a personal defeat. He was not
only Rome, he was Caesar.

Tros had laughed at him, had tricked a prisoner away, had fooled
him, outguessed him, drowned a hundred men and almost caught
Caesar himself. It was safe, then, to wager that, coming so
swiftly after that encounter, the gale-swept Gaulish fishing boat
in some way was connected with revenge on Tros. Successful guile
delighted Caesar even more than winning battles.

It was not unreasonable to suppose that Caesar had sent
messengers in that boat--no doubt with expensive presents--to
tell tales that should reach Caswallon's ears.

As he turned that over in his mind Tros almost decided to run for
the Belgian lowlands and seek refuge there. He did not doubt he
could make good friends among the Belgae. Pride restrained him.
He had made a promise to Caswallon; he would keep it. Those young
gallants who had sailed with him--mutinous cockerels--had their
rights; their dead should be buried in British earth.

But he almost wished the gods might relieve him of responsibility
by sinking the bireme in that raging sea. He was almost willing
to drown just then, provided he might go down handsomely.

Orwic seemed to sense his mood. He threw off the seasickness and
yelled in Tros's ear:

"Lud of Lunden is a good god. He will send us an achievement."

"Achievement," Tros muttered. "And thirty seasick men to wrest it
from destiny!"

For the first time in his life he had begun to think that destiny
might be his enemy and not his friend; that Caesar, the Romans,
Rome, might be fortune's favorites and he and his friends, the
Britons, nothing but grist in the eternal mill.

The wind shrieked through the rigging; bitter cold spray drenched
him. He had to cling to the rail. His eyes ached, staring at
stark, dark seas that pitched the bireme like a cork.

"I will die free. I will set others free. I must! I burn to live!
But is it all worth the burning?" he wondered.





CHAPTER XXVIII

NORTHMEN!

So ye seek peace? Shall ye find it quarreling with one another?

--From the Sayings of the Druid Taliesan


Another day and another night of plunging in a confusing sea,
hove-to half the time, cheating wind and tide by miracles of
seamanship, found Tros wide-eyed at the helm and the bireme's bow
headed at last into the hump-backed waves that guarded the
Thames estuary.

There was no land in sight, but there were sea-birds and a
hundred other signs that gave Tros the direction; he had run in
the dark before a blustering wind, had caught the tide under him
at dawn and was making the most of it, sure he was in midstream
and as confident as a homing pigeon of his exact position, well
along into the Thames.

It was cold, and the wind bore rain with it that drenched the
autumn air and settled into banks of blowing mist through which
the watery sun appeared over the stern like dim, discouraged
lantern-light. The wind howled through the rigging and the sea
swished through the remnants of basketwork that survived on the
bireme's ends. The great ungainly ram sploshed in the steep waves
like a harpooned monster, and now and then the Britons, down in
the hold, screamed from the torture of ill-tended wounds.

Conops relieved Tros at the helm, nodding when told to keep in
mid-tide and to watch for land on the starboard bow. There was a
Briton at the masthead who was afraid of the souls of the dead
gentlemen on deck; and nobody, least of all himself, had any
confidence in him. Tros went forward, to lean over the bow
and think.

He could not throw off despondency. He began to wonder whether
his father had not been right in saying that a man's delight in
action was no better than the animals', that his brain was only a
mass of instincts magnified, and that the soul was the only part
of him worth cultivating.

There lay his father, dead, contented to be dead, with no man's
injury to his discredit. He had died without regret for
unattained ambition, since he had none of the ordinary sort. With
all the resources of the Mysteries of Samothrace to count on, he
had never owned a house; even the stout ship, that Caesar had
ordered burned for the copper she contained, had hardly been his
property, though he had built her and commanded her; he had
regarded her as a gift to the Lords of Samothrace, at whose
behest she had sailed uncharted seas.

But the father had never ached for action as the son did. Tros
had the same compelling impulse to uphold the weak and to defy
the strong, but he had a more material way of doing it. He could
not see the sense of talking, when a blow, well aimed, might
break a tyrant's head. Nor was he totally opposed to tyrants; an
alert and generously guided tyranny appealed to him as something
the world needed; a tyranny that should insist, with force,
on freedom.

"Is there anything more tyrannous than truth?" he wondered,
watching the waves yield and reappear over the ironshod ram.

Even his father had had to admit that a ship, for instance, could
not be managed without despotism. There had never lived a sterner
ship's commander than old Perseus; just though he had been, and
self-controlled, he was a captain who would brook no hesitation
in obeying orders. Yet his father had failed, if the loss
of his ship at Caesar's hands, followed by torture and death,
were failure.

Not even the druids of Gaul, for whose encouragement his father
had set forth from Samothrace, had gained in the least, as far as
Tros could see; and if that was not failure, what was it? Yet his
father had seemed quite contented with the outcome, had died
appearing to believe his failure was success.

Had he, Tros, not the same right to believe this comparative
failure against Caesar was good fortune in disguise? It was only
comparative failure after all. Caesar had had the worst of it,
twice. He had wrecked the greater part of Caesar's fleet. He had
thoroughly worsted Caesar in the fight at Seine-mouth. His father
had never done anything as effective as that.

Was his father's attitude the right one? Or was his? Or were they
both wrong?

Why, for instance, had his father taught him swordsmanship, if
fighting was an insult to the soul, as he contended? Must a man
learn how to do things, and then restrain himself from doing
them? If so, why do anything? Why preach? Why eat and drink? Why
live? What was the use of knowing how to sail a ship, if action
was discreditable? Was war against the elements so different from
war with men? Should he have let the sea win and have drowned,
too proud to fight?

He thought not. He remembered how his father used to fight the
elements; there had been no bolder man in the world. What then?
Ought all men to be seamen and spend life defeating wind and
tide? The mere suggestion was ridiculous. Nine men out of ten
were as utterly incapable of seamanship as they were of
penetrating the Inner Mysteries and living such a life as Perseus
led. Besides, if all did one thing, who should do the other
things that needed doing?

Slowly, very slowly, as he leaned over the bow and watched the
changing color of the estuary water, Tros began to solve the
riddle--of the universe, it seemed to him.

"A man is not a man until he feels the manhood in him," he
reflected. "Then he does what he can do."

That seemed to be the whole of it. Each to his own profession,
born leaders in the van, born blacksmiths to the anvil, born
adventurers toward the skyline--he for one!--and each man
fighting to a finish with whatever enemy opposed him, that enemy
on every battlefield himself, no other!

Good! Tros stiffened his huge muscles and his leonine eyes began
to gleam under his shaggy brows. There was dignity in that
warfare, purpose and plan sufficient, if one should rule himself
so manfully in every chance--met circumstance that victory were
his, within himself, no matter what the outcome!

And now he remembered Perseus' dying speech, and how the old man
had forbidden nothing, not even the sword, but had prophesied for
Tros a life of wandering and many another brush with Caesar. He
and Caesar were to help each other some day!

"Gods! What a prospect!"

Caesar stood for all that Tros loathed: Interference with men's
liberties, imposition of a foreign yoke by trickery and force of
arms, robbery under the cloak of law, vice and violence, lies
gilded and painted to resemble truth. And he was to help Caesar!
Some day!

He laughed. Yet he believed in deathbed prophecies. The thought
encouraged him.

"If I am to help Caesar, and he me, then my time to die is not
yet. For I will injure him with all my might and main until my
whole mind changes!"

He reflected that it takes time for a man's inclination to change
to that extent.

"My will is not the wind," he muttered. "I will live long before
I befriend Caesar."

The wind changed while he thought of it, veering to the
southward, blowing all the mist toward the northern riverbank
until at last the sun shone on a strip of dark-green where the
forest touched the tide-mud and Conops cried, "Land-ho!"
from the poop.

Swiftly then, that being Britain and the autumn, magic went to
work on land-and-sea-scape that changed until both wide-flung
riverbanks gleamed in sunlight and the heaving estuary-bosom
frilled itself with ripples in place of white-caps on the surface
of the waves.

Gray water brightened to steel-blue, stained with brown mud where
the tide poured over the shoals, and the sea-gulls came off shore
in thousands to pounce on mussel-beds before the tide should
cover them.

Then another hail from Conops, and Tros returned to the poop,
his mood changing with the weather. He was already whistling
to himself.

"Yonder!" said Conops, his one eye staring up-river. "Too
much smoke!"

"Mist," remarked Orwic, but the wish was father to the
contradiction.

He had seen that kind of smoke before; had more than one scare to
show for it. One did not admit, until sure, that Northmen might
be raiding British homesteads.

"Smoke," Tros announced after a minute. He could almost smell it.
"Orwic! Caswallon shall welcome us after all!"

Orwic shouted. A dozen Britons came out of the hold, to cluster
on the poop and stare at the smudge on the skyline.

"Northmen!" announced one of them, with an air of being able to
read smoke on the skyline as if it were Celtic script. "Those two
longships Tros refused to fight the other day have found their
way up-Thames. It's Tros's fault. They have stolen a march while
we plucked his oat-cake out of Caesar's fire! By Lud of Lunden,
we were fools to trust a foreigner!"

"Aye, and Lunden burning!" said another.

But that was nonsense; the smoke was much nearer than Lunden.

"Two longships and only thirty of us fit to fight!"

"Tros will want to run away again!" a third suggested.

Conops bared his teeth and Orwic, who had led the earlier mutiny
to his own distress, made signals; but they deferred no more to
Orwic than to Tros. Orwic was only Caswallon's nephew; they were
as good as he, and equally entitled to opinions. Besides, as
second-in-command, Orwic was responsible along with Tros for
failure to capture Caesar, and that, added to jealousy, was
excuse enough for ignoring his signals.

"Any man can sail a ship up-river," one of them suggested brazenly.

Tros almost brayed astonishment. He had thought he had tamed
those cockerels. Cold, seasickness and battle on the deck had
reduced the hired crew to the condition of whipped dogs, but
these young aristocrats appeared to recover their nerve the
moment they smelt a Northmen.

It had not yet filtered into Tros's understanding how warfare
with the men from over the North Sea was a heritage, almost a
privilege, a sport, in which serfs were the prizes and women the
side bets. To mention Northmen near the coast of Britain was like
talking wolf to well-trained hounds.

"Caswallon gave the command of this ship to Tros," said Orwic,
standing loyally by his appointed chief.

Whereat they laughed. They were in their own home waters; not
Caswallon himself might overrule their free wills! Each man
thrilled to one and the same impulse. Some of the wounded crawled
on deck and, learning what the commotion was about, cried out to
Tros to get after the Northmen instantly, hoof, hair and teeth!

"I, too, am minded to make the acquaintance of these Northmen,"
Tros remarked, and they grinned, although they did not quite
believe him; from what they already knew of him, he was too
cautious and conservative to lead them into the kind of fight
they craved.

"We will introduce you," a youngster answered. "We will show you
what fighting is!"

"You!" Tros answered; and they all backed forward along the poop
because his sword was drawn, although none saw it whip out of the
sheath. With his left hand he picked up a Roman shield.

"Orwic! Stand by!"

The other Britons began to jeer at Orwic, although they chose
their words, for there was none but Tros who had ever beaten him
on horse or foot.

"Silence!" Tros thundered, tapping with his sword-point
on the deck.

One or two laughed, but rather feebly, and they all grew still
before the rapping ceased, most of them clutching at their
daggers, glancing at one another sidewise.

"Must I teach you young cockerels another lesson? Lud of Lunden!
How many arrows have you? Not a hundred! You squandered arrows
against Caesar by the basketful. Do you think Northmen will stand
still to have their throats cut? Idiots!"

"We know how to fight Northmen," one man piped up. "We'll
show you!"

"You? Show me?" Tros thundered.

He took a long stride forward and they backed away, uncomfortably
close now to the poop edge; there was no rail there to lean against.

"By Lud, I'll beat the brains out of the first who speaks again
without my leave!" He meant it, and they knew it. "Who has
anything to say?"

His sword-blade flickered like a serpent's tongue; he seemed able
to meet all eyes simultaneously.

"Who speaks?" he repeated; but none answered him.

They could back away no farther; to advance meant instant death
to two or three at any rate, and whether or not Orwic should take
Tros's side.

"At your hands I have suffered failure," Tros went on. "It carks
in me. I went for Caesar. I bring back dead and wounded men.
Whose fault is that? Yours, you disobedient young devils! By the
gods who grinned when you wasted arrows, it shall be my fault if
I fail again! Now hear me! Not a man aboard this bireme shall see
Lunden until we beat the Northmen first! Who questions that?"

He paused dramatically, but there was no answer. He had stolen
their thunder by threatening to do what they had first proposed,
like yielding to a wrestler's hold in order to upset him.

"Less than a hundred arrows! Not one throwing-spear! A torn sail!
Two-score swordsmen fit to stand up! You have nothing but me to
depend on! Eat that! Any one question it?"

"You can handle the ship," said one of them. He seemed afraid to
hear his own voice.

"Can I?" Tros's voice rang with irony. "Does any of you question
that I will?"

"Come! No ill-temper, Tros. Nobody doubts your seamanship,"
another man piped up. "We have had proof enough of that."

"Not proof enough! Nay, by Lud of Lunden, not yet enough!
Seamanship includes the art of choking mutiny! Who doubts that I
command this ship and every Briton in her? Speak up! Who doubts
it? I will abolish doubt!"

"Caswallon gave you the command. That is all right," said one of
them. "Only lead us against the Northmen, that is all."

"Lead? I will drive you!" Tros retorted. "Stand out, the man who
thinks I can't. Come on and let's settle the question. What?
Haven't I a rival? Down off my poop then! Down you go!"

He strode after them, point-first, and they scrambled off the
poop in laughter at their own defeat. So Tros saw fit to smile
too, as they crowded in the waist to hear the rest of what he had
to say.

"Northmen," he laughed, pecking at the planking with his
swordpoint. "I will give you such a belly-full of Northmen as you
never dreamed. To your benches now! Out oars!"

And they obeyed. They had promised they would row when called on.
They had disobeyed him more than once, and it was true that they
had squandered ammunition contrary to orders--true that, unless
he could think of some expedient, they would be helpless against
the two or three hundred men the Northmen probably could muster.

But they also obeyed because it dawned on them that Tros was sick
at heart from having lost so many men without a victory to show
for it, and that he was bent on snatching a revenge from destiny.

Thirteen oars aside began to thump in unison, not adding much to
the bireme's speed, but adding a great deal to the unanimity; and
presently Tros added twenty more, compelling the hired seamen to
man the empty benches, taking the helm himself. The wind was
falling; the sail flapped half of the time, but the tide served
and with forty-six oars the headway was good enough.

He did not want to move too fast. He had never fought Northmen,
although Caswallon and Orwic had told him of their methods--how
they usually landed from two ships on two sides of a village and
fought their way toward each other, burning as they went, to
create a panic.

And he knew the British method of opposing them, by throwing fire
into their ships if they could come alongside, and by cutting
down trees in the forest for a rampart against them when they
landed and advanced on foot.

The hundred young men he had taken with him on his venture
against Caesar constituted practically the whole of Caswallon's
available fighting force in any sudden emergency. Excepting
Lunden, which was only a little place, there were no towns from
which to draw levies at a moment's notice; British settlements
were scattered and Britons disinclined to obey their chief unless
they saw good and sufficient reason for it, so it would take time
to summon an army and Caswallon was probably in desperate straits.

It was late in the year for Northman raids, but if these were the
two ships that Tros had refused to fight in the channel on his
way to attack Caesar they might be on one of their usual
plundering expeditions; in which case they would be in force and
with their line of retreat extremely alertly guarded. Thirty men
would be next to useless as an independent force against them and
the only hope would be to reach Caswallon somehow and support him.

But it might be that the Northmen's home harvests had failed and
they were up to their old game of wintering in Britain, doing all
the damage within reach in order to force an armistice and
contributions of supplies. In that event they would not be
considering retreat, their ships might be unguarded and it might
be possible to come on them unawares.

It seemed to Tros, and Orwic confirmed the opinion, that the
smoke came from both sides of the river. The man at the masthead
was equally sure of it, and those were his home waters; he knew
every contour of the Thames.

That might mean that the Northmen were divided, one ship's crew
plundering on either bank; which was likely enough, since it
would be good strategy, obliging Caswallon to divide his own
forces and making it more difficult for him to gather men into
one manageable unit. The Britons were probably in scattered tens
and dozens being beaten in detail for lack of one directing mind.

"A man does what he can," Tros reflected, glancing upward
at the heavy fighting top that might be visible from a long
way off up-river.

He called the man down from the masthead, then turned to Orwic.

"You and Conops take axes. Cut the shrouds on the port side. Then
chop the mast down!"

He called the hired seamen away from the oars, lowered and stowed
the sail, set ten of them hauling on the starboard shrouds and
gave the word to Orwic. Three dozen ax-strokes and the mast went
over with a crash, increasing the damage to the bulwark done by
Caesar's grapnels. Swiftly they chopped away the starboard
rigging and Tros sent the seamen below to their oars again.

"And now," said Orwic, "I obeyed you, and I don't know why.
Without a sail how can we attack two swift ships?"

Tros was not fond of explanations; they are usually bad for
discipline; but he conceded something to Orwic's prompt
obedience, which was a novelty to be encouraged.

"We should have lost the wind around the next bend anyhow. I
would have had to take men from the oars to man sheets and
braces. The Northmen are faster; we couldn't have run, sail or no
sail. Gather all the arrows into one basket, set them by the
starboard arrow-engine, and listen to me. I'll kill you if you
loose one flight before I give the word!"

He did not dare to use the bull-hide drum to set time for the
rowing, for the sound of drum carries farther over water than the
thump of oars between the thole-pins; he had to rely on gestures
and his voice.

The bireme was in mid-tide, gliding up-river rapidly; the shore
was narrowing in on either hand, with shoal-water projecting
nearly into midstream at frequent intervals. The smoke of two
burning villages, a dozen miles apart and one on either side of
the river, was already diminishing from brown to gray and the
nearest--not two miles up-river--appeared of the two to be the
more burnt out. Tros began to whistle to himself.

Between the bireme and the nearest smoke there was a belt of
trees that crept down to the river's edge on the starboard hand.
The trees were lower nearer the water, but even so, now that the
mast was gone, they formed an effective screen behind which he
could approach without giving warning because the deep-water
channel followed the bank closely.

"Orwic," he said quietly, "your Lud of Lunden is a good god, and
the Northmen are on both sides of the river. Listen!"

A horn-blast and then another rang through the woods on the
starboard hand. They were answered by two more, from not faraway.

"Are those British signals?"

"No," said Orwic.

"The tide will serve us for an hour. How many arrows have we?"

"Ninety."

"Save them!"

Away in the distance, from across the river, came the faint sound
of several horns blowing simultaneously.

"Britons?" asked Tros.

"Northmen."

Tros laughed.

"Caswallon has them checked, I take it. They are summoning their
friends."

He sent Conops to stand below the poop and signal to the oarsmen
to dip slowly, quietly. He only needed steerage-way; the tide was
carrying the bireme fast enough, perhaps too fast. There was
nothing but guess-work until they should pass that belt of trees.

The shoal mud formed an island nearly in mid-river, half
submerged, and between that and the land the tide poured in a
surging brown stream. There was no room to maneuver, hardly room
to have swung a longship with the aid of anchors. A little higher
up, beyond the belt of trees, the mud bank vanished under water,
and there was room enough there for a dozen ships to swing; deep
enough water almost from bank to bank the full width of the
river. Tros tried to form a mental picture of the riverbank at
that point, but he had seen it only once before as he passed it
on the outward journey.

"Is there a creek beyond those trees?" he asked Orwic.

Orwic asked the man who had been at the masthead.

"Yes, a narrow creek. Fairly deep water."

Another horn-blast echoed through the trees. It seemed to come
from close to the riverbank and was answered instantly. Like the
echo to that, from away up-river came a chorus of six horns blown
in unison. There began loud shouting from somewhere just beyond
the trees and, presently, the unmistakable thump and rattle of
oars being laid in rowlocks. A moment later Tros's ear caught the
steady, short stroke of deep-sea rowing, such as men use where
the waves are steep and close together.

"Now!" he shouted. "Give way!"

There was nothing for it now but speed. If he had the Northmen
trapped they were at his mercy; if he had guessed wrong, then the
bireme was at theirs. He beat the bull-hide drum and bellowed to
his rowers:

"One! Two! One! Two! One! Two!"

Shouts responded from around the tree-clad corner of the bank,
shouts and a mighty splashing as a helmsman tried to swing a long
ship in a hurry out of the creek-mouth bow-first to the tide,
backing the port oars.

"Row, you Britons! Row!" Tros thundered, taking the helm
from Conops.

He could hear the water boiling off the bireme's ram. In his
mind's eye he could see the Northmen's whole predicament, with no
room to maneuver and a strong tide hitting them beam-on as they
left the creek-mouth. He could hear their captain bellowing,
heard the oar-beat change and knew the longship was attempting,
too late, to turn upstream and run from the unseen enemy.

And it turned out better than he hoped. As the bireme's bow raced
past the belt of trees the longship lay with her nose toward the
midstream mud-bank, starboard oars ahead and port oars backing
frantically, blue mud boiling all around her and panic on deck as
a dozen men struggled to hoist the sail to help her swing. She
was less than a hundred yards away. Tros could have sunk her,
with that tide under him, without troubling the oars at all.

He beaked her stark amidships. As the Northmen loosed one wild
volley of arrows, the iron-shod ram crashed in under the bilge
and rolled her over, ripping out fifty feet of planking from her
side. The shock of the collision threw the rowers from the
benches, and the bireme swung on the tide with her stern-post not
a dozen feet away from the edge of the midstream shoal, then
drifted upstream with wreckage trailing from her bow and the
wounded crying that she leaked in every seam.

Tros sent Conops below to discover what the damage really
amounted to and watched the Northmen. Their longship had gone
under sidewise, so that not even her mast was visible. Most of
her men were drowning; some had struggled to the mud-bank, where
the yielding mud sucked them under. Others, trying to make the
creek-mouth, were being carried upstream by the tide; not many
were swimming strongly enough to have any prospect of reaching
shore. And as if they had been hiding in fox-holes, Britons began
appearing from between the trees gathering in excited groups to
cut down the survivors.

"The collision opened up her seams. I doubt she'll float as far
as Lunden," Conops announced.

"How much water has she made yet?"

"Half a cubit, master."

"Orwic, take some of the wounded and man the water-hoist!"

So they rigged the trough amidships, and the beam with a bucket
at either end that was the Roman ship designers' concept of a
pump.* Tros swung the bireme's head upstream and began to
consider that other smudge of brown smoke, half-a-dozen or more
miles away.

--------
* It looked something like a modern "walking-beam." A man stood
at each end, who tipped the water out of the buckets into the
trough that carried it overside.
--------

"Now, if Lud of Lunden really is a good god," he remarked to
Orwic, "we will catch another longship on our ugly snout without
wasting a single arrow!"

"We might pray to Lud," Orwic suggested.

"No," said Tros. "The gods despise a man who prays. They help men
who make use of opportunity. Get below there!"

The oarsmen were all leaning overside to watch the Northmen being
cut down by Britons as they struggled through the muddy shallows
close by the riverbank.

"Man the benches! Out oars! I'll show you a fight to suit you
between here and Lunden Town!"





CHAPTER XXIX

BATTLE!

Spirit of Earth and Sky and Sea, forbid that I should feel no
pity for the blind and deaf! Toward ignorance may my patience be
as gentle as the dew on thirsty earth-aye, and as time that
permitteth newness. But ye are not blind; ye can see your
desires. Ye are not deaf; ye can hear the tempter. Ye are not
ignorant; times beyond number I have given freely all the wisdom
I have learned, and then have sought more that I might share it
with you.

What then shall I say to wantons who rebel in the name of liberty
against their captains in an hour of peril, that they may enslave
themselves to lusts that chain their souls to worse indignities,
and force them to worse treacheries than any tyrant?

What can a tyrant do but slay? And what is death but freedom?

If ye seek freedom to betray and to debauch your manhood, lo, ye
have it. And then what? Death shall set you free indeed from the
reins of Wisdom. But when ye return to the earth for future lives
shall Wisdom be yours for the asking? Or shall ye begin again at
your beginnings and earn in sorrow little by little again the
Wisdom that was yours but ye would not use?

--From the Sayings of the Druid Taliesan



It was a desperate, dinning fight that raged to the south of the
river and a few miles south of Lunden. The tide slackened and
began to change; the bireme made slow progress; it was a long
time before Tros made out the mast of another longship between
the trees ahead of him. But long before that he could hear and
see trees falling, as the Britons felled them in the Northmen's
path. Orwic kept up a running comment:

"That's a good joke. They have burned Borsten's village; his
father was a Northman! They'll have thought to scare Caswallon
and force terms from him. Threats only make him fight. Did you
see that tree fall? That's by Borsten's Brook. Caswallon has
whipped a force together in the nick of time. He has them cut off
from the river. There! another tree. They're ringing them around!
Land us yonder, Tros; I know a short cut to where Caswallon
stands praying to the gods for thirty extra men!"

"No," Tros answered, with a jaw-snap that conveyed conviction.
Tros's eyes were on that longship. He lusted to possess it. It
lay bow out of water on the mud, with a kedge in midstream with
which to haul off in a hurry in case of need. In all his
wanderings he had never seen a ship with such sweet lines; she
was almost the ship of his dreams--not big enough, but there were
only three men guarding her and she would do for a beginning! One
of the three men blew a horn-blast as he sighted the dismasted
bireme. Tros's laugh was like an answering trumpet-call; he knew
that ship was his if only he could manage his excited Britons.

It was easy enough to read what had happened: A raiding party of
Northmen caught ashore by the Britons and cut off from their
ship; the men left to guard the ship summoned by horn to the
rescue, only to find themselves in the same trap.

"The Britons will burn that ship, Lud rot them, unless I
prevent," Tros muttered.

But he was hard put to it to keep his own Britons rowing; they
wanted to ram the riverbank and leap ashore to help block the
Northmen's retreat. Half of them at a time, and sometimes all of
them, left the oars to lean over the bulwark and instruct Tros
how to steer for the bank; it was only when they saw the
bireme drifting backward down the river that they returned
to the oars reluctantly.

There began to be downright mutiny again; one man threw a lump of
wood that missed Tros by a hair's breadth; the wounded crawled on
deck and cursed him for a coward alien. He thundered on the drum
for silence, gesturing to Conops at the helm to hold the bireme
in mid-river.

"You young fools!" he roared. "If you take their ship away, what
have they left to retreat to?"

But they did not see the point. They wanted to rush to Caswallon's
aid and share in the glory of cutting down the hereditary enemy.
Three jumped overboard and swam for it.

"Back to your arrow-engine, Orwic! Shoot the next man who leaves
his bench! Row or Lud rot you! One! Two! One! Two! Easy,
starboard. Port ahead. Now, altogether, back her!"

He swung the bireme's stern toward the longship's kedge-warp, and
sent Conops overside to bend another warp to it, making that fast
to the bireme's stern. Then--downstream now--he bullied them all
to rowing until the kedge came up and the bireme swayed like a
pendulum in midstream, mud boiling all around her.

"Watch those three Northmen, Orwic! Shoot if they try to
cast off!"

The longship heeled. Her bow began to swing round on the mud.
Two of the three who guarded her ran to cut the kedge-warp
with their swords.

"Shoot!" Orwic loosed twelve arrows in one flight and one man
fell; the other hid himself below the bulwarks; the third sprang
to the longship's stern and hacked the warp through with a
battle-ax, but too late; the ship slid off the mud and glided
into midstream.

The bireme shot ahead when the warp parted; it was a minute
before backed oars could take the way off her; then, port oars
forward, starboard oars astern, Tros swung her in a circle
in midstream.

Two minutes after that they broke three oars as the bireme bumped
the longship and a dozen Britons led by Orwic jumped aboard. The
two Northmen took to the river like water-rats; four Britons
plunged after them; Tros lashed the ships together, beam to beam
and let them drift downriver with the tide, which set toward the
south bank, away from the fighting.

A quarter of a mile downstream he dropped two anchors, he and
Conops standing guard over the cables lest the indignant Britons
should cut them and try to row across to the other side. Only
Orwic, and he nervously, stood by him; the remainder, wounded
included, threatened and cursed him for a flinching coward; but
as they could not swim, they could not leave him.

Tros watched the far bank, trying to imagine what he himself
would do if he were a Northman hemmed in by determined enemies
and cut off from his ship. Those Northmen doubtless had a leader
wise in war, chosen to lead raids because of previous successes.

He did not believe they would have landed without exploring all
the riverbank; it was at least an even chance that the two who
had swum for shore had reached their friends to warn them the
ship was gone.

Orwic bit his fingernails, torn three ways between loyalty to
Tros, anxiety for his friends ashore and eagerness to lead his
own men into the thick of the fighting.

"By Lud, we will be too late!" he grumbled. "Too late! Too
late!  Tros--"

"If Caswallon can keep them away from the river, there's no need
for us," Tros answered. "If they reach the river, they'll find
boats and try to recapture their ship."

"But there aren't any boats!" Orwic objected.

"Then again, no need for us. But I will wager there are boats,
among the reeds, and the Northmen know it."

"Then let's hunt for boats and burn them!"

Tros laughed.

"Set this crowd of ours ashore, and who'll keep them out
of the fighting!"

The Britons, and some of the wounded with them, had nearly all
jumped into the longship and were holding a sort of parliament,
even the hired seamen taking part. An iron bolt hurled at Tros
just missed him where he stood in the bireme's bow, and some
one shouted:

"Cross the river, or we'll burn both ships!"

They had found the Northmen's fire-pot and meant business; there
was smoke where half-a-dozen of them stooped over a box full of
kindling, blowing on it.

"By Pluto's teeth! You'll burn my prize of war?"

He would rather see a city burned than lose that sweet-lined
ship. He leaped on the longship's bow, roared like a bull and
charged at them, scattering them right and left, kicking fire-pot
and kindling overboard before they could draw their weapons; and
by that time he had his back against the mast, the hilt of his
long sword on a level with his chin, its point just sufficiently
in motion to confirm the resolution in its owner's eye.

They were not afraid of him exactly. There was none, at that
crisis, who would not have dared to try conclusions. They had all
fought Romans on the Kentish coast, had beaten Caesar's men at
Seine-mouth, had been trained, since they were old enough to hold
a weapon, against the wolf, the Northmen and the neighboring
British tribes.

Cowardice was their pet abomination. But he had them puzzled.
They were Celts, hereditary gentlemen, much given to reflection
and to arguing all sides of everything, deeply versed in chivalry
and legend, and despising the notion of attacking one man in
overwhelming numbers. Against any one except Northmen they
preferred argument to violence. They admired him for his daring
to defy them all.

Four of them kept him backed against the mast; six others engaged
Conops in the longship's bow, while two more hacked the cables
through and set both ships adrift again.

But they drifted toward the wrong shore naturally, since the tide
set that way. Within a hundred yards they were aground on
clinging mud, and in a moment after that there were only wounded
left to reckon with; the remainder, hired seamen and all, had
plunged overside and were struggling shoulder-deep to reach the
swampy bank and hunt for boats, rafts, anything in which to cross
the river.

Orwic hesitated. Tros took pity on him and a shrewd thought
for himself.

"Friend o' mine, I give you leave to go," he said, laughing, and
Orwic jumped overside without touching the bulwark.

"And so by law, if there is any law, the longship's mine,"
Tros chuckled.

Some of the Britons began to swim across the river, using logs to
help them breast the third of a mile of strong stream. Four men
found a raft near the edge of the swamp and wasted several
minutes arguing with seven wounded men who tried to take it from
them, until Orwic arrived and seized command; he put the wounded
on the raft and made the others help him swim the crazy thing.

Several men found horses--Britons could be trusted to smell a
horse if there was one within five miles--and within fifteen
minutes of the ships' touching the mud the last horse took the
water with its long mane held by two men and a third--he had only
one arm--clinging to its tail.

Battle raged unseen on the far bank, to the tune of horn-blasts
and the crash of falling trees. Chariot and horseback fighting
--the Britons' favorite method--had developed a type of
defensive tactics to correspond; they were experts at felling
trees in the path of an advancing or retreating enemy, ringing
him around if possible, blocking the narrow forest paths and
reinforcing the dense, tangled undergrowth with massive tree-trunks.

It was easy to read the wavering fortune of the battle by
observing trees that fell, in different directions, three, four
at a time.

Once it seemed as if the Northmen were surrounded, then as if
they were making good their retreat toward where they had left
their longship. But that might have been a feint; the shouting
and crashing changed direction; there followed a din of
horn-blasts as the Britons re-formed ranks and rushed to block a
new line of retreat.

Once three Northmen, iron helmeted and armed with battle-axes,
showed themselves on a bare hillock near by the ruins of a burned
hut on the riverbank, but they were cut down instantly by a score
of Britons who rushed out of the forest.

Once Tros thought he saw Caswallon, mounted, galloping along the
river's edge to turn the Northmen's flank.

It was easy now to distinguish Norse from British horn-blasts;
the Northmen's note was flat, blown on an ox-horn; the Britons
used copper and even silver instruments that rang through the
woods with an exciting peal. Shouting and horn-blasts signified
that the Northmen had fought clear of the felled-tree barriers,
were retiring in considerable number almost parallel with the
riverbank, their right flank possibly two hundred yards away from
it, with an apparently impenetrable thicket in between them and
the river.

By the sound they were circling that thicket on the far side of
it. The Britons were striving to crowd them against it. Except
for a few feet of stump-dotted marsh it reached almost to the
water's edge--an obstacle to Briton and Northman alike; but once
or twice Tros could see Britons creeping into it to take the
Northmen in flank or from the rear, armed with spears with which
to thrust at the Northmen's backs from behind the cover
of the undergrowth.

Once, about two score Britons tried to make their way between the
river and the trees, jumping from clump to clump of turf and
rotting roots, but the strip of marsh came to an end in knee-deep
mud in which they floundered until they gave up the attempt and
struggled back again to hack a path through the undergrowth
toward the enemy's flank.

Ten minutes after that, the Northmen's strategy revealed
itself.  They fought their way around the thicket to a creek
that Tros could not see because of intervening trees. The
news that they had reached it was announced by a frantic
chorus of British bugle-notes.

Another thirty or forty Britons charged along the riverbank and
tried to force their way to the creek-mouth, but were prevented
by the mud that grew deeper the farther they went, until some of
them floundered to the breast in it and had to be hauled out by
their friends.

And presently, from behind the trees that shut off Tros's view of
the creek-mouth, three small boats emerged crowded with Northmen,
towing others who clung to the boats' gunwales helping to shove
the boats along until the water grew too deep.

The Northmen's shields were a solid phalanx, behind which they
crouched in the boats, protecting the paddlers against British
arrows. Some of the men in the water swam with shields over their
heads, but some were already drowning. Tros counted nearly sixty
men, and there were more behind them, too late for the boats or
crowded out, dodging missiles as they swam.

Their leader stood in the first boat, a big man with long
moustaches drooping to his chin and a bushy, clipped, red beard;
young, hardly thirty by the look of him, but a giant in stature,
with a head that drooped a little forward as if he were a
habitual deep-thinker, or else wounded or very weary.

He was nearly a full head taller than the tallest of his men, two
of whom stood beside him. Their eyes were on the Britons ashore,
but his were on the longship. He stood recklessly, ignoring
arrows, hardly troubling to raise the painted shield on his left
arm. As the boats drew nearer Tros saw three women crouching
among the men.

"If that chief loves a ship as I do, he will fight," Tros
said to Conops. "Swiftly, bid our wounded show their heads
above the bulwark."

The longship had had the inside berth when both ships took the
mud, but the tide had carried their sterns around, pivoting them
on the bireme's ram, which presently stuck fast, so that now both
sterns were out into the stream, with the longship free except
for the ropes that held her to the bireme's side.

Smashed oars, jammed between them, kept the ships' sides from
grinding, and the water making in the bireme's hold brought her
down by the stern, so that she lay now for two-thirds of her
length on soft mud, immovable until they should pump the water
out and the tide should turn again and lift her.

Tros climbed up to the bireme's poop, leaving Conops on the
longship's bow, and carefully chose twelve arrows from the
basket, laying them in the arrow-engine's grooves and cranking
the clumsy mechanism that drew the bow taut. Then he studied the
wounded; there was not one man among them fit for fighting;
whoever could carry his weight had gone with Orwic to the battle
in the woods.

"Men of Lunden," Tros said, for he knew they liked that better
than if he had called them Britons, "we will burn both ships
under us rather than let the Northmen have them! But I think
those Northmen have a bellyful. Let your heads appear and
reappear, as if there were a host of you crouching below
the bulwark."

Many of them lacked strength to keep their chins above the
bulwark for more than a few seconds at a time. They raised their
heads, let go, and struggled up again to watch. The approaching
boats came very slowly, for lack of enough paddles and because of
the overload and the strength of the tide in midstream.

On the far shore the Britons were using horses to drag felled
trees into the water, laboring shoulder deep to lash a raft,
together on which enough of them might cross to dare to give the
Northmen battle.

But that was a work that required time; the Northmen had burned
all the buildings within reach, so there were no doors or hewn
timber available.

The Northmen appeared to have no information about arrow-engines,
but they seemed to expect ordinary arrow-fire. As they won their
way across stream in slow procession, more than fifty yards
apart, and the distance between them increasing, they kept their
boats' heads pointed toward the ships' sterns to reduce the
breadth of the target, and the men in the bows raised a sloping
barricade of locked shields; but they were wooden shields. Tros's
engine could have shot a flight of arrows through them as easily
as an ordinary arrow goes through leather jerkins.

The Northman chief chose to lighten his boat. He growled an order
and six men leaped into the water, leaving only twelve and three
women. The six, along with those who had swum alongside all the
way, turned back and made for the second boat, which was
already overcrowded.

Leaning his weight against the table on which the arrow-engine
turned, Tros let the leading boat approach within two ships'
lengths before he tried conclusions.

"Who comes here to yield himself?" he shouted then in the Gaulish
tongue, for he knew neither Norse nor any of the dialects of
northern Britain, which a Northman might possibly have understood.

That leading boat was at his mercy; it was a frail thing, nearly
awash with the weight of men; but he could see those fair-haired
women crouching among the men's legs, and though he would have
taken oath before a pantheon of gods that his own heart was
invulnerable--that whether a foe was male or female was all one
to him--he held his finger on the trigger yet a while.

The Northmen seemed to hesitate. They let their boat turn
sidewise, head upstream, exposing its whole flank to Tros. The
chieftain in the midst uphove a great two-headed ax and gestured
at the bireme's stern, shouting strange words in a voice that
resembled waves echoing in caverns.

It appeared he was defying Tros to single, combat, a disturbing
possibility that Tros had overlooked. He was under no compulsion
to accept a challenge, but he knew what the Britons--and their
women in particular--would say of any man who should refuse one.
It was part of the tactics of war so to fight as to provide an
enemy no opportunity to issue such a challenge until the outcome
of single combat could not affect the issue either way.

However, Tros was not sure he had understood yet; and there were
no women in the third boat, which was laboring in midstream,
losing headway against the tide. They were rowing with a pole and
broken branches. He loosed the flight of arrows at it, plunking
the whole dozen square amidships.

The wounded Britons yelled delight. The arrows pierced the
shields and struck men down, who fell against the farther gunwale
and upset the crowded boat. The others, jumping to save
themselves, capsized it, and it drifted downstream, bottom upward.

The second boat backed out of range, avoiding the men in the
water because there was no room for them. It was nearly awash
already without the added burden of strong hands on the
gunwale and heavy men seeking to clamber overside; its crew of
discouraged Northmen elected presently to drift downstream,
hoping perhaps to make connection with the crew of the other
longship lower down.

So there was only one boat left to deal with for the moment, one
boat, eleven men, and that great, grim Northman captain, with the
women crouching at his knees. The Northman's eyes were on the
longship; he was close enough for Tros to see them and to
recognize despair, the mother of forlorn hope.

No ruler loves a kingdom as the true sea-captain loves a ship he
has built and navigated through the rock-staked seas. Tros knew
that blue-eyed yearning; he could ever feel it in his own bones
when he planned the queen of all ships he would some day build
and sail into the unknown.

He laid another dozen arrows in the grooves and cranked the
engine; but the Northman, who could see him plainly, stayed
within range, flourishing his ax as if he courted death,
bellowing his bullmouthed phrases that to Tros conveyed less
meaning than his gestures.

They were a challenge repeated again and again. There was no
humility about that man; in his defeat he was as splendid as in
victory, demanding a right that no brave man might keep from him.
One of the wounded Britons called to Tros, interpreting his words:

"He bids you fight him for the longship. Beat him, says he, and
he surrenders to you--he and his men and his women. If he beats
you, he takes the longship and you must help him sail it home.
But if each should kill the other, then his men- and women-folk
are at Caswallon's mercy! Those are his terms. You must fight
him, Tros!"

But it irked Tros to be told he must do anything. He could have
shot that Northman down, and though the wounded Britons would
have mocked him for a coward, he was strong-willed; he could face
their scorn if he saw fit.

His eyes were on the farther riverbank, where now a hundred of
Caswallon's men were working like beavers to build the raft, and
he was calculating just how long they would require to finish it
and pole it across the river. He decided they would never be able
to move such a clumsy platform fast enough through the water to
overtake the Northmen, although if the bireme and the longship
were attacked they might arrive in time to save both, and
if they were successful they would claim the longship as
their lawful plunder.

It was therefore up to him, Tros, to decide, and to do it
swiftly. He doubted Caswallon, remembered that Gaulish fishing
boat dismasted in the channel storm, recalled to mind the
likelihood that Caesar's men had undermined him in Caswallon's
favor by some ingenious means. Even if Tros should fight for the
longship and defeat the Northman, Caswallon might claim as his
own property all shipping captured in the Thames.

Caesar's treasure-chest, left with Caswallon for safe keeping,
would be a strong temptation to Caswallon's intimates, if not to
the chief himself to force a quarrel, and the longship, if Tros
should claim it for his own, might prove an excellent excuse. It
was a sharp predicament.

But the Northman kept on challenging, and the wounded Britons
urged. And suddenly a blue-eyed girl stood up beside the
Northman, with fair hair falling in long plaits nearly to
her knees.

She set one foot on the gunwale and mocked Tros in the Gaulish
language, calling him a coward among other names. The words were
ill-pronounced, but her voice throbbed with such scorn as Tros
had never listened to--he who had heard harbor-women scold their
lovers on the wharfs of Antioch and Alexandria!

The words--he knew their worth and could ignore them--might have
left him careless, but the voice and her manner brought the hot
blood to his cheeks. He had never seen a woman like her, had
never before felt such strange emotions as her anger stirred in
him. She looked not older than nineteen.

Tros threw his hand up in a gesture of command. Briton and
Northman alike paused breathless at his signal.

"Tell me your name!" he demanded.

He had right to know that; a man did not engage in single combat
with inferiors by birth.

"I am Olaf Sigurdsen of Malmoe."

"I am Tros, the son of Perseus Prince of Samothrace," Tros
answered, laughing to himself.

His father would have been finely scandalized at the proceedings.

"I will fight you on your own terms. Come aboard."

They paddled the boat toward the bireme, but Tros bade them halt
when they were half a dozen boats' lengths distant. He had heard
that Northmen were colossal liars, although he had only heard
that from their enemies, the Britons. He knew they were
plunderers by profession; he doubted it was in them to keep faith
if they should learn that only wounded men were on the bireme and
that the longship lay defenseless. He summoned Conops, posted him
at the loaded arrow-engine.

"Come aboard alone," he said then, speaking slowly, waiting for
the blue-eyed girl to interpret to Olaf Sigurdsen.

He laid his right hand on the arrow-engine.

"You may put in to the riverbank. I will count it treachery if
more than one man steps ashore. Then climb onto this bireme over
the bow, and let the boat put out again into the river. You must
fight me on my own poop, Olaf Sigurdsen."

"I will come, and yet, I have no proof of you," the Northman answered.

The blue-eyed girl translated that with such withering scorn that
Tros winced. Olaf Sigurdsen sat down, perhaps to rest himself,
but the girl stood, continuing to glare at Tros until the boat's
bow touched the mud and she had to clutch the chieftain's head to
keep her balance.

Conops turned the arrow-engine, following the boat, and went
through ostentatious pantomine of taking aim; but Olaf Sigurdsen
jumped ashore and they poled the boat out again into the stream,
driving the pole into the mud presently to serve as an anchor
against the tide.

Then Sigurdsen came up over the bow, battle-ax on hip, stood,
realizing how he had deceived himself. Tros's wounded Britons
sprawled along the deck below the bulwark, most of them with
hardly strength enough to grin at him, some almost in the grip of
death, all bleeding through blood-stiffened bandages. He saw the
shapes of dead men under the sail-cloth forward of one citadel
and gave a great laugh, lifting his battle-ax high and shouting
to his friends.

The Northmen cheered and all three women in the boat mocked Tros,
the young girl thumping her breast, shouting in Gaulish so that
Tros might understand. She claimed Tros as her own slave, to
fetch and carry and to feed swine.

"Don't slay him! Beat him to his knees!" she cried, and repeated
that too.

"You may come," said Tros. He drew well back along the poop,
drawing his long sword, throwing off the Roman cloak and stepping
close to the arrow-engine, so that Conops might unbuckle
the breast-armor.

The wounded Britons cheered him when the armor fell on deck, for
they despised a man who did not bare his naked breast to an
assailant. Then, pulling off his shirt, Tros flexed his huge
muscles so that the hairy skin moved in waves and the Britons
cheered him again, he keeping his eyes on Sigurdsen and speaking
through the corner of his mouth to Conops:

"Now, no dog's work! Keep your knife to yourself! If you so much
as lift a hand to help me I'll turn from the fighting to skewer
you to the deck! You understand? Hands off!"

Sigurdsen came slowly up the ladder to the poop, ready to jump
backward if Tros should spring at him before his feet were on the
deck, but Trod gave him full law and a breathing spell,
considering the iron links on the outside of the Northman's
leather jerkin, wondering whether the iron was soft or brittle.

The Northman wore no helmet; he had lost it in the fighting
over-river. His reddish hair hung to his shoulders and his
bloodshot eyes shone with a gleam of desperation under an untidy
fringe; and he had brought no shield. He looked tired, but he was
not wounded; the blood on his face was from a scratch caused by
brambles as he fought his way out of the forest.

For a full minute he and Tros stood studying each other, Conops
whispering advice that Tros ignored:

"The point, master! The point! Up, and under the chin! Remember,
an ax is all blade. He can only swing with it, but he has a long
reach. Keep close, where he can only use short chops, and use
your point!"

At last the Northman growled like an angry bear and came on, his
weight on the balls of his feet, which made him tower above Tros,
holding his great ax forward in both hands.

Tros met him with the point, stock-motionless, not giving ground,
until the Northman stepped back suddenly and with the speed of
lightning swung at the sword to break it. Tros's wrist hardly
moved, but the ax-blade missed the sword-blade by an inch and the
point went in between two links in the Northman's mail.

The prick of that maddened him; he came on like a whirlwind,
swinging the ax upward at Tros's jaw--missed, because Tros
stepped back at last. Then, rising on both feet, he aimed
two-handed at the crown of Tros's head.

Tros sprang aside, expecting the ax would crash into the deck and
leave the Northman at his mercy, but the blow was turned in
mid-descent and swept at him as if his body were a tree-trunk,
slicing the skin at his waist--then the same blow back again,
back-handed, quicker than a snake's strike, and Tros had
to jump clear.

The Northman rushed him, crouched a little, with his knees bent,
thrusting upward at the sword-blade, so that Tros's lunge only
skinned his crown, beginning at the forehead; but that brought
blood down into the Northman's eyes, half-blinding him, and he
missed his next swing wildly.

He tried to shake the blood off, spared his left hand for a
second, but that cost him a thrust through the arm, and Conops
yelled retorts in Greek to the women who screamed encouragement
in Norse.

Tros had his man now, knew it, carried the fight to him,
sidestepping the prodigious swings and thrusting, forever
thrusting with short jabs at the Northman's right arm, circling
cautiously around him with his knees bent and his legs spread
well apart.

The air screamed with the ax-blows. Twice the Northman knocked
the sword-blade upward, rushed in under it and tried to brain
Tros with the upthrust, using the ax-end like a club; and Tros
had never fought an ax-man; he caught the first of those blows
underneath his armpit and for a moment it deadened his whole
left side.

But every time the Northman pressed a savage charge home it cost
him blood from some part of his body. Ten times Tros could have
killed him and refrained. He kept on thrusting at the right arm
until the blood streamed down and the ax-hilt slipped in the
Northman's fingers.

Then for two or three titanic minutes Sigurdsen swung with his
left alone, using his right to grab Tros's sword-blade; but Tros
opened the cut in his forehead again and the Northman jumped back
to the poop-rail, trying to shake blood out of his eyes.

"Now kill him, master!" Conops shouted. "Up under the chin and
finish him!"

But Tros stood back, breathing heavily, point forward and his
sword-hand high.

"Now yield!" he said to Sigurdsen, ignoring the yells of the
Northmen in the boat, that might have put him on guard if he had
paid attention to them.

He spared one swift glance for the Britons over-river; they were
coming at last, a hundred of them crowded on a crazy craft, with
horses swimming loose on either side of it and two men clinging
to each horse's tail.

But that one glance was nearly one too many. In the fraction of
the second that he spared for it the Northman stiffened, whirled
his ax and hurled it with both hands at Tros's head. It cut his
right cheek as he sidestepped to avoid it, crashed against the
citadel and stuck in the woodwork, humming.

"And now, Olaf Sigurdsen, yield yourself; for you and your women
and those other men are mine!" said Tros.

Sigurdsen bowed his head and held up his right hand. Conops
shouted at the top of his lungs in Greek, and the wounded Britons
cheered, raising themselves by the bulwark to taunt the Northmen
in the boat. Sigurdsen offered his throat for Tros's sword, but
Tros wiped his blade on Conops' shirt and rammed it home
into the sheath.

"And the longship, too, is mine!" he said.

Sigurdsen nodded. He and Tros could understand each other when
the conversation was of such essentials as ships.

Tros held out his right hand.

"Can you see it, Sigurdsen?" he asked.

The Northman shook the blood out of his eyes again, stared dumbly
for a moment, came two or three steps forward as if doubting what
he saw and stood rigid, waiting. He was dazed. It seemed he still
expected to be killed.

Tros seized him in both arms, patting him on the back, and Conops
cried, being a Greek, who had few emotions of his own but huge
capacity for feeling what he supposed Tros felt. The Northman
sobbed as if his lungs would burst, but whether that was grief or
anger none might say; and there came a keening from the boat
alongside, led by women's voices.

They had had to keep faith, whether or not they had intended it,
because the raft was nearly in midstream and there was no longer
the slightest hope of escape from the hurrying Britons.

Tros kicked the arrow-basket and up-ended it, let Sigurdsen sit
there, and ordered Conops to bring water and cleanse his wounds.
Then he pulled on his shirt and leaned overside to speak to the
girl who had mocked him.

She was silent, dry-eyed, standing in the boat--it was the other,
older women and the men who wailed. Her eyes met Tros's
defiantly, bewildering blue eyes like flakes of northern sky
under her flaxen hair, eyes that made Tros feel unfamiliar
emotions; they seemed able to rob him of the fruit of victory.

"You may come up and tell me your name," he said gruffly.

"I am Helma, sister of Olaf Sigurdsen," she answered. But she
made no motion to obey him; simply stood there with her
hands clasped.

Tros vaulted the rail, descended midway down the wooden ladder
that was spiked to the bireme's side and offered her his right
hand. She refused it with an imperious chin-gesture that
commanded him to climb and let her follow; so he laughed and led.

She was beside him almost before his own feet touched the deck.
There their eyes met again and he smiled, but she turned her
back, went to her brother's side to take the sponge from Conops
and attend his wound. She said not one word to Tros or to her
brother or to any one.





CHAPTER XXX

TROS MAKES PRISONERS AND FALLS IN NEED OF FRIENDS

Is the Now not the child of the past? Is not the Future the child
of past and present, even as a man is the child of man and woman?
Is not all that written on the scroll of Destiny? It is written.
None can alter it.

Nevertheless, there is that which is not written, but that each
himself shall write. Though Omnipotence itself can alter not one
line of Destiny, no power of earth or heaven, nor Omnipotence
itself, can hold you from using Destiny as mariners use wind and
wave.

Those waves that can overwhelm, and that neither sacrifice nor
cunning can prevent, are also buoyant. Lo, they bear up this,
they drown that. Destiny, I tell you, is the waves from what ye
did in former lives. Swim them or sink beneath them. Your
Eternity depends on what ye do with Destiny, that ye can neither
buy off nor in any way prevent.

--From the Sayings of the Druid Taliesan



The raft drew near, and as the horses' feet found bottom they
were harnessed to it to increase the speed. Caswallon, with Orwic
beside him, stood in the raft's bow, wiping blood off the white
skin over his ribs where a Northman's spear had entered an inch
or two. He wore belted breeches, spear and shield, and a little
peaked iron cap, but the blue designs painted on his skin made it
look as if he wore a shirt, too, until he was a dozen yards away.

There was no news Tros could give him. Orwic had told about
Volstrum's ship, sunk lower down the Thames. The Northmen whom
Tros could claim as his own prisoners, men and women, had climbed
aboard the bireme and were standing in the ship's waist looking
miserable, all except Sigurdsen's wife, who was helping Helma
tend his wounds. The other woman was a widow; her man had been
cut down by the Britons in the forest fighting and she was
keening to the sky about her loss.

As many of the wounded Britons on the bireme as could stand up
shouted to Caswallon and his men the news of Sigurdsen's
surrender, including the terms of combat and the fact that the
longship belonged to Tros.

By the look on Orwic's face there was something in the wind
beside the Northmen business; he kept glancing at Caswallon and
from him to Tros, who for his own part studied the prisoners and
counted their weapons on the poop beside him. Conops, swearing
Greek oaths, leaned against the arrow-engine, itching to loose
its charge against the Britons on the raft if they should dare to
invade the longship. He knew how much loot they would leave in
it! They would burn it when every movable stick had been
ripped away.

However, Caswallon came hand-over-hand up the bireme's ladder,
followed by Orwic and six others; he ordered the men on the raft
ashore to find some way of following the Norse fugitives
downstream. Half a dozen tried to disobey him, swarming up the
bireme's side, but he jumped off the poop and beat them back with
his spear-butt, the others laughing at them from the raft.

Then Caswallon looked the wounded over--a third of them were his
blood-relations--and said a few words to each before he climbed
the poop again and answered Tros's salute.

"So you have come home, Tros!"

He smiled, but he did not offer to embrace Tros as the British
custom was. "Orwic tells me you are a great sea-captain."

His words were almost cordial; there only lacked a half-note and
the old careless air of friendship to make him the same Caswallon
who had seen the bireme on its way from Lunden ten days
before--but that might be due to the fighting over-river and
distress to see so many good men dead and maimed. Tros answered
with his hands behind him:

"I bring my father's body, for which I must beg obsequies. I
crave the favor that he may lie in British earth beside your own
brave men. Caswallon, not a man is missing; dead or alive I have
brought them all."

Caswallon nodded, glancing to right and left.

"Are you well enough paid--with a longship and--how many
prisoners?" he asked.

"I never asked payment," Tros answered. "Caswallon, what is wrong
between us?"

Caswallon frowned, stroking his moustache and tossing the long
hair back over his shoulder. For a moment he studied the
blue-eyed girl who was washing her brother's wounds; but she
turned her back toward him, and he met Tros's eyes again.

"If what I hear of you is true, I will nevertheless remember
former friendship, Tros. If it is not true, it is better not
spoken in men's hearing. Let us talk alone."

Tros led the way down from the poop and into the cabin where his
father's body lay. The smell in there was stifling; Caswallon
snorted, but Tros threw the door wide and they stood together
studying the old man's face.

"Like a druid," Caswallon said at the end of a long silence.

"Greater than any druid," Tros answered gruffly.

"What are those marks on his wrists?" Caswallon asked.

"Caesar tortured him."

They faced each other in the light that poured through the
open door.

"Is it true, or is it not true, Tros, that you have made a pact
with Caesar?"

"It is not true," Tros said frowning. "Who has come telling you
that lie?"

"Skell. You spared Skell's life when you had the right to kill
him. You sent him to Caesar, as you told me, to help you to trick
Caesar. But now Skell returns with a tale about secret intriguing."

Tros whistled.

"I turned Skell over to Caesar's men at Caritia, thinking they
would put him in the pest-house. Has Skell won Caesar's
confidence so soon?"

"He is home again, and in strange company," said Caswallon. "I
have not seen him, but--"

Tros laid a hand on Caswallon's arm.

"I speak," he said, "in the presence of the dead. Believe me or
Skell! Which shall it be?"

Caswallon turned his back and stood for a full minute in the
doorway, stroking his chin, watching the wounded on the deck.
Druids had arrived from somewhere; with their long skirts tucked
into their girdles they were pouring liquid on to stiffened
bandages, examining wounds, behaving workmanly, as if they knew
their trade. Caswallon turned suddenly.

"Tros," he exclaimed, "I am beholden to you twice, and I would
not take Skell's word for it that the sun is not the moon. Yet
Orwic tells me you refused to fight the Northmen until you ran
into them down-river and there was no room for you to run; he
tells me that at Seine-mouth you spoke with Caesar in Latin,
which is a tongue we Britons don't understand."

"I called on Caesar to surrender to me," Tros interrupted. "He
had climbed over the bow when I sunk his boat and--"

"And Orwic tried to capture him, but you called Orwic off. Caesar
did not surrender, but you and he spoke, after which he escaped.
And now comes Skell to Hythe, whence he sends me a letter by a
woman's hand; and the woman says Caesar has promised you my
kingdom when I am dead, in return for your having spared his
life. She had a letter for you from Caesar, written in Latin,
which I can not read. These Northmen raided Hythe before they
came up-Thames. How is it you were so long following them
up-river?" "Storms! I was hove-to in the ocean. Moreover, I did
not know of Northmen in the Thames. When I saw the smoke
of villages--"

"My men say you refused to let them land and run to my aid."

"Did I not sink a longship?" Tros answered indignantly.

"Yes, when there was no other alternative. And now, when you
might have shot these other Northmen down, you let one whole
boatload of them escape, and you accept their chief's surrender
to yourself--their chief, three women and how many men? I find
that strange."

"Will you listen to me?" Tros asked; and when Caswallon nodded he
told his own story from the beginning, omitting no details,
not even his own qualms and his thoughts of making for the
Belgian coast.

"For I foresaw you might doubt me, and I knew Caesar would be
swift with some ingenious trick. Now it amounts to this,
Caswallon: I am Caesar's enemy, and your friend. But you and I
are free men. You may end our friendship when it pleases you."

Caswallon hesitated, with his hands behind him. There was
something on his mind still.

"I have told all. What are you keeping from me?" Tros asked him.

"You shall speak with Fflur," Caswallon answered.

Tros breathed relief. Whoever else was fickle, he knew Fflur.
Caswallon's wife was loyal to Caswallon, but no subtlety could
undermine her judgment; she could see through men and their
intrigues; she ruled her husband and his corner of Britain
without his knowing it; and she was Tros's friend.

"In the meanwhile?" Tros asked.

"I do not forget you were my friend," Caswallon answered, "and
though you have lost me sixty men on your adventure, you have
saved me it may be a hundred in their place by sinking that
Northman down-river. I am king here and the river rights are
mine, but you may have that longship and your prisoners. That
chest of Caesar's gold you left with Fflur is yours, too. You may
bury your father's corpse in British earth. Thereafter we will
hear what Fflur says."

Caswallon strode out on the deck and went to where the druids
were tending wounds. Because he was the chief, a druid tried to
insist on bandaging the spear-wound over his ribs, but Caswallon
took the druid by the shoulders and shoved him back to the task
he had left, standing then to watch the marvels of swift surgery
the druids wrought.

They had a drug that caused unconsciousness; they opened one
man's skull and inset bone from the skull of another who had been
dead an hour or two;* one druid opened his own vein and
surrendered a quart of blood for the veins of a man who had
nearly bled to death. But they amputated no limbs; if a leg or an
arm was beyond their skill to repair, they let the man die whole,
as he had come into the world, easing his death with an anodyne.

--------
* Many of the skulls discovered in ancient British burying-places
and on battlefields bear marks of having been trephined.
--------

Tros returned to the poop, where Sigurdsen sat glowering at the
Britons, his wife wailing on the deck beside him, and the
blue-eyed Helma standing, her back to the rail and her chin
high, too proud to shed tears, too hopeless to speak even
to her own kin.

She looked away over Tros's shoulder at the skyline, and Tros,
who had seen well-bred women sold at auction in many a foreign
port, turned over in his mind what he might say that should
console her--possibly a little, if not much.

"Can your people ransom you?" he asked.

She met his eyes and answered with surprising calm, her
voice not trembling:

"No. These are all my people. There was war and the men of
Helsing burned our villages. There was neither corn nor dried
meat left, and the fishing is hard in winter, so we came to seize
a holding here, my brother and Volstrum of Fiborg-by-Malmoe, with
their two ships and all the men that remained. Most of the women
and children had been carried off by the men of Helsing. None can
ransom us unless Volstrum comes up-river, and if he comes--"

"He will not come," Tros assured her. "I have sunk his ship. If
he is not drowned he will fall into the Britons' hands."

She betrayed no emotion at that news, but repeated it in
Norse to her brother, who laid his head between his hands
and groaned aloud.

"Will you sell her to me?" asked a Briton, one of the men who had
been in the thick of the fighting across the river and had
boarded the bireme with Caswallon. "I bid you two man-slaves and
two horses for her."

"No," Tros answered, and the other Britons sneered at the man who
made the bid.

They all had slaves. Buying and selling was lawful; they now and
then sold criminals and captives to foreign ship-owners to
replace sailors who had died of scurvy; but they did not approve
of barter in human beings.

However, there was an atmosphere of enmity to Tros; some one had
been spreading rumors. They held aloof from him, giving him
two-thirds of the bireme's poop instead of crowding to ask
questions or to boast of their own prowess against the Northmen
in the woods.

"What shall I do with you?" Tros asked, meeting the girl's
sky-blue eyes.

He knew what he would do with Sigurdsen unless destiny should
interfere;  so Sigurdsen's wife was no problem, and the
widow-woman, who was wailing in a corner below the poop, would
dry her eyes before long and be chosen as some man's mate. But
this fair-haired girl puzzled him.

"I said what I would do if Sigurdsen had beaten you!" she
answered. "I would have put iron on your neck and you should have
fetched and carried for me."

"But I beat Sigurdsen," said Tros. "I am obliged to make
provision for you. Shall I marry you to one of his men?"

She bared her teeth.

"Anything but that," she answered scornfully. "They all ran from
the men of Helsing. They ran! And their women and children became
captives! Yonder in those woods they ran again, instead of dying
where they stood!"

Suddenly her eyes laughed, as if she saw the ultimate of irony
and took delight in it.

"I belong to you," she went on. "Are you also a coward?"

Tros stroked his black beard, squaring back his shoulders. Not so
soon, if ever, would he link fate with a woman. His father had
instilled into him at least that one conviction: Yielding to that
lure and freedom of earth and sea were incompatible.

"I have yet to meet the woman who can conquer me!" he answered.

She glared as if she would like to stab him; but he saw something
else in her eyes that he could not read, and he was aware of a
prodigious impulse to befriend her.

If she only had used the usual feminine ways of ensnaring a man,
he would have felt more at ease; but she did none of that. She
turned away from him and knelt beside her brother, speaking to
him earnestly in Norse, which Tros could not understand.

Sigurdsen stood up presently and looked straight at Tros. He was
already in a fever from his wounds, and his eyes burned
desperately, although his face was sad and was made to look
sadder by the long moustache that drooped below his chin. He
spoke about a dozen words, Helma interpreting, kneeling, speaking
very loud because her back was toward Tros.

"Put us all into the longship! Therein burn us! We will not seek
to escape."

Tros laughed at that.

"Not I," he answered. "I need the longship and I need a crew. You
and I might burn a fleet or two, Sigurdsen. Britons say Northmen
are bold liars; Greeks have the name of being crafty ones, and
Greek is my mother tongue, so how can you and I pledge faith?"

Helma interpreted, glancing once at Tros over her shoulder.

"I am Olaf Sigurdsen," the Northman answered, and closed his
lips. But Helma added to that, standing at last and holding her
chin high:

"If you were good Norse stock, instead of a barbarian with amber
eyes, you would know what that means!"

"Tell him he must keep faith better than he fights, if he hopes
to please me," Tros answered; for he liked the look of Olaf
Sigurdsen; he wanted to prod him and find what lay beneath the
sorry mask.

The girl flared until her cheeks were crimson under the flaxen
hair. Her breast heaved with passion; her hands grew white with
pressure as she clenched her fingers; but she contrived to force
a frozen note into her voice, speaking straight at Tros as if
each word were a knife aimed at his throat:

"He was a spent man when he fought you, or you would be his slave
this minute. He has slain his two-score Britons in the forest.
You--you do not know courage! You do not know faith! How shall I
tell you the worth of his promises? You, who never kept faith!
Olaf Sigurdsen's fathers were kings when ice first closed in on
the North and darkness fell at midday. I am a king's daughter!
Shall he and I waste words on you?"

Tros liked her. He forbore to answer her in kind. And he had seen
too often the results of promises exacted under force. Yet he
needed friends; he needed them that minute.

"Is he homeless, and has been a king? I, too, am homeless and the
son of a prince. It seems to me we have a common ground to meet
on," he said, speaking very slowly that she might lose none of
the significance. "When a man plights faith to me I hold him to
it, but I repay him in kind.

"Say, to Sigurdsen, I give him choice. He may fight me again when
he has rested, tomorrow, or the next day, or a month from now;
and in that case I will kill him. Or he may ask my friendship and
make promise to obey me as his captain; and in that case he shall
find in honorable service no indignity. Or, if he wishes, I will
give you all to Caswallon, who is a king, whereas I am not one.
Let Sigurdsen speak his mind."

The girl's reaction to that speech was vivid. She changed color,
bit her lip, grew pale and red again, regarding Tros from another
aspect altogether. She seemed to have grown nervous.

"A prince's son?" she said, and turned to her brother, speaking
to him hurriedly in breathless sentences, clutching his sleeve,
repeating short phrases again and again.

Her brother watched Tros's eyes, making no sign until she had
finished. Then, after a minute's pause, he said hardly a
dozen words.

"Olaf Sigurdsen desires your friendship. He will obey you
but none other!" the girl interpreted; then added, "He means
by that--"

"I know what he means by that," Tros interrupted, and turned to
Conops, who was listening with unconcealed but mixed emotions. He
pointed toward the Northman's ax, its blade buried deep in the
woodwork of the citadel.

"Bring it!"

Conops never disobeyed; but he obeyed that order like a dog sent
to the kennel, taking his time about wrenching the ax free, and
longer still about returning with it. Tros snatched it from his
hand impatiently and offered it hilt-first to Sigurdsen:

"Now let me hear your promise as a free man with a weapon in your
hand," he said deliberately. "Speak it without guile, as in the
presence of your fathers' gods.... For by the gods of earth and
heaven I need friends," he added to himself.

But Conops swore Greek oaths below his breath, and glared at
Sigurdsen as a dog glares at a new, prospective kennel-mate.





CHAPTER XXXI

A MAN NAMED SKELL RETURNS FROM GAUL

Be in no haste to accuse each other. Be slow of vengeance; swift
to acknowledge kindness. Bait ye your traps for your enemies'
goodness; ye shall find that better than his badness that ye
arouse and challenge! Ye fools without subtlety--ye burners of
the roots of growing goodness! Know ye not that an enemy's change
of heart toward you is as timid as the voles, whose little snouts
peep forth from hiding and vanish?

--From the Sayings of the Druid Taliesan



Caswallon returned to the forest battlefield to count Norse
prisoners and to look after wounded Britons, without speaking
again to Tros. Even Orwic only waved a noncommittal farewell, and
Tros was left alone with two ships, fifteen prisoners, and only
Conops to help him manage them. The twenty hired seamen had
returned from over-river, but they were certain to be enemies,
not friends.

The seamen demanded weapons, intimating that the prisoners might
make a break for liberty; but their own only reason for staying
was that Tros had not paid them, and he more than suspected they
would try to pay themselves if provided with more than their own
short, seamen's knives.

Even unarmed they were deadly unreliable; Caswallon's men who had
gone down the riverbank in pursuit of the one boat load of
Northmen that escaped Tros's arrow-fire would be sure to pass
news along, so it would be only a matter of time before scores of
longshore pirates would come hurrying in hope of loot.

Tros's hirelings would help them strip away everything portable,
after which they would probably burn both ships in a wanton
passion of destruction.

Meanwhile, tide was flowing; both ships lay fast on the mud, no
hope of moving either of them until long after dark. The druids
carried wounded and dead ashore; chariots arrived, as by a
miracle, from nowhere and galloped away with their burden around
a clump of trees and over the skyline.

There was no road in that direction, therefore, no prospect of
assistance; the tracks of wheels cut in the turf were new, nearly
at right angles to the riverbank, and not even approximately
parallel to the direction from which the chariots had arrived.

To reach Lunden would take several hours of drifting, and the
distance very likely was too great for one tide, which would have
to rise to three-quarters of its flow before it could lift the
ships; and even so, the bireme would have to be pumped out.

So Tros took a course few men would have dared to take; he
returned their weapons to his prisoners, and brought them all up
on the bireme's poop, where they could have overwhelmed him
easily. He could not understand their speech, nor they his; there
was only Helma to act interpreter, and her smile proved that she
understood Tros's predicament. Her words confirmed it:

"I have pledged no friendship!"

"Have I asked it?" Tros demanded, staring at her. He felt
inclined to box her ears, hardly knew why he refrained.

Her eyes challenged his, but Tros seized the upper hand
of her abruptly:

"Make me a bandage for this cut on my cheek!"

"There is Zorn's wife!"

"I commanded you."

He pointed to a box of loosely woven linen stuff that the druids
had left on the deck.

"Very well."

She smiled in a way that implied a threat, which Tros perfectly
understood; he had heard that the Norse women were adept
with poison.

"Tell a seaman to carry it here," she added; and for the space of
ten more seconds she defied him.

"You fetch it."

Tros's amber eyes met hers more steadily than any man's had ever
done, and there was that behind them that Fflur had called the
"ancient wisdom," although Tros was only conscious of it as
determination; he knew he must master this woman or lose control
of all his prisoners. Far more than Sigurdsen, her brother, she
was the pivot of opinion, although her brother doubtless thought
he ruled the clan.

Suddenly she made a mock curtsey and went down on deck to bring
the bandages, carrying the box back on her head as if she were a
bond-woman, avoiding the eyes of her own folk, artfully obliging
them to see that Tros was making her a menial.

But Tros sat down on the up-turned arrow-basket and submitted his
face to be bandaged as if he had noticed nothing, pulling off the
heavy gold band that encircled his forehead and tossing it from
hand to hand while she opened his wound with her fingers and
sponged it. She understood him.

That gold band, though it might hang too loosely on her neck if
he should place it there, would be a mark of servitude forever.
There were letters and symbols graven on it, and although
she could not read them she had no doubt they were his name
and title.

She could not make a bandage stay in place without wrapping folds
of linen under his jaw and around his forehead, so he could not
replace the band when she had finished. He gave it to her to hold
for him and three of the Northmen made comments that brought
blushes to her cheek. She answered savagely, tongue-lashing them
to silence. Tros turned his back on her and roared to the hired
seamen to man the water-hoist.

Mutiny--instant and unequivocal. Maybe the bandage and the
absence of the gold band made him look less like a king. The
coolness toward him of Caswallon's men had had effect, too; and
none knew better than those hirelings that longshore pirates
would arrive ere long.

Why labor at the hoist when they would need their strength for
looting presently, and for carrying away the loot to villages
upriver? The tousle-headed, ragged, skin-clad gang defied him
noisily, and Conops hurled a wooden belaying pin at the head of
the nearest.

But the pin was hardly more abrupt than Tros. He left the poop,
cloak flying in the wind, like a great bird swooping down on
them, seizing the heads of two and beating them against a third,
discarding those--they lay unconscious on the deck--hurling a
fourth man broadside into half a dozen of his friends, and
pouncing on the ringleader, who had been captain of a vessel of
his own until Tros hired him. Tros twisted an arm behind his back
until he yelled, then rubbed his nose along the beam of the
water-hoist, leaving a smear of blood the length of it.

"Man that beam or eat it!" he commanded. "I will chop and stuff
it down your throats if there's a drop of water in the bilge at
sunset, or one back-word from one of you meanwhile!"

So they went to work and Tros rolled the three unconscious men
toward the trough until the outpour drenched their heads and they
recovered, when he cuffed and shoved them toward the beam and
they began to labor at it, too dazed to know what they were
doing. Then, returning to the poop, he grinned at Sigurdsen, not
glancing at Helma but signing to her to come near and interpret.

"Did you build your longship, Sigurdsen?"

The Northman nodded. He was sunk deep in the northern gloom and
too dispirited to use his voice.

"Who did the labor? These?"

Sigurdsen nodded again, but a trace of pride betrayed itself as
he glanced at his fellow-prisoners.

"I--I taught them all," he grunted.

"Good! Then bid them caulk this bireme from the inside as the
water leaves the hold; use linen, clothing, frayed rope,
anything, so be she floats to Lunden, where we'll beach her in
the mud."

"Your ship is no good," Sigurdsen said gloomily.

"Hah! But her beak sunk Volstrum," Tros retorted. "She has some
virtues. We will pick her as the crows pick a horse's ribs, and
you and I will build a ship together that shall out-sail
all of them."

Sigurdsen stared--hardly believed his ears--grinned at last,
coming out of his gloom to order his men to work, with the three
women to help them unravel rope to stuff into the leaking seams.
But Tros bade Helma stay there on the poop; and when Conops had
found rope and cloth enough, and the hammering began below deck,
he stood in front of her, folding his arms on his breast.

She supposed he intended to use her again as interpreter between
himself and Sigurdsen and made ready to accept that duty
willingly enough; it made her feel indispensable and the earlier
look of ironic challenge returned into her eyes. But Tros
surprised her.

"Can you cook?" he demanded. She nodded, stung, indignant.

"Then do it. These Britons have rotted my belly with cindered
deer-meat until poison would taste like golden oranges from
Joppa. Go. The cook-house is in the citadel. I hunger. Cook
enough for sixteen people."

Her eyelids trembled, brimming with indignant tears, but she bit
her lip and not a tear fell. She held out Tros's gold foreheadband.

"Keep it," he said, "for your wages."

That chance thrust brought tears at last; she choked a sob. Tros
knew then that he had conquered her, although her friendship
might be yet to win, and deadlier than her anger.

"I don't work for wages," she blurted.

There was more passion in her voice than when she had screamed to
Sigurdsen while the fight waged on the poop. She could endure to
be a prisoner, to fetch and carry for her brother's conqueror;
but as one whose "fathers were kings when ice first closed in on
the North and it was dark at noonday," death looked better than
earned money.

"Keep it as my gift then," Tros retorted with an air of
huge indifference.

"No!"

She thrust the thing toward him and, since he would not take it,
flung it at his feet, then, sobbing, hurried down the ladder and
disappeared into the citadel, whence smoke presently emerged.

Tros did not want to talk to Sigurdsen; he wanted to think. It
suited him best to have no interpreter at hand. Sigurdsen, whose
wounds were painful, soused his bandages with water and lay down
in a corner of the poop, his eyes alight with fever.

Tros leaned against the rail, facing the riverbank, whence
longshore plunderers might come, yet thinking less of them than
of the blue-eyed, fair-haired Helma. She annoyed him. He was
vaguely restless at the thought of having to provide for her.
Some spark of tyranny within him, not yet gritted out against the
rocks of destiny, stirred him toward cruelty, and it was blended
with an instinct to defend himself against all women's wiles.

The custom of the whole known world, as regarded prisoners, was
even more rigid and compulsory than written law. He, Tros, was
answerable for the fate of fifteen people; they were his
property, to do with as he pleased, dependent on him, obliged to
be obedient on penalty of death, their only remaining right, that
of looking to him for protection.

He might set them free, but if he did so, Caswallon, should he
see fit, could punish him for succoring and aiding public
enemies. If he should keep them in Lunden, it would probably be
months before the Britons would begin to treat them civilly; they
would be in danger of mob violence.

Yet, if he should imprison them their usefulness would vanish;
they would cease to feel beholden to himself and would either
seek to escape or else intrigue against him with any personal
enemy who might evolve out of the political tangle.

Britain was full of rival factions; hundreds of Northmen had
found shelter and prosperity in Britain by lending themselves to
one faction or another, and these new prisoners might find
friends easily enough.

The probability was that Caswallon had met with political trouble
during Tros's absence; some aspirant for power very likely had
accused him of assisting Tros with provisions and men at a time
when the tribe could ill afford it.

If Caswallon's power were in jeopardy the chief would be a fool
not to consider his own interests and might even feel compelled
to show him enmity. Skell, who was of Norse extraction and a
natural born treason-monger, might easily enough have stirred
such disaffection as would shake Caswallon's chieftainship.

The long and the short of all that was, Tros needed friends, and
the only available possible friends in sight were his Northmen
prisoners, whose gratitude he proposed to earn and keep. Not that
he placed much faith in gratitude--at any rate, not too much.

Homeless men, beaten in battle and reduced to the status of
serfs, can hardly be blamed for disloyalty if offered opportunity
to regain independence.

Tros began to wonder just to what extent he himself was morally
beholden to Caswallon. He even meditated taking the longship,
which, having the lighter draft, would be first off the mud, and
sailing down-Thames with his Northmen to seek safety on the
Belgian coast. His only reason for dismissing the idea was his
obligation to bury his father with proper obsequies.

He was particularly thoughtful about the young girl, Helma.
Instinct told him to beware of her, to give her no chance to
ensnare him, to treat her with less than courtesy;  intuition
--which is as different from instinct as black from white
--warned him that she was a friend worth winning, but that
nothing could be won by a display of weakness.

Tros was no horseman, but he had picked up British terms
from Orwic.

"She's a finely bred mare that must be broke before she'll
handle," he reflected, grinning slyly at the smoke emerging
through the cook-house window, grinning again as he thought of
his lack of experience with women.

He wondered to whom he should marry her, the only ultimate
solution that occurred to him. And while he thought of that, a
boat came up the river, paddled furiously by eight men, keeping
to the far bank to avoid the flowing tide, but crossing on a long
slant presently and making straight for the two ships. A man sat
in the stern whose features seemed vaguely familiar--a man in a
fever of haste, who shifted restlessly and scolded at the
straining crew.

"Skell!" Tros muttered. "Impudence--infinity--the two are one!"

He started for the arrow-engine, but thought better of it; he
could deal with Skell single-handed, and there was Conops to
help; the boat's crew were longshore Britons, of the type that
might murder unarmed men, but would scamper away at the first
threat of serious fighting, men of the sort that had been serfs
for generations.

Skell came hand-over-hand uninvited up the ladder on the bireme's
stern, and stood still on the poop with his back to the rail,
surveying the scene, his foxy eyes avoiding Tros and his restless
hands keeping ostentatiously clear of the sword and dagger he
wore. His fox-red beard was newly trimmed, and he wore good
Gaulish clothes under a smock of dressed brown-stained deer-hide
that came to his knees. He would have looked too well dressed if
it had not been for the stains of travel.

"Tros," he said, meeting his eyes suddenly, "you and I should
cease enmity. I did you a little harm, and you had revenge.
Caesar can employ us both, and I have word for you from Caesar."

"Speak it," Tros answered.

He despised Skell, but he was not fool enough to shut his
ears to news.

Skell might be Caesar's man in theory, but a child could tell by
his expression that it was Skell's advantage he was seeking first
and last. He paused, picking words, and Tros had time to wonder
how far such a reader of men's minds as Caesar actually trusted
him.

"I heard of these Northmen. They attacked Hythe," Skell said
presently, "and I came overland to the Thames in hope of getting
word with them, for I heard they were making for Lunden. I would
have persuaded them to cross to Gaul with me and talk with
Caesar. Caesar could have used such allies as these."

Tros nodded. Caesar would ally himself with any one to turn an
adversary's flank, and would reduce the ally to subjection
afterward. But had Caesar had time to say so much to Skell? Tros
thought not; it was likelier that Skell was speculating on his
own account.

"I met Britons down-river who told me you had sunk Volstrum's
ship and captured this one," Skell went on, glancing repeatedly
at the Northman who lay ten feet away from him clutching with
fevered fingers at the haft of his great ax. "And I happen to
know, Tros, that Caswallon has been turned against you by a new
intrigue. Believe me, I know that surely."

"Aye," Tros answered, "none should know better than the man who
managed the intrigue."

Skell laughed; it began like a fox-bark but ended in a cackle
like an old hen's; there was no more mirth in it than comes of
greed and insincerity. But there was a note, that had nothing to
do with mirth, which set Tros studying the fear in Skell's eyes.

"That is true, Tros," Skell went on. "I sent a message to
Caswallon. I brought a woman from Gaul with me, one of Caesar's
light o' loves. She will make all Britain too hot to hold you!
But Caesar thinks, and I think, you are a man of sense. Caesar
bade me win you over to his side, if I can. The Britons have
turned against you, Tros."

Tros grinned. He grinned like an ogre. Mirth oozed from him.

"Hah! Go and tell your new master, Skell, that I have his bireme
and his gold. I gave him a cold swim at Seine-mouth, sunk his
boats, drowned his men and wrecked his fleet! Say that is all
preliminary. Tell him I'm minded to make friends with him at
about the time of the Greek Calends! Caesar will know what that
means, he talks Greek very well."

"Would you care to trust me?" Skell asked.

"No," said Tros.

"Because," Skell continued, as if he had not noticed the refusal,
"for my part I would rather trust you than Caesar or the Britons.
I have lived my life in Britain, but my father was Norse and I
feel among these Britons like a fish on land. As for Caesar--"

"He is another alien, like me," said Tros. "He and you were not
bred under the same stars. Nor was I."

"Caesar is playing Caesar's hand," Skell answered. "He would use
you and me, and then forget us."

"He shall never forget me," Tros remarked with conviction,
grinning again hugely.

"I see you like Caesar no more than I do," Skell began again; but
Tros's laugh interrupted him.

"Like Caesar? I admire him more than all the kings I ever
met.  He is the greatest of Romans. Compared to him, Skell,
you are a rat that gnaws holes in a rotten ship! Caesar
is a scoundrel on a grand scale--a gentleman who measures
continents, a gold-and-scarlet liar whom you can't understand,
you, who would tell lies just because your belly ached!"

Skell looked a mite bewildered, but Tros's grin was good-natured,
so he tried again:

"Let bygones be, Tros. I am no such fool as to believe in
Caesar's friendship; I would sooner trust you, though you call me
liar to my face. Why not pretend with me to be Caesar's catspaws,
and snatch out a nice fortune for ourselves?"

Tros stroked his beard reflectively. It formed no part of his
philosophy to refuse to make use of a rascal, provided he could
keep his own hands clean. Skell was a mere pawn in fortune's
game, not like Caesar, who used fortune for his mistress and
debauched her with cynical assurance. There was nothing to be
gained by trusting Skell, but not much sense in incurring his
spite; better to kill him and have done with it than to cultivate
his enmity, and Tros preferred never to kill if he could help it.

"You, are afraid to go to Lunden?" he suggested, by way of
plumbing Skell's thoughts.

Skell was about to answer when the door of the cook-house opened
and the blue-eyed Helma came carrying a wooden dish of wheat and
meat, her eyes fixed on it for fear of spilling. Skell whistled
softly to himself.

"That girl is no serving wench!" he remarked, eyeing the amber
shoulder-ornaments and the gold wire on her girdle.

He seemed amused, and before Tros could prevent him he was
speaking to her in the Norse tongue, she standing still because
she could not carry the dish and look upward at the poop. What he
said did not please her; Tros noticed that.

Skell jumped down from the poop and took the dish from her,
holding it while she climbed the ladder and then reaching up to
set it on the poop edge; she had lifted it again in both hands
and was facing Tros before Skell could climb up behind her.

She appeared to be trying to shame Tros by her meekness, she a
sea-king's daughter and he making her cook and fetch and carry.
But Tros curtly bade her set the dish down, sniffing, for he
could smell the stuff was burned.

"What did Skell say?" he demanded, glaring at Skell across her
shoulder, silently daring him to interrupt.

"Does it matter what he says?" she retorted. "He is neither fish
nor bird, a Briton who talks Norse."

"Tell me," Tros insisted.

She turned and looked at Skell, and it appeared that her contempt
for him offset her indignation at Tros's bruskness.

"He said I should look to him for friendship."

"So!" said Tros. "Sit down then, Skell, and eat with us. I would
like to hear more about friendship. Ho there, Conops! Come and
eat, and bring the Northmen. Bid those Britons lay off pumping
for an hour, unless the water makes too fast. Give them bread and
dry meat."

The giant Sigurdsen refused food, although Helma tried to tempt
him, but the other Northmen came and sprawled on deck, crowding
the women away from the dish. Tros sent Conops for another plate
and heaped food on it for Sigurdsen's wife and the widow, but he
made Helma sit beside him, whereat Skell laughed.

"She will not eat with the men," he explained.

"She will obey," Tros retorted, and then listened curiously while
the Northmen sang a grace of some kind, a melancholy chant that
had the dirge of seas in it and something of the roll of thunder.

When they had done he added a sunlit, wine-suggestive verse in
Greek, being ever respectful of other men's religions.

For a while they ate enormously, using their fingers, Tros
stuffing food into Helma's mouth until she laughed and had to
yield, with her face all smeared with gravy. But the laughter
brought tears to her eyes, and she only kept on eating because
Tros insisted; shame at being made to eat with men was swallowed
by a greater grief, and Tros began to pity her in his own
bull-hearted way.

"Your brother Sigurdsen has made choice and cast in his lot with
me. These other Northmen have no choice, but are my men
henceforth. Now you shall choose," he told her. "There is Skell,
and here am I. Whose fortune will you follow? I will give you to
Skell if you wish."

Her scorn for Skell was so intense she almost spat at him.

"That half-breed!" she sneered. "You may bestow me where you
will, Tros, for that is your right. But I will not die, I will
live to see you writhe in ruin if you treat me as less than a
king's daughter! I have heard you are a prince's son, so I submit
to you, although I hate you. If I should have to bear your
children, they shall be a shame to me but a pride to you."

Tros laid his huge hand on her shoulder. "Peace!" he ordered.

Talk of that kind was as foreign to him as the Northmen's
language that contained no word he understood. He was more
perplexed about the girl than ever, utterly unable to imagine
what to do with her. Abruptly, gruffly, he changed the subject.

"Tell us this plan of yours, Skell. How would she and you make
use of me? What is your friendship worth to her?"

Skell tried to grin ingratiatingly. Since he had eaten Tros's
food he had no fear of violence; the laws of hospitality were
rigid; it was greater sin to break them than to steal or to
seduce a neighbor's wife, and unless Tros were willing to incur
contempt of the meanest slave in Britain he would have to let
Skell get clear before resuming enmity.

"Caesar might love her!" Skell answered slyly. "Caesar likes them
young and well-bred. Why not send her to Caesar to love him
awhile and make your peace with him?"

"Who is Caesar?" asked Helma, cheeks reddening.

"He will be emperor of all the world, unless I succeed against
him better than the last two times," Tros answered. "Caesar and I
are as fire and water, but as to which is which you must judge
for yourself. I hate him as you hate me, young woman. Do you
understand that?"

She actually laughed. Her whole face lighted with a new humor
that transformed it.

"Caesar might like you if you would let him," she answered, and
then looked away.

"What else?" asked Tros, staring straight at Skell.

"Did I speak of one of Caesar's light o' loves?" Skell answered.
"The woman crossed from Gaul with me, in a boat that lost its
mast almost within hail of your bireme. Take my advice and be rid
of this one before that one casts her hooks into your heart! Put
this one to a wise use."

"The woman's name?" asked Tros.

"She was named Cartisfindda, but the Romans changed it to
Cornelia. She carried Caesar's message to Glendwyr the Briton.
Glendwyr plots against Caswallon, is ready to pounce at the first
chance. You understand now? Caesar can use you or ruin you. You
and I and a handful of Northmen to help Glendwyr--man! We can
help ourselves to the loot of Lunden Town! For a beginning I say,
send this girl to Caesar with your compliments."

Tros looked hard at Helma. There was laughter in his eyes, but
Skell could not see that because he sat at Tros's right hand.

"Will you go?" he asked her.

"As your enemy?" she answered. "Yes!"

"Nay, I have enemies enough in Caesar's camp," said Tros. "Did
you hear her, Skell? You must think of another means of making
use of me."

But it had occurred to him he might make use of Skell.

"Are you afraid to come to Lunden?"

Skell looked frightened. For a moment he seemed to fear Tros
might take him against his will, until he remembered that the
ships were on the mud and he was Tros's guest, safe from violence.

"I am a stranger to all fear," he answered.

And he could look the part; he would have deceived a man who did
not know him.

But the truth was Skell was so full of fear that he could be
trusted to change his plan at any moment and never to tell the
truth where he had opportunity to weave a lie. His was the dread
that makes misers and all meanness. He felt himself a toad
beneath the harrow of misfortune, who could never afford to keep
faith because of the initial handicap with which he started out
in life.

He could recognize honesty--none more readily than he--but only
to try to take advantage of it; none less than he could cope with
subtlety that uses truth for bait and candid explanations for a
trap. But subtlety of that sort was Tros's instinctive weapon.

"Skell," he said, "you are a scoundrel who would slit your
friend's throat for a woman's favor. I am not your friend; I have
but one throat and I need it! I hope you are Caesar's friend; yet
I would hate to see a man like Caesar brought to his end by a cur
like you. However, that is Caesar's problem and not mine."

Skell tried to look offended, but in his heart he felt flattered,
as the smile in his eyes betrayed. Tros noticed that and
continued in the same vein of frankness:

"My difficulty, Skell, is this: that I have fed you. Therefore,
you are my guest, and though I know you would never hesitate to
kill me, if you could do it without danger, I dare not offend the
gods by killing you. Therefore, I must make terms with you. But a
bargain has two sides. I am minded you shall come to Lunden."

"Why?" demanded Skell.

"Because I like to have my enemies where I can see them."

"And if I will not come?"

"You are afraid to come. You fear Caswallon. You know Caswallon
knows you have intrigued with Caesar. Yet you would like to go to
Lunden because your house is there, and there are men who owe you
money, whom you would like to press for payment.

"However, it may be that lure is not strong enough, so I will add
this: Am I a man of my word, Skell? Yes? You are sure of that?
Then listen: if you refuse to come to Lunden I will spend, if I
must, as much as half of Caesar's money that became mine when I
took this bireme. I will spend it in cooking your goose for you!

"I will set Caswallon by the ears about you. And if all else
fails me, I will seek you out and slay you with my own sword,
much though it would irk me to defile good steel in such a
coward's heart! Do you believe me?"

"And if I come to Lunden?" Skell inquired.

He was smiling. He enjoyed to talk of the issues of life and
death when there was no presently impending danger.

"Then I will concede this: I will not move hand or tongue against
you while you do the same by me. I will tell Caswallon you are a
harmless rogue whose bark is far worse than his bite, for, as the
gods are all around us, Skell, that is my honest judgment of you.

"I will tell Caswallon you have done us all a service, for that
is true: Unless you had gone to Gaul in the hope of betraying
me to Caesar, I could never have annoyed the Roman there
at Seine-mouth.

"Skell, I almost captured him. So I will beg Caswallon to ignore
your treachery; and if he should refuse, I will protect you with
my own guest-privilege."

Skell meditated that for a while. His foxy, iron eyes kept
shifting from face to face, avoiding Tros but constantly
returning to study Helma, who was kneeling beside Sigurdsen,
aiding his distracted wife to soak the stiffening bandages.

"I mistrust your words," Skell said at last. "You are a man who
keeps a bargain, but you bind one craftily and I suspect a trick.
You must swear to me that there is nothing hidden in those terms
of yours."

"Not I," Tros answered. "I expect to make my profit. So do you,
Skell. I will change no word of the agreement. Either you come to
Lunden, subject to my stipulation, or you go your own way and I
will rid the earth of you as swiftly as that first duty can be
done. Now choose--for I hear oars--and the tide is turning."

Skell also heard oars, thumping steadily downstream toward
the bireme.

"I agree!" he said, snapping his mouth shut, looking bold and
almost carefree; but Tros's amber eyes discerned the nervousness
that underlay that mask.

Conops whispered in Tros's ear. Tros stood and glanced over
the stern.

"Druids," he said, and began straightening his garments to
receive them with proper dignity. "They will be coming for my
father's body. Heh! But Caswallon is a true host, friendship or
no friendship. See in what state the druids come!"





CHAPTER XXXII

"A PRETTY DECENT SORT OF GOD!"

Ye who look for a profit from a friendship, ye are ten times
overpaid before a reckoning begins. Ye are thieves, and in the
day of reckoning your lot shall be betrayal and humiliation.
Friendship is free, and its gifts are as free as the sunlight
that demands no recompense. Otherwise it is not friendship, but
bait within a hidden trap. They are not gifts, wherein the hooks
of avarice lie hidden.

--From the Sayings of the Druid Taliesan



The druids sang as they approached the bireme. In the bow of a
long barge, under a bower of yew-branches, there stood an ancient
of days, bald-headed, a white beard flowing to his waist, a
golden sickle in his girdle, his white robe touching sandals
laced with golden thongs.

He led the chant; young voices in the stern caroled joyful,
almost bird-like, regular responses; fourteen rowers droned a
harmonied accompaniment, pulsing to the rhythm of the gilded
oars. Serenely, solemnly they hymned the ever-nearness of
eternity; there was not one note of grief.

The barge was draped in purple cloth and the rowers wore
sleeveless purple tunics over their white smocks. They who stood
singing in the stern were robed, like the ancient in the bow, in
white from head to foot; and all, rowers included, wore wreaths
of mistletoe.

In the midst of the barge, between the rowers, was a platform
draped in white with a wide gold border, and over that a canopy
was raised on gilded rods. The sides of the barge were white,
adorned with gilded scroll-work.

The rowers tossed oars and the barge swung to a standstill under
the bireme's stern; but the chant continued. Tros and his
prisoners stood respectfully, Olaf Sigurdsen supporting himself
on the shoulders of two men; the Northmen's lips moved as if they
were trying to fit their own familiar words to druid music, that
stirred their pagan hearts as only battle and the North Sea
storms and elemental mysteries could ever do.

Skell kept covering his face nervously; some half-familiar
phantom had returned to haunt his brain. The women, except
Helma, sobbed as if the sobbing brought relief to tortured
heart-strings; but she stood still, beside Tros, brave-eyed,
almost glistening with emotions that not she herself could
have explained.

Her shoulder touched Tros's arm and he could feel a thrill that
made his flesh creep pleasantly. He drew his arm away.

The hireling Britons at the water-hoist ceased work and stood by
the bulwark. Conops, irreverent and practical, threw a rope over
the stern, but the druids ignored it; they held the barge to the
bireme with gilded boat-hooks while two of the rowers drove long
poles into the river-bed to serve for an anchor at either end.

Then they raised a wooden ladder with bronze hooks that caught
the bireme's stern rail, and up that the old High Druid came,
pausing at every step to roll out his majestic hymn and wait for
the response. He came over the taffrail, singing, moving his
right hand in centuries-old ritual, as calmly as if that were a
temple threshold. He hardly touched Tros's proffered arm as he
stepped down to the poop.

There, eyes on the horizon, he stood booming his hymn to eternity
until eight druids followed him over the stern. He needed no
advice from Tros; Caswallon must have told him where the
greater-than-a-druid's body was that he had come to bear away
with ancient honors.

He strode forward, and down the short ladder to the deck, the
other druids keeping step behind him; and when Tros, summoning
all his dignity, swung himself down to the deck to open the cabin
door and show the way, a druid motioned him aside. They
let no uninitiated hand have part, let no untaught eye see
the rites they entered to fulfil, let none but druids hear
their whispered liturgy.

Two druids stood outside the door, their backs to it, lips
moving, signifying with a nod to Tros that he should keep his
distance. So Tros stood, leaning on his drawn sword, his head
bowed, until they came forth at last bearing the body between
them. It was no longer covered with Caesar's scarlet cloak, but
robed in druid's garments under a purple sheet and laid on a
gilded stretcher. The old High Druid swayed ahead of the
procession, chanting. They ascended the poop-ladder, hardly
pausing, skillfully passing the stretcher from hand to hand so
that the body they honored was always feet first, always
horizontal, paused on the poop to chant a changed refrain, then
descended the ladder to the barge, with the rear end of the
stretcher hung in slings, and no commotion or mismovement to
disturb the dead man's dignity.

The chanting rose to a higher melody, as if they welcomed a
warrior home, when they laid the body on the platform in the
barge's midst. Then the old High Druid took his stand beneath the
canopy; the rowers cast off from the anchor-poles; the barge
moved out into the stream, and to a new chant, wilder and more
wonderful, the oarsmen swung in unison, until they vanished in a
crimson glow of sunset between autumn-tinted oaks, up-river.
Then, Tros broke silence.

"Thus, not otherwise, a soul goes forth," he said. "None knoweth
whither. They bear it forth; and there are They who shall
receive it."

He spoke Greek; only Conops could have understood the words, and
Conops' senses were all occupied in watching Skell and Helma,
trying to guess what mischief they were brewing. Quietly he
plucked Tros's sleeve, whispering:

"Master, better give me leave to kill that sly-eyed fox! Coax him
forward to the cook-house. Slip the knife in back of his ear. As
for the woman--"

He did not offer to kill the woman; he was thrifty; he knew
her value.

"--whip her. Whip her now, before she thinks you easy and does
you a damage! Take my advice, master, or she will cook a mischief
for you quicker than she burned the stew."

The sun went down; and in a haze of purple twilight Tros drew
Helma to the starboard rail, backing her against it.

"What did Skell say this time?" he demanded.

Conops was listening, hand on knife-hilt, watching Skell, who
leaned over the far rail whistling to himself. The hireling
seamen having pumped the bireme dry had gone to the bow, where
they were half-invisible, like phantoms herded in the gloom. The
tide was rising fast; the broken oars between the ships already
creaked to the longship's motion, but the bireme was still hard
and fast.

Helma laughed mirthlessly, but she seemed to have recovered
something of her former spirit.

"You are arrogant, and I obey you, Tros, but I don't know for how
long. Skell says you are among enemies in Britain. He says they
will not let you keep your prisoners or the longship. He bade me
notice how the druids said no word to you."

Tros laughed. He knew the druids took no part in personal
disputes, not interfering much in politics. The same law governed
all their ceremony; nothing was allowed to interrupt it.

"Go on," he said. "What was Skell's proposal?"

"Skell said, if I go with you I shall be sold in open market by
Caswallon's order."

Tros knew that Skell knew better. Even should Caswallon claim the
prisoners despite his recent gift of them to Tros, he could not
dispose of them like cattle without incurring the wrath of the
druids and the scorn of the whole countryside. But it was a
likely enough lie for Skell to tell to a prisoner, who might not
know the British customs, though she could speak the tongue.

"So what did Skell suggest?"

"He said the Britons will come and loot these ships. They will
kill the men and seize us women. Skell said, if I obey him, he
will protect me and take me to Gaul."

Tros whistled softly, nodding to himself. There was no hurry; the
longship floated; he could move her whenever he chose. Meanwhile,
Skell had broken the guest-law, and he had excuse to kill him or
to kick him overboard. Conops read his gesture, took a step
toward Skell, drawing his knife eight gleaming inches from the
sheath.

"Stay!"

Tros seized him by the shoulder. It was a dangerous game to deal
roughly with a guest in Britain. Skell had eaten from Tros's dish
by invitation; all the crew had seen it. A prisoner's word that
Skell had voided privilege could carry no weight against a free
man's unless given under torture.

"What answer did you make to Skell?" he demanded, turning, but
keeping hold of Conops' shoulder.

The girl laughed, mirthlessly again. "I would liefer die beside
my brother than go, a half-breed's property, to Caesar."

"Come here, Skell!" Tros commanded.

But he spoke too suddenly, too fiercely. There was a splash as
Skell sprang overside. Then Tros's ears caught what Skell
probably had heard first--song and splashing in the distance,
downstream. He thought of the arrow-engine but refrained and
pushed Conops away from it. Conops urged, but Tros knew
his own mind.

"Let the rat run. I have a notion not to kill him."

"Notion!" Conops muttered. "I've a notion, too. We'll all be
gutted by pirates, that's my notion!"

Skell's boat left the bireme's side in response to his shouts,
and the Britons who had brought him hauled him out of the water.
Straight away he set them paddling toward the farther bank, where
he could lurk in shadow out of sight of the approaching boats,
whose crews sang drunkenly and splashed enough for a considerable
fleet. But there was no moon, no stars, only the ghostly British
gloaming deeply shadowed, and Tros could not see them yet.

"Into the longship," he commanded. "All hands!"

The hirelings in the bow demurred. They knew the time was come
for looting. Tros charged them, beat them overside with the flat
of his sword. Conops cut the lashings that held the ship
together. There was no talk needed to persuade the Northmen to
flee from drunken longshoremen; they were overside before Tros
could count their flitting shadows, and Tros had hardly time to
run for Caesar's cloak before the longship yielded to the tide
and drifted out into the river.

For a while he let her drift and listened. He could still hardly
see the approaching boats, but it was evident that their
occupants had seen the longship's movement; they had stopped and
were holding a consultation, paddling to keep their craft from
drifting nearer until they could decide what the movement meant.

There was no wind; the longship lay helpless on the tide, useless
unless Tros could set his prisoners to work and make the
hirelings help them; and if he should put the Northmen to the
oars there would be none to help him repel boarders.

Yet there was no knowing what the end might be if he should
employ his prisoners to defend a ship that had been theirs a
dozen hours ago. They, too, might force the hirelings to the oars
and make a bid for freedom. He had given them back their weapons;
they could overwhelm him easily.

But out of the darkness down the river movement grew again. The
Britons were advancing on the bireme, keeping silence. It was
more than Tros could stomach to see pirates loot a valuable ship.
"Oars!" he commanded in a low voice. "Out oars!"

Conops leaped into the ship's waist, clawing, cuffing, beating
with his knife-hilt, until presently a dozen hirelings manned the
benches, the remainder hugging bruises in the dark.

"Too few!" Tros muttered.

Unused to those oars and that ship, a dozen men could hardly have
provided steerage way against the tide. He could count nearly a
dozen boats creeping close up to the bireme.

"Helma!" he commanded, turning his head to look for her.

The Northmen, except Sigurdsen, who lay murmuring in delirium,
stood and grinned at him. Helma was behind them, urging
something, speaking Norse in sibilant undertones.

"Helma!" he said again; and his hand went to his sword, for the
Northmen's grins were overbold.

One of them was arguing with Helma, with what sounded like
monstrous oaths.

"To your oars!" he ordered, gesturing.

None obeyed. He seized the nearest Northman, hurled him into the
ship's waist, spun around again to fight for dear life, drawing
sword and lunging as he turned.

"Hold, Tros!"

That was Helma's voice. Ears were swifter than his eyes; he heard
her in mid-lunge and checked barely in time to let a man give
ground in front of him. Helma sprang to his side then, seized his
sword-hilt in both hands, bearing down on it, screaming at the
prisoners in Norse.

He understood she was fighting for him, scolding, screaming at
her kinsmen to obey and man the oars. He caught the word
Sigurdsen two or three times. She was invoking her brother's name.

Suddenly she let go Tros's sword and fairly drove the Northmen
down in front of her, hurling imprecations at them, then watched
Tros, watched what he would do, stood back in silence as he
strode toward the helm, laughed when he seized it and stood at
gaze, his left hand raised over his head ready to signal
the rowers.

The longship had drifted away from the bireme stern-first and was
now nearly beam to the tide. He signaled to the port-oars first,
to straighten her, then tried three strokes, both sides together,
to feel what strength and speed he could command. The tide was
strong, but they could move her better than he hoped, and he
headed half a dozen easy strokes inshore where there was more or
less slack water, due to reeds and lily-pads.

He could count nine boats now nosing toward the bireme. Two or
three had disappeared, inshore probably. They were creeping
cautiously as if expecting ambush. As their noses touched the
bireme's shadow Tros shouted, bringing down his left hand:

"Row! Yo-ho!--Yo-ho! Yo-ho!"

The longship leaped. Before the Britons in the boats could guess
what the shout portended, a high prow, notched against the sky,
came boiling down on them, jerking to the strain of ash oars as
Conops beat time with a rope's end on the hirelings' backs. Three
boats backed away in time; but six crowded ones were caught by
the longship's prow, swept sidewise between the ships and crushed
against the bireme's hull.

There were screams, and a splintering crash, grinding of broken
timber, oaths, confusion in the longship where the rowers on the
port side fell between the benches, a long, ululating cry from
Helma and the longship swung alone down-river with a boiling helm
as Tros threw all his weight against the steering oar.

"Now again!" he shouted, laughing. "Easier this time--with
the tide."

But the rowers needed minutes to recover equilibrium and breath.
There were two men knocked unconscious by their own oar-handles.
It took time to swing the longship, head upstream. Tros roared
his orders, Helma screamed interpretation of them; Conops plied
the rope's end; but before the longship could be headed on her
course again Tros saw the remnant of the fleet of boats scoot out
of the bireme's shadow and race for the riverbank.

"Easy! Easy all!" he shouted; and again Helma studied him
curiously, puckering her eyes to see his face more clearly
in the gloom.

There were thumps, oaths, commotion in the ship's waist, where
Conops fought three Britons. Unwisely they had sprung out of the
darkness from behind to pay him for the rope's end, but they
missed with their first onslaught, so the outcome was inevitable
and Tros paid no attention to that minor detail. He was studying
the bireme, measuring with his eye the height of water up her
side. She was still heeled just a trifle, bow-end firmly
on the mud.

But there were noises along the shadowy, marshy shoreline. Owls,
half a dozen of them, rose into the night and vanished with the
weird, swift flight that signified they were afraid of something.
Presently sparks, then a blaze, then a whirl of red fire as a man
waved a torch to get it properly alight.

Torch after torch was lighted from the first one, until the
darkness fifty yards back from the river line grew aglow with
smoky crimson. The commotion in the ship's waist ceased and
Conops came aft, leaning elbows on the low poop-deck.

"All ready, master," he said calmly; but he was breathing hard,
and he snuffled because his nose was bleeding.

"Find a warp and come up here," Tros ordered.

Conops disappeared again. Tros sang a "Yo-ho" song to time the
oarsmen, giving just sufficient way to bring the ships abreast.
Then, backing port-oars with the aid of Helma's voice, he swung
the longship's stern until it almost touched the bireme. Conops
appeared then, dragging a wet rope, cursing its religion in
outrageous longshore Levantine--which was a mixture of a dozen
languages. Helma pounced on it and helped him haul, her muscles
cracking like a firebrand.

"Jump and make fast!"

Conops nearly missed, for the longship's stern was swinging. But
he had tied a small rope to the heavy warp and tied that to his
waist, so he had two hands to clutch the bireme's stern. He
clambered up it like a monkey and hauled the warp after him,
Helma paying out the coils as the longship drifted away, beam to
the tide, Tros straightening her with slow dips of the port-oars.

"Make fast!"

Helma, sea-king's daughter to the marrow of her young bones, took
three turns around an oaken bollard in the stern and held that
until the warp began to feel the strain, paying out a foot or two
until vibration ceased, before she made fast to the other bollard.

"Both banks--way!" Tros thundered and began his "Yo-ho" song,
while Helma beat time and the mud boiled blue around them. But
the bireme stuck fast, though the longship swung and swayed,
heeling to one side or the other as the humming warp took the
strain to port or starboard. Conops yelled suddenly. A torch came
curving out of darkness to the bireme's deck, followed by yells
from the longshore Britons as Conops caught that one and tossed
it overboard. Then another torch, and another.

"Row! Yo-ho! Yo-ho!"

The ash oars bent and the rowers sweated in the dark. Helma ran
between the benches, whirling a rope's end, beating the Britons'
backs. No need to urge the Northmen; they were working for dear
life, whereas the Britons were in favor of the longshore pirates.

Tros labored at the helm to keep the longship straight and haul
the bireme off the mud at the same angle that she struck. But the
warp hummed and nothing happened, except that torch followed
torch so fast that Conops could hardly toss them overboard.

Then Conops yelled again and vanished like a bat toward the
bireme's bow. There was shouting, splashing and a red glare in
the darkness at her bow-end--a thump of wood and iron as Conops
levered the great anchor clear and dropped it overside--yells as
it fell on heads below.

Then the glare increased; they were bringing more torches and
burning brushwood. A dozen arrows flitted through the darkness;
near the longship's poop. Tros roared, bull-throated, to the
rowers for the final effort; but they ceased, drooped, gasping at
their oars, and the longship swung inshore as the warp held her
stern against the tide.

Tros did not dare to let his crew of Britons get too near the
riverbank; they would mutiny and join their friends. Nor could he
let the warp go; he would have died rather than leave Conops at
the mercy of drunken savages.

"Now if Lud of Lunden would give me a south wind--"

But Lud did better. He made some one mad. Tros would have needed
time to set the sail. A shadowy boat flitted through the darkness
and shot close up to the bireme's bow. A flat blast on a cow-horn
split the night. Followed yelling. The red glare faded, giving
place to moving shadows and din or argument. Conops returned in
leaps to the bireme's stern and shouted, waving both hands.

"Way! Way! Yo-ho!" Tros thundered.

Helma plied the rope's end; the exhausted oarsmen strained,
half-mutinous; the longship heeled and turned her head to
midstream, until suddenly Tros laid his whole weight and strength
on the steering-oar and the bireme slid gently backward off the
mud. The tide had lifted her at last.

They towed her stern-first for a mile, until the longshore
shouting died in the distance. Then Tros backed oars in a wide
reach of river and lay alongside until Conops could make the warp
fast in the bow, so as to bring the bireme's head upstream.

"Who was it saved us?" he asked Conops.

"Tide and a madman, master! Skell came over-river, blew a
horn-blast, startled them, told them that he knew Caesar's gold
was in the bireme, offered them half of it if they would cut the
warp and scare you off before they set fire to anything, kept
them talking until the tide crept under her. This Lud of Lunden
is a pretty decent sort of god!"

"Aye, Lud of Lunden! Aye," Tros muttered. "Aye. I knew there was
a reason for preserving Skell. Lud of Lunden! I will make a
little giftlet to that godlet. I believe he smiles on effort. He
shall laugh!"





CHAPTER XXXIII

IN LUNDEN POOL

Shall I condone your treasons to renew my peace? How often have I
told you that the qualities of faith and obedience evoke Wisdom
in your rulers, aye, and in you also. Ill-faith and disobedience
are clouds that hide Wisdom from you and, from them. Ye have the
government ye have earned. Ye suffer from the destiny that ye
yourselves created. Ye may look in vain to me to hide you from
the consequences of your treasons, for which I know no other
remedy than good faith. See ye to it, each for himself.

--From the Sayings of the Druid Taliesan



A gray, wet dawn was paling in the sky when Tros dropped anchor
in the pool below the ford by Lunden Town. Caswallon's mouse-hued
wooden roof, green-splashed with lichen, loomed through drifting
mist between the autumn-tinted oaks.

Tros sighed for his sunlit Mediterranean, but he noticed that his
Northmen prisoners, oar-weary though they were and stiff from the
fighting of the day before, were in an environment they liked.

They sniffed the autumn air, leaned overside and praised the lush
green meadows, nodded to one another sleepily as wooden and
thatched roofs, barns and neat enclosures peeped out of the mist
a moment to vanish again like dreams of fairyland. The lowing of
cows asking to be milked appeared to fill them with excitement.
They spoke of wealth in whispers.

Sigurdsen's high fever had abated. He had slept like a child and
now seemed hardly to understand what had happened to him; his
wife was talking in low tones, he answering in grunts, fingering
the edge of the great battle-ax that lay across his knees and
glancing from his wife to Helma, who sat facing him. The other
woman was still keening her dead husband.

The Lunden Britons were late sleepers. Not a human being stirred
along the waterfront on either side of the river, although a dog
howled a general alarm and a whole pack joined him, galloping
from house yards to patrol the river and bay indignant, challenge
to the skies. There were several rotting ships among the reeds,
all smaller than the longship, and not one even river-worthy.

"This will never be a nation," Tros reflected. "There is no hope
for them. Think of bringing two ships into Ostia, Tarentum, and
Piraeus, Smyrna, Alexandria, and none but a pack of dogs to give
the challenge! They will be overwhelmed by foreigners. They will
cease. A hundred years hence none will know the name of Britain."

But he was nearly as tired out as his oarsmen and as Conops, in
no true mood for prophecy. Unlike them, he might not curl himself
to sleep under the benches. He had no more fear on account of his
British hirelings, who would stick like leeches now until he paid
them. But he did not propose to be caught asleep by any of
Caswallon's men, who might remove his prisoners, might even
execute them, especially if Caswallon should be away from home;
and that seemed likely.

He thought it strange, otherwise, that there should be none to
receive him and bid him welcome, for the sake of good manners,
however unfriendly they might feel. Caswallon must have known he
would bring both ships up-river. Or--the thought stirred Tros to
rumbling anger--had Caswallon left him purposely hard and fast on
the river mud in hope that longshore pirates would wipe a
difficulty off the slate? To be roundly punished for it
afterward, no doubt, since kings must punish criminals and
friendships must be honored. When the first hot flush of
indignation died he decided to give Caswallon the benefit of that
doubt; but he found it difficult, knowing that kings have harder
work than other men to keep faith, subtler means of breaking it,
and more excuse. There was Caesar's gold, for instance.

When he had watched shore-bearings for a while to make sure the
anchor held, he turned to Helma, hoping to take his mind off one
worry by considering another.

"How did you learn Gaulish?" he asked.

"Some of us always do," she answered. "Don't we need it when we
raid the coasts? I learned it from my nurse, who was a Briton
taken in a raid and carried off to Malmoe. Britons are good
servants, once they yield. She worked hard, I loved her."

"Love? Or was it belly-yearning?" Tros asked. "I have heard tell
that Northmen think of nothing else but fighting, feasting and
taking wives."

"None has had me to wife," she retorted, and there was pride in
her eyes such as Tros had never seen.

"Well--well you behaved last night," he said, looking straight at
her. "You are a poor cook, for you burned the stew; but you shall
cook no more for me. What shall be done with you? Speak, Will you
return to Malmoe?"

She bit her lip, then stabbed out words like dagger-blades.

"The men of Helsing drove my brother forth. Shall I return and
serve them, saying that with my brother's ship I bought myself to
give to them?"

"You hate me. Why did you stand by me in the pinch last night?"
Tros asked.

"I am a sea-king's daughter. Should I side with pirates?"
she demanded.

"What were you when you raided the Thames or when you burned a
south coast village?" Tros inquired.

"Good Norse stock," she retorted. "We are Vikings!"*

----------
* Vikings: the word means, literally, "Creek-men" and is probably
a great deal older than the period of this story; originally a
term of contempt, it ended, like similar words in other
languages, by being proudly adopted by those whom it was coined
to offend.
----------

Tros was puzzled.

"What if I should take you back to Malmoe, and try an issue with
the men of Helsing, and reestablish you? What then?"

"Ah, you laugh at me." But there was no laughter in his eyes, and
she was watching them. "You might make my brother a king again,
for you are a bold man and you can handle a ship. But the skalds
would call me a black-haired foreigner's wife until the very
serving-wenches mocked me."

"Said I one word about wifeing?" Tros asked, astonished. But she
was astonished, too; backed away two steps from looking as if he
had struck her with a whip.

"I am a prisoner by my brother's oath of battle. I must abide
that," she answered. "You are a prince? Have you a wife?"

"No," said Tros, watching her.

He knew now she was much more puzzled than he had been.

"You will not degrade me," she said with an air of confidence.

She implied they had both been talking in a foreign tongue and so
could hardly understand each other. Biting her lip again, she
calmed herself, made a nervous effort to be patient with him.

"I will speak with Olaf Sigurdsen," said Tros, and strode to
where the Northman leaned against the stern all swathed in,
bandages, nervously thumbing his ax-hilt.

But Sigurdsen knew no Gaulish other than the words for mast and
oar, beef, beer and a dozen place-names. Helma had to stand there
and interpret.

"What shall I do with her?" Tros asked, signifying Helma with a
sidewise motion of his head.

"She is yours!" said the Northman, astonished. "You won her!"

Helma interpreted, mimicking even the voice-note. Suddenly, as if
she thought Tros had not understood yet, she pulled off her
amber-and-gold shoulder-ornaments and thrust them toward him.

"Have you a wife?" asked Sigurdsen.

Helma translated. Sigurdsen's wife stood up beside her husband,
staring at Tros as if he were some new kind of creature she had
never heard of. She began whispering, and Sigurdsen nodded,
spoke, with a note of grandeur in his voice.

"What does he say?" Tros demanded.

"He says--you returned him his weapon; you accepted his oath
as a free man; but you did not say you returned me to him.
Nevertheless, perhaps you meant that. Therefore, he being my
brother and a king's son although without fief or following, and
you his conqueror in battle and his sworn friend, he swears by
Thor and Odin and his ax-blade I am born in noble wedlock and a
fit bride; and he gives me to you, to be wife and to share your
destiny on land and sea."

"Zeus!"

No thought of marrying had ever entered Tros's head, except as
something he would never do. He had sworn no vow, but he had seen
too many men grow fat and lazy in the meshes of a family not to
promise himself he would die free of woman's ministering. He had
something of his father's conviction that marriage was earthy of
the earth, a good enough thing for the rabble but a trap that
kept a strong soul from aspiring to the heights.

Sigurdsen spoke again, not knowing who Zeus might be, not
understanding the explosion. He had never heard of a man's
refusing a king's daughter.

"She is fair. She is young. She is a virgin. Call her wife before
the Britons come and men speak ill of her."

Helma had to translate. She did it womanly-wise, her blue
eyes--they were more blue than the northern sky--accepting
destiny as something to be met and very proudly borne.

"I think you did not understand me yesterday," she said.

"Nor I you. You are a brave man, Tros, and I will bear you sons
of whom you shall not be ashamed."

Brave! Tros felt as weak as a seasick landsman! He was ashamed.
He might refuse, and he would hate himself. He might accept and
learn to hate the woman! He might give her to some other man and
evermore regret it! Why had he taken prisoners? Why hadn't he
made a gift of them to Caswallon when he had the chance?

Slowly--he was striving to hear the inner voice that usually
guided; but either the inner man was deaf or the voice was
sleeping--he let his left hand leave his sword-hilt; he did not
know why. She stepped closer, smiling. Both arms stretched toward
the girl before he knew it. She came into them, her head on his
breast and at that very moment Conops wakened.

"Master!"

It was the exclamation of a man bereft of faith in the one eye
that Caesar's torturers had left him. Love-and-run in half the
ports of the Levant was Conops' history, brief interludes of lazy
days and tavern-haunting nights between long spells of hardship
and service to Tros on land and sea. Loose, superstitious morals
for himself but rigorous aloofness for his master from all
worldly ways, was his religion. He had but one eye because he had
dared to rebuke Caesar for insulting Tros. He rubbed the other
one, crestfallen, as if the Tros he knew were gone and some one
substituted whom he could not recognize.

Tros with a girl in his arms? He could not believe it. He came
and glared, the tassel of his red cap down over his empty eye;
the long tooth sneering through the slit in his upper lip; blood
on his nose from yesterday. He fingered his long knife. He sidled
three-quarters of a circle around Helma as if looking for an
un-witch-protected opening through which to drive his knife.

"Master! And your father not buried!" he said, hardly
reproachfully, rather as if he did not believe his senses.

He was jealous--jealous as a harbor-strumpet of a rival light o'
love. The slobber blew in bubbles on his lean lips.

Tros was in no mood to be reproved by a servant. He let out a
lick with his fist--caught Conops on the ear and sent him
sprawling between the oar-benches.

"Dog!" he thundered. "Will you judge your betters?"

Conops did not hear that. He lay hugging his bruised head,
grateful for it, glad of anything that drove the greater anguish
out of mind, rocking himself, moaning, knees and elbows bunched.

Angry--for emotions such as Tros had come through turn to anger
as the sour milk to whey--Tros swung his hands behind him and
stood breast out, grim chin high, staring at the shore, ignoring
Helma. She was the real irritant. He told himself it was not born
in him to love a woman. If he had thought he loved her--had
he?--that was only the emotion of a drunken sailor. Worse! it was
sordid backsliding. A descent from his own Olympian heights of
manhood to the common level of unmoral fools like Conops!

What would old Perseus have said to it? Hah! Old father Perseus
did the same thing, didn't he? Tros wondered who his own mother
had been, and by what means she had wheedled a middle-aged saint
into the snares of marriage!

Tros knew she had died when he was born, but others had told him
she was a royal woman, born of a line of kings whose throne was
overturned by Rome. Perseus had forbidden speech of her,
and as usual Tros had obeyed, only listening when other men
dropped information.

Her death, as far as Perseus was concerned, had closed a life's
chapter; thenceforth he had preached celibacy, not failing to
instil into his son a wholesome--was it wholesome?--dread of
women, or rather of the love of women and the loss of spiritual
vision that ensued from it.

"Yet here am I," said Tros, his hands clenched tight behind him.
"But for Perseus and a woman, I should not have been! I live! By
Zeus and the immortal gods, I laugh!"

But he did not laugh. It irked him that Helma's eyes were on his
back. He wished he had struck Conops harder. He wished all Lunden
would awake and come down to the waterside. He would have
welcomed anything just then, anything to save necessity of speech
with Helma. He hated the girl! She and destiny between them had
made a fine fool of him!

Yet as he turned to meet her gaze a new shame reddened his cheeks
under the bronze. He realized he did not hate her. He knew he
would be ashamed to withdraw the unspoken pledge he had made when
he took her in his arms. She was his wife! He wished he had
killed Conops!

He held out his hand to her with a stubborn gesture, drew her
beside him, made her stand hand-in-hand with him there on the
ship's stern, gesturing to Olaf Sigurdsen to rouse his Northmen.
And when they had rubbed sleep out of their eyes they stood up,
grinning, until it dawned on them that something else was due.

Sigurdsen led the cheering then, shaking his great battle-ax; and
the din carried over-water to the houses near the riverbank, so
that a dozen Britons came to stare, hitching their ungainly
looking trousers.

Presently--being Britons, who would rather ride a dozen miles
than walk one--horsemen came, riding bare-backed mounts into the
river. A yellow-haired expert swam his horse all the way out to
the longship, and mounted the stern, leaving the horse to swim
where it chose.

"Lud love you!" he said, grinning, patting himself to squeeze
water from his clothes. He eyed Helma appraisingly. "Norse girls
are good. Those cursed red sea-robbers steal more of ours than we
ever see of theirs, though! Wife, or ransom?" he asked, not
pausing for an answer. "Caswallon took some prisoners, but they
say there's no hope of ransom; some other gang of pirates drove
them forth, so they came to seize holding in Britain. No
homes--no friends. Still--is she a virgin?

"She's a well-bred filly. Those Northmen who raided her home
might like to pay a long price for her. Lud love me! Is that
Sigurdsen? What have you done to him, Tros? He fought his ways
out of the woods without a scratch on him. What's he doing with
his ax? He's a prisoner, isn't he? Lud look at them! They're all
armed! Who's the prisoner--you?"

"Where is Caswallon?" Tros asked.

"Over on the hilltop with the druids, hours away, loving the
wounded, you know; wants to be popular. But it won't work.
There are too many who say he shouldn't have fitted out your
expedition, sixty or seventy killed and maimed. Lud think of it!
As if these bloody Northmen weren't trouble enough!

"And there's a woman from Gaul--wait till you see her. You'll
soon forget that one, Tros. She had a letter for you from Caesar.
Caswallon burned it in a rage, but she says she knows what Caesar
wrote, and she'll tell you. Caswallon didn't dare to treat her
roughly, because half of us fell hide-and-hoof in love with her,
and there are plenty who say he ought to make terms with Caesar.

"She says you and Caesar understand each other, and we all want
to know what Caesar's terms are. Skell came shortly after
midnight, wandered all over town trying to wake people, but we
were too tired to listen to him. Besides, Skell is a liar. He's
in his own house now. I saw the smoke as I came by."

"Skell?" said Tros.

"Yes, Skell, the man you packed off to Caritia to talk to Caesar.
Skell the liar, Skell who said you helped him to wreck Caesar's
fleet, although everybody knew you did it alone. Why didn't you
kill him, Tros? Skell said something last night about having
saved you in the river--longshoremen or something. Nobody
believed him. He said you'd sent him ahead to warn us all not to
listen to anything Caswallon says until we've heard you."

"Where is Fflur?" Tros asked, when the youngster paused for breath.

"With Caswallon, getting in the druids' way, I suppose, helping
to hurt the wounded. What are you going to do with this ship?
Burn it? Say--that's a good idea! Burn both ships! Make a
floating bonfire in the Pool tonight! To-night's the funeral. All
the countryside in procession from Lunden to the burying-ground,
chariots, torches. They say your father's corpse'll be right in
front, ahead of everything except old 'Longbeard.' Why not have a
bonfire of two ships when we come back? Something to show
Caesar's woman. Show her we Britons can stage a circus too!"

"Where is Orwic?" Tros inquired.

"Nursing himself and trying to rule Lunden. Caswallon left him in
charge. But Orwic isn't popular just now--lost too many men on
your expedition. Everybody says it must have been his fault. And
no loot--didn't bring a stick of loot back with him from Gaul.

"Everybody says, 'Caswallon's nephew is Caswallon's man,' and the
chief hasn't been popular these ten days past. Besides, why did
Orwic wait so long before he came to help us in the woods? Say,
did you see me cut down three Northmen on the run, right down by
the riverbank there, where the mud's deep and the thicket goes
clear to the water?

"They're trying to make out now that I had help. Three men claim
they were in that with me; but maybe you saw from across the
river? Did you? Maybe you can swear I did it single-handed. Three
great brutes of Northmen as big as Sigurdsen there! Did you hear
the first one roar when I stuck a spear in him?

"The other two went down silent, but the first one made noise
enough for all three. Did you hear him? Their weapons and armor
are held for prize-court and those others'll lie me out of them
unless you can uphold me. Can you?"

Tros did not answer. Orwic's boat came hurrying out of the reeds,
and Orwic hailed him.

"Lud!" exclaimed the visitor. "Where's my horse? Gone? No matter!"

He plunged into the river and swam shoreward. Orwic, standing in
a boat's stern, could not help but see him; he stared hard,
watched the yellow head go rippling like a water-rat, but said
nothing. He boarded the longship, saluting Tros with a genial
grin that, nevertheless, not more than masked a feeling
of restraint.

"Skell is here," he said, pursing his lips, staring hard at
Helma.

"So is Cornelia, a Gaulish woman with Roman paint on her. She
says she knows you, Tros."

"She lies," Tros answered calmly.

"So does Skell," said Orwic. "But they both lie artfully! The
woman says Caesar has appointed you his agent here in Britain.
Skell says he preserved you from the river-pirates, in return for
which you and he made peace. He says you grant him the protection
of your privilege. Is that true? Is there any truth in it?"

"You were with me, Orwic. You heard all I said to Caesar."

"Aye, but I know no Latin, Tros! I know you called me off when I
was hard at Caesar with eight men in the bireme's bows. What
about Skell? Did you promise him anything?"

Tros grew hot under the bandages that swathed his head. He tore
them off.

"I promised you my friendship," he said grimly.

"Yes, I know you did. You beat me in a fair fight, and I took
your hand, Tros. Haven't I stood by you since? Caswallon is your
friend, too. But don't forget, Tros, Caswallon is king here, and
you are a foreigner. Your life and your goods are in our
safe-keeping, but if you make difficulties for us we must think
of ourselves first."

"If I am not welcome, I will go," Tros answered.

Orwic hesitated, stroking his moustache. Tros's thought leaped to
the chest of Caesar's gold that Fflur was supposed to be keeping
for him. Thoughtfully he eyed his Northmen prisoners, and
wondered whether he could manage the longship with that scant
crew. There was the Belgian coast; he might make that. And there
was the unknown Norse country, that his bones almost ached
to explore.

"I would bid you go," Orwic said at last, "but I dare not. There
are too many now who believe you bring Caesar's message, and they
want to hear it. There are too many who accuse Caswallon of
having sent you to make overtures to Caesar; too many, again, who
believe the contrary and blame Caswallon for having sent you to
stir Caesar against us. We are all divided.

"Some say Caswallon looks to Caesar to make him king over all
Britain; others say Caesar will conquer Britain first and crucify
Caswallon afterwards! There are some who want to kill you, Tros,
and some who want to honor you as Caesar's messenger."

"What say the druids?" Tros asked.

"That they will bury your father's body. And that unless we can
persuade you there will be none to answer all these tales. They
say if you should go, then all men would declare Caswallon was
afraid of you, and would turn against him; but if you should
stay, Britons will be at one another's throats within a
day or two!"

He paused a moment, watching Tros's eyes steadily, then suddenly
advanced with a dramatic gesture.

"Tros, I speak you frankly. If we, Caswallon's friends, should
treat you as less than an honored guest, your life would be in
danger from our own hot-heads, who are ready to admire you if
Caswallon does, or to hate you if he doesn't. They will follow
his lead.

"But if we honor you, then Caswallon's enemies will hurl that as
a charge against him. Nevertheless, those same men will befriend
you, if you let them, and make use of you to attack Caswallon!
What do you say, Tros?"

"I? What should I say?" Tros answered. "What do I care for
the feuds of Briton against Briton? I came to attend my
father's funeral."

"Are you Caesar's man?" asked Orwic.

Tros flew into a rage at that. He clenched his fists and answered
in a voice that made the Northmen jump and brought Conops, knife
in hand, from between the benches.

"No! By Zeus and the dome of heaven, no! Do you understand what
no means? Rot you and your muddy Lud of Lunden! Rot you all! I
vomit on you! Caesar may help himself to your wives and children!
Let him enslave you! What do I care! War-r-ugh! You bickering
fools--town against town--you are worse than my own Greeks!

"Do you listen to your druids? No! Do you listen to your chiefs?
No! What do you listen to? Your belly-rumblings! You believe your
colic is a cosmic urge! You think your island is the middle of
the universe!

"You accuse your friends and make love to your enemies! You and
your chariots! Look at your ships there, rotting! Look at
me"--Tros struck his breast--"I grieve! Look at me! I weep! Why?
On your account? The gods forbid it! I hope Caesar treads you
underfoot! I grieve that my father's dust must mingle with the
dirt of Britain! Woe is me! Woe that I ever set foot in Britain!"

"Peace!" said Orwic, but Tros turned away from him, shaking
with fury.

His violence had reopened the wound on his cheek and Helma
stanched the blood, using the bandage he had tossed aside. Conops
whispered to him; he struck Conops, hurling him headlong again
between the benches. Then, black with anger, he strode up close
to Orwic, hands behind him.

"Tell Caswallon, I attend my father's funeral. Say this: By Zeus,
I'll solve his difficulties! Can he fight? Is he a man? Hah! Let
him believe either me, or else Skell and these other liars! Let
him waste no time about it! If he chooses to call me an enemy, he
shall fight me before all Lunden!"

Orwic forced a smile and tried to pour the oil of jest on anger.
"How would that help? They would say you fought him for the
kingdom, Tros!"

"Caswallon's kingdom? I? That for it!" Tros spat into the river.
"Hah! Barter my freedom for the right to be disobeyed and choused
by long-haired horse-copers? Gods listen to him! Tell Caswallon I
wouldn't thank him for what he calls his kingdom! Tell him I
doubt his friendship! Bid him haste and prove it or else fight
me! Go tell him!"

"Tros, those are unwise words!" said Orwic.

"They are mine! This is my sword!" Tros answered, tapping the
gilded hilt of his long weapon.

"Tros, you and I swore friendship."

"Swore? What is a man's oath worth! Show me the friendship!"

"Tros, I spoke you fair. I only told you how the matter lies. I
asked an honest question."

"Zeus! I gave an honest answer! Call me friend or enemy! By Zeus,
it means nothing to me which way a fish jumps!"

"Your eyes burn. You are tired, Tros."

"Aye! Tired of you Britons and your ways! 'Am I Caesar's man'! Ye
gods of sea and earth! Get off my ship!"

But Orwic did not move, except to smile and hold his hand out.

"Nay, Tros. I rule Lunden in Caswallon's absence. Welcome to
Lunden! I speak in Caswallon's name."

He showed a great ring on his thumb. Tros glared at it.

"I know you are not Caesar's man," said Orwic. At which Tros flew
into another fury.

"Pantheon of Heaven! You! You know that? You, who saw me wreck
all Caesar's ships! You, who were with me at Seine-mouth and saw
me rape Caesar's lair! You, who saw my father's tortured body!
You! You know I am not Caesar's man--because I said it?"

Orwic smiled again, his hand outheld.

"You will admit, Tros, that you said it with a certain emphasis.
A man may be excused if he believes you."

"Take my message to Caswallon!"

"I stand in Caswallon's place. I speak for him. I have received
the message. I prefer to call you friend."

"Words again?" Tros asked.

He felt disappointed. He had enjoyed the burst of anger. In the
moment's mood it would have suited him to carry challenge to
conclusion.

"No more words," said Orwic. "Give me your hand, Tros. There." He
stepped close and embraced him, smearing his own cheek with
Tros's blood.

"Welcome to Lunden! Now I go to make a good room ready for you in
Caswallon's house."

"Young cockerel! Brave young cockerel!" Tros muttered, watching
him overside, then turning suddenly to Helma:

"That is the man you should have married. Shall I give you to
him? Orwic is the best-bred cockerel in Britain."

She looked puzzled, wondering whether he imagined that was humor.

"I am pledged to you, Tros."

"I will free you."

"No. He is only a Briton. You are a sea-king. I will bear
your sons."

"Zeus!" he muttered, wondering. "Has all the world gone mad? Come
here!" he ordered.

When she came, he kissed her and Conops cried shame at him from
beneath an oar-bench. It was a dawn of mixed emotions as opaque
and changing as the Lunden mist.





CHAPTER XXXIV

CORNELIA OF GAUL

Goodness needs no bow and arrows, nay, nor armor. Aye, I know
that good men die, and that their enemies can kill them. I have
heard that. I have seen it. It is nothing new to me. The evil
also die, and so do they who lend themselves to evil purposes,
because they lack judgment, that is born of Wisdom, that is a
stranger to weakness. Your harlots die; ye harlot-mongers also.
And some of you say that in death all are equals. But I say that
in death ye are equally judged by the Eternal justice that
rewards evil with evil and good with good. If ye identify
yourselves with evil, shall Eternity say nay to it? I think not;
ye shall have your fill of evil, until ye weary of it and begin
again at your beginnings. But if ye identify yourselves with
faith, hope and integrity, with generosity and good-will and
courage, howsoever small your beginnings, ye shall have them and
their increase. They are yours. They are you. Ye shall unlock the
gates of Wisdom and all knowledge.

--From the Sayings of the Druid Taliesan



So Tros's prisoners--since he had freed them and they were now
his henchmen--became Caswallon's guests along with Tros in the
great house on the hilltop. In Caswallon's absence Orwic showed
them almost too much courtesy, to the annoyance of servants and
fair-haired British men-at-arms who lounged in the great hall or
amused themselves at horse-play in the yard.

But it gave the Northmen an enormously high opinion of Tros; and
when Orwic brought out Caesar's treasure chest, so that Tros
might pay off his hireling seamen, even Sigurdsen began to boast
of being Tros's adherent and Helma put on airs toward the British
women, who were friendly enough until she began to patronize them.

So the Britons brought forth horses and compelled the Northmen to
try to ride, mounting them two on a horse; and into the deriding
mob of onlookers Cornelia came, attended by a crowd of young
bloods dressed in their choicest finery, wearing enough gold and
bronze and amber among them to have overpaid one of Caesar's
legions for a year.

While they were laughing at the Northmen's efforts to ride
half-broken stallions scared into a frenzy by men who despised
the sea as only fit for fishermen, Cornelia studied Tros
from a distance.

He had done paying his hirelings and was counting the rest
of the gold, or rather pretending to count it, watching her
between-whiles as adroitly as she watched him, each avoiding the
other's eyes. Gathering her escort around her at last, she made
her way outside the crowd toward where Tros sat on a chair on
Caswallon's porch.

She walked with dignity that she had imitated from the Romans.
Her dress and jewelry were Roman, apeing the patrician style,
pure white with a golden border, and she showed no trace of
having suffered on her stormy way from Gaul. Her dark hair
glistened in a net that held it massed behind her neck; gilded
sandals decorated rather than concealed her feet. She looked
expensive and calmly impudent. But her stock-in-trade was nothing
tangible, although it was all in evidence: an air of knowing more
than anybody else knew, of having influence that none could
undermine, of laughing at life because she held the keys
of fortune.

Those keys, too, were evident: brown eyes beneath long, dark
lashes; carmine, daring, not exactly scornful lips; a figure that
suggested limitless immodesty beneath cultured poise; a gown that
clung precisely where it should cling to excite emotion when she
moved with that apparently unstudied ease.

Tros knew her type. Helma did not and stood nearer to him, light
of northern sky blazing under flaxen brows, Norse jealousy
hardening her young face. Helma was afraid; Tros felt her
trembling when her elbow touched his. But the Gaulish woman with
the Roman name had trained herself in far too many swift
intrigues to show fear, even if she felt it. Rome had made a
hundred conquests in the wake of women of her genius; and before
Rome, Nineveh. Inborn in her was all the grace of courts and all
the spirit of destruction.

"The noble Tros?" she asked, coming to a stand in front of him,
not trespassing yet on Caswallon's porch.

And Tros was not yet minded that she should. He did not rise. He
kicked his long sword outward so that its hilt rested on his
knees and he could lay both hands on it, leaning back in the
chair to stare insolently, through suspicious, slumberous eyes.

"My name is Tros."

"I am Cornelia."

"Caesar's light o' love?" he asked, raising shaggy black eyebrows
just sufficiently to barb the insult. "Caesar's slave?"

"Caesar's messenger!" the Gaulish woman answered.

There was no iron in her voice; nothing but challenging laughter.
Caesar had not picked a thin-skinned fool to pave Rome's
way o' conquest.

Conops came out of the house with Caesar's scarlet cloak and
draped it on Tros's shoulders, Helma assisting to arrange it,
half-guessing its significance although she did not know that
Tros had looted it along with the Roman's bireme.

The young Britons who had appointed themselves Cornelia's
body-guard began to whisper to her. One of them grew bold and
raised his voice:

"Tros, your insolence insults us all!"

Tros sneered; his mood was cynical. Orwic came out of the house
to stand behind him. Orwic being in authority just then the crowd
grew still, until Cornelia spoke in Latin:

"Caesar's cloak, Tros! You foreshadow Caesar! He will take that
for an omen when I tell him Tros sat cloaked in imperial scarlet
on the porch of Caswallon's house."

"They talk Latin," some one shouted. "Tros is Caesar's man!"

There were more than a hundred people by that time on the green
before Caswallon's house, not counting the stable-hands and other
serfs, who were hardly to be reckoned with, not daring to offend
their betters; some were men who had come too late to fight the
Northmen, jealous of the victors' spoils and very anxious to
assert themselves.

A tumult began, a few of them denouncing Tros as an intriguer,
some shouting that Caesar's message should be heard. A noisy,
small group, nearest to the gate and safety, denounced Caswallon.
Orwic swore under his breath, using the names of a dozen Celtic
gods. Tros whispered to Conops:

"Bid my Northmen gather themselves behind the house and enter it
from the rear. Take charge of them. Add yourselves to Orwic's
men. Be swift."

Then he turned to Orwic.

"Now or never," he said, with a careless shrug of his shoulders.

"Is Caswallon king in Lunden? Gently, boy, gently. Not yet. Leave
this to me. I will show you who rules this end of Britain!"

He stood up, letting his face light with laughter, gathering
Caesar's scarlet cloak around him. He addressed Cornelia, but in
a voice that all the crowd could hear, and he spoke slowly, in
Gaulish, as if answering her speech, and taking care that all
should understand him, in spite of his foreign accent:

"Aye, woman! This was Caesar's cloak. You, who were Caesar's
light o' love until he sent you to cozen me, were not so very
clever when you recognized it! I am told you brought me a letter
from Caesar. I am told Caswallon burned it. I am told you are
warning the Britons not to listen to Caswallon until they first
hear me. I am Caswallon's guest!"

He could hear the tramping through the house behind him as the
Northmen came with Conops to reenforce Orwic's men. There was a
noise of weapons being lifted from the racks.

"Caesar sent you to me--Are you ready, Orwic?" he whispered.
"March out and surround her when I give the word!--You are
mine, Cornelia. I will see that none perverts you from right
conduct in the realm of him who is host to both of us! Come!"
he commanded, beckoning.

Cornelia appealed to her escort, too late. Orwic took the cue and
rushed from the porch with forty men-at-arms behind him, twelve
of them Northmen very anxious to repay bruises done at horseplay.
It was risky work; the Northmen, fierce enemies a day ago, were
likelier than not to cause indignant bloodshed; safety lay in
doing the work so swiftly that there would be no time for a crowd
without a leader to decide whether it really was indignant or was
half amused.

Conops and the Northmen surrounded Cornelia; Orwic and his
Britons who thrust themselves between the Northmen and her
British escort, joining spears before them like a fence-rail,
forcing the astonished escort back on their heels. And while
Orwic accomplished that, Tros shouted, throwing up his right arm,
shaking Caesar's scarlet cloak to distract attention to himself:

"Ho, there! Caswallon's friends! There is a rat named Skell who
brought this Caesar's woman to cheat away your freedom! Where
is Skell?"

Caswallon's friends were fewer than his enemies in that crowd,
but the impulse of surprise was in their favor. By the time
Cornelia had been hustled into the great hall in the midst of a
group of grinning Northmen, who handled her none too gently, the
loyalists had started a diversion, shout and counter-shout, that
served until Orwic's summons on a silver bugle brought a dozen
chariots from the stable to clear the green of friend and enemy
alike. The crowd did not even try to stand against the chariots,
although the front ones had no scythes fixed to the wheels. But
there were two chariots in the rear that could have mown a
crimson swath.

"And now swiftly!" said Tros, when Orwic strolled back to the
porch trying to look self-possessed. "Where are those Northmen
prisoners Caswallon took in the fight in the forest?"

"What of them? There are only three-and-twenty, some of them
pretty badly hurt," said Orwic.

"Where are they? I know mobs! Your Britons will say that it was
Northmen who snatched that woman away. They will kill those
three-and-twenty. Then, they will come to kill my twelve and
Sigurdsen. Then me, then you!"

"Bah! Who cares if they kill Northmen!" Orwic answered.

"I for one! Blood-lust grows. They will kill Caswallon next!
Smuggle those prisoners to this place. Start a hue-and-cry at
Skell's heels; that fox will give them a run to keep all Lunden
busy! Send for Caswallon then, and bid him hurry. Bid him bring
Fflur with him!"

Orwic hesitated, but Tros took him by the shoulders.

"Am I friend or enemy?" he thundered. "Boy! That woman will win
Britain for Caesar yet unless you act swiftly!"

Orwic yielded only half convinced and hurried away to instruct
his friends, shutting the great gate and posting guards
to keep another crowd from forming. Tros strode into the
house, swaggering as if he owned it. Cornelia was seated near
Caswallon's great chair under the balcony at one end of the hall;
her dress was ruffled and a little torn, but she was laughing at
the men who stared at her, and she mocked Tros, gesturing at Helma:

"Ah! You seize me, when you have that beautiful fair-haired
prisoner! What use for poor me, when--"

"I have a use for you," Tros interrupted, and the hall grew
still. You were Caesar's slave. Now you are mine!"

She was startled, but the scared look vanished in an instant; she
had the professional intriguer's self-control. It was Helma who
turned pale and came and stood beside Tros, watching his face.

"Tros," said the woman of Gaul, speaking Latin, "Caesar has told
me you are proud and full of guile, and a great keeper of rash
promises. You promised him enmity. You wrecked his fleet. You
forged Caesar's name and stole your father from the grip of three
camped legions.

"That was an indignity to Rome as well as Caesar. You sunk
Caesar's boats; you slew his men; you ducked Caesar himself in
the tide at Seine-mouth. So you kept your rash promise.

"Yet Caesar's magnanimity is greater than the malice that pursues
him. He is willing to forgive. He offers you full recognition by
the Roman Senate and command of fifty ships, if you withdraw your
enmity and promise him allegiance! I am Caesar's messenger, not
your slave."

Tros answered her in Gaulish:

"When I need fifty of Caesar's ships, I will take them without
his leave or Rome's!"

But that was for the Britons' ears. He had in mind more than to
bandy words.

"Tros--" she began again.

"Silence!" he commanded.

Then he pointed to the door of an inner room between the great
hall and Caswallon's quarters. Helma bit her lip, and several of
the men-at-arms laughed loud. But Tros kept on pointing, and he
looked imperious in Caesar's scarlet cloak.

So Cornelia rose out of her chair, bowed, smirked almost
imperceptibly at Helma, and led the way in through the door,
glancing over-shoulder in a way that gave Tros pause. He
beckoned Helma.

"Bring your brother's wife and the widow!" he commanded.

So three Norse women followed Tros into the dimly lighted room;
and one of them knew Gaulish. There were benches in there for
men-at-arms, and one chair, on which Cornelia sat uninvited,
arranging her draperies to show the shapely outline of her figure.

Tros slammed the door and slid the wooden bolt in place, with a
nod to Helma and the other women to be seated on the benches. He
seized Cornelia's chair then and dragged it into the shaft of
light that fell through the one small window. He craved sleep and
had not time to waste.

"Turn your face to the light," he commanded. "Keep it so. Now, no
evasions. I am in no mood to split thin hairs of courtesy."

"Truly, Tros, your courtesy is thin," she answered. "Caesar is
never discourteous, even to his enemies. I was told you are a
prince's son. Where you were born are manners thought unmanly?"

"Answer this!" He rapped his sword-hilt on a table that he
dragged up to the window-light. "What was written in Caesar's
letter that Caswallon took from you and burned?"

She smiled and tossed her head. "I gave it to the Lord Caswallon.
He had manners. He was too polite to take it from me!"

"What was written in that letter?"

"Since the letter was burned, what matters what was written in it!"

Her dark eyes dared him.

Tros drew his sword, his great chin coming forward with a jerk.
He let the sword-point fall until it touched her bare throat.

"Answer me."

Her eyes turned slightly inward as she looked along the
swordblade toward the marvelously steady hilt, but she did not
wince. The sword-point pricked the skin. She did not even flinch
from it.

"I will not tell! And you dare not kill me!"

Tros let the sword-point fall until it touched her naked foot
between the crossed thongs of her sandal. A dancing-woman's
foot was where her fear might lie closest to the surface.
But she laughed.

"Before these women, Tros! What would the Britons say to you?
Caesar may torture women, and you might--though I think not, for
I see a weakness--but the Britons don't even whip their children.
Would Caswallon forgive you if you should nail my foot to the
floor of his house?"

Tros owned to the weakness she divined in him. He could kill, in
cold blood or in anger, but the very thought of torture made him
grit his teeth. The half of his hatred of Caesar was due to his
contempt for Caesar's practices; he liked the Britons because
they did not practice cruelty.

But he could be cruel in another way. Compunction that prevented
torturing man or woman implied no inhibition against mental
terrorism. He could hardly bear to see a fish gaffed if the hook
would serve, and could not kill a cur like Skell unless his own
life were in danger, but he could be as ruthless as the sea, as
practical as fate in matching means to ends.

His eyes changed, and the woman noticed it. He glanced at Helma.

"Bring my man Conops!" he commanded, and he set his swordpoint on
the floor between his feet, to lean on it and wait.

He did not have to wait long. As Helma drew the bolt, the door
swung inward. Conops lurched into the room, shielding his head
with his arm, in fear of the blow he had earned by eavesdropping,
too wise in his master's ways to offer an excuse.

When the blow did not fall he peeped over his arm, then dropped
the arm, blinked his eye and grinned, knowing danger was over.
Tros's punishments were prompt, or else not meted out at all.

"News?" Tros asked him.

"None, master. Only I heard say they are hunting Skell; and a
chariot went for Caswallon."

"Caswallon is coming, eh? Have you a wife?"

Tros knew the answer, but he chose that Cornelia should learn the
truth from Conops' lips.

"No, master--surely you know that! The last woman I--"

A frown convinced him he had said enough.

Tros turned to Cornelia.

"This man is no beauty, is he! He is not well-bred. His manners
are of the fore-peak quality. He disciplines a woman with a
knifehilt. He is single. He is old enough to marry. He would
serve me better if he had a wife to keep him from longshore
escapades. I will give you to Conops to be his wife--his wife,
you understand me? Conops is a free man, he can own a wife."

He had her. She was out of the chair, indignant, terrified,
appealing to the other women, ready to scream, in a panic,
struggling to control herself. Tros's threat was something he
could easily fulfil, since she was his by all the written and
unwritten laws.

If she should claim that she was Caesar's slave, then Tros, as
Caesar's enemy, might do as he pleased with her by right of
capture, she having been sent to use her wiles on him, not on
Caswallon. If she should declare herself a free woman, she might
fool Britons but not Tros, who knew the Roman law and knew the
dreadful penalties that even Caesar, who had sent her, would be
forced to inflict should she be returned to him branded, a slave
who had claimed to be free.

If Tros should make a gift of her to Conops, the Britons might be
offended, but there would be no chance of their interfering.
Marriage by gift was binding, all the more so if the woman were a
slave or a prisoner of war. She would not become Conops' slave
because he might not sell her; she would be bound to him for
life, promoted or reduced to his rank--considering it promotion
or reduction as she pleased--in theory free, in practice a
sailor's drudge. Conops was as much alarmed as she was.

"Master!" he exploded. "What use is she on a ship? Why, she can't
even cook! She's--"

"Peace, you drunken, blabbing fool! When I give you a wife,
you'll take her and be grateful, or I'll break your head! Think
yourself lucky to--"

But she who had been Caesar's light o' love could not face life
with Conops.

"I will tell, Tros!" she said, and sat down on the chair again,
shuddering. "You will not give me to that one-eyed thing?"

Tros nodded, grunted. He hated to bargain with her, but on the
other hand it would have gone against the grain to ruin Conops by
imposing such a wife on him.

"What Caesar wrote to you, Tros, it was meant that the Lord
Caswallon should read. It was supposed that some one, some druid,
would know Latin and translate it to him. But the lord burned the
letter."

"What did Caesar write?" Tros thundered at her. "And why in Latin?"

"He wrote, Lord Tros, that he trusted you, as agreed between you
and him at Seine-mouth, to stir up the Britons against the Lord
Caswallon; in return for which he promised, as agreed, to confer
high command on you as soon as sufficient Britons should
recognize the advantage of welcoming the Roman legions into
Britain. He concluded by reminding you of your pledge that there
shall be no opposition to his landing on the coast of Britain
when he comes again. And he charged you, to that end, to support
the Lord Caswallon's enemies."

Tros stroked his beard and pecked with his sword-point at the
floor boards.

"Why did he write those lies?" he demanded.

But he knew why. He knew she was telling the truth. He knew
Caesar's methods.

She recovered a trace of her former impudence.

"Who am I, to know Caesar's mind?" she answered, and Tros
recognized something else, that she was ready to betray any one
for her own advantage. He clutched Conops' arm and pulled
him forward.

"Answer me in full, or--"

"Caesar hoped that any of several things might happen. The Lord
Caswallon might kill you, which would be payment for your
impertinence at Seine-mouth. Or the Lord Caswallon might mistrust
you and put you to flight, when you might fall into Caesar's
hands and be crucified.

"Or, learning of the Lord Caswallon's mistrust, you might turn
against him in self-defense and, joining his enemies, start
rebellion against him, setting Briton against Briton, which would
make invasion simpler. Or, you might be sensible and, accepting
magnanimous forgiveness, take command of Caesar's fleet, making
use of your great knowledge of the British coast to forward
an invasion."

"Or--?"

Tros knew there was something left unsaid. He jabbed his sword
into the floor, pulled back the hilt and let it go until
it hummed. She understood him. She must speak before the
humming ceased.

"Tros, I am trained. I sing and dance. Some men are easily
tempted. Caesar thought--"

"Continue! What did Caesar think?"

"I am not sure I know what he thought."

"Then I will tell you. Caesar thought I might be fool enough to
accept his promise from your lips! I might be fool enough to turn
against Caswallon, might be fool enough to captain Caesar's fleet
awhile, fool enough to come within his reach and serve him, until
usefulness was spent and he could pick another quarrel, crucify
me at his leisure. You were to beguile me and betray me to him at
the proper time!"

"Lord Tros, I could not have done it! I could not betray a man
like you! I was Caesar's slave. Now I am yours. I would rather be
yours. You are not wicked, as Caesar is! Lord Tros, I will be
your faithful slave. I will betray Caesar to you! Only no
degradation! I am not a common slave."

"I pity you," Tros answered. "Pity shall make no fool of me nor a
successful rogue of you! Answer my other question: Why did Caesar
write in Latin and not Gaulish? He knew the Lord Caswallon knows
no Latin."

"Ah! But if the letter were in Gaulish, the Lord Caswallon might
have been sharp enough to understand it was a trick to turn him
against you."

Tros laughed in spite of weariness and anger, sheathing
his sword.

"Who sups with Caesar needs a long spoon!"

She tried to take advantage of his changed mood, gazing at him
with dark, lustrous eyes that verged on tears.

"Lord Tros, you said you pity me. I was free-born. Romans
destroyed our city when I was a young child. I was sold, and they
took me to Rome. Do you know what that means? To save myself from
the worst that can befall a woman I strove to become so valuable
that for their own sakes they would not throw me on the market.

"A dealer had bought me; he had me taught to dance and sing; he
began to make use of me to entertain his customers; and so I
learned intrigue.

"Once, when Caesar was in Rome, I was sent to coax him to buy
man-slaves. I entertained him, and he bought, at above the market
rate for such cattle as I offered. Then, thinking better of it,
he returned those man-slaves to the dealer and kept me, at the
price of three of them.

"And since then he has used me for his purposes, bringing me to
Gaul because I knew my mother-tongue. Lord Tros, 'like master
like slave!' I have had to be wicked, because Caesar is! Lord
Tros, I will serve you as I never served Caesar!"

She glanced at Helma, smiled with such meekness and such lustrous
eyes that Helma was stirred to sympathy and rose from the bench,
though Sigurdsen's wife whispered and restrained her.

"She is yours, too. Lord Tros, let me serve her!"

Helma shuddered. She had not expected that. She shook her head.
But Tros was in a quandary and given to strange, masterful
impulses when in that mood.

"You have joined your destiny to mine," he said to Helma.
"You shall do your part. Take charge of her, keep her until
Caswallon comes."

Helma protested in a flutter of mistrust. She whispered
to the other women, then seizing Tros's arm, begged him
to be more cautious.

"She will betray us all! Let Britons guard her!"

But Tros knew jealousy when he saw it. He laughed. "I have given
you your task," he answered.

"Then at least a guard of Northmen!"

"Zeus!" he exploded. But Helma saw the laughter in his eyes. "Are
Northmen deaf? And you dumb? If they are my men, shall they not
obey you?"

She dropped her eyes, apologizing, pleased.

"So be it. All, save Sigurdsen," she answered.

But when she looked up it was at Conops. She knew well enough she
could manage Sigurdsen.

"Heh? What was that? Who disobeys you deals with me!" Tros answered.

He, too, suddenly faced Conops.

"You! You see that woman? Helma her name is. She is my bride. You
obey her, save and except only when her orders clash with mine!"

Conops blinked. Helma smiled at him.

_"Oimoi!_ We were master and man. Now we are three and all the
Furies shall overtake us!" Conops murmured.

For which impertinence Tros took him by the ear and cuffed him.
Over Helma there crept a new, visible sense of possession.
Nothing that Tros could have said or done could have made as much
impression as that speech. She had come into her own; she was his
mate, his partner!

Strangers they might be, with almost all to learn about each
other, but Tros had laid a rock of confidence in place, on which
to build the future, and her eyes glowed gratitude.





CHAPTER XXXV

TROS STRIKES A BARGAIN

Ye who stipulate and haggle, will ye never learn that if ye give
without price or stipulation ye are copying the gods, who give
and ask not?

--From the Sayings of the Druid Taliesan



Tros slept until Caswallon came, full pelt, with a yell to the
guard at the gate, reining in foaming stallions with their
fore-feet over the porch and leaping along the pole between them
into the house, Fflur following a moment later. The chief and
Orwic were conferring when Tros rose sleepily and bulked through
the leather curtains that divided inner room from hall. Caswallon
eyed him swiftly, searchingly, then smiled and strode to meet him.

"Brother Tros!" he said, embracing in the British fashion,
one cheek then the other, each man's right hand patting the
other's back.

Caswallon thrust the pawing dogs away, pretending anger, and took
Fflur's hand, she watching Tros as if she could read thoughts
before he formed them. Three children came and clung to Fflur,
but she hardly noticed them, although they laughed at her because
her hair was all blown from the chariot ride and she was
mud-bespattered from Caswallon's trick of driving through and
over anything he met.

"What is this about the Gaulish woman?" Caswallon asked, when he
had waited for Tros to speak and Tros said nothing.

"She was Caesar's slave," Tros answered. "She was not entitled to
be anybody's guest. Caesar insulted you, me, all of us, every
Briton of the Trinobantes, when he sent a slave to intrigue among
us as an equal."

"So," said Caswallon, and tugged his moustache.

He glanced at Fflur, but she looked away and gave him no counsel.

"A slave, eh? Do you know that?"

Tros laughed.

"I will sell her to you, if you wish. She is mine, since Caesar
sent her to beguile me. I will write you a bill of sale for her
and sign it with Caesar's name and seal. To make it full and
binding I will wear his cloak that I took with his seal and
treasure-chest. Do you want her?"

He was watching Fflur sidewise, considering the drama that her
eyes revealed. Suddenly he caught her full gaze and she nodded;
they understood each other.

"If you are my friend, Tros," said Fflur in her quiet voice, "you
will keep that woman from Caswallon."

"What is to be done with her?" asked Tros.

But instead of answering, Caswallon let go Fflur's hand and
strode a dozen paces up the hall and back again.

"Tros," he said at last. "She was swift, she was swifter than
death! She came by night in a chariot, with a tale of shipwreck
and the friendship of the men of Hythe. She said nothing of
Skell. By morning she had won half Lunden. She came to visit me
with more than thirty young bloods fawning on her. She showed me
Caesar's letter, and she spoke of you.

"In an hour, nay, in less than an hour, she had offered to betray
both you and Caesar. She gave me that letter, and I burned it. It
was Latin, and besides, you had been my friend. I did not choose
to let my eyes see proof against you. Then--we were alone
then--she spoke to me of you and Fflur."

"He believed it!" Fflur interrupted. There was almost hatred in
her eyes. "He took that woman's word that I, the mother of his
sons, was--"

"Fflur!" Caswallon did his best to smile, but the ire in her gray
eyes chilled him. "You heard what the druid said. Did he not say
an evil woman can corrupt the strongest man in a little while?
Did the druid not say I was no more to be blamed than if I took a
wound in battle? Have I not begged your forgiveness until my
tongue stuttered against my teeth for lack of words?"

"Yes, words!" Fflur answered. "But you turned that woman loose to
make worse mischief. You let her go and live with--"

"Should I have kept her in my house?" Caswallon almost yelled
at her.

"No," said Fflur.

"Should I have killed her? What would the druids have said to
that? What would half Britain have said that is forever urging me
to listen to Caesar's terms. Lud knows, it's hard enough to rule,
without new excuses for dissensions. I had to say I would take
time for thought. And before I could think, those Northmen came
plundering the river villages."

Tros tried to pour oil on the waves of argument.

"The question is, what shall be done with her."

"That which should have first been done with her!" Fflur
answered. "Send her back to Caesar with a whipping, in a dress
turned inside out and a whip in her hand as a gift to Caesar! Bid
her tell him that is Fflur's reply to Rome!"

Caswallon shrugged his shoulders hopelessly. His blundering,
good-natured, gentlemanly sense of statecraft pulled him one way,
his affection for his wife another.

"Fflur is forever positive," he grumbled, taking Tros by the
shoulder. "But what would you do? Half my kingdom favors
listening to Caesar. Shall I ride it over them?"

Tros threw his hands behind him, legs apart, as if he stood
deciding issues on his own poop.

"Let us hear Fflur. What says Fflur?" he answered.

"Lud! I have been hearing Fflur since--"

Fflur interrupted. She went to Caswallon's side and held his
hand, then burst into speech as if a ten-day dam were down, word
galloping on word with sobs between:

"He is the best man Britain ever had! Bravest of them all!
Generous--too just to every one except himself! They take
advantage. Kindness is weakness in a king. He should rule, and he
won't! I told him when to kill Skell, but he did not even hunt
him out of Britain. Now Skell is back again. They say Caswallon's
friends are hunting him. Orwic bade them--"

"I thought of that," said Tros.

"Yes, but it is your fault Skell is living, Tros--yours! You
should have killed him when you had the chance. What kind of
friend do you call yourself, if you can't slay Caswallon's
enemies! Now Orwic says Skell has escaped them. Do you know what
that means?"

She paused for breath, mastered a sob-shaken voice, and forced
herself to speak with the slow, measured emphasis of tragedy:

"Skell will go--has gone to Black Glendwyr's place. Glendwyr
craves Caswallon's shoes. Glendwyr leads the cowards who live by
Caesar's leave. Skell will urge Glendwyr to revolt. He will speak
of that Gaulish woman; he will lie about her; he will magnify her
rank; he will tempt Glendwyr to win Caesar's good-will by
befriending her and overthrowing you!"

She almost struck her husband, she was so bent on compelling him
to understand his danger.

"Glendwyr will say you let the Northmen burn three villages. He
will say you sent Tros against Caesar, to irritate him when you
should have sought peace. Father of my sons, Glendwyr will be in
arms by tomorrow, with all the malcontents! I know it! I know it!"

"Pray Lud he is!" Caswallon answered.

"What have you done to be ready for him?" Fflur retorted.
"Glendwyr has been brewing treason all these months. Did he help
us against Caesar on the beach? Not he! He saved his men to use
them against you! Who helped this woman to reach Lunden with such
speed? Skell? Whence should Skell get relays of swift horses? I
tell you, Glendwyr did it!"

"How do you know that?" Caswallon asked frowning.

"A druid said so."

"Lud rot the druids! They carry tales like kitchen-wenches!"

"The same druid told me that the woman came to Lunden in
Glendwyr's chariot," Fflur went on, tight-lipped with anger, her
eyes blazing.

"Why didn't you tell me that before?"

"I did. You didn't listen. You were in love with her dark eyes.
You said no woman should be refused a hearing and you refused to
hear me!"

"Mother of my sons, Lud knows my ears are full of your rebukes,"
Caswallon answered, comically sorry for himself. "Peace, will
you. Silence! Let us hear Orwic."

Orwic looked bored and smiled wanly, as usual when there was
reason to be deadly serious, stroking his moustache as if good
grooming were nine points of any problem.

"They've looted Skell's house. I think they'll burn it. Skell was
gone, though, and they can't find him. Fifty or sixty others have
gone, too. I daresay Fflur is right: They may have followed Skell
to Glendwyr's place. But that needn't spoil the funeral. Glendwyr
lives too far away to interrupt that."

"By Lud! He shall not interrupt it!" Caswallon exclaimed; and
Fflur sighed, as if it were no use trying to make her husband
recognize danger.

She turned away and left them, making for the room where Tros had
installed Helma and all his Northmen with the woman from Gaul
under their close surveillance.

There was presently much talk from beyond the wrinkled curtain,
while Caswallon, Tros and Orwic stood face to face considering
what next to say to one another. They three stood in silence for
a long time.

Suddenly Helma came to them, blinking at the sunlight through the
great door. Her combed hair hung like spun gold to her waist,
lighter and fairer than gold might be, yet not so colorless
as flax.

"Marriage or funeral first?" Tros asked. "By your god Lud,
Caswallon, I would hate to see you buried in my father's grave.
Yet if I were Skell--and if this Glendwyr is the man Fflur thinks
he is--there would be more buryings tonight than the druids have
prepared for! Yet if you die, they must bury me too, because I
like to stand with friends. I would rather leave this girl a
widow than dowerless. There is kings' blood in her veins."

He laid a hand on Helma's shoulder.

"My Lord Tros," she said, "you are my protector, and you have
done me greater honor than befalls a-many prisoners. A while ago
I cried to my brother Sigurdsen to slay you on your own ship.
Shall I speak now, or be silent?"

"Speak," said Tros, half-bowing to Caswallon for permission.

"She of Gaul-Caesar's woman," Helma began, and Caswallon swore
under his breath; he was sick of that subject. But Tros pricked
his ears. "She combed my hair, swearing she would serve me,
speaking presently of Caesar, and of you, most highly praising
you by inference, contrasting you with Caesar. So, a little at a
time, she found out that I know little concerning the Lord
Caswallon; and that if I must choose, I should follow you,
refusing to acknowledge him. Thereafter for a long time she was
silent, while she dressed my hair.

"When she began to speak again she asked about those of my people
whom the Lord Caswallon had made prisoners in the fighting in the
woods. She knows they are now in a great barn near the stables
within the wall that surrounds this house. I think she overheard
the command to bring them here.

"She said she supposed I could influence them, and for a while
after that she talked of a dozen things--mainly of Gaul and the
fate of Caesar's prisoners.

"Then, when she had done my hair, she sat at my feet making a
great show of humility, and cried a little, and then exclaimed
how much better destiny had treated me than her, me, who am to be
a great sea-captain's wife, and she but a slave.

"But after a while she held my hand, studying the line across the
palm, saying darkly I should feel the contrast if the noble Tros
were slain before what I hoped should happen.

"So I questioned her, pretending credence in her art of reading
what is written in lines on the palm of the hand, although I know
such stuff is witchcraft, and a lie invented to entrap fools.
Presently, having made much talk of voyages, and money, and--I
think she said--five sons, she grew excited and very earnest,
saying there was a grave disaster impending, that I might prevent
if I were wise enough. And she said there was wisdom written on
my palm, but too much overlaid with other lines that signify a
willingness to submit to whatever fate may inflict.

"She was very full of guile. It was little by little, holding my
hand and forever pretending to read it, that she hinted and then
spoke more plainly, and then urged. She said it was written in my
hand--mine!--that a revolt is coming, and that you, her protector
she called you, would be slain unless I bade the Northmen seize
you and carry you to safety elsewhere.

"I questioning, she seemed to go into a trance. She stared at the
wall, her body rigid and her breath in gasps. She spoke then of
men who will revolt against the Lord Caswallon, intending to slay
him and set another in his place. She said my destiny, and yours,
and hers lay with the new man, but she did not name him.

"She spoke of tonight's funeral. She said she could see me left
in this house with the Northmen and a very small guard of
Britons. She said she could see me leading away the Northmen
through the woods, guided by her and a Briton, toward men who
made ready to attack the Lord Caswallon.

"She said she saw the funeral, and you beside the Lord Caswallon.
Men seized you, she said, because she and I insisted, and they
bore you off to safety in the woods. But the Lord Caswallon, and
the rest, she said they slew.

"Then she came out of the trance and asked me what she had been
saying. She said she never can remember afterwards what passed
her lips when those strange spells possess her. So I told her
what she had said, and she seemed to grow afraid, asserting that
a god had spoken through her.

"Then she urged me to be guided by the voice of her trance,
saying she understood now what it all meant, how a certain Lord
Glendwyr, who had lent her chariot and horses to reach Lunden,
would attack the Lord Caswallon and himself become king.

"She said, 'Let us plan so that all the Northmen in a band
together shall seize the Lord Tros and convey him to safety,
since neither you, nor he, nor I, nor the Northmen owe the Lord
Caswallon anything, but the Lord Glendwyr will be glad to have us
with him.'"

Tros and Caswallon met each other's eyes.

"How long have you known this Northwoman of yours?" Caswallon asked.

"We have all lived many lives and destiny plays with us like
pieces on the board," Tros answered. "I know the truth when I
hear it."

He drew Helma closer to him in the hollow of his left arm.

"Truth when a woman speaks?" Caswallon answered. "Phagh! I grow
sick of these cross-purposes! This is but a trick again. Northmen
are all liars! This is a plan to gather all the Northmen in one
place. They would gain my confidence, then break for liberty.
Caesar's woman has had no time to learn Glendwyr's plans, suppose
he has any. And who would trust Glendwyr against me? Not more men
than I can snap my fingers at."

He snapped his fingers, then flexed his muscles and threw his
shoulders back.

"Give me one good excuse to burn Glendwyr's roost!" he exclaimed.

But Tros grinned. It was an aggravating grin, as he intended that
it should be.

"I have heard you say, 'Fflur is always right!"' he answered.
"Caesar's woman has had five days. Caesar, himself swifter than
the wind to snatch advantage, doubtless picked her for her
swiftness. Zeus! Have you and I not seen how swift she is! And it
may be that Caesar knew beforehand of Glendwyr's plans."

"Caesar has spies, and there are Britons who trade back and forth
with Gaul, as for instance the Atrebates, who are not your
friends, Caswallon. Why, they tell me that half the Atrebates
live in Gaul.

"Would it be wonderful if Caesar should have learned about
dissension in your realm? Rome's very life is staked on other
folks' dissensions! So is Caesar's. A dead dog smells the same
whichever way the wind blows! If he can keep Rome by the ears,
faction against faction, for his own advantage, will he not
do it here?"

Caswallon turned and paced the hall a time or two, the blue-veined
skin of his face and neck looking deathly white against the
hangings. He chewed his moustache; his fingers worked behind
his back as if he were kneading the dough of indecision.  Tros
let go Helma, almost pushed her from him.

"Cast up the reckoning," he said. "Let us strike one woman off
against the other, trusting neither. But a third remains. How
often have you told me, 'Fflur is always right!' I say, take
Fflur's word for it, and look sharply to Glendwyr."

Caswallon stood still, mid-length of the hall.

"It would suit me well to fight him," he said. And he looked
the part.

"Then fight him now," Tros answered. "Glendwyr thinks tonight's
obsequies will hold you occupied. Is he mad enough to spare you
while your back is turned? To me it looks simple enough."

Caswallon came and stood in front of him, arms folded on
his breast.

"Simple?" he said. "How long have you known Britain? Twenty years
now I have kinged it, and I--I don't know my Britons yet!"

"If I should stand in your shoes, I would teach them to know me!"
Tros retorted. _"Bah!_ It is as simple as a mutiny at sea. Pick
out the ringleader and smash him. Thus, then Caesar's woman. Fill
her ears. Let her learn by listening when she thinks none watches
her, that you and every man you trust will attend the obsequies
tonight, leaving this town unguarded.

"I will urge you, in her hearing, to guard the town well; you
pooh-pooh it, laughing at me, and bid Orwic gather all your men
for the procession. Then help her to escape or let Fflur dismiss
her in a fury. Let Fflur give her a chariot and send her to the
coast to make her own way back to Caesar.

"Trust Fflur to put sufficient sting in it to make that
plausible. The woman will go to Glendwyr; she will hurry to tell
him Lunden is undefended. Good. You postpone the obsequies. You
march! You catch Glendwyr unready in the nervous hour between
preparation and the casting of the dice. You smite him in the
night. Hang him! Hang Skell! Hang the Gaulish woman!

"Pack the three into a box and send it with your compliments to
Caesar. It will smell good by the time it reaches him. Then ride
your bit of Britain with a rough hand, drilling, storing arrows,
making ready. For Caesar will invade again, Caswallon, as surely
as you and I and Orwic stand here."

"Clever. But you don't know Britain," Caswallon answered. "I am a
king, but the druids say their Mysteries are more than kingdoms,
even as a man's life is but a spark in the night of eternity.

"They have lighted the fires. They have informed the gods. They
have found the right conjunction of the stars and set their
altars accordingly. What the druids do, let no man interrupt."

"Lud rot the druids," Orwic muttered.

But he was of a generation younger, that was more impatient with
eternity.

"How many men has Glendwyr?" Tros asked.

"Maybe a hundred! Nor will he have more unless he can score an
advantage. If I have hard work raising a handful to fight
Northmen, what hope has he of raising an army? They might flock
to him if he should win a battle, but not otherwise."

"And how many have you?" Tros asked.

"Maybe a hundred. I raised three hundred against the Northmen;
but some were killed, some hurt and some have gone home. There
will be a thousand in tonight's procession, and as many women,
but nine-tenths would run.

"Britons are brave enough, but they say, 'A king should king it!'
They leave their king to king it when the trouble starts.
However, Glendwyr would never dare to interrupt the druids."

"Have you not watched Glendwyr? Have you no spies?" Tros asked.

"Yes. But my men go home to the feasting when a fight is over,
whether they win or lose! Glendwyr's men are feasting, too, I
will stake my kingdom on it."

"I have seen kingdoms staked, and lost ere now," said Tros.
Caswallon's indifference puzzled him. He suspected the chief of
knowing more than he pretended, and yet, the almost stupid, bored
look might be genuine. Orwic looked as bored and careless as
Caswallon did.

Tros, both hands behind him, legs apart, considered how he might
earn fair profit that should leave him free of obligation to the
man who paid.

"I have a bride, a longship and a crew of thirteen men. I need
more men," he remarked.

"Lud love me, I can spare none," said Caswallon.

"You have three-and-twenty Northmen prisoners," said Tros, "and
they once belonged to my man Sigurdsen. They are no good to you
for ransom. They are seamen. They can build ships. I can
use them. If Glendwyr should attack Lunden while your back
is turned--"

Caswallon smiled, a little grimly, but said nothing.

"--they would naturally help Glendwyr if he turned them loose.
But I have Sigurdsen, their former chief. And I have Helma, whom
they love. If I should promise them their freedom under me, they
would fight at my bidding. Will you give them to me, if I guard
you tonight while your back is turned?"

Caswallon stared hard. "Will you not attend your father's
obsequies?" he asked.

"That I would dearly love to do," said Tros, "but you are my
friend. I think you are in danger. I would rather strike a hard
blow for a living man than shed tears following a dead one to the
grave. Give me the Northmen."

"What will you do with them?" Caswallon asked.

"I will guard your back tonight."

"You mean, you will dare to hold Lunden Town for me with
six-and-thirty men?" Caswallon asked.

He hid his mouth behind his hand as he watched Tros's eyes, and
once, for about a second, he glanced at Orwic.

"Aye," Tros answered. "I am no fair-weather friend. As for my
father, if he could come from the dead, he would bid me attend
to the task of the living and leave comfortably dead men
to the druids."

"You are mad, Tros!" said Caswallon. "But I like you, though I
did doubt you a while back. You are a fool; Northmen are poor
laborers on land. I will give you instead as much land as you can
stride the length of on your own feet from dawn to sunset. With
Caesar's gold you can buy mares and cattle. I will give you the
gray stallion I bought a month ago from the Iceni. Helma to wife
and a holding in Britain, what more do you want?"

"Freedom! A ship and the sea!" Tros answered. "Nay, no bondage to
the dirt. Will you give me the Northmen?"

"They are yours." Caswallon nodded. "But you are more mad than a
hare in the furrows in spring!"

Nevertheless, he nodded at Orwic as if Tros's bargain suited him,
and Orwic smiled behind a hand that stroked his long moustache.





CHAPTER XXXVI

RASH? DESPERATE? OR .ALL THREE?

Trust both friend and enemy--your friend to do his utmost for you
and your enemy to do his worst against you; nevertheless, not
forgetting that friend and enemy may be one and the same. In no
way better than that can ye learn to trust and to mistrust
yourselves with unerring judgment.

--From the Sayings of the Druid Taliesan



There was a deal of talk still, interrupted by men who came in to
ask about the night's procession, and by the servants who set up
the long table in the hall, putting benches in place and silver
plates for folk of high degree, wooden ones for ordinary mortals.
Britons never moved, whether for war or peace, until they had
gorged enormously.

"A poor enough wedding feast," Caswallon said. "I would rather
you waited, Tros, until--"

Tros interrupted him with one of his deep-sea laughs that rose
from somewhere near his middle where the sword hung:

"Until Glendwyr runs me through, and you give Helma to a man who
loves horses and pigs? Nay, Caswallon, you shall marry us this
day. Then if I die, Helma will be dowered with money and ship, so
she may choose, and not be chosen."

He swaggered with his deep-sea captain's gait toward the long
room at the rear where all his Northmen lay glooming, their
eyes on Caesar's woman, who sat between Sigurdsen's wife
and the widow.

Sigurdsen rose to his feet as Tros entered; he looked as if
recovering from too much mead; his eyes were red; his knees
shook; a northern gloom possessed him such as grays a winter's
sea; but he met Tros's eyes as faith to faith, without emotion.

He would have spoken, but Tros checked him with one of those
gestures of confidence that convey more than a hundred words.
Sigurdsen sat down again among his men, his back toward a
leather-curtained wall.

Tros smiled at Caesar's woman. She smiled back, remaining seated.
She did not glance at Helma, who had followed Tros into the room,
but she let Tros see that she understood Helma had told of the
palm-reading and the trance. Her liquid eyes were more
intelligent than lovely--too alert, too knowing.

Tros out-acted her. Over his bold face there swept such visible
emotions as a man might feel who found himself mistaken, who had
doubted, to discover that his doubt was wrong, who envied brains
more subtle than his own, who held the upper hand, yet felt a
diffidence in using it, because he must seek favors of his victim.

There was a vague regret depicted, and a little laughter at the
ebb and flow of destiny; a gift of guile that could admire guile,
the expression of a clever gambler, losing, who will pay the bet.

"If you stay, Fflur will tear you to pieces!" he said, grinning,
stroking his chin, letting the black beard straggle through
his fingers.

"I am your slave," she answered.

She laid chin on hands, both elbows on her knees, to watch
his face.

He nodded.

"Careless kings are weak friends," he said darkly. "Caswallon
cares nothing about you. Fflur will not endure you. You
may go. I will send you to Glendwyr's place. Tell Glendwyr
I would have come with you, but I attend my father's obsequies.
Say, if he takes Lunden before dawn, I will befriend him
with six-and-thirty Northmen."

"Noble Tros," she answered, "I will tell Glendwyr how many men
guard Lunden, if you inform me."

"None," said Tros, almost whispering.

She stared. He nodded, one arm across his chest, resting the
other elbow on it, chin on hand.

"Tell Glendwyr I arranged that. I pay for service rendered,
handsomely. You understand me?"

"Noble Tros, I am your slave! You shall be king of Britain and
Caesar's friend, if you will trust me!"

"I judge words by performances," Tros answered. "Come!"

He led her to the stable-yard, where Orwic had a chariot yoked
and waiting.

"How far to Glendwyr's place?" he asked her, as if that were an
afterthought.

"Four or five hours," she answered. "But Glendwyr waits only
three hours' ride away or it may be less. I know the place. His
charioteer, who brought me, showed me where the road turns off by
a stream in the forest."

"Go fast," said Tros. "Bid Glendwyr hasten. Say, if he fails this
night, I will never again trust him. And you likewise! Fail me,
and you will find Caesar a more forgiving man than I! Serve me,
and I am more generous than Caesar!"

Orwic opened a side gate, standing behind it, so that she did not
catch sight of him, although her appraising eyes swept every
corner of the yard, and Tros was sure she knew the count of
chariots that stood pole-upward, the number of restless horses in
the long sheds, and how many serfs played kunckle-bones under
the eaves.

Those eyes of hers missed nothing, except that Tros laughed when
her chariot went plunging through the gate, and that it was
Orwic, Caswallon's nephew and his right-hand man, who slammed the
gate shut behind her.

"A mare's nest," said Orwic, rather melancholy. "There will be no
eggs in it. I know Glendwyr; bold when it pays to lie low, coward
at smiting time. If he had come to fight the Northmen, yes, he
might have won a following against Caswallon afterward.

"But he lay low then, and he will lie low now, until Caswallon
has an army at his back. Then the fool will have at us--Lud help
him! He shall lie low then for all time!"

Tros's amber eyes glanced at the sky.

"Northeast wind backing to the north," he answered; but what he
meant by that he did not say, any more than he knew what Orwic's
air of information in reserve might mean.

He returned to where Helma waited whispering to Sigurdsen. The
Northman looked at Tros with new appraisal in his eyes, and
actually smiled at last.

"Can he fight?" Tros asked. "Is he fit for an adventure?"
Sigurdsen nodded and talked back to Helma in a singsong growl
that sounded like the sea on jasper beaches, but Tros did not
wait for all that outburst to be interpreted; when Helma turned
to speak he took her by the shoulders and, in short, hurried
phrases told her of the plan in mind.

So she told Sigurdsen, and he, laughing, told the others, bidding
one of them help him strip off all the bandages that impeded his
arms and his huge shoulder muscles.

Tros led the way then toward the yard, but Conops met him in the
door, gesturing secrecy, mysterious as if he came from snooping
in a graveyard.

"Master! One word!"

"Aye! And I will count the word. Be swift."

Conops drew him back into the room and whispered:

"Master! Women are no good! I know. I never dallied with a woman
but she robbed me. That one you have sent away would sell her
lover to a press-gang for the price of a drop of scent. This one,
this yellow-haired young one will scold you, day in, day out!
When she is older she will be like Fflur, who scolds Caswallon
until he daren't even drink without her leave, and drinks because
she worries him! Master, don't marry her! Don't! Don't! And your
father not yet in his grave!"

Tros took him by the neck, laughed, shook him until his teeth
clattered like castanets.

"Stand by!" he said. "Stand by! You hear me? Stand by for dirty
weather, if you smell the wind! If she should scold me, I will
take it out on your hide, little man, you little one-eyed,
split-lipped, red-haired, freckled, dissolute, ugly, faithful
friend o' mine! Belay advice!

"Out oars, you knife-nasty, wharf-running, loyal old dirty-weather
sea-dog! Stow that tongue and stand by me as I endure you,
dockrat, drunkard, shame of the Levant, impertinent, devoted
trusty that you are! No back-talk, or I'll break your head!
I'll buy a wife for you, and make you keep her! Now, are
you satisfied?"

Tros banged his head against the wall by way of clinching
argument and strode at the head of his Northmen to the stable-yard,
they tramping in his wake like henchmen who had served him since
the day they carried arms, with Conops fussing along behind them
ragging Sigurdsen because he did not keep step.

But Sigurdsen was too proud to fall into the rhythm of the tramp,
and rather too long-legged; also, he was not at all disposed to
do what Conops told him, or even to take notice of him, or to
admit that he understood.

When they reached the great barn where Caswallon's Northmen were
confined, Orwic was waiting and unlocked the complicated wooden
contrivance that held the beam in place across the double door.
There was no armed guard; the prisoners knew they were safer
there than if at liberty until the rage against them should die
and Britons resume their usual easy-going tolerance of friend and
former foe alike. They were lying in straw, their wounded wrapped
in clean white linen.

Those who could rise were on their feet the moment Sigurdsen
stood bulked against the light; there were only two who lay
still, although a dozen of them had to struggle from the straw,
being stiff from painful wounds.

But there was none hurt beyond fairly swift recovery, or he would
have been "finished" where he lay on the battlefield as unfit for
slavery, half-slavery of service to a British chief, or ransom.

Tros, with Helma next to him, stood at one side of the long barn
where the failing sunlight pouring through the door shone on
their faces. Sigurdsen, his Northmen at his back, stood facing
Tros; and there began such rhetoric as Tros had never heard.

For Sigurdsen's fever had left him and left his brain clear. A
beaten chief, hopeless of ransom, Tros had given him far better
terms than even over-generous Caswallon would have dared to give.

The Britons would have put him to hard labor for a year or two, a
dismal execution overhanging him if he should fail to please;
thereafter, little by little, they might have let him rise from
serfdom to a holding of his own, half-subject to one of the
numerous minor chiefs.  But Tros had offered him a free man's
post of honor, second-in-command to Tros himself, and great
adventure on the unknown seas.

So Sigurdsen waxed eloquent. The rhythm of the northern sagas
rang among the barn-beams as his throat rolled out in Norse a
challenge to defeated men to rally to a new prince, Tros of
Samothrace, sea-captain without equal, loved of Thor and Odin,
brave and cunning, Tros who stood before them, Tros who had
claimed the fair-haired Helma, daughter of a hundred kings, to be
his bride!

There seemed no stopping him now that he had broken his long
silence. He recited Helma's pedigree, commencing in the dim gray
dawn of time with mythical half-deities and battles between gods
and men. He made the roof-beams ring to the names of heroes and
fair-haired heroines whose record seemed to consist exclusively
of battlefield betrothals, glittering wedding feasts and death on
fields of honor.

He chanted of a golden age when his ancestors were kings, it
seemed, of half a universe, with wisemen to support them and
defeat the magic of the witches and trolls who counseled enemies,
whose only purpose in existence was, apparently, to act as
nine-pins for heroes to knock down.

And presently he sang of Tros. His measured, rhythmic prose grew
into singsong as imagination seized him, until almost one could
hear the harp-strings picking out the tune. He had no facts to
hamper him, except the all-important one that Tros had conquered
him in single fight and, recognizing a descendant from the gods,
had pledged with him faith forever on an oaken poop, "a sea-swept
poop, a poop of a proud ship, mistress of the gales, a strong
ship, a longship, a ship that Tros, a mighty man in battle, saw
and seized--he, single-handed, slaying fifty men!"

He made a pedigree for Tros. He chanted of his black beard and
his amber eyes, that were the gift of Odin treasured through
endless centuries by high-born women who were born into the world
to mate with offspring of a hundred gods. He sang of seas that
roared in cataracts across the far rim of the world, where Tros
had met strange fleets and smitten them to ruin, "and the bare
bones of the foemen strew the beaches; and the rotting timbers of
the wrecks lie broken on the sand!"

He crowded half a century of fighting into Tros's short life,
described his father as a "king of kings" who died in battle
against fifty thousand men, and ended with a prophecy that Tros
would found a kingdom in which kings and queens should be his
vassals, and "amber the stuff his cups are made of, platters of
gold to eat from."

A hundred sons and grandsons, men of valor, should comb the earth
in rivalry of manhood to deserve the privilege of wearing Tros's
sword when, "ripe in years and splendor," he should go at last
"to where the gods and all his ancestors make merry amid feasting
in Valhalla!"

Tros did not understand a word of it, but Helma told him as much
as she could remember of it afterward, when they had all done
roaring "Hail!" to him and the charioteers and stable-men crowded
in the doorway--first with a notion that trouble was brewing and
then, because Orwic appeared well pleased--adding their own
shouts to the tumult.

All the Northmen kissed Helma and did fealty to Tros, each
touching the hilt of his long sword and murmuring hoarse words
that sounded like an echo of a longship launching off the ways.
There was a roll of thunder in it, and the names of Thor
and Odin.

Helma smiled through tears, a gleam of grandeur on her face. But
she was serious when she repeated to Tros what Sigurdsen had
sung, she walking hand-in-hand with him toward Caswallon's hall,
with the Northmen tramping in the rear supporting the wounded
between them.

It did not appear to occur to her that there might be any untruth
in Tros's pedigree as Sigurdsen unfolded it, or that there might
be anything far-fetched in the account of Tros's wanderings and
battles at the far rim of the world. That he was not so old as
Sigurdsen and could not possibly have done a hundredth part of
all that Sigurdsen ascribed to him, meant nothing to her.

She was proud of her new lord beyond the limit of expression, far
beyond the commonplace dimensions of such tawdry facts as time
and space. She walked beside him worshiping, her young, strong,
virgin heart aglow with such emotion as no years can limit.

"Lord Tros," she said. Her voice thrilled. There was vision in
her eyes. "My brother saw beyond the veil of things. The gods
sang through his mouth. It is honor and joy to me beyond words
that I will bear your sons."

Whereat Tros went searching in his mind for words such as he had
never used to man or woman, marveling how lame a thing is
language and how a tongue, not given to too much silence, can so
hesitate between one sentence and another, falling between both
into a stammering confusion.

"Whether I be this or that, and a strong man or a weak one, I
will do that which is in me, so that you be not sorry if my best
may make you glad," he said at last.

And he took comfort from the speech, although it irked him to be
picking and choosing, yet to find no proper words. And he did not
think of his father at all, although he was conscious that he did
not think of him--which would have puzzled him still more if he
had pondered it.

The sun went down and servants lighted the oil-fed wicks in long
bronze sconces on the wall when they all came to Caswallon's
table and the noisy men-at-arms filed in--Caswallon's relatives
by blood or marriage, most of them--heaping their arms in the
racks in the vestibule and quarreling among themselves for right
of place at table.

Some of them had wives who sat each beside her husband, because
Fflur was at table, beside Caswallon's great gilded throne-chair
that had been pulled forward from under the balcony. Unmarried
women served the food, receiving it from serfs at the kitchen door.

Tros sat next to Fflur, with Helma on his right; beyond her,
Sigurdsen, his wife and all the Northmen faced curiously amiable
Britons, who seemed to think it a good joke to be eating and
drinking on equal terms with men whom they had beaten in battle
recently. Conops stood behind Tros, selecting the best dishes as
they came and snatching them to set before his master.

First came the mead in beakers that the women carried in both hands.
Caswallon struck the table with his fist for silence, then, beaker
in hand, stood up and made the shortest wedding-speech that
Tros--and surely Britain--had ever heard:

"Men of Lunden, we go presently to where the druids speed brave
comrades, through the darkness men call death, into a life that
lies beyond. And none knows what the morrow shall bring forth; so
there are acts that should be done now, lest death first fall on
us, like rain that shuts off a horizon. Hear ye all! This is my
brother Tros. To him I give this woman Helma to be wife, and all
these Northmen, who were mine by victory, to be his faithful
men-at-arms and servants. Tros!"

He raised his beaker and drank deep, up-ending it in proof there
were no dregs. And when that swift ceremony was complete they all
drank, except Tros and Helma, then cheered until the great hall
crashed with sound. Fflur, rising, gave a golden flagon into
Tros's hands, from which he and Helma drank in turn, Tros
finishing the mead with one huge draft that left him gasping when
he set the flagon bottom-up. Then he spoke, and was briefer
than Caswallon:

"Lord Caswallon, you have named me brother. I abide that name. At
your hands I accept this woman. She is my wife. I accept these
men. They shall obey me; and, whatever destiny may bring, they
shall at least say they have followed one who stood beside his
friends in need and kept faith whatsoever came of it!"

Then Tros took the broad gold band from his forehead, and by
sheer strength broke it, signifying that a chapter of his life
was ended.

He began the next by binding the broad gold around his bride's
right arm, she staring at the symbols carved on it and wondering
what gods they charged with her protection.

But there were some who murmured it was witchcraft; and a married
woman cried aloud that the breaking of the golden circle was an
omen of ill luck.

Thereafter Tros had hard work to prevent his Northmen from
drinking themselves useless, since the mead flowed without limit
and as host Caswallon was too proud to check them.

But Tros imposed restraint by promising the widow-woman to the
soberest, whereat Conops, in a panic, began drinking behind
Tros's back.

And when the hurried feast was nearly at an end there came a
bareback galloper, mud-bespattered, sweating, who burst into the
hall and ran to Caswallon's chair, thrusting his head and
shoulders between the chief and Fflur. He whispered, but Tros
heard him:

"Lord! Make ready to hold Lunden! Glendwyr and two hundred men
are marching! They are at the king's stone* by the Thames! They
mean to make Glendwyr chief while you stand on a hillside
communing with dead men's souls! All Lunden empty! Not a light!
No guard at Lud's Gate! They have all gone to the druids' circle!"

----------
* Kingston-on-Thames. The old stone in the market-place is
nowadays said to be of Saxon origin, but there is no proof it is
not druidic and its early history is obscure.
----------

"Aye. Why not?" Caswallon answered. But he glanced at Tros.

"Lord! Stay and fight Glendwyr! He will burn your house!" "Not
he!" Caswallon laughed. "Lud rot him, he would like too well to
live in it. Two hundred men, you say? Did you count them?"

"Nay, I rode. But I heard two hundred." Caswallon laughed again.

"Maybe he rides like us to the burying." But he glanced at Tros.

"Lord Caswallon, I have warned you. I have done my part"

"Nay, not yet the whole of it," Caswallon answered.

And he looked a third time straight into Tros's eyes, while he
wiped his moustache with a freckled, blue-veined hand.

"Take a fresh horse. Ride and find Glendwyr. Bid him meet me at
the hillside where the druids wait. Say--there--when the souls of
the dead have traveled their appointed path and all the fires
die, he and I will meet alone. It will be dawn before the fires
die. Say I will fight him for my house and Lunden when dawn rises
over the druids' hill."

"He will not believe me."

"Show him this," Caswallon answered; and he pulled a great gold
bracelet off his wrist.

But Fflur shook her head and sighed, as if words failed her.

The man would have gone at once to ride his errand, but Tros, who
had been whispering to Fflur, leaned behind her and caught the
fellow's arm.

"Let him wait. Let him see us all go," he whispered, wrenching at
the man's arm so that he swore aloud and struggled, not hearing
what was said. "Let him first see me and my men march out with
the rest."

Caswallon nodded.

"Wait," he ordered. "Ride when I tell you."

So the man went and sat by the fireside, drinking mead and
rubbing a wrist that Tros had come near breaking.

"Caswallon, will you hear me?" Fflur asked.

"Nay, for you are always right," he laughed, "and I know what you
will say, Fflur: That the druids rule Britain, which is true
enough. But you will tell me I should ride it rough over the
druids, which I dare not, right though it may be you are. A
druid's neck may break like any other man's, and I could butcher
a herd of them, maybe, like winter's beef, but can I convince
Britons I am right to do it?

"How long would they be about raising a new king to rule in place
of me? The druids would choose that king and be stronger than
ever. The druids summoned you, me and all Lunden to the burying
tonight. Obey them?

"Nay! I am the king! But I go, nevertheless, and so do you go,
and all my men, and all Lunden Town, because a king's throne has
four legs, of which the first is a druid; and the second is
ceremony; and the third is mystery; and the fourth is common
sense. But the druids did not summon Tros, nor any of his men."

He looked hard at Tros again.

"They left that courtesy to me to undertake, and it may be I
forgot to mention it!"

He did not wait for Fflur to answer. He rose, gesturing toward
the door, through which the sound of stamping stallions came and
the crunch of bronze wheels on the gravel drive.

"Now, Tros," he said, "I would not leave you here unless I knew
this Glendwyr business is a little matter. And I know, too, that
you need a hook on which to hang your coat, as it were, if you
are to winter here in Britain. I need a good excuse to lend you
house and countenance in spite of jealousy and tales against you.

"So--Glendwyr is no great danger but he will serve your end. If
he has fifty men, that is more than I think; and the half of
those will run when the first one yells as a spear-point pricks
him at Lud's Gate! Glendwyr counts on Lunden turning against me,
if he can steal my house. Take care then that he never enters it!
For my part, I will let the men of Lunden know you saved their
town for them tonight when their backs were turned!"

Tros answered him never a word.

"Is he a rash fool, or so wise he can laugh at rash fools, or a
desperate king with druids on his neck, or all three things at
once?" he wondered.

But Caswallon marched out looking like a man who understood all
the rules of the game of "kinging it."





CHAPTER XXXVII

THE BATTLE AT LUD'S GATE

I have spoken unto weariness. Yet now this! Listen, ye who heard,
yet heard not. It is manlier to slay and to be slain then to
escape by cowardice from dangers that a little Wisdom could have
taught you to avoid. Aye, to the shambles with you! To the
houghing! Return not for pity to me if ye run from the terror
that ye have brought upon yourselves. A coward is a mocker of his
own Soul.

--From the Sayings of the Druid Taliesan



Tros gathered his Northmen, the wounded and all, for they could
eat and drink and walk, whatever else might ail them, and, with
Helma at his side, brought up the rear of the procession behind
fifty chariots that swayed in the crimson glare of torches held
by men on foot.

Far away to the northwestward, beyond the forest and the marsh,
there was a crimson glow against the sky, where druids' fires
burned; and all the distance in between was dotted with the
irregular glow of torches where the folk of Lunden and the
neighboring villages formed one continuous stream.

"Zeus! Those druids have the Britons by neck and nose!" Tros
muttered. "Would my father have asked burial at the risk of a
man's throne? Not he! He would have ordered them to throw his
body on a dung-heap, and defend themselves. If he is not
too busy in another world, he will forgive me for not attending
his funeral."

The long procession filed through the circle of solemn yew-trees,
where the altar was on which a daily sunrise sacrifice was laid;
and there Tros halted, gathering his men around him, bidding
Helma explain his plan to Sigurdsen:

"Now we march back. One has ridden to warn Caswallon's enemies
that his house is empty and the town unguarded. He saw us all
march away, and though that man is Caswallon's friend, the
information will leak out of him like the smell of strong wine
through a bottle-neck. There is none in Lunden, save the
fire-guard, a few old women and, it may be, a handful of drunken
fishermen down by the riverside."

"Who is the fire-guard?" Sigurdsen asked; for he knew next to
nothing of Britons, except that they were not fit to be reckoned
with at sea, although great fighters on horseback and on foot in
their forests.

"They," said Tros, "are about a score of old men, who sleep by
day and are supposed to patrol by night. This night, instead of
snoring in the watchhouse, they shall serve a purpose. Conops! Go
find the fire-guard. Wake them. Keep them awake. See that each
cripple of them arms himself with two good torches. Hide them
within Caswallon's wall, with a small fire handy at which to
light the torches swiftly when I blow three blasts somewhere near
the town gate.

"When I do that, make all the noise possible and run downhill
toward the gate, as if at least fifty of you were coming to my
aid. If the running kills them they will die in a good cause, so
spare none. No talk now! Go about your business! Hurry!"

"How much of a fight is this to be?" asked Sigurdsen. "A third of
us are stiff with wounds."

He flexed his own great muscles, but it hurt him.

"Neither more nor less than any fight," Tros answered. "Tell him,
Helma, that a man does what he can do, and neither gods nor men
should ask more or expect less!"

He saw that nothing could be gained by telling Sigurdsen how
great the danger was. The Northmen had too recently been beaten
to thrill at any thought of a forlorn hope. He must make them
think their task was easy; so he led off, whistling to himself.

And first he returned to Caswallon's house to rifle the great
racks of arms that lined a storeroom near the hall. There was no
guard, no lock. He laughed as he served out bows and arrows,
laughed again, as he thought of that gold he had won from Caesar.

Fflur was supposed to be guarding it. It was probably under her
bed! He wondered where Caswallon's own treasure lay, all the
golden money coined in the mint at Verulam.*

----------
* Nowadays known as St. Albans.
----------

"Honesty, unless all other men are honest, is no better than
Achilles' heel," he reflected. "Britons are madmen. Caswallon is
the maddest of them all!"

He marched his men out through Caswallon's gate slowly, because
some limped and had to lean on others, and downhill between the
neat, fenced houses, leaving Sigurdsen's wife and the widow-woman
with orders to attach themselves to Conops' torch brigade. But
Helma he kept with him, since he had no other means of
instructing his men.

They marched into a creeping gray mist ascending from the
river, that made trees and houses loom like ghost-things
from another world.

Except that once or twice a tied hound bayed at them and cows
lowed in the barns as they went by, there was no sign of life
until they reached Lud's Gate with the wooden bridge beyond it.

There was a guardhouse built of mud and timber either side the
gate, but no lights and only one man fast asleep on a bench
within an open guardhouse door. When Tros wakened him he said he
was there to entertain belated strangers, and he pulled out a bag
of roasted wheat, supposing that Tros and his men wished food and
lodging for the night.

He was a very old man, trembling with the river ague, but Tros
pressed him into service since he admitted that he knew every
nook and corner of the sparsely wooded land that lay beyond
the bridge.

Tros decided not to close the town gate. It was ajar when he
arrived, because the old man was too thoughtful of his ague to
wish to struggle with it if a stranger should seek admittance.
Tros flung it wide and lighted the bronze lamps in both
guardhouse windows, so that any one coming would know there
was no obstruction and might elect to ride full pelt across
the bridge.

The wall reached either way into obscurity. It was a thing of mud
and lumber, useless against battery, but too high for an enemy to
waste time climbing if he should see a gap that he might gallop
through. Beyond, were occasional clumps of trees that loomed
through the drifting mist, a low gurgle from the swamps at the
river edge, and silence.

"Now," said Tros to Helma, "you shall be a widow on your bridal
night, or else shall wife it with a man who stands firm in one
king's favor! It seems to me the Britons are all fools, not alone
Caswallon. So I think this man who comes to seize Caswallon's
throne is no whit wiser than the rest. If I am wrong, then you
are as good as married to a dead man! But we shall see."

He took Helma and the old guardhouse man across the bridge with
him, ignored a clump of trees and undergrowth--since any fool
might look for an ambush there--and, after ten minutes' stumbling
over tufted ridge and muddy hollow, chose a short stretch of open
country where the road crossed what apparently was level ground.

But he noticed it was not actually level; mist and darkness were
deceptive. Fifty feet away to one side the smooth, grazed turf
was half a man's height higher than the road, and from that point
it fell away again into a mist-filled hollow. He could have
hidden a hundred men there.

He glanced at the town gate, wide, inviting. Lamplight shone
across the opening, blurred by fog, and he whistled contentedly
as he realized what a glare Conops' torches would make, seen from
that viewpoint through the lighter mist uphill. But there was
something lacking yet.

"If they come they will come in a hurry. They will charge the
open gate. They will get by before we can check them."

He observed again. On his left hand, almost exactly midway
between his chosen ambush and the town gate, was the clump
of trees and undergrowth that looked like such a perfect
lurking place.

"Helma," he said, pointing to it, "take this old skinful of ague
and hide yonder in the trees. I will give you the three
worst-wounded men as well, and there is flint and tinder in the
guardhouse. When the enemy comes abreast of me--for I will hide
here along with Sigurdsen and all the others--you strike flint on
steel and make a good noise in the bushes. If that does not check
them, light a torch or two."

"I would liefer die beside you," Helma answered.

"You will do my bidding," Tros retorted, and she said no
word to that.

So Tros went for his Northmen, putting the three most badly
wounded, along with the old gate-house-keeper, in Helma's charge;
and them he hid carefully in the clump of trees, showing them
precisely between which branches to make their sparks and how to
thrash the undergrowth; but as to the proper time to do that, he
trusted Helma.

"Wife or widow!" he said, throwing an arm around her, laughing
gruffly, for he had a long road yet to travel before he would
trust the gentler side of him. "Do your part and I will do mine.
So the gods will do theirs; for they like to see men and women
prove themselves!"

With that he left her to her own devices and tramped away with
Sigurdsen, the other Northmen following; and presently he hid
them all on the shoulder of the slope above the road, where even
if mounted men should spy them from the higher level of horse or
chariot, their heads would look like tree-stumps in the midst. He
was careful to space them at unequal intervals, not in a
straight line.

But the Northmen were nervous. They had drunk too much and had
been told too little; nor had they any interest in fighting,
except that they would rather, for their own sakes, please Tros
than offend him. It was hard to keep them quiet, although
Sigurdsen went down the line whispering hoarsely, rebuking, even
striking them. They complained of their wounds and the chill
night air, repeatedly crowding together for warmth, protesting
that the turf was damp, yet neglecting to keep their bow-strings dry.

Then a stallion neighed not far away; another answered, which
sent the shivers up Tros's spine. Orwic had told him which way
Glendwyr must come if he should come at all; but those stallions
were somewhere behind him, whereas the road spread in front to
left and right until it turned away through distant trees and
followed the riverbank.

His next trouble was that the Northmen, even Sigurdsen, grew
sleepy; some of them snored and he had to throw stones at them.
All of them were half asleep when he caught the sound of horsemen
in the distance; and it was the sound of so many horses that he
feared for one long minute his chilled, indifferent men would
welcome panic and take to their heels.

But Sigurdsen sensed the panic and stood up, swearing he would
die beside Tros. Tros had to force him down again before the
advance guard of what seemed to be at least a hundred horsemen
began looming through the mist. Then, to the rear again, three
horses neighed; but it sounded strangely as if the neighing were
half-finished, smothered. Some of the advancing horses answered
it, but there was no reply.

"Zeus, we are in for it!" Tros muttered to himself. "A hundred
coming--more! Another lot behind us waiting to join them! No
quarter! Horsemen front and rear! Well, there's a laugh in
everything. My Northmen have nowhere to run! Zeus! What a mad
fool Caswallon must be, to leave me and this handful to defend
all Lunden!"

He took a long chance, crept along the line to see that
bow-strings were all taut, shaking each man as he passed,
growling orders that accomplished more because the Northmen could
not understand a word he said. If they had understood him they
might have tried to argue.

The leading horsemen riding slowly, peering to left and right,
drew nearly abreast of the ambush. One of them turned and
shouted. At least a hundred in the mist along the road began
cantering to catch up.

Helma heard that. Her sparks flashed and there began a crashing
in the underbush, just as the advance guard began to spur their
horses to a gallop. They saw, heard, drew rein again, began
shouting to the men behind; and in a moment there was a milling
mass of men and horses, those ahead pressing back into an
impatient orderless squadron that came plunging into them. A
melee of ghosts in the mist! Somewhere away behind Tros stallions
neighed again.

Shouts, yells, imprecations, argument. And into that Tros loosed
his Northmen's arrow-fire! He could hear the clatter of bronze
wheels and the thunder of hoofs now. He knew he was between two
forces, one careering from behind him to make junction with the
other. He blew three bugle blasts that split the night and
watched for Conops' torches, heard an answering bugle blast, and
saw them come pouring through Caswallon's gate, a splurge of
angry crimson, whirling and spreading in the mist.

"Shoot! Shoot! Shoot into the mass!"

He seized a bow and arrows from a man who did not understand him
and launched shaft after screaming shaft into the riot, where
fallen horses kicked and men cursed, none sure yet whence the
arrows came and each man yelling contrary advice, as some fell
stricken and some saw the torches coming downhill.

Tros's men were on their knees to take advantage of the shoulder
of the rise; from in front they were hardly visible. But
Sigurdsen saw the havoc they had wrought already, heard the
thunder of hoofs and wheels approaching from behind, sensed
climax and rose to his full height, roaring. No more bow for him!
He dropped the thing and stood in full view, whirling his ax,
bull-bellowing his men to charge and die down there at handgrips
with the Britons!

The Northmen rallied to him in a cluster on the ridge. No more
bows and arrows if they had to die; they drew swords and axes.
Tros, since he had lost control of them, took stand by Sigurdsen
and sent one final shaft death-whining into the mob before trying
to face his party both ways. The chariots were almost on them
from behind, hoofs and wheels, no shouting, din deadened by the
turf. Three-score men in the road had rallied somehow, saw
Northmen's heads against the skyline, spurred their panicky
horses and wheeled to charge uphill. But even as they wheeled, a
squadron of chariots hub-to-hub came thundering through the night
on Tros's right hand and crashed into the riot in the road, a
wave of horsemen following and then another. Before Sigurdsen
could lead his men ax-swinging into that confusion, where they
could never have distinguished friend from foe, the half of
Glendwyr's men were in headlong flight, hard followed. It was
over in sixty seconds.

Tros beat his Northmen back with the flat of his sword-blade,
until Helma came breathless and, clinging to Sigurdsen, screamed
at them all to let the Britons fight among themselves. But nobody
quite understood what had happened, until Caswallon loomed out of
the mist, drawing rein, resting one foot on the wooden rim above
the chariot's wickerwork.

"Brother Tros," he said, "did you think I would leave you in the
dark to guard my back? By Lud, no! Kinging it means trusting
enemies to do their worst and watching friends lest they suffer
by being friends! I told you this would be a little matter; but
it was no small thing for you to prove you are my friend
and not Caesar's!"

"You came between block and knife!" said Tros, his foot on the
hub of the wheel.

"Not I! Didn't you hear my stallions squeal before we silenced
them? Have you seen Glendwyr?"

The chariot horses reared and shied, and Tros had to jump clear
of the wheel before he could answer, for Conops came rushing up,
torch in hand, and all the king's horses or all the king's men
meant nothing to him until he knew Tros was safe.

But when he had thrust the torch close to Tros's face and made
sure there were no wounds, he thought of loot and vanished in
the direction where the loot might be. There was a glare of
torchlight in the town gate, where his breathless veterans stood
hesitating, doubtful, ready to welcome whichever side was victor.

Then a shout out of the darkness, Orwic's voice: "We have the
young Glendwyr!"

Orwic's chariot, crowded with five or six men, drew up beside
Caswallon's. Three men were holding one. He struggled. But he
ceased to struggle when they dragged him from the chariot and
stood him close to Tros beside Caswallon's wheel. In a minute the
whole party was surrounded by dismounted horsemen, whose held
horses kicked and bit while their owners clamored for young
Glendwyr's death.

But Caswallon waited, tugging his moustache, until the clamor
died; it was not until men hardly breathed, and they had somehow
quieted the horses, that he spoke to the prisoner suddenly, and
when he did speak his voice had a hammer-on-anvil note.

"You hear what these say. Where is your father?"

"Dead!"

The youngster's voice was insolent, hoarse with anger. He was
possibly eighteen, but it was not easy to see his face because
the mist came drifting like smoke on a faint wind and the
torchlight cast fantastic shadows, distorting everything.

He had black hair that fell on to stalwart shoulders, and he
stood straight, with his chin high, although two men held his
arms behind him and were at no pains to do it gently.

"How did he die? When?" Caswallon asked.

The youngster answered scornfully, as if Caswallon, not he, were
the accused:

"Lud's mud! You are the one who should ask that! You, who sent
Caesar's woman to him! You who sent a lying messenger to
challenge him after her dagger had done its work!"

"Lud knows I would have fought him!" Caswallon answered
pleasantly enough.

"You! You lie! You sent word to him to meet you at the Druid's
Hill, and a woman to make sure he should never reach there!"

"Like father, like son," Caswallon answered. "If your father is
dead, why didn't you ride to fight me in his place, instead of
sneaking through the dark to loot my Lunden Town? I have caught
you in your father's shoes. But how did he die?"

"I say she stabbed him!"

Caswallon made a hissing sound between his teeth.

"Where is she now?" he demanded; and the youngster chose to
misinterpret the flat note of dissatisfaction in his voice.

"Aye," he sneered back, "she has earned Fflur's place! But you
will have to win her first from Skell! Lud's mud! If there is any
manhood in you, fight me before Skell comes with a dagger for
your back!"

"Boy, I would have fought your father gladly, or you in his
place," Caswallon answered. "I am vexed not to have slain him.
But as for you now, you will do well to bridle impudence. You are
not free, so you have no right to challenge any one."

"Lud's blood!" the youngster swore, "I came to burn your house!
I'll ask no mercy!"

He spat, and a Briton close beside him would have struck him in
the face, but Caswallon prevented that:

"Let him be. He has fire in his brain. Boy, I will not kill you,
nor shall any woman kill you while you are at my charge. Will you
lie in fetters until some foreign ship puts in needing rowers? Or
shall I give you to my friend Tros?"

The youngster nearly wrenched his two guards off their feet as he
turned to glare at Tros, whose amber eyes met his and laughed
at him.

"Be still, boy," Tros advised him. "If I say no to this, you will
die of scurvy on some Phoenician's deck, or else be sold to be
chained to an Egyptian oar."

The youngster bit a word in two and swallowed half of it. He did
not like to be laughed at, but it had only just begun to dawn on
him that he was lawfully Caswallon's property, a prisoner caught
in the act of rebellion, henceforth with no more rights than if
he had been born a slave, not even the right to be hanged or
burned alive.

"How many prisoners are taken?" Caswallon asked in a loud voice,
and there was some calling to and fro through the mist before
Orwic answered.

"Nine-and-thirty; also a dozen or fourteen who are hurt so they
will not live."

"Brother Tros, how many will you need to build and man this ship
your heart desires?" Caswallon asked.

"Ten score, at the least," Tros answered.

Caswallon laughed.

"Well, you have your Northmen and now nine-and-thirty Britons,
forty of them counting young Glendwyr. Maybe my men will catch a
few more rebels for you. However, a man needs enemies, so they
shall let some go. Boy, you belong to my brother Tros, but all
your father's lands and property are mine."

Young Glendwyr hung his head and the men who held him would have
tied his wrists if Tros had permitted; but Tros put two Northmen
in charge of him, which stung the youngster less than if he had
been tied, and mocked, by his own countrymen. Caswallon
sent the other prisoners into Lunden under guard, to await
Tros's disposition.

"For the wine of excitement might go to your head if I should
leave you in charge of them tonight, Tros. You might try your own
turn at seizing Lunden!"

"Lunden is a good town, but it would irk me to have to govern
it," Tros answered.

Caswallon laughed, turning his head to listen to sounds
approaching through the mist; wheels, hoofs and a voice.

"Pledge me your promise," he said suddenly.

Tros hated promises, like all men who habitually keep them. He
regarded a blind promise as stark madness. Yet there was madness
in the mist that night, and all rules went by the board. He heard
a gasp from Conops, somewhere in the mist behind, as he raised
his right hand and swore to do whatever service Caswallon might
demand of him.

He could see Caswallon whispering to Orwic, and Orwic passing
word along, but it was Conops who gave him the first inkling that
he might be called on that night for performance; Conops, and
then Helma, seizing his hand and pressing close against him.
Conops said:

"Master, he will make a fool of you! Take back that promise
before he--"

Helma said:

"Lord Tros, I am your wife, is it not so? This is my night.
Will you--"

Sounds in the mist interrupted, sounds that included one familiar
voice. A chariot emerged into the torch glare, horses snorting
clouds of vapor as they slid to a thundering halt, all feet
together; and the first face Tros recognized was Fflur's, the
torchlight in her eyes. It was she who drove, who reined the
horses in, her hair all fury on her shoulders.

"I have them both," she remarked.

Her voice was flat-determined. There were issues in the
mist that night.

A chariot behind hers plunged to a standstill and Tros saw
Caesar's woman's face, white in the mist, with Skell's beside
hers; and Skell looked like a ghost from beyond the borderland of
death, with such fear in his eyes as a beast shows in the
shambles. His arms were tied so taut behind him that his breast
seemed ready to burst and the sinews of his neck stood out
like bowstrings.

"Now prove you are a king, Caswallon! Do a king's work!" Fflur
said; and her voice was flat again, no music in it.

"I will," Caswallon laughed. "Bring them. I am good at kinging it!"

But Fflur appeared to doubt that; she watched like an avenging
fury while men dragged Skell and the Gaulish woman from the
chariot and stood them in front of Caswallon, where he considered
both of them a minute without speaking.

Then suddenly he raised his voice, and though he spoke to all
present it was plain enough that his words were aimed at Fflur:

"Shall a king protect men's property, or shall he squander it?"

All knew the answer to that. None spoke, not even Fflur, although
she bit her lip.

"Shall a king offend the druids, or shall he abide their
teachings?" Caswallon asked, speaking loud and high again.

They knew the answer to that, too. None spoke except the Gaulish
woman. She cried aloud:

"Not the druids! Kill me!"

Then she began screaming, and a man clapped a cloth over her
mouth, desisting when she grew calm.

"As for this woman," Caswallon said, "she was Caesar's slave, and
she now belongs to Tros--my brother Tros."

The woman flung herself sobbing in the mud at Tros's feet,
clinging to his legs, crying to him:

"Lord Tros--mercy! I knew you were for the Lord Caswallon! I
stabbed the Lord Glendwyr lest he should slay you! I am your
slave! My knife is yours! My life is yours!"

"Be still," Tros ordered gruffly.

He knew predicament was coming, needed all his wits to meet it.
Emotion, such as she showed, angered him, and in anger there is
not much wisdom.

"As for Skell, what say the druids?" asked Caswallon, raising his
voice louder than before.

There was a murmur at that, but Skell was speechless; fear held
him rigid, the whites of his eyes glistening. Caswallon spoke
again, his head a little turned toward Fflur:

"The druids say, a good deed is for men to repay--evil deeds are
for the gods to punish. What say you?"

There was murmuring again, but no words audible. Fflur's lips
were white with pressure, and her eyes blazed as Caswallon turned
to face her:

"Mother of my sons," he said, "this Skell was once a friend of
mine. He helped when Lunden burned. He helped rebuild it.
Shall I slay?"

Fflur answered him at last, thin-lipped, breathing inward: "You
will never listen to me! It must be your decision!"

"Nay," he answered, laughing, "you are always right! What shall I
do with him?"

"Do what you will! You are the king!" she answered angrily.
Caswallon laughed again.

"True. I should not forget I am the king!"

"You let other men forget it," Fflur retorted.

"Skell shall remember!" Caswallon turned from her and looked
straight at Tros. "Brother Tros, you have told me you will build
a ship, for which you will need a great crew. Just now you have
made me a promise to do whatever I choose to ask. Was that in
good faith?"

"It was my spoken word," said Tros; but he answered guardedly--he
did not care to be public executioner, even of such a treacherous
sneak as he knew Skell was.

"Then take Skell! He is your slave! Use him. Set him on an
oarbench and sweat the treason out of him! Work manhood in, for
that must come from outside, since what he had of it he seems to
have lost!"

Fflur laughed, high-pitched and cynical. Skell looked at Tros as
a tied steer eyes the butcher.

"Slave?" he said, wetting his lips with his tongue. "I was born
free. Oar-bench?"

"Aye!" Tros answered. "Loose him, lest his arms grow weak. I will
keep that promise," he said, grinning at Caswallon. "His hands
shall blister and his hams shall burn. If he has freedom in him,
he shall earn it!"

So they loosed Skell, and the Northmen took charge of him with
low-breathed insults, despising him as neither Norse nor Briton,
but a traitor to both races, speaking both tongues. Tros, arms
behind him, stared at the Gaulish woman, who was kneeling
in the mud.

"Mine?" he wondered. "Mine? By Pluto, what should a seaman do
with you?"

And Caswallon chuckled, waiting. The woman tried to smile, but
fear froze her again when Helma stood beside Tros, taking his
hand to remind him of her rights.

"I shall need no wench to wait on me!" said Helma.

"You shall go to Caesar," Tros said finally. "You shall take my
message to him.

"You shall say: 'Whatever Tros needs that Caesar has, Tros will
take without Caesar's leave or favor!'

"Bid him send me no more slave-women, but guard himself against a
blow that comes! And lest you lie about that message, woman, I
will chisel it on bronze and rivet that to a chain around
your neck."

"So! Then this business is over," said Caswallon. "The druids
wait. Send your Northmen back to Lunden with your prisoners,
Tros. We must make haste."

He signed to the Northmen to take the prisoners away, and offered
Tros and Helma places in the chariot beside him, then shouted to
the team and drove like a madman through the mist.

He said not another word until the horses leaped a stream and the
bronze wheels struck deep into the far bank; then, when they
breasted a mist-wreathed hill beneath dripping branches and he
had glanced over-shoulder to make sure Fflur followed, and Orwic,
and a score of mounted men behind their chariots, he tossed
speech to Tros in fragments:

"Too many druids, not enough king. If druids keep me waiting, men
say 'Hah! even Caswallon must cool his heels!' But if I keep them
waiting, they say 'Caswallon is irreligious!' Nevertheless,
unless I king it carefully there will be neither king nor druids!
And the druids know that. They must wait for me. And I think that
dawn is a better time for funerals than midnight, because at dawn
men hope, whereas at night they are afraid.

"So, Brother Tros, you shall attend your father's funeral after
all, and all my people shall believe you are my friend. I will
bid the druids thank you that Lunden wasn't plundered while they
prayed! On ye horses! Ho, there! Hi! Hi-yi! Which is the hardest,
brother Tros, to king it or to captain a ship at sea?"

"That I know not," Tros answered. "But I will build my ship by
your leave. I know not which is harder, to build ship or kingdom.
Only I know which task I choose."

"Hew your timber, lay your keel and build. You have Caesar's
gold," said Caswallon.

"Aye, and I know Caesar. He has sharp eyes--long ears. His spies--"

"Leave spies to me to deal with."

Tros fell silent, thinking of oak and iron nails and cordage--of
tools, food, housing and a thousand other necessities. He would
get them all. He would build. But the getting and building, he
knew, would soon reach Caesar's ears.





CHAPTER XXXVIII

WINTER, NEAR LUNDEN TOWN

A guest, no matter who nor whence, is sacred, be he friend or
enemy. I tell you an eternal Law, which if ye break by thought or
word or deed shall shut you away from safety in the day of peril.
When ye open the door to admit the stranger, open the heart also
and turn out guile and malice, lest your guest, if he discover
them within you, mock your hospitality and call it by its right
name, Cunning.

Ye say, what though if a guest have guile and malice?

I say, let him. I am old, but not in my day, nor in my father's
day before me, has treachery been known to bring forth comfort
for him who hath it in his heart.

--From the Sayings of the Druid Taliesan


The clearing in the forest rang with the noise of adze-blow and
hammer on anvil. An eight-yoke bull-team swayed and floundered at
a felled oak, hauling it amid a riot of shouts and whip-cracks
toward the sawing scaffold, where a Northman overseer bellowed
with rage at Britons' notions of a straight cut. Tros, looking
older, because he was calm with the intensity of patient anger
forced by will to subserve energy, sat in his usual place on a
log in midclearing. He had a lump of charcoal in his fist, and a
board beside him. He was too well aware of the Britons' rules of
hospitality to be less than courteous to a Roman envoy introduced
by Caswallon. But he kept interrupting the conversation to draw
joints and fastenings, and to write measurements on the board,
using the British inch and a system of circles and dots to mark
numbers of inches. He allowed no sign to escape him that the
Roman's conversation was an irritating interruption, or that he
suspected the Roman of any hidden design.

"The Greeks," he said at last, "have a word for it." Greek was
his native tongue, but he liked to speak of Greeks as foreigners.
That, of course, meant nothing to Caswallon, who was watching a
groom take hot pitch from a Northman's cauldron and apply it to a
cut on a horse's foreleg. But the Roman's eyes smiled.

"The Greeks call it _nous,"_ Tros continued. "It means more
than knowledge."

His amber eyes thoughtfully studied the Roman who sat, with
loosely buckled breast-plate and his helmet on his knees, on the
butt end of an oak log facing him; but he spoke at Caswallon, as
the Roman understood. It was gray twilight, snow about to fall.
Appearances were deceptive in that half-light. Tros looked the
oldest, the, Roman youngest because the gray over his temples did
not show and he was clean-shaven. But the fact was the other way.
Marcus Marius was fifty; Tros, black-bearded, hardly more than
half his age.

"We Romans call it virtue, which is courage. The Greeks are like
women, good at words," said Marius. "I have fought Greeks from
the Piraeus all the way north into Macedonia. I sailed with
Pompey the Great against the pirates, of whom more than half were
Greeks. We beat them easily, talking less, but hitting harder."

"Fight me. See if your virtue is greater than mine," Tros
suggested, his white teeth showing in a grin of great good humor.

"No," said Marius. "I may have to fight you some day. This time
let us talk and see which has the better of it. If you have what
the Greeks call _nous,_ which is something they talk about but
haven't, you will understand me easily enough."

"Talk on," said Tros.

Caswallon sighed. He had heard too much talk--as, for instance,
from Fflur, the mother of his sons. He began to stride up and
down within earshot, six paces this way and six the other with
his hands behind him, while his blanketed chariot-horses stamped
impatiently, a wolf-skin-clad groom squatting under their noses,
twenty yards away.

Firelight shone between the tree-trunks near by. The woods were
full of the echoing din of hammer blows, the snore of rip-saws
and occasional shouting in a tongue the Roman did not understand.
He had to speak loud and in Gaulish because Tros had refused to
have any conversation with him without witnesses, and Caswallon
knew no Latin.

"I will speak first of Caesar," said Marius, and again Tros
grinned, but Caswallon began to knead his fingers nervously
behind his back.

"Why?" said Tros. "I know Caesar already. So does the Lord Caswallon."

"I have heard others make that same boast," Marius answered. "Yet
I, who am older than Caesar, who have served under him in Gaul
and in Hispania, who have been in his household in Rome, who have
traveled with him to Bythinia and back, who have lived with him
in exile and have shared dry bread with him on many a campaign,
am not so sure I know him. Two or three times you have had the
best of him. I have heard it was you who wrecked his fleet
when we invaded Britain and you who all but captured him at
Seine-mouth. But were you never stung by a wasp?"

Marius picked up a stick and struck the log on which he sat, to
illustrate a wasp's fate, then continued:

"Caesar was captured by pirates once. That was long ago, near
Pharmacusa, when he was hardly more than a boy. I was with him.
They were a blood-thirsty pack of swine, and they demanded twenty
talents' ransom.* 'Not enough,' said he. And while we who were
with him feared for our lives and his, he laughed at those
pirates for fools who did not know Caesar's value. 'I will give
you fifty talents' ransom,' said he, 'and that price will be
nevertheless, too little.'

---------
* Plutarch's _Life of Caesar_
---------

"Thereafter, while all of his party but the two of us and one
slave, who remained in the pirates' camp with him, went to raise
the ransom money, Caesar ruled those pirates as if they were his
prisoners, not he theirs. He took part in their games, he made
love to their women and he made them listen to his own writings
that he read aloud, they wondering and he assuring them they were
fools who could not appreciate a priceless privilege. When he
wished to sleep he ordered them to keep silence, which they did,
treading on tiptoe and striking whoever disturbed him. When the
ransom money came at last--fifty talents! Think of that!--he paid
it, promising he would come back soon and crucify them all.

"He was very young and they laughed, even as just now you laughed
when I mentioned Caesar's name. They knew he had no authority. He
was an exile. He had no army, no fleet, not many friends. They
did not even trouble themselves to move away from Pharmacusa, but
sent two of the talents for precaution's sake as a present to
Junius who, in those days, was governor of Asia and in a too
great hurry to grow rich. But Caesar, I with him, went to
Miletus, whence the ransom had come. He had a few friends in
Miletus. There he assumed authority, and there was none who saw
fit to challenge it although, as I say, he was a young man and
without much influence. He manned some ships that lay there,
impressing freemen in the name of Sylla, who was all-powerful in
Rome in those days and had proscribed him. He descended on those
pirates as the dawn steals on the night, and caught them all,
with all except two talents of the fifty he had paid them. He
kept the money, but he threw the pirates into jail in Pergamus.

"Then he went to see Junius, I with him again, but Junius had
already received two talents from the pirates and his appetite
was keen for more, so he said he would consider at his leisure
what punishment should be imposed. He was a mean Etruscan with a
long nose and the kind of sneer that has cost many a man his
fortune. Caesar can sneer, but never that way. Junius asked by
what authority Caesar had taken ships and men from Miletus, and
in whose name.

"So Caesar took very courteous leave of him, answering that he
would keep a promise while Junius considered at his leisure what
his duty might be. And he returned to Pergamus, where he
crucified every one of the pirates. He always keeps promises. But
because they had been civil to him while he was their prisoner he
showed them mercy by ordering their throats cut before they were
tied to the trees. Thereafter he wrote to Rome and made use of a
talent or two for the hastening of the end of Junius' career. All
fail, who oppose Caesar. He would have been Junius' friend, had
Junius supported him."

"You suggest I am a Junius?" asked Tros. The thought seemed to
amuse him.

"No. But you might be a greater than Junius. You are a pirate.*
Caesar would have befriended those pirates had they sought his
friendship and promised to desist from piracy, even as Pompey the
Great befriended all the pirates who surrendered to him in his
war against them. Caesar and Pompey are great ones and great
friends at present, Pompey lending men to Caesar for his work in
Gaul, each meanwhile courting the wealth of Crassus, who fears
them both. But men are saying the world is hardly big enough to
hold all three, Caesar, Pompey and Crassus. The time comes soon
when each of the three will be seeking every friend he can depend
on and the world will split in three, if my judgment amounts
to anything."

-----------
* In those days practically any sailor was a pirate who did not
acknowledge Roman sea supremacy.
-----------

"What if I am Pompey's friend?" Tros asked. "You call me pirate.
I have Pompey the Roman's written leave to sail where I please.
Caesar gainsaid that. He burned my father's ship. He beat the
crew to death. My father died from torture."

"You were none of you Roman citizens," the Roman interrupted.
"Rome puts no such indignity on Romans."

He held his chin high while he said that, and the firelight
through the trees shone on a proud face. Rome was his religion.

"Better be Caesar's friend and become a Roman citizen. I tell
you, Caesar can procure that honor for you."

"Pompey could have done the same," Tros answered. "I refused it.
I am a lord of Samothrace."

"Bah!" said the Roman. "What is Samothrace? An island, a spot of
an island in a rocky sea. The pirates plundered it. No army, no
revenue, nothing."

"Nothing that you can understand. Nothing there for Caesar," Tros
retorted. "Never was a foreign ruler there, and never will be!"

"No harbor, no houses, no commerce, not even a tree!" said the
Roman, his eyes wandering among the giant oaks around him.

They were martial, appraising eyes. He appeared to be mentally
figuring in terms of baulks of timber that would serve to build
redoubts or batter down an enemy's.

From out of the trees into the clearing came a score of
fair-haired Britons armed with spears and handsomely clad in furs
against the wintry wind that made the Roman shiver now and then.
The furs had jeweled clasps. Several carried dead wolves on their
shoulders and two had a boar hung between them on a spear. They
greeted Caswallon noisily, but he took scant notice of them. Then
a horn blew and there began a great commotion in the gloom a
hundred yards away behind Tros's back. The hammering and the
sawing ceased, but there was a noise of footsteps and laughter
and, by the thump, it might be of tools and odds and ends being
stowed in boxes for the night.

"It is cold here," said the Roman, pointedly.

He buckled up the bronze armor to his throat, but there was not
much warmth in that. Wind sighed through the trees, and the great
fires, glowing crimson hardly a hundred yards away, looked
cheerful and inviting.

Caswallon came and stood, legs apart, his back half-turned toward
the Roman. He said nothing, but he met Tros's eyes and jerked
his head in the direction of the firelight with an uplift
of the eyebrows and a questioning smile. Tros answered the
unspoken thought:

"What can one more spy do? Caesar knows already."

He arose and led the way into the trees, Caswallon following the
Roman, who strode at ease, not minding that a king should walk
behind him. His armor clanked and his footfall on the frozen
earth was even heavier than Tros's, but Caswallon, clothed in
dyed, embroidered leather moved as silently as a shadow except
that his leather-stockinged feet rustled among dry leaves. Tros
rolled in his gait as if a heaving deck were under him.

The path they followed led to a new-made picket fence a man's
height from the ground, interwoven with willow-withes through
which the firelight shone. There was a wide gateway barricaded
with oak beams and deeply scored with wheel-ruts, with a log and
mud guardhouse beside it, in the door of which stood Conops, who
doffed his red cap civilly and let the bars down, but showed one
yellow eye-tooth at the Roman.

"I have seen you before," said Marius, acknowledging what he
chose to consider a salute.

Conops touched the lid over his sightless eye.

"Ah!" said Marius. "I remember. You forgot your manners. Caesar
punished you. Well, if you have learned the lesson you will be a
greater comfort to your master and less dangerous to yourself."

He passed on because Tros beckoned, and Caswallon crowded at his
heels. Conops raised the bars again, his tooth still showing
through the slit in his upper lip. Before them a low, thatched
building, lighted from within, loomed shadowy in the bonfire
light, and beyond that the roofs of other, longer buildings set
in rows, noisy with voices and song. In the gloom to the right by
the gurgling river's edge arose the ribs of three ships, two of
them of good size, one tremendous, looking like the black bones
of a deep-sea monster beached and picked clean by the birds. The
scaffolding erected around all three resembled giant rushes,
through which the wind moaned lonesomely.

Tros led the way toward the nearest house, and the door opened
before they reached it, Helma, golden-haired and smiling,
standing framed in the glow from the hearth.

"My wife," said Tros, and introduced the Roman, who bowed,
inspecting her curiously. She answered stare for stare, having
heard no good word of the Romans, from Tros at any rate. Her blue
eyes challenged his indignantly, until Caswallon laughed, bending
his head to get through the door, which was high enough for Tros
or any ordinary man.

"She is Norse," he warned. "The Norse are fighters, and the women
are the mothers of the men. Look out for her!"

A British slave-girl knelt beside the hearth, turning and basting
a huge spitted roast. There was a smell of well-done meat and
warming mead that made the Roman smack his lips and set Caswallon
whistling, but Tros led the way through a door at the far end,
shouting for light, which the slave-girl brought. He lighted
three lanterns from the first one, and then kicked the door shut
behind Caswallon, who stood looking bored as if he had seen this
sight too many times. But the Roman's dark eyes stared appraisingly.

The room was a museum of new wonders. On a table twice a man's
length, in the midst, was the model of a ship such as no Roman
nor any other living man had seen. She had three masts, three
banks of oars and lines so lovely that even the Roman gasped at
them. The sails were purple, as were the oar-blades; the
top-sides were vermilion; the bottom gleamed like polished
silver. She was nearly the same shape end for end, except for a
flare from bow to waterline. She was all decked over, and along
each side of her were painted shields, each bearing a golden
dragon on a purple ground. Near where the break came at the bow
and poop were four sets of double uprights, each with a wheel at
the top between them. They resembled cranes, but their purpose
was explained by models set against the end wall of the room.

"Catapults!" said the Roman, his eyes ablaze with interest. He
was an expert in artillery.

"Aye, but better than any Caesar has!"

Tros was prouder of that model than a mother of her child. It
represented ten years' thinking, all his hopes, and three months'
whittling with a knife. The Roman wanted to examine the working
model of the catapult, but Tros prevented him.

"Nor shall you see inside this," he remarked, and rolled a leaden
ball across the floor. But the ball sounded hollow, and the Roman
noticed it.

"Neither heavy nor hard enough," he said with an air of long
experience and began examining the ship again. Tros considered he
had seen enough, took his elbow and led toward the door.

"They tell me Caesar likes scent," he said, as if revealing
confidences. "That lead ball shall hold a nosegay to remind him
of the Roman housewives dumping ordure from the house-tops at
election time. I am told he has had experience of that."

He led the way into the outer room, Caswallon following, and the
Roman faced him when he shut the door.

"Caesar is a man of full experience," he said. "There is nothing
new that you can show him, Tros. He has eaten crusts, and he has
worn the purple. Rome spewed him forth. Rome fears him. Rome
shall worship him."

"I have heard that Cato, who is a very noble Roman, speaks of him
as 'that woman!' said Tros.

"Aye, and Cato will live to rue it!"

Marius, resenting Tros's grin, strode along the room to where
Helma had set three chairs together at an angle near the fire. He
sat in one of them, then rose and bowed to Caswallon to be seated
first. Caswallon laughed, accepting mead from Helma in a silver
tankard that had once been Caesar's, with his left arm elbowing
the Roman back into the chair.

"Wisdom to Caesar!" he said, drinking deep. "If he knew what
trouble kinging it can be, he might let well enough alone. Gods
give him, what was that word, Tros? Gods give him nous, whatever
that means."

"Virtue," said the Roman. "Caesar has ten men's share!"

Tros passed mead to Marius, but did not drink with him. The three
sat down, the firelight in their faces, and there was a long
pause while they watched the sizzling meat, and sniffed and eyed
each other sidewise, Helma laying platters on the table, studying
the Roman all the while as if her blue eyes could burn holes in
him. Caswallon was the first to speak again, setting his tankard
bottom upward on the floor by way of hint to Helma:

"Now, Tros, out with it. This Roman comes with a message of peace
from Caesar. He says Caesar prefers to be friendly."

"Let him leave you alone then," Tros retorted. "Was he friendly
to the Gauls? To the Belgae? To the Germans? He said so, but did
they? Was he friendly when he landed on the Kentish coast and
slew half-a-thousand Britons? Bid him prove you his friendship by
coming no nearer than Gaul!"

Caswallon nodded, stroking his long moustache. "But he says the
Romans want to trade with us. My men are eager for trade. They
call me a snail of a king, with a shell that I crawl into when
anything new wants to happen. This man Marius has been quite
frank. He says Caesar's hands are full enough already, so that he
doesn't want another war but does want popularity in Rome. He
says that if Caesar can open up trade with us Britons, that will
improve his political chances because the rulers of Rome think of
nothing but money."

"Whereas you Britons think of nothing but horses and hunting,"
Tros answered. "You are far too hospitable, and you think other
people are like you. You fight the Northmen one day and make
friends with them the next, and that may work with Northmen, but
it won't work, I tell you, with Romans. Trade? Aye, if plundering
is trading! Rome gives nothing, and takes all. She plants her
eagles, and around them a colony of soldiers from some other
conquered land, who take for themselves what they think they need
and send the rest to Rome. Trade? Tribute! I tell you, Rome is a
monster that is eating up the world--vicious, stupid, proud,
cruel. She has but one virtue."

"Name it," said Caswallon.

Tros eyed the Roman, studying him a full minute before he spoke.

"She can breed and train men like this one. This centurion and
his fellows are all the virtue and all the strength that Rome
has. They are true to Rome. They lie for her and die for her.
They believe in Rome. They are Rome! The rest is money-lenders
and a rabble. If you, or any of your men believed in Britain and
were as loyal to her as this centurion is to the seething
cesspool that he is helping to poison the earth, you would
be a power instead of all at odds and at the mercy of the
first invader."

The Roman and Caswallon grinned, each at the other and at Tros.
They were both men who enjoyed plain speaking.

"You are using this man's argument," Caswallon said, swallowing
mead again. "Marius says that Caesar will undertake to guarantee
my kingdom, and to make all the other tribes submit to me."

"In return for what?" Tros asked.

"In return for a few trading posts, my friendship and permission
for a Roman official to reside in Britain."

"Alone?"

"No," said Marius. "Roman officials abroad have to have a
bodyguard of Romans to support their dignity."

Tros laughed aloud, with scorn that made the Roman glance at him.

"Caswallon, that is Rome's way. First a messenger, like this one,
honest as the day is long, believing every word he says. Then an
envoy. Then a resident official and his body-guard, which grows.
Then a little irritation, woman trouble maybe, and a few stones
thrown into the residency. Rome protects her man. More troops.
Resentment. Riots. War. A puppet king imposed in place of the
offending one. Tribute. Rebellion. Drastic punishment. A colony
of time-expired foreign soldiers and a Roman governor. Peace, if
you call it peace to be obedient and pay the taxes that support
the Roman mob! As I sit here and lie not, I have warned you."

"Tros, you are a fool," said Marius without heat. "You will defy
Rome when you might reap her rewards. Your reward would be
greater than mine, and at less price. I am a Roman born. I have
fought her wars and trod her dusty roads all ways across the
world and back again. I have sweated, bled and starved for her.
And I am fifty years old. All I am is a centurion. How old are
you? Not half my age. How much have you starved and bled and
sweated? Yet you can become a Roman and command a fleet by simply
giving your allegiance to Caesar!"

"I admire Caesar. I despise him. I fear him because of his power,
which I am too fearless to submit to. I loathe him, and I believe
he is the ablest man who ever called himself a Roman. Do you
understand me?" Tros asked.

"No," said Marius.

"Then you will never understand me," Tros retorted. "Let us be
friends until tomorrow. Let us eat together."

"Not yet," said Marius. "My message first. I am a Roman."

He set down the helmet he had been holding between his knees,
loosened his sword-belt and undid the buckle at his throat.

"I love Caesar," he said, almost grimly. "Yet I do not expect too
much of him. It is what I can do for Caesar that is important,
not what he can do for me. If I can bring you over to him
and persuade Caswallon, my reward will be that I have well
served Caesar."

Tros grinned and nudged Caswallon. "Did I not say Rome can
breed centurions?"

"Caesar," Marius went on, "is no mean man, whatever else you may
think of him. He can forgive his enemies. You seized his bireme
and his treasure."

"Aye," Tros interrupted, "and I pick the bireme's bones to build
a finer ship. I use the treasure to pay the builders."

"Caesar knows that," said the Roman. "You are not the first man
who made plans against him. Two-thirds of his army are men who
were in arms against Caesar not long ago. Those who fought
against him hardest, he admires most, and it is they who are the
most loyal. Tros, you have done Caesar more damage than all the
Britons did when they opposed him on the beach. You can be his
best friend. Why not?"

"Because I do not wish to be," Tros answered. "I am a free man."

"I, too," said Marius. "I am a Roman citizen."

"That is no honor in my eyes," Tros retorted, "for I know Rome.
She is a thief that camps on seven hills, selling what she calls
her peace to the highest bidder. The mob that is her master sells
its votes. Her senators buy praetorships and consulates. She
swarms with all the riff-raff of the earth. Her statesmen are all
money-lenders and her judges merchants, auctioning privilege in
the name of justice. She has no beauty of her own, no art but
what was filched from Greece, no honor. Only pride and greed."

"Caesar will change all that," said Marius. "He needs brave men,
of such ability as yours, Tros, to support him when the day comes
that he strikes. For he will purge Rome when he has made Gaul
safe. Now you are Caswallon's friend, and he is under the thumb
of his wife, Fflur. You tell him honestly whether you think he
can resist Caesar if Caesar should declare war on him in the name
of the Senate and the Roman People."

"I have told him," Tros answered, watching Caswallon's face.

But Caswallon was watching the meat on the spit.

"I agree with Fflur," said Tros. "I have offered to help him
resist Caesar."

Caswallon came suddenly out of his reverie and slapped his thigh
so hard that Helma jumped and the slave-girl smashed a dish.

"Lud's blood!" He looked hard at the Roman. "You invite me to
become the ward of Caesar. Let us put it this way. I invite you,
Marius, to become my henchman! I am a king. Caesar is no king."

"He will be," said Marius darkly. "Kings kiss his hand."

"I am a king who neither does nor will do that," Caswallon
answered. "Will you be my subject?"

"No," said Marius.

"Nor I Caesar's, nor Rome's! You say you love Caesar. I have no
respect for him. He sends you to speak me fair, but behind your
back he sends a swarm of spies who lie to my men, set my
counselors against me, bribe brother kings to accuse me and, Tros
says, some Romans call Caesar a woman. Is that true?"

"He is the greatest man who ever lived," said Marius. "He is a
greater than Alexander of Macedon."

"I never heard of Alexander. Where is Macedon? No matter," said
Caswallon. "This is my answer to Caesar. Let him fight me for my
realm. Me, hand-to-hand. There is an island about midway between
my shore and his. I will meet him there, if he is man enough, and
we will have it out with swords or any other weapon that he
pleases. That is the way we Britons settle arguments. Now
let us eat."

He got up and strode to the table, sitting there and rapping on
it with his dagger-hilt to make the slave-girl hurry. Marius
shrugged his shoulders, unbuckled his bronze armor, laid it in a
corner and sat at the table beside Tros, looking ill at ease on
the unbucked bench. The Romans liked to sprawl at meal time.

"I will not take that answer," he said calmly. "We Romans are not
so easily put off with words. Not that Caesar could not defeat
you easily with any weapon," he added, breaking bread and dipping
it in the gravy Helma set before him.

He refused the meat, and hardly tried to conceal disgust at the
enormous slices that Caswallon ate.





CHAPTER XXXIX

THE GIST OF SKELL'S ARGUMENT

The Eternal Law is simple. Which of you has seen a she-wolf bring
forth doves and suckle them? Who saw a bear beget colts, or an
ill wind cherish the young buds? Nevertheless, ye look for wisdom
from hirelings' lips that are wet with the spittle of greed. But
of him who bendeth the bow of his will, and who layeth the arrow
of resolution against the string of purpose, ye ask treason
against his High Ideal.

--From the Sayings of the Druid Taliesan



Caswallon took the Roman away when the meal was finished, to be
entertained in the great house on Lud's Hill, Lunden Town, a few
miles distant. The Britons were nothing if not hospitable; friend
or enemy, it was all one while the feasting lasted. They galloped
away in Caswallon's chariot in a whirl of snow, the Roman draped
in a horse-blanket and Caswallon making the woods ring with
shouts to the plunging team.

Tros watched the bars set back in place, gave orders for the
night to Conops and strode away alone to where great bonfires
burned in front of a vastly longer building than the one he
occupied. Helma watched him through the door and followed,
half-smothered in a blanket of British wool. But Tros did not
know that. The fires sizzled as the snowflakes damped them and
the wind blew in biting gusts, howling under eaves and through
the picket fence. It was British weather--raw, dark, melancholy.

"Not fit for a dog," Tros muttered, glad for that once he was not
at sea, flailing his arms across his breast to warm himself.

"Skell!" he shouted. "Skell! Where in Hades are you?"

The door of the long building opened, and Skell stood in the
opening with the warm light behind him, dressed in British
trousers with a long leather smock to his knees. But he did not
look like a Briton, any more than Tros did.

"No lies now," Tros greeted him. "Your beard's dry. You've
skulked indoors all evening."

Skell came forward, leaving the door open, pulling a leather hood
over his head. Within there was a babel of men's voices. Some one
roared to him in Norse to shut the door, and a moment later it
slammed like a thunderclap, leaving Tros and Skell in darkness.

"What sense watching on a night like this?" Skell asked. "Who
would venture out?"

"Am I out or in?" Tros growled. "Didn't I tell you to patrol
the yard?"

Skell kept silence, shrugging himself against the bitter wind,
facing the same way that Tros did, toward where the scaffolding
rose gaunt against the close horizon. Neither of them saw
the door open again softly, nor heard it close, because the
wind howled.

"Here I have nearly ten score war prisoners, surrendered rebels
and prison scrapings. Because you are a natural born snooper, I
set you to watch them. Do you know what obedience means?"

Skell laughed. It was a mean snicker, like a jackal's.

"No more than I, will they desert or play tricks," he said,
stamping his feet to keep warm. "They're well enough treated and
know when they're well off. Do they want to return to the prison?
Do they want to be outlawed and hunted like wolves? Who would
feed them, if you don't? Go and count them. They're all there."

"Have I ever threatened you?" Tros asked him.

"Not since Caswallon turned me over to you. No need, Tros. I'm
grateful. Caswallon would have killed me if it hadn't been for
you. I'll serve you faithfully. I'm sorry I went in out of the
snow. I'll--"

"Listen! Look!" said Tros and shook a fist like a club under his
nose. "I can't watch all the time, and you, you dog, have nothing
else to do! Next time I catch you skulking or neglecting to obey
my orders I will take you by the neck and beat your brains out
against the nearest baulk of timber! Do you believe me?"

"Yes. I'm sorry, Tros. I'll--"

"Get your bearskin. Patrol until midnight. Bring me word at once
of anything that happens."

Skell slunk off looking licked, and Tros watched him until his
back was lost like a shadow in the gloom beyond the bonfire
light. "Zeus guide and govern me!" he muttered. "I will have to
kill a man before long unless I can find some better way. That
Skell has been up to mischief. Nobody trusts him. Nobody likes
him. What then was he doing in the Northmen's hut?"

He opened the door and strode into the long, low building. There
was instant silence as he slammed the door shut behind him. Two
long rows of Northmen, seated on benches at a rough board table,
turned their heads to stare. Beside the blazing hearth sat Helma,
still hooded in the blanket, warming her feet at the fire.

"Sigurdsen," said Tros. The giant rose from the table-end and
strode to meet him, pulling down the leather sleeves over his
bare arms. The others sprawled over the table nearly naked to the
waist and went on talking. They had a section of a ship drawn on
the table in charcoal, and were studying it in the fitful
firelight and with the aid of a great ship's lantern that
hung overhead.

Tros led Sigurdsen toward the fire and sat down on a stool facing
Helma, but he took no notice of her and she did not speak.
Sigurdsen sat on a hewn log with his back against the wall, arms
folded. He looked vaguely quarrelsome, alert for an excuse to
start an argument, and rather sullen meanwhile.

"What was Skell saying?" Tros asked him.

Sigurdsen scratched at the back of his head, as he always did
before trying to speak Gaulish, all the speech they had in
common. He had been trying to learn it ever since Tros took him
prisoner, but he was slower than most Northmen at the trick of
thinking in an alien tongue.

"Never mind what Skell said," Helma interrupted, throwing off the
blanket. "I am your wife. Listen to me."

As his wife, no man could deprive her of her right to speak her
mind. He made a wry face, smiled at himself and submitted.

"Lord Tros," she said, "who is that Roman?"

"Caesar's man."

"He bids for your friendship?"

Tros nodded.

"You heard us," he answered. "You heard my speech, you heard
Caswallon's message that he sent to Caesar."

"Aye, and I heard the Roman refuse to take the message," she
retorted. "Now these fools"--she glared at her brother Sigurdsen
and at the forty men who pawed the charcoal marks on the
table-top--"talk of forcing you to join Caesar's fleet."

Tros stood up suddenly, legs apart, his eyes on Sigurdsen. The
Northman shook Helma's shoulder, growling angry streams of words
that meant nothing to Tros, but he was aware that the other
Northmen listened to them and were much too ostentatiously not
listening. They pored over the drawing on the table like a lot of
scullions sorting dry peas.

"Sigurdsen says"--Helena watched Tros's face as if all destiny
depended on his mood, as in fact it did as far as she and her
countrymen were concerned--"we are homeless, you and all of us.
He says you are the chief, having conquered him, but now we are
one great family. What profits one, must profit all, and a danger
to one, is a danger to all. We build a great ship, and you are to
command her. But he asks, how shall we keep the sea in that great
ship, if the Romans close all ports against us and if the Roman
fleets pursue us like hounds after a hare?"

"So that is the gist of Skell's argument!" said Tros, his arms
akimbo. "No Northman ever heard of Romans until Skell came in out
of the wet!" It would have gone hard with Skell if he had chanced
into the room that minute. But Helena was not afraid.

"Lord Tros, that is not true," she retorted. "We are Vikings. Our
ships sailed to Utica six generations back. There is a stone by
my father's hearth in Viborg that came from Carthage. We know who
Romans are. I fear and hate them because you do, and I know you
are right to hate them for what Caesar did to your father and to
you and to all the crew of that ship you sailed from Samothrace.
But Sigurdsen says--"

"You mean Skell says!" Tros broke in scornfully.

"Sigurdsen says, we build a great ship. And how shall we trade?
How shall we earn a profit or have food, unless the Romans are
our friends? Sigurdsen says these Britons are no friends to count
on, and they have no trade-goods fit to load into a ship.
Moreover, he says Glendwyr and those other British rebels that
Caswallon handed over to you to man the oar-benches are useless.
They can neither use the adze nor are they sailors. They will all
be seasick, and they can never be trusted in a British harbor,
but will run away and leave you."

Tros showed his teeth. That kind of talk exasperated him beyond
the power of speech, as Helma well knew. She was beginning to
know Tros, woman fashion, from the inside. She continued:

"Sigurdsen says it is the Norse custom, that when one builds a
ship he shall command her while she is at sea. While out of sight
of the home port his word is law. But before the ship is
launched, before they set sail, there are many conferences
between him and the friends who have helped him build the ship,
who are to sail with him and obey him. They agree as to the
destination and the cargo and many other things."

Tros swore under his breath. He had given Sigurdsen his freedom
and had no right to treat him as a slave, nor even as a prisoner
of war. Besides, Sigurdsen knew ships and how to build them.
Without his skillful aid there would be no hope of finishing the
great trireme whose frame stood half-completed on the ways.

"Sigurdsen says it is time to speak of all these things," said
Helma. "He says this Roman comes offering a good prospect under
Caesar and good money. He advises you to take it. He says, 'Why
build a ship unless we are to use her like wise men?'"

The Northmen at the far side of the table were standing now,
those on the near side sitting with their backs to it, all of
them openly, eagerly listening and ready to take part in the
discussion at the first hint of encouragement.

"Lud's blood!" Tros thundered, using the Britons' favorite oath.
Even in a tantrum he was careful how he took in vain the names of
his own familiar deities. "I have fought you once. Must I split
your head again?"

Sigurdsen sprang to his feet. Tros strode toward him, feeling for
his sword; but it wasn't there. He had forgotten that he left it
at his own fireside. But Sigurdsen, too, was unarmed. The other
Northmen began calling to him to protect himself, while Helma
stood back against the wall, pale-faced, her eyes wide with
terror, yet determined. It was she who had brought the issue to a
head. If Tros should have the worst of it Caswallon might avenge
him, but her standing among the Northmen would be gone forever.
They would call her a weakling's wife. And if Tros were killed--

"Ashore or afloat I am captain. Cry out when you believe it!"
Tros shouted.

He struck at Sigurdsen with his fist in the way they used the
coestus at the Olympic games, a great sledge-hammer blow that
beat down the Northman's guard and sent him staggering. Sigurdsen
bellowed from surprise, not pain. He had not thought Tros would
try the issue so swiftly as all that. But Tros knew he had to
assert and prove supremacy that instant or forevermore yield to
the opinions of his men. He was an autocrat, must be one.
Autocrats must fight or become mere figureheads.

He struck at Sigurdsen again amid a roar of voices from the forty
at the table. Sigurdsen, swinging his fist like an ax, sprang in
and rained blows at his head, his own body jerking and his breath
in gasps as Tros pounded his ribs and stomach. They used fists
for lack of room, Tros not daring to give ground and Sigurdsen,
his back toward the wall, unable. Tros had to be swift to settle
the business then and there before the other Northmen rallied to
their man's aid. It had to be a downright victory, no half-won
fight. He feinted, then clubbed with his fist at the Northman's
ear, sending him staggering sidewise away from the wall.

There was room then for the game Tros understood. He closed, and
now the Northmen did not try to interfere; their own man was a
champion who could wrestle two of them at once. They yelled,
roared, upset table and benches, but kept a ring clear, crowding
Helma to the outside where she could not see, until she seized a
firebrand and beat her way back between them to the midst.

Now was a trial of chieftainship that Northmen could appreciate.
They valued cunning, but they worshiped muscle and the will to
win. They had never felt that when Tros had conquered Sigurdsen
in fight, sword against ax, the two had been fairly matched,
because on that day Sigurdsen was weary from a battle with the
Britons. The sword was longer than the ax. The deck on which they
fought was slippery. There were a hundred other reasons. First of
them that Sigurdsen was a bigger man than Tros, had been their
chief and looked the stronger.

They kept the ring, at first, because it looked as if Sigurdsen
must win by sheer strength, weight, reach and fury. Then,
presently, Helma beat at their faces with the firebrand. Fury
availed nothing against Tros's sudden shifts and desperate
determination. Nine times in succession he threw the Northman
crashing to the stamped earth floor, until all the breath was
gone from him, his bellowing ceased and he was jarred into a
state of almost helplessness.

Then, the ninth time, when Sigurdsen lay and looked at him as if
walls and roof were spinning before his eyes, Tros seized him by
neck and leg before he could recover and hurled him into the
embers on the hearth. And that was a stroke of genius.

He rolled clear, and a Northman dowsed him with a waterbucket,
but the other Northmen laughed, howled derision at him, mocked
him for a fallen chief. And that gave Tros, breathless and
exhausted, the one opening he would have asked for if the gods
had offered him his choice that minute of all the miracles they
had in store.

"You laugh?" he gasped at them. They ceased to laugh. "You dogs!
You dare to laugh at my lieutenant? I will show you who
laughs last!"

He turned to the hearth, deliberately chose a length of burning
oak, rejecting one piece, then another, until he had a club that
balanced neatly. He took time to breathe deep, giving Sigurdsen
time to recover. He judged he knew Sigurdsen. With the corner of
his eye he could see Helma, on her knees by the fallen giant. She
was whispering to him. He gave them time to gather into one mob
and get in one another's way.

"Dogs! Laugh, will you, at my man Sigurdsen!"

He charged suddenly, beating with the firebrand at their bearded
faces, those in front retreating backward against the men behind
until they were all crowded against the farther wall and there
was nothing for it but to defend themselves or cry submission.
Then half-a-dozen sprang at him. But that gave Sigurdsen his
chance. Sigurdsen stood to lose all if Tros were conquered by any
but himself. Helma had made that much clear to his dazed brain.

So Sigurdsen took another firebrand and came roaring to Tros's
aid, beating his own blood relations right and left, helping Tros
to scatter them and thrash them thoroughly in detail, Helma
screaming to them all the while to get down on their knees and
cry submission. There were a dozen of them down, unconscious from
blows on the head, when the riot began outside. The din within
was nothing.

The wooden walls thundered like a drum as men in the outer dark
threw clods and sticks against them from three sides. Some one
pounded on the door, which made Tros laugh, because the door was
not locked. Mingled with the shrieking of the wind under the
eaves there was a tumult of men's voices.

"Hold!"

Tros threw his hand up. The gods, it seemed the very universe was
on his side that night! The Northmen rallied to him instead of to
one another, rallied against a common danger.

"Sticks!" he commanded, and they ran to rake the faggots over,
crying to him he should have let them keep their weapons where
they ate and slept. Whereat he laughed again.

"Helma!" he commanded. She stood beside him.

"Go to that door and open it. Have speech with them."

No doubt who they were. Glendwyr, the British rebels and the
sentenced prisoners whom Caswallon had spared and given to him to
labor in the shipyard and man oar-benches afterwards, were
outside clamoring, eager to take the winning side, whichever that
might be. If they had had weapons--

Tros motioned to Sigurdsen and half-a-dozen Northmen to stand
between him and the door. He did not want it known too soon which
side had won the argument. Helma opened the door, shielding her
face against the blast of icy wind. But the man who entered first
was Conops, ducking low and running. He blinked at the light,
caught sight of Tros behind the Northmen, ran to him breathless
and said hoarsely:

"Quick, master, before they burn the ship!"

"Have they started to burn it?"

"No, master. It snows and--"

"Find Skell and bring him here alive to me!" Tros answered.

Conops vanished, ducking out again into the storm. Then Glendwyr
stood in the doorway, peering past Helma, with the wild look in
his eyes that reckless men of breeding have who foresee
opportunity to rewin freedom. He looked ragged in his sheepskins.
He was like a wild man.

"Have you killed him?" he asked, for he had seen Conops run, and
he interpreted that to mean what he hoped it did.

"Northmen! Join me! I will lead you to the woods and freedom! We
will seize a town and--"

Tros stepped forward. The sight of him froze the word on the
youngster's lips; he turned to shout to the men behind him, but
not soon enough. Tros charged, with Sigurdsen and all the
Northmen at his back, sweeping Helma to one side. They poured
through the door as if the place were on fire behind them,
striking right and left at shadowy Britons, who broke and ran,
screened almost instantly from vision by the driving snow. Young
Glendwyr struggled in Tros's grasp. Tros had him by the throat
and shook him as he rolled and swayed toward the long huts that
were the Britons' quarters shook and choked him half unconscious,
then dragged him, his heels leaving ruts in the snow.

The snow had put the fires out. There was no light except what
came through the open door behind them, where Helma stood framed
in the glow. The Northmen were quartering the darkness, calling,
pursuing a few Britons who had lagged behind the rest. Sigurdsen
raced through the murk to make sure the ship was all right. Then,
light ahead and a stream of Britons pouring into the biggest of
their own huts.

"Fools!" Tros muttered. "Why didn't they fire the thatch?"

Fire was the one danger that he dreaded.

Glendwyr was senseless. Tros hove him over-shoulder, carried him,
head and toes down, like a half-filled sack.

"Northmen!" he roared. "Northmen!"

They began to gather toward him, looming in twos and threes out
of the murk. Then Sigurdsen came, floundering and slipping, to
report the ship unharmed. The light vanished suddenly.

"Open that door!" Tros commanded.

Sigurdsen and two others kicked the door inward, breaking
the leather hinges. Tros hove young Glendwyr in both hands
and pitched him through the opening into the midst of his
discouraged friends. Then he strode in, Sigurdsen and all
the Northmen following.

It was a big room, nearly a hundred feet long, with mud and
wattle walls, except in the midst of one long side, where there
was a stone hearth and a section of stone wall for the fire to
burn against, with a hole in the roof to let the smoke out. There
was a big fire, damped by snow that blew in through the hole, and
all the space under the thatch was blue with stinging smoke. The
floor was a litter of blankets, sheep-skins with the fleece on,
wolf-skins, anything that would serve for bedding and, as in the
other hut, there was a long, strong table down the midst.

The Britons backed away beyond the table, crowding at the far end
of the room, where their faces, framed in the smoke and in their
own long hair, scowled and gaped like bodyless phantoms. Some of
them had dragged young Glendwyr with them. He was standing now,
feeling his throat where Tros's fingers had wrenched it, leaning
against two men, gagging and gasping, but recovering his wits.

Tros took a stick from Sigurdsen and rapped the table with it.
Silence fell, in which hardly a man breathed.

"Are you all here?" he demanded. "Or are there Britons in the
other huts?"

None answered. He sent a Northman to go and look. The Northman
came back at the end of a couple of minutes with his scalp
bleeding where some one had cracked it open with a stick.

"Sigurdsen, take ten men and bring me those Britons here!"
Sigurdsen went, taking the ten who were nearest to him. Then
Helma came bringing Tros's sword, and he buckled it on with the
hilt well forward, but did not draw it from the sheath.

"Let the rest of us bring weapons!" said a Northman in his ear,
but he brushed the man aside and did not answer. He had the
armory key in the pouch under his tunic and proposed to keep it
there until this fight was won.

There was nothing more said until Sigurdsen and his ten came
driving thirty Britons in a herd in front of them. The new-comers
protested noisily that they had had nothing to do with the riot.
But Tros demanded which of them had split a Northman's scalp and,
receiving no answer, seized the nearest. The man yelled denial,
offering to name the culprit, but Tros shook him until his teeth
chattered and then flung him toward the far end of the room. He
fell on all fours and crawled the remainder of the distance.

"Down to the far end, all of you!"

They backed away, forcing themselves into the crowd. None except
young Glendwyr seemed to want to be in that front rank. But he,
still holding to two men for support, stood so far in front that
the smoke was like a pall between those three and the others.
Tros rapped at the table again, but there was no need, there was
already silence.

"The next slave who strikes a freeman shall die!" he announced.
There was a long pause while he let that ultimatum sink in.

"Kill me now!" said Glendwyr.

He could hardly speak for the contusion of his throat.

Tros turned to look at Helma. He was curious to see what she
might have to say to that request. But Helma was gone again.
"This night I will kill no man," Tros announced. "You are a
slave, Glendwyr. You are all slaves. You have no right to live or
die without my bidding. These Northmen are freemen. They were my
prisoners of war. I set them free. You Britons were rebels
against your lawful king; beaten rebels and traitors, given to me
in bondage by the king you would have slain. But for me, you
would have been burned alive in wicker baskets, six to a basket,
tied and roasted slowly, as I am told the custom is with felons."

They could not gainsay that. He was talking in their own language
truth that each man knew. They were lucky. Three good meals a
day, and not such terribly hard work, although they did not like
to work so regularly. Tros had not even supplied the Northmen
overseers with whips. And strangely enough they did not mind
having Northmen set over them. They had no sense of national
hatred, although Northmen were hereditary enemies. Only
Glendwyr retorted:

"Lord Tros, I am a chief's son!"

"You were," Tros answered. "You forfeited your heritage by
treason. You have it to win again by good faith. I hold no man
irretrievably a slave. I set him free when he deserves it. The
task is yours to earn freedom. The right of judgment mine."

"How long?" asked Glendwyr.

"Pluto! Is it I who stand at judgment?" Tros retorted. "Know
this: I will never set one of you free as long as you rebel
against me! I know what happened. Skell came, half a Northman and
half Briton--false to both! To the Northmen he said, 'Bid Tros
join the Romans,' hoping that would reach Caswallon's ears and
make the king my enemy. To you he said, 'Tros has joined the
Romans and Caswallon will slit his throat!' Then when you thought
my Northmen had slain me, you feared Caswallon would fall heir to
you all again and throw you into Lunden jail. So you summoned the
Northmen to make common cause with you and take to the woods and
be outlaws."

"Skell said you intended to sell us to the Romans for their
galleys and receive trained rowers in our place," a man piped up
from the smoke-cloud behind Glendwyr.

"And you fools listened to him! Well, that is no way to win
freedom. Shall I put you in chains? Would you work better
in fetters?"

They murmured there was no need. Only Glendwyr was silent.

"Now young Glendwyr," said Tros, "shall I flog you?"

"No," said Glendwyr.

But he did not say why not or inflect his voice at all persuasively.
Tros stroked his beard.

"I will make no bargain with you, and I will not kill you," he
said, speaking slowly. "But if you do not believe I am your
master, you would better have your mind changed now, for it will
hurt worse later on. Come here."

Glendwyr hesitated, but one of the other Britons pushed him from
behind. He came forward slowly beside the long table, leaning his
hand on it to support himself, for his legs were still unsteady.

"You are a slave. I may not fight you, even if I would. Why shall
I not flog you?" Tros asked.

"There is no need," Glendwyr answered. "I submit. If there were
one man here who would stand with me, I would be in the woods
now. But they ran, as they ran when I rebelled against Caswallon.
I despise them. I submit."

"The man who despises his men always must submit," Tros answered.
He turned away from him because there was a new noise outside,
seeming to come from beyond the picket fence. A squeaking of
wheels in the snow, the stamp and snort of winded horses and a
bold voice shouting, but what the words were Tros could not hear.
Then there came a crash as part of the picket fence went down
before an onslaught of some kind, horses and wheels, a shout
again, and a man leaped through the doorway--none less than
Caswallon, fur-clad, brandishing a spear.

"How now, Tros?" he asked, laughing as he took in the situation.
"Helma sent word by the slave-girl that you were in danger from
your men."

"Never once!" Tros answered, but his face was bruised and flushed
where Sigurdsen had hit him, and Caswallon laughed again. Marius,
the Roman, strode in, helmet and armor clanking. His was the
yard-long military stride that lent dignity to any kind of
turmoil. A crowd of Caswallon's young British aristocrats,
heavily clothed in furs, surged through the doorway behind him.

"Why didn't you send for help sooner?" Caswallon asked. "I would
have come."

"I needed none," Tros answered. "There was a question as to who
is captain here. I have answered it."

"Tros," said the Roman quietly, "you should be a Roman. You are a
man after our Caesar's heart."

Then Skell came, frozen blood on his face and his hands tied,
kicked along by Conops.

"Nay, master, I didn't knife him. You said 'alive,' so I
used only the hilt. I found him coming forth from the Lord
Caswallon's house."

"Loose him," Tros commanded, and Conops cut the thong.

"I would crucify that man," said Marius. "He came to have word
with me."

"What did he say?" Tros asked.

"That for a price he can persuade your men to force you to join
Caesar. Treasonable talk. It is not our Roman custom to encourage
it. It is cold. If you crucify him he will be dead by morning."

Tros looked steadily at the Roman, drawing ten long breaths
before he spoke again. Skell did not try to speak.

"No," Tros said at last. "Tonight I will kill no man."

"You and your amber eyes. You look like a lion," said the Roman.
"Are you afraid to kill?"

Tros stroked his beard. The room grew full of silence, Caswallon
leaning on a spear and smiling, standing with his cloak undone
and firelight gleaming on the golden buckles of his tunic.

"You are Caswallon's guest. How can I kill you?" Tros answered at
last, looking straight into Marius' eyes. "If I should kill
Skell, how should I learn what you have said to him? I look like
a lion? You and I, Marius, have both seen lions, not only in the
circuses of Rome. Skell is a jackal. Are you Caesar's jackal?"

"I am a centurion," said Marius.

"Helma," Tros answered, speaking very slowly, "is my wife. Skell
is my jackal. They are neither of them at your disposition, nor
at Caesar's."

Marius blinked but did not flinch perceptibly, although one or
two Britons behind him laughed.

Caswallon fastened up his fur cloak and gave his spear to a
retainer, pulling a fur hood over his head.

"Let us go," he said abruptly. "Come, Marius. Tros, you will need
to mend your fence. We broke it."

Marius, following Caswallon to the door, came face to face with
Helma. She was bringing Tros's bearskin overcoat. Her young eyes
met the Roman's angrily. She almost spat at him. Tros laughed. In
the doorway the back of Caswallon's great shoulders shook
suggestively. It looked as if his hand might be over his mouth,
but he made no sound.





CHAPTER XL

"WHAT SHAPE IS THE EARTH?"

Whatever ye see or hear or know was aeons old before ye heard of
it. If it is new to your ears and eyes; if ye have never smelt or
felt it; if it tastes not like mothers' milk and ye never bought
or sold it in the fair, is that why ye think ye are fit to pass
judgment and to mock those who open their minds?

--From the Sayings of the Druid Taliesan



Some kind of mental alchemy was brewing in the murk that night.
The wind shrieked of it and the shadows seemed to be the womb of
tragedy. Tros turned a dozen Britons out into the dark to mend
the fence Caswallon's men had broken, Conops spurring them to
haste with his knife-hilt and much blasphemy mixed of Greek,
Gaulish, Norse and any other language that came to mind.

Skell he kept with him because he wanted Skell alive, and he had
small doubt that Britons or Northmen would kill him if he left
him hutted up with either. Skell had betrayed Northmen, Britons
and Tros alike; he should betray Marius, too, presently.
Sigurdsen stayed with Tros uninvited, snorting disgust at the
weather that only they really feel who were born amid gales and
crave the sunshine. But Sigurdsen's motive needed no explaining;
he wished to cement new confidence, having lost that of his own
countrymen. His day was done unless Tros should continue to lend
him countenance.

The three, Tros leading, Skell in the midst, leaned into the wind
and fought their way against it to where the great ship's ribs
loomed stark against the night, wind howling through them and
through the scaffolding. Once in a while, when a squall from
between the buildings on their right hand blew a lane down the
driving snow, they could see the great crane like a gallows over
all. Then darkness, and they stumbled over sawed logs, planks
hidden under snow, ropes, baulks of timber, all the litter
of a shipyard, all the evidence of haste by men unused to
systematic building.

They stood under the ways, beneath the prow at last, where the
scaffolding was boarded up below and formed a shelter against the
wind. The snow had filled the chinks, so it was warm there and
Skell ceased shivering. Sigurdsen found a lantern and lighted it
from one of the fire-pots stowed in a locker. Tros took it from
him and walked forward underneath the ship until, two-thirds of
her length toward the stern, there began to be hardly standing
room under the keel. Then he laughed at something and held the
lantern so that Sigurdsen could see what he did.

Shavings and small bits of dry wood had been piled into a heap
that reached nearly to the keel. Snow had blown against it before
the wind changed and the stuff was damp. Tros kicked away the
snow. Shavings and sawdust actually smoked down near the bottom,
and he stamped it out, kicking the snow back into the heap and
mixing both together.

"While you plotted to rule me!" he said, holding the light close
to Sigurdsen's face.

But Sigurdsen had had punishment enough. His face was bruised and
his eyes were a beaten man's. Tros turned the light on Skell.
"Who did this?" he demanded.

Skell's red-rimmed eyes grew ghastly in the dark. He licked his
lips. He tried to dodge the lantern-light, but Tros kept it close
to his face.

"I--I did it!" he said at last.

"One little word there was between you and your death! If you had
lied, that was the end of you," Tros answered. "How much did the
Roman pay you?"

Again Skell trembled on the verge of lying. But the lantern
betrayed every line of his face. Tros peered into his eyes. The
thought of death was comfortless down there in the gusty darkness
with the cold river sucking among reeds fifty or sixty feet away.

"He promised me freedom."

"And what?"

"And two sestertia."

"If what?"

"If the ship burned."

"Two thousand sesterces to burn a ship? Just to pile a heap of
tinder under her? And he a Roman. Hah! What more did he demand
for that price?"

"Lord Tros, I dare not say. Ask Marius."

"I remember now, I swore I will not kill a man tonight."

Skell grinned at that. He was half mad with terror; the bloodshot
whites of his eyes rolled like a steer's in the shambles.

"But I will nail you by the ears to one of these posts," said
Tros, "and when morning comes--"

"Lord Tros, if I tell, will you--"

"Nay, I make no bargains!" Tros retorted. "Dog! Swine of a
bastard British-Northman! Look!" He slapped the planking of the
great ship overhead. "Ten years I have dreamed of this. I have
fought the seas, year in and year out. Storms and worse weather
than tonight's. Ships, boats, crews to break a man's heart,
all to learn enough to build this beauty. I fought Caesar
for the gold to buy her timbers. I fought pirates and rebels
to get men to do the work. I even spared your life, you dog,
so hungered I for men to build my heart's desire. And now
she is half-built--three months' labor of two hundred men and
Sigurdsen--and me, burning oil by night to draw the plans, first
on the task at dawn and last to leave it. Dog! You dare to try to
burn my ship, and then to bargain with me? Seize him, Sigurdsen!
Bring nails! He shall freeze here until morning!"

"Nay, nay!" Skell dropped on his knees, mumming with dry lips,
licking them, then slobbering his fox-hued beard. "I will tell!
Lord Tros, no cruelty! I did not know how great a man you are! No
friends. Freedom, property all gone. What could I do but listen
to that Roman? A man must hope! A man must help himself!"

"Even a slave can be a man," Tros answered. "What did Marius
demand of you?"

Skell hesitated yet, but Sigurdsen came striding through the dark
with cord and two bronze nails.

"Helma!" he said, gulping, almost swallowing the word. "How?"
Tros knew the Roman was not fool enough to think he could seduce
Helma or persuade her to betray himself.

"I was to burn the ship. The Britons were to kill you. The
Northmen would be free and masterless. Their own longship that
you captured is still seaworthy. Marius was to offer them a price
to man that and take him back to Gaul, taking Helma with them."

"For Caesar?"

"So said Marius. Caesar has never seen a daughter of the Vikings."

_"Hey-yey-yey!_ Rome breeds centurions," said Tros. "That Marius
should have been a Greek, not a Roman. But what a loyal dog to
Caesar! What a fetch-and-carry, faithful, crafty scout of an
ambassador! Lud's blood and backbone! Skell! If you had half the
grit of Marius and half young Glendwyr's spirit, I might fear
you. Better for you, perhaps, that you are no more than a jackal!"

He turned away a moment pacing to and fro under the ship's keel,
with his hands behind him, kicking at his sword-point as he
turned. "Marius called me a lion," he muttered to himself. "Why
does a lion let jackals follow him? Why not kill them?"

But he knew why he did not intend to kill Skell. He was grateful
to him. Skell had been useful, bringing disaffection to a head,
providing opportunity to nip in the bud what might have grown
into a serious sedition. Skell's value was gone for the moment,
but men have short memories, whereas a jackal's character
persists. He might need Skell again.

"Zeus pity you!" he said, taking the lantern from Sigurdsen and
holding it close to Skell's face.

There came a blast of freezing wind that made Skell shrug himself
against the oaken post on which the ship's buttock rested.

"I suppose you are here on earth like the rest of us to try to
learn to be a man. But how many lives will the learning take you?
Miserable bastard! I will not rob you of experience. You may yelp
and gnaw bones and jackal it in my wake for a while yet. Until I
mark a change in you, be Sigurdsen's fetch-and-carry man. Work
him hard, Sigurdsen. Follow."

He led the way, swinging the lantern, and inspected all the
lumber piles to make sure there were no more fires laid, kicking
away the snowdrifts, making Skell move heavy timbers so that he
might peer among the crevices. Then into the drafty sheds,
stirring among the shavings and adze splinters. Then into the
locked storehouse, where the finished fittings lay in orderly
confusion. Ropes--there seemed enough to make a net to hold the
world in--ash oars, stout and long enough to mast a fishing boat;
pegs of larchroot of a dozen sizes and by the thousand, for
fastening ship's planking; bronze rivets thicker than a man's
wrist; working parts, chain and pulleys, for the four great
catapults; yew beams and woven horsehair strings for the
twelve-flight arrow-engines, arrows by the thousand, iron-barbed,
of beech and goosequill, roped in bundles; paint, pitch, box-wood
blocks, bronze anchors of a new design, with wooden stocks at
right angles to the flukes--wealth! It represented more than
wealth to Tros. It was the expression of his genius. It was the
key to independence and the unknown.

Sigurdsen eyed it all miserably, valuing the weight of bronze and
reckoning the labor that had cost so much in food, housing,
clothing, toil of supervision. Had he owned Caesar's treasure
chest, he would have thought twice, ten times before he risked
its contents on a venture on the high seas. To him, a ship was
only a protection against famine, a defense against invasion, an
expense, a last resource, to be built with skill and patience but
reserved until a man must battle with the seas.

He was a sailor because he was a sea-king's son, because he had
had to be, because the bitter seas around his northern home had
been the only road to anywhere when crops failed and the long,
dark winters threatened hunger. Sigurdsen would have bought land
and would have built a mansion on it, if he had had Tros's money.

Whereas if Tros had had all Caswallon's wealth and all the money
coined in the mint at Verulam, he would have built three ships
instead of one. And the one ship that he could build, with the
help of the money he had looted along with Caesar's bireme, was
to be the finest that had ever sailed the seas.

He had torn Caesar's own bireme's planks and beams apart for the
bronze in her and to learn how Roman shipwrights built for
strength; and he had improved on all their joints, proportions,
fastenings. For beauty of design, seaworthiness and speed, he had
turned to the Northmen's longship, captured in the Thames,
copying her under-water lines, the easy entry and the almost
fish-like quality of the stern, that could never be pooped,
however fierce a following sea. Above all he had copied her
lightness, sacrificing no strength, stiffening the chine
to enable his ship to carry an enormous spread of sail,
and providing three masts, in which respect again he was
a daring innovator.

As for rig, he had copied the lateen spar, loved of the
Phoenicians, with tackles of his own invention that should make
it easier to tack swiftly. All his cordage and his sail-cloth was
of linen. British women were working by the whale-oil lamps that
minute, weaving against time to earn the unheard-of prices that
he paid. Three sets of sails, and covers in which to stow them!

"Three months' work yet," he grumbled, knowing in his heart that
he would work a miracle if the last spike should be driven and
the last rope bent before midsummer; but to attain the possible a
man must strive for the impossible. He knew Caesar would be
building ships in Gaul all winter long, and he proposed to take
to the sea ahead of him.

He knew that Caesar was meditating a second attempt to invade
Britain, although the Britons themselves, Caswallon alone
possibly excepted, did not believe it. They were deceived by
Caesar's overtures for peace, and by the spies, for the most part
Gauls, who threaded the country in the guise of merchants. The
one thing that Tros dreaded more than all else was that Caesar's
attempt might be made in spring, before his own ship was
finished, perhaps even before he could get her launched.

If he could get her into the water before Caesar came, it might
be fairly easy to conceal the mastless hull in some creek higher
up the Thames, although it would be more than two hundred feet
long and not easy to manoeuver in the narrower reaches of the
river. He did not believe that even a Roman general would be so
unwise, so unseamanly, as to risk his fleet a second time on an
open beach, where the first storm was sure to destroy it.
Caesar's next invasion, he felt sure, would be up the Thames
estuary aimed straight at Lunden Town and Verulam.

So he had made his Northmen and his Britons toil from dawn until
dark. He had hired minstrels to sing and play music to them. He
had hired hunters to keep then well supplied with venison, boar
meat, geese and ducks, which was cheaper, after all, than buying
sheep and oxen from the land-owners, who put up the price of
everything their foresight told them he might need. He had even
hired three fishing boats and sent that fleet to sea in winter to
bring cod, sole and herring; there was a stench in the biting
wind from the smoke-house nearby, and from the vats of fish-oil
that he had rendered down from surplus herrings. Only a man who
builds a big ship knows what quantities of oil are needed.

Sheltering the lantern now under his bearskin cloak against the
wind, he led toward the forges and the foundry, grinding his
teeth as he thought of the trouble he had had with British
blacksmiths, masters of their craft, past masters of obstruction
and extortion, believing themselves keepers of the metal mystery.
There were things that Tros knew about metals that they did not
know, as for instance, how to melt a modicum of iron in with the
bronze to strengthen it, thus helping to reduce weight. He had
had to fight them to a standstill before they would admit him
into the foundry shed; he had had to threaten to throw them into
the molten mixture before they would consent to change the
proportions of tin and copper. And then, that battle won, he
had had to watch them lest they put in lead instead of iron
to spite him.

But the worst had been the charcoal burners. They, too, were a
guild and, like the blacksmiths, they were the descendants of
swarthy tribes who lorded it in Britain long before the
Trinobantes and Iceni came from some forgotten mainland.
Conquered and, in a sense, submerged, they had retained their
freedom, scorned by the aristocratic Britons, living in their own
forest villages of mud and boughs, refusing even to trade
charcoal unless they were more than usually hungry.

Yet Tros had needed and continued to need charcoal of the best,
almost as much as he needed heart of oak and metal. He had tried
raiding their chickens and pigs to reduce them to reason; had
tried overpayment, bonuses for quality, and floggings for
broken promises, but had failed until at last he found their
hermit-priest, half druid, half sorcerer, and by bribing him with
smoked cod's roe and herring oil had ensured deliveries of the
best stuff, kilned, of willow, not oak sticks, burned in heaps
beneath a cover of wet turf.

Memory of what that had led to, of the cod-roe and fish-oil
friendship made with old Eough, the sorcerer, restored Tros to
comparative good humor. It was Eough who had shown him the cave
beneath Caswallon's stables, into which the dung of generations
of horses had been shoveled; Eough who had dug down to the bottom
of it where the yellowish crystals lay inches deep; Eough who had
shown him how to mix those crystals with powdered sulphur,
charcoal, resin and oak sawdust, until he had a fiendish
concoction that would burn like the fires of the Jews' Gehenna,
with a stench that no human being could endure.

It was Eough who knew where sulphur could be found in quantity,
though it was rare and valuable stuff in Britain, and had
promised to provide it in return for its weight in salted
cod and herring oil. He had the lead balls all ready for the
mixture--lacked only the sulphur now--and four prodigious
catapults of his own invention that would hurl those balls with
accuracy nearly half a mile.

Bouquets for Caesar! Better than Rome's electioneering ordure
poured by women from the roofs! Something that would make an
enemy trireme's captain hurry to abandon ship!

Thought of the surprise he had in store for Caesar started him
singing in the teeth of the howling gale. The song was beaten
back against his face; his own ears hardly heard it, but
Sigurdsen did, behind him, and began a Viking chant that
out-clamored the wind and made even Skell walk like a man.

So they passed by the break in the fence that Conops and the
Britons had repaired, passed thence to the long huts where the
Britons lay on sheepskins on the floor, and Tros surveyed them,
brandishing the lantern, making sure there was no more plotting
for that night at any rate; thrust Skell into a watchhouse, where
he could sleep alone and pity himself to his heart's content;
until at last they tramped into the Northmen's quarters, where
the table was set in place again and six men slept on it, the
others snoring on the benches against the wall.

Tros shook the snow off his bearskin, strode to the fire and
kicked the dying embers into a blaze. By the light of that, he
turned and looked straight into Sigurdsen's eyes.

"You little know what eats me," he said, speaking slowly because
Sigurdsen had hard work to understand Gaulish.

"You lost your little kingdom. I never had one. This ship will be
my first. I yearn for it as Caesar yearns to own all earth and
sit in judgment with a golden crown on his bald head! I would
not give that for a crown," he said, snapping his fingers.
"Sigurdsen," he went on, staring harder than ever into the
Northman's blue-gray eyes, "what is the shape of the earth?"

"Ask Odin. Ask the gods," said Sigurdsen, drawing his huge bulk
back a little. Tros's expression made him half afraid. "There is
a rim, over which the sea pours everlastingly, and beyond that
there is no air, no light, nothing; but as to what shape it is,
who knows?"

"The earth is round!" said Tros. "Round like one of those leaden
balls I made to fling at Caesar!"

"Peace!" Sigurdsen exclaimed. He was scandalized. "A man should
not make jests of such a matter."

"Round!" said Tros. "And I will sail around it!"

"Now you are mad!" said Sigurdsen. "I have known men made mad by
a blow on the skull."

"How mad was I when I told you we could build a longship with
three banks of oars?" Tros answered. "How mad was I when I gave
you your liberty? You, raw-beaten, trembling with hate, as ready
to kill me as to eat my salt? How mad was I when I told you of
the catapults, and of the burning stink? Mad, I suppose, because
I will cover the ship with tin if I can get the stuff! How many
times have I lied to you since you first knew me? The world
is round."

"That is easy to say. But who knows it? How do you know?"
Sigurdsen demanded.

There was a half-glare in his eyes. The whites gleamed in
the firelight.

"How did I know how to figure the ship's dimensions? It is part
of the Mystery teaching. Earth, moon, sun, stars, all of them are
round, and the earth revolves around the sun."

"You lie!" said Sigurdsen breathlessly.

"If I lie," Tros said, looking hard at him again, "and if you can
prove it, I will give you the ship and all that she contains!"

"Huh! Who can prove it?" Sigurdsen retorted.

"You and I. We will set forth. We will sail around the world. If
we should reach that rim you speak of, where the sea goes
tumbling over and there is no more air, I will give you the ship
and you may sail her home again. I will give you the ship unless
I can prove that the world is round by sailing all the way
around. We shall see."

"No," said Sigurdsen, "we shall never see."

"How not?"

If Sigurdsen had understood the glow in Tros's amber eyes he
would have been less careless how he delivered himself pledged
and bound.

"Because," he answered, "the men will mutiny if they learn that
we sail on such a madman's quest as that! They will never consent
to start."

"Which is why I speak to you and not to them," said Tros. "This
is my secret and yours, none other's. If you keep it and if you
play me fair, serving faithfully as my lieutenant, and if we two
together find that the world is not round, she shall be your ship!"

"She is as good as my ship now!" said Sigurdsen.

"But if you fail me in one particular, if you refuse me one
obedience, or if you hang back, or if you seek to turn homeward
before we see that rim of the world that you say is there, or if
we prove that the world is round by sailing all around it, then
she is still my ship and you are still my man," said Tros. "Shake
hands on it."

Whereat, having bound Sigurdsen by oath and by cupidity, so that
he had no more doubt of him at all, Tros left him staring at the
embers and returned to where Helma sat before the fire stirring
warm mead against his coming.





CHAPTER XLI

"THE WORLD IS ROUND!"

Ye accuse me of keeping secret knowledge that I should share
among you, as if a she-bear should show you her cubs or a thrush
should tell you where her eggs are nested. There is nothing,
nay, no knowledge hidden saving only from him who seeketh the
wherewithal to fatten ignorance.

--From the Sayings of the Druid Taliesan



Helma sponged the blood out of Tros's hair, where Sigurdsen's
fists had rained blows on him, and sat down to her knitting.
There was no light but the blazing hearth, and from that the
howling wind blew intermittent gusts of smoke into the room, but
it was no darker or draftier than her former home beside the
Baltic had been, and she was proud of Tros, which bred contentment.

She had settled down to wifehood better than he had to the
husband's part. He was a disturbing man to live with, approving
all the outer forms of luxury, evidenced by painted walls, dyed
hangings, goose-breast feather bed and the best of everything to
eat and drink, but bursting in to swallow a meal in haste and
charging out again to stride among the ship-builders and watch
each peg and rivet driven home. When the bronze was to be poured
he stayed out all night long.

"You love that ship much better than you love me," she had said a
dozen times.

He usually laughed and answered that he did not doubt it.

"Shall you change a man in three months?" he would ask her. "That
ship is of my own imagining. I dreamed her. Lo, I build her. You
came from the gods. I never sought you. I accepted you, because
it seemed to me the gods intended that, and you are a good woman,
brave and beautiful."

Whereafter, in the rare quiet moments that they had together, he
would lapse into a brown study, staring at the fire, brows
knitted, studying some problem of construction or contriving new
ingenious ways of saving time.

But tonight he was in a new mood, at any rate in her experience.
He looked at her instead of at the fire. It seemed almost for the
first time to occur to him that her hair was like spun gold, her
eyes the color of lake water in the spring, her figure, neck,
hands, feet, like those of a Diana that adorned a fane in
Ephesus. He even remarked on it.

"No wonder Marius bribed Skell!"

She looked up sharply from her knitting.

"He tried to bribe me." She nodded, watching Tros's eyes.

"Which? Skell or Marius?"

"Marius."

Tros whistled three or four bars of a song that had its vogue
along the Alexandrian waterfront, a song about the Ptolemies and
women. But Helma did not know it was impolite, she rather liked
the air, and she never could help smiling when Tros whistled. He
did it through the gap between his square front teeth, and it
made all the muscles of his face move comically.

"He sent his slave," said Helma, "that Greek Bagoas who shaves
him and makes his bed. That was yesterday."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"Because you are you, and I do not wish to change you, but
myself, so that I may resemble you and we may understand each
other. You are still, and you watch when an enemy begins to
uncover his plan, until the time comes to surprise the enemy. And
then you smite. So I was still. I saw that you knew part of what
was going on, and I did not wish to confuse you. But I made my
brother, Sigurdsen, betray what was in his mind, and so brought
that part to a head. None questions now who is captain. Now since
that is settled, I will tell you about Marius."

Tros stroked his beard. He began to study his young wife all over
again from the beginning. Brave he had known her to be, and
beautiful, and not at all given to contradicting him, which was
more convenient for her than possibly she guessed! But this was a
new phase of her.

"Speak in your own good time," he said.

And that was not the way that most men treated women. One
demanded to know every detail of their conversation with any
other man, pretending as a rule to disbelieve every word of it,
or else one ran away because they talked too much.

"Marius sent Bagoas," Helma went on, "and Bagoas promised that if
I will persuade you to join Caesar and become a Roman citizen,
Caesar will see to it that I visit Rome under his protection. He
said, I will become a great lady in Rome, because all Rome will
admire my fair hair and my complexion."

"And you said?"

"I answered, I do not negotiate with slaves. I said, let Caesar
speak to the Lord Tros in person."

"Good!" Tros clapped his thigh, then laid his head against the
chair-back, laughing silently. "This is a fine cycle of
intrigue!" he said after a minute or two. "First, Marius invites
me to become a Roman and receive the command of Caesar's fleet,
undoubtedly, although he did not say so, in order that I may
lead the fleet up the Thames and rape the stronghold of my
friend Caswallon.

"Next, through Skell's agency, Marius persuades my Northmen to
try to compel me to become a Roman. Yet at the same time, and
through the same Skell's agency, he tried to persuade my Britons
to rebel against me on the very ground that I propose to sell
them to the Romans. In the self-same hour he bribes Skell to burn
my ship, and to take you and my Northmen to Caesar, leaving me
dead, murdered by my Britons. Later, all plans having miscarried,
he proposes to have Skell crucified in a storm, so that he may
freeze to death before he can reveal the plot. What do you make
of it all?"

He sat back again, watching Helma's face across the zone of
firelight. She counted stitches on her knitting needle before
she answered.

"I make of it that Caesar knows you are a man of valor, a stout
friend or a bold enemy," she said at last. "He will either have
you on his side or else destroy you. From what you have told me
of Caesar, I think he would keep faith with you if you should
yield to him. And I think, that if you refuse to yield to him he
will never rest until he has found some way of killing you."

Tros nodded

"And what do you advise?" he asked.

"Be yourself, Lord Tros. It seems to me you have no ambition such
as Caesar's, and if you should yield to him you would have to be
another Marius. Caesar would use your valor and strength and
cunning. He would reward you. You would grow richer than ever
Marius will. But Caesar would become your god and you his
servant, furthering his aim. You have told me his aim is to bring
the whole world under the Roman yoke, he ruling Rome. I am sure
that you could help him better than any lieutenant he has yet
had. But I would rather drown with you in freedom than wear gold
and pearls on the steps of Caesar's throne. Nevertheless, I will
do as you say."

Tros nodded, reappraising her. In the few months since she fell
captive to his sword he had had no time to probe into her inner
consciousness and learn of what stuff she was made. But it seemed
she had studied him, and she astonished him.

"Speaking of the world," he said, "what shape is it?"

She looked up from her knitting suddenly, surprised, her blue
eyes meeting his, first, as if she suspected him of trying to
make fun of her, then, aware that he was in earnest.

"I would like to know," she answered.

"Zeus!"

He grinned as if she had given him new ship's stores or a new
idea for building against time. He looked as pleased with her as
if she were a coil of seven-ply linen rope, or a bolt of linen
sail-cloth, or a ton of well-kilned willow charcoal.

"You shall know! Helma, you shall see!"

She laid the knitting on her lap and watched him, awaiting more
speech, never questioning him when he was in that mood, never
interrupting thought when it glowed behind his amber eyes. But at
last she understood that he was studying her, not thinking of the
world's shape.

"If I may see what you see," she said.

But he brushed that aside with a gesture as mere harping on the
obvious. Of course she should see. She was his wife. She should
sail the high seas with him.

"I wonder I never thought of that before," he exclaimed, looking
at her so hard, so appraisingly that she looked down at her hands
and at her dyed woolen dress to see what the matter might be.

"Were you thinking of leaving me behind?" she asked. But he
brushed that aside, too, as not worthy of discussion.

"Nay! But I had not thought how you shall go before me! Helma,
one thing I have mulled over in vain until this minute, how shall
the ship's bow be finished! A serpent there shall be, since that
betokens wisdom. I have the serpent made, of coiling larchroot
more than a man's thigh thick and the head carved from a great
lump of yew, mouth open, all set with whale's teeth found on the
seashore. It lies in the storehouse now, awaiting nothing but the
paint and gold leaf. There is a great forked tongue of bronze,
fixed on a hinge, so it will flicker like a moving serpent's when
the ship moves."

"Wonderful," said Helma, disappointed.

"Aye! It will make the Romans pray! But I have thought of a
greater thing. Below where the serpent is to oversee the course,
between the ship's bow and the waterline, a place lacks ornament.
I had thought of adding three coils to the serpent, so that it
might appear to rise out of the sea from under the ship's keel,
but it is better to give it two tails coiling on either side the
full length of the sheer strakes, joining into one tail at the
stern. And now I know what I will do with the ship's stem beneath
the serpent's neck. I will set your image there, blue eyes and
golden hair and all! Cuchulain the Briton shall carve it out of
heart of yew, and I will give him his freedom for reward if he
carves it true and lifelike."

Helma smiled. That was the greatest tribute Tros had paid to her,
perhaps the greatest that he could pay. But Tros laughed, long
and silently.

"Why do you laugh?" she asked him.

"To think what my stern old father would have said, to see a
figure of a woman on my ship's bow! He would have spoken of the
Roman Venus Genetrix, from whom Caesar claims descent, and of the
wharfs of Alexandria, and Ostia, and Massilia. However, my father
is dead, I live. Helma, can you keep a secret, a tremendous
secret, greater than all Caesar's schemes?"

She nodded.

"The world is round!"

She nodded. She believed whatever Tros said. She would have
believed it square, had he said so.





CHAPTER XLII

GALBA THE SICILIAN

It is through the open gate of each man's treachery and idleness,
that each man's enemy comes in.

--From the Sayings of the Druid Taliesan



The fence Tros had built around his shipyard was intended less to
keep his own men in than to keep intruders out. There was no risk
of his Northmen straying far; they had too recently been enemies
of the Britons; they would have been unsafe almost anywhere on
the countryside, and though they had received their nominal
freedom at Tros's hands, they had neither goods nor money and
would have found it next to impossible to make a living. Whereas
Tros fed them royally, and they liked the work of ship-building.

His Britons, on the other hand, were slaves and, as such, outlaws
if they should dare to run away. Every slave-owner and every serf
above the rank of slave, nominally free but not allowed to leave
the land he tilled, would be in arms against them. Their only
chance, if they should desert Tros, would be to do so in a body
and take to the woods, driving off cattle and plundering
lonely homesteads.

Delay, obstruction, interference came chiefly from without, and
from two sources. First, those rebels had had women who depended
on them, some unfit for service, some too young. Those clamored
at the gate for food and shelter, and Tros fed them for a while,
though he could ill afford it. Some he set to work at weaving and
at making sails; others went to the ropewalk, where the linen
cordage was twisted and tested. Some merely wailed and devoured
good sustenance. They were all a nuisance. They all knew their
men-folks' liberty was forfeited and that they must be left
behind when the ship was launched and sailed away at last. To all
intents and purposes their men were dead, as they would have been
dead in fact--hung, burned alive, beheaded--had Tros not accepted
them as Caswallon's gift.

A few at a time, the marriageable ones were absorbed into British
families. A few of the older women died, mainly of misery, and
some of the younger ones were taken by the druids to be kept as
virgins in the sacred sisterhood. In the end the druids took all
but a few and parceled them out around the countryside, obliging
men of means to accept them as serving-women, whether useful or
not. It was the few who remained after that who gave Tros the
most trouble, nine women, their own fathers toiling at the heavy
labor in the yard, upsetting discipline by siren-smiling at the
Northmen overseers, who were human and young and not eager to be
stayed by good advice.

Legally Tros might have sold those women. They were his.
Daughters of traitors, captives of Caswallon's spear, they
became, foot, hand and hide, the property of the king, who had
waived possession in Tros's favor, although Caswallon himself
took over their homes and goods. But there was something in
Tros's obstinate nature that objected to that very commonplace
proceeding. He did not even like the thought of selling men. He
had bought men in days gone by to man oars in his father's ship,
but had never sold them; he had never bought or sold a woman, and
he did not propose to begin.

He tried discussing it with Sigurdsen. But Sigurdsen said, "Boys
will be boys," and shrugged his shoulders. He talked it over with
Helma, who chose one of them as maid and kept two alert blue eyes
on her. But that left eight, and eight ownerless women can play
havoc among thirty or forty homeless sailormen. He asked
Caswallon's advice, but Caswallon only laughed.

"Nay, nay, Tros! I have my own task kinging it, and Lud knows
there are too many women, what with Caesar having killed so many
young men on the beach, and Glendwyr's revolt, and one thing and
another. Those girls are yours. By law you have to feed them or
else deed them to some one who will. Put them to use, I would,
but that is your affair."

The trouble of it was, that they were not bad-looking women of
the swarthier, smaller type descended from tribes that inhabited
Britain before the Britons came. They had the conquered
disposition that takes a century or two to acquire and another
century or two to overcome, a disposition to assume inferiority,
social as well as moral, and to take other folks' assumption of a
privilege for granted. But that also implied an ingrown subtlety
and an alertness to take advantage of weakness wherever they
found it or believed it to exist.

Tros's generosity was weakness in their eyes. They knew the law.
They had no right to expect anything but slavery. If Tros had not
helped Caswallon to suppress rebellion and so become possessed of
their fathers and brothers along with themselves, their normal
fate would have been to be swapped to the Iceni for horses, and
thereafter possibly resold to the Northmen when the tradeships
began coming from the Baltic in the spring. Or if, instead of
tradeships, raiding parties should come, they might have been
used to bribe the pirates to go away again.

Meanwhile, in the ropewalk they were more trouble than they were
worth, since they needed so much supervision. They did not lay
the linen fiber properly or twist it evenly unless watched all
the time, and the men capable of supervising them were needed for
at least equally important work elsewhere.

The other constant source of trouble was the visitors. The
Britons came in droves to watch the ship-building, and there were
many of them too important to be denied admission to the yard. No
aristocrat, least of all Caswallon or his immediate friends, ever
moved without a train of followers. They used to ride down or
drive their two-horse wicker chariots and spend the day
criticizing, asking questions and getting in everybody's way.

They were great humorists. One party of them asked Tros what name
he intended to bestow on his great ship when it was finished.
When he refused to tell, they named it for him--the dung ship,
because of Eough's explorations in the cave beneath Caswallon's
stable and the barrels full of yellowish crystals that had found
their way subsequently to the yard. That name offended the
Northmen mightily. There was very nearly a race riot that
endangered the lives of all the Northmen in the yard.

The spice of that jest seemed never to lose its flavor. Britons
would make their grooms pick up hot horse dung and offer it as
payment for admission at the gate. And when Conops, resenting
about the dozenth proffered offering of that kind, flung the
stuff in the face of one of Caswallon's cousins, a fight ensued
in which Conops used his knife, and Tros had to hand over two of
his best British carpenters by way of damages.

But there was one man among the constant visitors who made
trouble of a more perplexing sort. He was a Sicilian by the name
of Galba, an attendant of Marius the Roman. Nothing could
persuade Caswallon or his followers that a guest or a guest's
companions might legitimately be regarded with suspicion. They
said they were not spies. They were guests. Their word was taken
for it, the aristocratic Britons having absurdly high-flung
notions about chivalry. Marius and Galba had both eaten at
Caswallon's table and were being entertained in the great house
on Lud's Hill, Lunden Town. Ranking as Caswallon's guests, Tros
had to endure both of them, he being also a guest in Britain and
beholden to Caswallon for facilities to build his ship.

Galba came more frequently than Marius, gave himself lesser airs
than the centurion did, but observed too closely and too much. He
was apparently extremely aware of the fact that as a guest in
Britain his life was sacrosanct and his liberty of movement
unrestricted. Tros called him a spy to his face, but he only
laughed and answered that Rome's eyes were as far-sighted as her
arm was long. He followed that observation with a thinly
veiled threat:

"What would the Britons do if they thought you were building
this ship to use against them? A crew of Northmen, rebels,
pirates--there are other kings beside Caswallon."

After that Tros gave the gods a dozen opportunities to terminate
Galba's lease of life. Once, when he had a great beam hoisted,
ready to be swung into the ship and Galba stood beneath it
looking at a newly invented boring tool, Tros knocked out the
ratchet that held the crane-winch. But the beam struck the
sheer-strake as it fell and was deflected, missing Galba by more
than a yard.

It was the same when bronze was being poured, and Galba stood
close to the mold. Tros put a little water in a hollow of the
fire-clay trough and stepped well out of range of the explosion.
The trough was blown to pieces and about half the bronze was
spilled, but Galba seemed to bear a charmed life; not even a drop
of the whitehot metal touched him.

But the closest that Galba came to death was when Tros was trying
out the forward starboard catapult before hoisting and installing
it. It was a thing entirely of his own invention that avoided the
use of the twisted sinew springs the Romans relied on and that
were so affected by dampness, dry wind, friction, heat and cold.

Between two uprights, thirty feet high, with a big bronze
pulleywheel on top, he had a rectangular lead weight weighing a
ton, encased in wicker-work and hoisted by a winch. When a lever
was struck by a mallet, the weight fell, and the sudden force of
that was transferred to the missile by means of ropes and a
sliding mechanism that jerked the missile forward through a long
trough, which could be moved on a hinge and turn-table to give
the necessary angle and direction. To prevent the falling weight
from injuring the bottom of the ship there was a cushion of
willow wicker-work; and to secure the maximum efficiency and
range, the force of the fall was transferred to the propelling
mechanism just before the weight reached bottom.

The first shot Tros fired with his new invention--a lump of rock
the size of a man's head--went clear across the Thames and
knocked a branch from a tree a hundred yards beyond the farther
mud-bank. It was the second shot that very nearly ended Galba's
campaign of investigation.

Tros invited him to examine the mechanism, ordered the weight
cranked up, and proceeded to show him the ingenious bronze levers
by which the speed of the projecting instrument was multiplied.
He persuaded Galba to lean over the trough to examine its oiled
grooves, and then with his own hand struck the lever that
released the weight. But Galba looked up to watch a wild goose
flying overhead, so when the mechanism whizzed along its course
his head still remained on his shoulders. But he grew very wary
of Tros after that. He was a debonair, curly-headed, lightly
framed Sicilian, who could be wary without inviting all the
universe to pay attention to the fact.

So Tros wasted a lot more ingenuity in the vain effort to
send Galba to another world without himself incurring the
responsibility. He even went to the length of entertaining Galba
by Helma's fireside, and was perfectly frank with Galba
concerning the reason for it:

"You are Caesar's spy. For all I know, you may have been sent to
murder me. In Britain, if you murder a man whose food you have
eaten, without first serving notice on him that you have become
his enemy, they first torture you and then burn you to death."

"I am no man's enemy," said Galba, sipping at Tros's mead and
apple guardedly, as if he thought it might be poisoned. "I
studied philosophy in Syracuse. I believe that a man should
attend strictly to his own conduct and leave others to govern
themselves. Then such gods as there are, and whatever they
are, preserve a man. They seem to have preserved me," he
added pointedly.

"Nevertheless, I will make it known that you have eaten at my
table," Tros remarked.

Galba spoke Gaulish with the skill of an intellectual, and that
was the only tongue that Tros and Helma had as yet in common.
Tros knew Greek, Latin and all the tongues of the Levant,
including the Phoenician and Arabic, the Aramaic dialects and at
least a smattering of Coptic. Helma knew only her own Norse and
the Gaulish dialect men spoke in that corner of Britain, which
differed only slightly in pronunciation from the speech of
northern Gaul.

So it did not take the observant Galba any time at all to
discover that the relationship between Tros and Helma was on a
very different basis from that of, say, a Sicilian and his wife,
or a Greek and the prospective mother of his sons. They stood
more on a basis of equality and there was confidence between
them, as if they shared together a tremendous secret.

Tros did not appear to be in love with his young wife or in love
with anything except his ship, but he appeared to take it for
granted that Helma also loved the ship, to regard her as a
practical independent ally pledged to one course with himself.
And that is a much more unbreakable bond between two people than
any emotional love affair.

The confidence was proven by Tros's entire willingness to let
Helma converse with strangers. In fact, he seemed to like her to
take the burden of conversation, he alternately listening and
lapsing into a brown study. Most of the time it was impossible to
tell whether Tros was interested or was visioning new details for
his ship; but when referred to, he invariably had an answer ready.

So Galba made Helma's acquaintance carefully at Tros's fireside
after the meal, while the slave-girl washed the dishes and Tros,
in his great oak chair, removed the gold band from his forehead,
solid, beaten from one of Caesar's wreaths to replace the ancient
one he had broken and bound on Helma's arm that night he married
her. It was heavy, and he liked to lay his head back and his feet
up while he rested.

The Sicilian was an artful talker, not too ingratiating, not too
given to open flattery, rather frankly curious, making his
approach to Helma as he had approached Tros's shipyard, on a
basis of privilege that might not be denied. He explained that he
was one of Caesar's gatherers of information about foreign lands.
Caesar was writing a book, omnivorous of facts. Could Helma tell
him of the distant north from which she came?

So Helma told tales of the Baltic, and of the long nights farther
north than that, where winter reigns for seven months, and of
summers when there was no night. She told of fishing and of great
whales, of fjords where the pines came to the water's edge and
fishing fleets might be land-locked for a month on end by winds
that blew forever from the westward and the northwest.

"And that is why Northmen are good at the oar, and why their
ships are built to sail into the wind."

Presently, because Galba urged, she sang, her fingers plucking at
imaginary harp strings and her strong young voice athrill with
the heroic mystery of legend. But the words were Norse and
neither Tros nor Galba understood them. Nevertheless, Tros leaned
forward in his chair to listen, and the lean-lipped, sarcastic
Galba changed color, drumming in time to the song with those
dark-skinned, deceitful fingers that looked capable of anything
at all except hard work.

And so--because if you sing to a man of what your heart knows,
you have given to him something you can not recall--there began a
kind of intimacy, guarded indeed since Helma knew Tros mistrusted
Galba, and she, too, mistrusted him; and not immoderately
emphasized by Galba, who was subtle even in his method of
discarding subtlety.

In his own turn Galba sang of Syracuse and of the wars of Sicily,
of Carthage and of tyrants who played a losing hazard of intrigue
between the Wolf of the Aventines and the Punic Lion.

Then Tros sang about Jason and the Golden Fleece, in a basso
voice that crashed among the roof-beams, his eyes glowing as he
all unconsciously revealed the grandeur of his own hopes and the
splendor of his zeal to conquer far horizons. The words were
Greek and Galba understood them; even he, though the apostle of
all cynicism, understood Tros's heart was on his lips that hour
and more than ancient legend was unrolling to the sea-wave tune.
The words might crash on the ancient beaches of an unknown Euxine
shore; but to Helma, ignorant of Greek, and to Galba, ignorant of
all but cynicism, there swung into the mental vision paths along
the moonbeams to a chartless ocean where the sea-birds were the
pilots, and the lure lay in a man's own heart, not in the chink
of commerce nor the clash of arms, nor even in the thump of
oarbeats or the thunder of the wind in straining sails, though
the thunder and the oar-beats seemed to pulse an obbligato
to the song.

And then Tros sang of the fall of Troy. He sang the Trojan view
of it. Of Helen, fair-haired Helen, whom the Trojans thought
worth dying for. He made a mystery of vision and ideals, raped
from Greece--unworthy of them--and defended against all the gods
of greed and envy and the men who hate those who have done what
they failed to do themselves.

"In the end you will die for a woman's sake," said Galba when
Tros ceased singing and coughed, because the blue smoke filled
his lungs. But Helma shook her head, thought otherwise.





CHAPTER XLIII

THE CONFERENCE OF KINGS

Instead of blaming one another for the flood, have ye thought
yet about aiding one another to withstand it?

--From the Sayings of the Druid Taliesan



Marius and Galba gave Tros less anxiety than did Taliesan,
the Lord High Druid, and certain British kings who jumped
at opportunity to balk Caswallon. Galba's veiled threat
materialized. Some said the Romans, through spies, had corrupted
those kings, and that might be, for the Roman spies were
everywhere. But none spoke of Taliesan except with awe. However,
Fflur said they were jealous of her husband and suspected him of
planning to make himself the paramount chief of Britain.

"Whereas," said Fflur, discussing events with Tros and Helma up
on the stern of the big ship amid the din of hammer-blows, "if
they only would believe it, he would rather hunt deer and make
merry than anything else the gods permit. He is too easy-going,
too generous, too ready to make friends."

But Fflur was the daughter of Mygnach the Dwarf, and there was
more insight and hind- and fore-sight in her heritage than in
that of most women. She looked nearly young enough to be the
sister of her oldest son; and yet there was old wisdom in her
eyes and something akin to fear, as if she could see too much but
could avoid too little.

There was Gwanar, king of the Iceni, breeder of horses and more
or less ruler of hard-bitten men who were forever coming
southward to Caswallon's country to sell mares. Gwanar and Fflur
were first cousins, which tended to a peaceful settlement of most
disputes, but Gwanar had not sent men to resist Caesar's first
invasion, and he either believed or pretended to believe that the
Roman would never repeat the attempt.

Then there was Caradoc of the Silures, who dwelt in the west
where druidism was far more than a religion; it was almost life
itself. Caradoc might not have interfered; he was of the darker,
swarthier type of Briton, of Iberian ancestry, and his lands were
too remote for him to have troubled his head about Caswallon's
alleged ambitions. But Madoc, king of the Coranians, had married
his sister, who was known as a wise woman, wiser than Fflur.
Madoc sent ambassadors to the Iceni and Caradoc followed suit.

They three brought in Gwenwynwyn of the Ordovici, lover of his
own importance, bottle-nosed and crippled of one arm, who loved
intrigue far better than plain dealing. Gwenwynwyn of the
Ordovici agitated and accused Caswallon to the druids, mainly
about Tros, whom he had never seen, until there was nothing left
to do but summon a five-king conference.

The druids would have preferred to avoid it. They were not in
love with Tros, although they regarded his father, Perseus, as a
high priest, greater than all but a few of themselves. But they
were not against him. And they were the only authorities who
could guarantee the holding of such a conference without
mismanagement or bloodshed.

Normally the druids took no part in politics, but they recognized
no boundaries to their own influence, which was as nearly
entirely spiritual as it could be kept. Their supremacy was
everywhere conceded, and they performed the ceremonies when a
king was girdled with the gold insignia of office. Without the
druids' sanction there could be no kings. Their mound-encircled
hospices were held so sacred that no king would have dared or
would have dreamed of daring to enter without permission, or to
hale forth even a murderer who had taken refuge there.

And the druids did interfere whenever the kings exceeded their
proper authority or entered into combinations against one
another. They were ever ready with advice when asked. They
sometimes volunteered it. They were held in such universal awe
and reverence that if they told a king to abdicate he had no
choice but to obey.

So it was always druids who presided when the kings met; druids
who sent the invitations, although it was usually kings who
pulled the wires that set druids' influence in motion.

"What I need," said Caswallon to Tros one day when the invitation
had arrived, "is an army of ten thousand men, ready to resist
Caesar. Then Caesar would never invade. What they fear is that if
I had such an army at my beck and call, I would use it to subdue
all Britain. If the druids should say yes, then I could have the
army in a week. If they say no, then I shall never have it."

"If Caesar should come, the druids would suffer most of all. He
hates them. They know it. Surely they will let you have the army,
since it is your land that will be invaded first," Tros answered.

Caswallon shook his head. He knew the druids, feared them, loved
them in his own way, which was wholly Celtic. And he knew those
rival kings.

"We will go," he said, "and at least thereafter we shall
know the worst."

So Helma went with Fflur to stay at Merrow, where there was a
sacred pool and near that, a farm belonging to Caswallon, they
taking with them all those nine British slave-women who had given
Tros such trouble. Fflur had a notion she could find them
husbands among the hinds who watched sheep on Merrow Downs. Tros,
yielding to Caswallon's importunity, spared three clear days of
winter sunshine when the planking of the upper deck was being
laid, dreading lest the parsimonious Sigurdsen should skimp the
oil on the layer of linen between the double planking, or lest
they should omit to cramp the woodwork properly before they
drove the spikes, and went with Caswallon to the druids'
mound-encircled hospice near by Verulam.

"Old, old as the hills is Verulam. There is the mint, and there
my father lived. Lud's blood! He had a good house, but I let the
druids have it when Taliesan came from the west. They keep the
mint, which makes the gold and silver safe enough," Caswallon
said as he drove at his usual speed, as fast as the gray
stallions could lay hoof to ground, with Tros up beside him in
the wicker-bodied chariot. "Verulam is a healthier place than
Lunden. Better hunting, better pasture for the horses, no fogs
from the river to give a man Lud's ague, higher ground, better in
every way. But no druid, no king! I was proud that I had my
father's house to give to Taliesan. He came and blessed my new
house that I built in Lunden, saying it should not fall by fire
or to a foeman in my day."

They did not go unattended. There was Orwic, at the head of
four-and-twenty gentlemen-at-arms-the aristocratic caste,
descendants of tribes who came from oversea three centuries
before. Landholders, rich in their own right, who might not be
denied the privilege of riding escort to the king, as well as of
knowing nearly all his business. Behind them rode as many grooms
and servants, most of whom were not so fair-haired or so
light-complexioned, some of mixed blood.

Caswallon did not talk much during the long drive through the
forest. He frowned and muttered to himself, impatient when they
halted at a mound-encircled roadhouse to change teams, refusing
drink, eager to be off again.

"Brother Tros, we shall need our wits," he said at last. "Lord
Druid Taliesan is a brother of gods, wiser than Merlin, and he
loves me. But there are Caradoc, Gwanar, Gwenwynwyn, Madoc, of
whom two are crafty men, and two are fools. It is what you and I
will say that must solve this riddle by persuading Taliesan. I
wish my tongue were readier and my heart less so."

"Keep an open mind. Play my hand and I will play yours," Tros
advised him.

"Good! Stand you by me."

Thereafter not one word until they galloped down a lane between
enormous oaks and came on to the rising open ground by Verulam,
where the druids' white hospice that was once Caswallon's
father's house, gleamed in the setting sun above the turfed mound
that surrounded it. The turf showed brown through rotting snow,
and the roof was green and gray in patches where the lichen edged
the shingles. It was an enormous house, built mainly of adze-hewn
timber.

There was a gathering of wool-robed druids, and the mighty
Taliesan himself in the midst of them by the gate in the gap in
the encircling mound, but no sign of any other kings, although
the hour was late.

"If we come first, good. And if we come last, better. Lud deliver
us if we are neither first nor last," Caswallon said, screwing up
his eyes to scan the group of druids. "The first and last create
a stir. Kings who are neither first nor last are nobodies."

There was a stir, at any rate, a fanfare of golden trumpets. The
druids received their guests with song and with holly garlands,
even hanging wreaths on the horses' necks that pricked them and
made them frantic. But that gave Caswallon a chance to display
his horsemanship, which he enjoyed. He reined in the maddened
stallions, tossed the reins to a groom who charged up in the nick
of time, leaped to the ground and knelt for the old High Druid's
blessing. Tros knelt beside him. Then they entered by a wide gate
through an embankment supported on the inside by a wall of heavy
timber, up which ivy climbed, a century old, its main stems
thicker than a man's thigh.

Behind the chanting druids Caswallon and Tros went arm-in-arm.
They looked like two kings, not a king and his attendant, because
Tros had donned his purple cloak for the occasion, bordered deep
with gold embroidery. His deep-sea rolling stride was more
majestic than Caswallon's, who had lived too long on horseback to
walk handsomely. But neither of them held a candle to the old
Lord Druid at the head of the procession--not for dignity or
grace or majesty or any other attribute.

"Good! We are the last!" Caswallon whispered, and he kept the
whole company waiting a good ten minutes longer while he and Tros
washed themselves in a room to the left of the door.

There were four kings standing in a row before the hearth in
the great inner hall, and on the far side of the round table
and two long ones was a crowd of their retainers, counselors,
gentlemen-at-arms, bards, minstrels--crushing toes and shoving
one another for the front rank.

The round table was on a dais that occupied about a quarter of
the floor space at the farther end. From the dais to the door the
two long tables were set parallel, spread with linen cloth and
silver and pewter dishes. But the round table was spread with a
finer cloth, bearing designs dyed in three colors. Its plates
were of gold, the cups of colored glass, gold-edged.

The huge hall was entirely lined with dark oak, and there was a
high gallery around three sides, over which whispering druids
leaned. They burst into welcoming song as Caswallon entered,
and the four kings by the hearth stiffened themselves to
show their breeding in four different ways--surly, supercilious,
suspicious, condescending.

However, Caswallon out-kinged them. He stood, his followers in a
formidable crowd behind, and let the old High Druid introduce
him, as if he had never before seen one of those kings, was
rather curious to know them and quite willing to be kissed on
both cheeks, provided, by standing on tiptoe, they could reach
that far.

"The Lord Caswallon! The Lord Tros!" said an announcer by the
door. It might have been one of Caswallon's followers. Young
Orwic was quite capable of that.

"The Lord Caswallon! The Lord Tros!" the old Lord Druid repeated.
And the four kings had to leave the hearth to come and kiss
Caswallon, since he would not go to them.

They were neither shabby men nor insignificant. They stood like
kings and were more richly costumed than Caswallon. Gwenwynwyn,
king of the Ordovici, he of the bottle nose, was dressed in cloth
of gold with gold and amber ornaments. The others wore dyed
woolen stuff and cloaks of imported Gaulish broadcloth trimmed
with fur. They all wore gold chains and the royal golden girdle
at their waists, but Caswallon and Tros, almost without an
ornament between them, except Tros's jeweled sword-hilt and the
gold forehead band, out-braved them, nevertheless.

There was that about Caswallon in his plain, dyed wool and
beautifully made cloak of figured deerskin, edged with gold and
blue, that no amount of ornament could offset. He looked
open-countenanced and honest. His emotions were there for the
world to see depicted on his face, and they were manly. When he
laughed it meant he was amused. If he frowned he was angry. When
he looked at the old Lord Druid he was half afraid and half
affectionate. When four kings kissed him he was perfectly aware
they did it with suppressed hate, and his face showed tolerant
understanding of their jealousy.

He pulled Tros forward by the arm and made them kiss Tros, too.
There was no way for them to refuse without open violence to the
laws of British courtesy. Then he had them greet and give the
curt, perfunctory embrace to every one of his escort, taking each
one by the arm in turn to name him.

"So that is good. Tonight, at least, there will be no stabbing in
the back," he laughed. Before they realized what he was doing he
had taken precedence and was following the old Lord Druid to the
dais and the round table where five other druids already waited.
So because he drew Tros with him arm-in-arm, he and Tros had
seats on either hand of the old prelate with druids on either
side of them again. The other kings had no choice but to take the
remaining seats, some with their backs to the two long tables.
Druid and king alternated all around the table, none challenging
Tros's right to royal honors, although Gwenwynwyn of the Ordovici
scowled at him and took offense when he laid his jewel-hilted
sword beneath his chair.

"You--you should have left that outside," he objected.

"Not with you near!" Tros retorted. They two were foes by
instinct, without given cause or reason, which is the deadliest
kind of enmity, the easiest to fan into a blaze, the least
responsive to the efforts of any peace-maker.

When the followers of all five kings had elbowed and quarreled
enough and had all found places at last at the two long tables,
with monk-robed druids behind them to act the hospitable part of
servingmen, there was a note struck on a golden gong, which set
the key for a hymn to Mother Nature, of which every man in
Britain knew the words from end to end. The old Lord Druid led
the singing, but grew silent after the first few measures. The
choir in the gallery wove harmonies under the carved ceiling
beams. The gentlemen-at-arms and serving druids thundered the
refrain. Then silence, and a blessing from the old Lord Druid
in a voice that sounded like the rolling of the wheels of
golden destiny.

Druids lit the sconces then, as if that were ritual. There was a
rutching of the benches as men took their seats, and silence,
broken only by such noises as a man must make if he chews meat
with an open mouth and breathes through his nose because his
mouth is full; that, the clatter of plates and the opening
and closing of two doors, through which the druids brought
endless quantities of things to eat. All hungry. All on
their best behavior.

At the round table the silence was almost agonizing, each royal
guest staring at Caswallon and Tros between mouthfuls, doing his
best to stare them out of countenance and getting better than he
gave, until the Lord Druid spoke at last and loosed their
tongues. There was none, unless possibly Tros--he lacked the
Celtic sense of reverence--who would have dared to speak until
the prelate had spoken first.

The old man merely asked Caswallon how the roads were on the way
to Lunden. But, that being Britain, the dam was down then and
there began at once a crossfire conversation about horses,
hunting, fishing, scarcity of wild geese and the quality of last
year's oat crop. Babbling noise from the lower room told that the
gentlemen-at-arms were also talking horse. Minute after minute
the whole atmosphere grew friendlier.

Caswallon told a story about a favorite mare of his that bore two
foals, both skew-bald, and how the three together drew his
chariot until the Romans came and they were drowned in the surf
"all three fighting with their teeth against Caesar's legions."

Gwanar, king of the Iceni, capped that with a story of a stallion
that carried a fat man from sea to sea, the breadth of Britain,
without rest or food. Not to be out-boasted by those two,
Gwenwynwyn of the Ordovici told of a giant among his people who
could lift a grown horse on his shoulders and carry the
struggling beast from one town to the next.

Thereafter Tros told of sights he had seen by land and sea, and
that was entertainment to which even the Lord Druid listened
eagerly. He spoke of the Pharos lighthouse, visible on a dark
night from seventy miles away at sea,* whose giant lenses were of
glass, made in Arabia, whose flame was from a rare oil found in
the earth beyond the eastern Euxine shore, whose marble tower
contained an engine worked by steam that hoisted the fuel and
supplies out of boats in the sea below.

---------
* Doubtless Tros exaggerated.
---------

Then he told of the fane of Diana at Ephesus "all overlaid with
silver," and of the temple at Jerusalem "of cedar and gold and
stones ten cubits long," where, on feast days, it took from dawn
to dark to slay the sacrifice, so many hecatombs of beasts were
brought. And he spoke of King Ptolemy's palace on the Lochias at
Alexandria "all hung with silk from somewhere east of the rising
sun." He spoke of the wealth of Egypt, of the corn-ships that
sailed in fleets bearing grain by the million bushels.

And presently the Gaulish wine began to flow, the druids
only sipping theirs, but the five kings drinking deep. The
gentlemen-at-arms were served with mead, and not too much of it.
Drunk or sober they would not dare to offend the druids, but with
too much mead in him, a man might forget wherein offense
consists. Tros added water to his wine and noticed that the old
High Druid did the same.

In course of time, when the edge of a winter's appetite was
dulled, the minstrels tuned their harps, each king's musician
striving to excel with songs about ancient heroes. But as soon as
each song was finished the druid's choir in the gallery sang
sacred harmonies that took the fight out of the gentlemen-at-arms,
restoring them to more or less subdued exhilaration.

Then, when enough wine had been drunk at the round table, the old
Lord Druid made a signal and an attendant in the gallery struck
the golden gong. He arose in the silence that followed, blessed
them with murmuring lips and ancient ritual of movement, then
stood for a moment with eyes gazing, as it were, through walls
into another world. White beard falling to his waist, white hair
on his upright shoulders, he looked like Time himself.

"My sons," he began at last, "O Lord Caswallon of the Trinobantes,
Lord Tros of Samothrace, Lord Gwanar of the Iceni, Lord Madoc of
the Coranians, Lord Caradoc of the Silures, Lord Gwenwynwyn of
the Ordovici, noblemen of the escorts, priests of the Ancient
Mystery, we welcome you in the name of Fire, Air, Earth and Water."

His voice was a singer's, trained to stir the audience and play
on their aroused emotion as plucked harp-strings play on ears
awakened by the drum.

"This life," he said after a moment's pause, "this little life we
live, that flickers, burns into a man and flickers out again, is
but one grain of sand upon a seashore, one drop in all the ocean
of Eternity, one link amid the endless chains of lives we live,
living and dying, living and dying, as the tides flow, as the day
succeeds the night and seasons follow seasons in the cycles of
the law. O ye, who measure life by hours and years, I bid you
heed Eternity."

Thereafter, following a long, dramatic pause, he spoke of manhood
and its debt to Mother Nature; he praised bravery and courtesy
and all the qualities of mind and body that the Britons held in
high esteem, until their eyes burned at the thought of heroes who
had died defending homes against the raider, and a stir, like the
breath of a breeze among trees, went through the audience.

Then, subtly, as he wove his words into a skein of golden music,
thrilling them with pride in their high birth, and their descent
from gods who walked on earth with men, he began to sound a
warning note, at first a mere suggestion, then a hint.

"Last night I saw a falling star. Take heed lest ye fall."

That note set the key to his conclusion. He denounced all strife,
but first and foremost all internal strife. He told them that the
fate of Gaul, downtrodden under Caesar's heel, was due to the
Gauls' unrighteousness, their quarreling among themselves, their
deafness to druidic warnings and their listening to unwise
agitators who had counseled them to take the sword instead of
communing with the gods "who know men's destiny and are nearer
than a man's breath, closer to him than his thinking."

He wetted his lips at a cup of amethyst and dried them on a linen
towel passed to him by an attendant, then continued:

"Take not too much upon yourselves, nor trust too little in the
gods who upreared Britain from the sea. The Gauls have fallen.
They have made their druids suffer for their sins. Take heed lest
ye do likewise."

Then he blessed them sonorously, kings and all their followers
standing with heads bowed. The druids in the gallery chanted a
response; and then he led the way in silence, followed by five
kings, by Tros and by the five druids who had sat at table with
them, through a door on the right of the dais into another room
to hold the conference.





CHAPTER XLIV

CASWALLON'S ULTIMATUM

As the wind bloweth, I go now, and ye know not whither. With
a warm breath I have blown upon your seedlings. I have blessed
you as the warm rain. Aye, and from the northeast, icy and
stern was the blast of my indignation against the weeds of
treachery--against the waste of your unclean furrows and the
falsehood of the broken barns, wherein the mice ate the seed I
gave without stint. Now look ye to the harvest, for I go, and
neither tears nor bell nor burning sacrifice shall summon me
again to teach anew what I have taught so often that your
ears are weary and ye are fat from hearing but not doing.

--From the Sayings of the Druid Taliesan



It was a large room, hung with embroidered woolen draperies,
containing a fireplace nearly as large as the one in the hall
they had left. Twelve high-backed chairs, gilded and carved, like
thrones, were set in a wide semicircle facing the hearth. A druid
signified to each guest which his chair should be, and then the
Lord Druid sat on the one in the midst that was raised on a stand
six inches higher than the others.

Tros, with a druid beyond him, had a chair near the hearth.
Caswallon faced him in the end chair on the right. Kings and
druids alternated, with Gwenwynwyn of the Ordovici, dark-faced,
bottle-nosed and sly, on the old Lord Druid's right.

For a while they sat and warmed themselves in silence, all apparent
good-will and well-fed contentment, except that Gwenwynwyn's smile
foreboded trouble, and the shorter, dark-haired king of the Silures,
Caradoc, watched him nervously, as if he were pledged to a certain
course and dreaded it.

At last the old Lord Druid broke the silence, elbow on the
chair-arm, cheek on hand, his voice as gentle as if he spoke to
respectful children:

"My sons, I will speak of something that is simple, yet too
easily forgotten. There were Britons in Britain before your
forebears came. Ye call yourselves Britons without knowing why or
what the word means. Some of your forebears came here from the
eastward, crossing the sea in big flat-bottomed boats, because
they were driven forth by men who had no liking for their strange
gods. Here they found a swarthier, gentler people. Some they
conquered, and with some they made treaties, living in armed
suspicion side by side with them.

"Now this is a mystery. Ye all say ye are Britons, except the
Lord Tros, whose father was a Greek, and yet whose mother was as
much a Briton as the rest of you."

Tros stared. His father might have spoken to the druids of Gaul,
who, in turn, might have told the secret to the British druids.

"Ye know how rivers run," the old man went on in his gentle yet
majestic voice. "A trickle, then a brook, then many little
brooks, and then, at last, the river rolling seaward. All of it
drops of water, rolling whence? Some rivers split and flow along
two courses to the sea. Yet they are one and the same river, and
the water comes from the self-same brooks, mingled and blended
together, even as men are mingled and blended together from many
sources, and become a race that flows on to its destiny.

"The Lord Tros's mother was of the race from which many of you
who call yourselves Britons, are descended. It is the mothers who
bear the sons, who are the channels in which the streams of human
races run.

"And now I will speak of a greater mystery. They who had invaded
these isles found here an ancient wisdom, older than their own
idolatry. Lo, it had been always in the world. Their very ancient
ancestors had known it, but had fallen into darkness. It was
ancient. It was wise. And it reabsorbed them. They were as
children coming home. They abandoned all their false gods, even
as a river's branch goes wandering, and comes back to the stream
at last.

"Now, yet another mystery. There were conquests here in Britain
long before your forebears' time. The swarthier tribes they found
here had themselves been conquerors in their day, coming from the
south, so long ago that none remembers when; yet the tribes whom
they found, themselves had come centuries before they did from a
continent that disappeared under the sea, because the guardians
of the he law grew weary of its wickedness.

"Yet even they, who came from lost Atlantis, found, already here
before them, druids who preserved the ancient wisdom. The ancient
wisdom took them to herself and prospered them until they lost
the key. Then others came, then others. Stronger men forever
replace weaker men, as spring prevails over the decaying winter
and as winter in its turn destroys the autumn foliage and covers
all with snow. But beneath the snow life lives. None slays life,
although he kills the body. None slays wisdom, though he act
however foolishly.

"So they who were the keepers of the ancient wisdom, whom ye call
druids--though there was another name for them in those
days--prevailed over all conquerors, simply because of wisdom,
forever forfeiting the semblances as trees let go their leaves
when winter comes, but husbanding the sap in which lies the
secret of life.

"Men who were mighty men of war found they must come to the
druids for wisdom. The druids knew that conquests and reconquests
are a little matter, being no more than the ebb and flow of tides
within the tides of evolution in the destiny of man. They were
able to give wise advice, well knowing that tides can come and go
without blood poured on the rocks of hatred.

"The conquerors learned to listen, and grew spiritual in the
paths of peace. Men die. And races die. The very rocks die, and
are turned into tree-bearing earth, drenched by the rain and
washed by streams and rivers to the sea, to become who knows what
future continents. Those rocks that endure the longest, in
the end are broken by the builder, by the icefield, by the
earthquake. Even the sun will die when it has run its course,
until a time shall come when even the sun is born again.

"What dies is but the outer shape. When ye are dead, ye are
reborn into another mold and even the dead mold ye used is
shredded up into its elements and used by trees and what not else
in the unceasing alchemy of nature.

"And now observe--a tide comes. Shall men resist it? Rome comes
on a tide of destiny--an old wolf, wise in war, serving and
served by evil. What did it avail the men who fought your
forebears? To this day they are slaves, a subject race. Yet,
notwithstanding, such small vision as remained to them, ye,
conquering them, have copied, abandoning the idols that your
forebears brought over the sea and honoring the wisdom we taught,
we, the druids.

"Had they not fought your forebears, they had not been conquered.
Not a druid would have died, impaled by the new invaders. Hear
me! It is not three hundred years since men, whose very names ye
bear, were hunting down the druids here in Britain. Why? Because
the blood-lust came of fighting. They believed the druids taught
the men who defended Britain to resist them with bloodshed and
anger. Whereas the druids taught the contrary, but they were
deaf, and would not listen. And so your forebears slew the
druids, even as the Romans do in Gaul and as they will do here in
Britain if ye offer them resistance.

"Our wisdom bids us think in centuries, whereas ye think in terms
of hours. So I say make peace with the Romans, for they come like
an advancing tide. If ye make peace, ye may absorb their strength
and, keeping peace, give no excuse to them to wreak their
savagery. Thus, we who serve the ancient wisdom may prevail over
their ignorance and, taking no account of time--which is a little
matter--conquer Rome in peace!

"If ye take arms against the Romans, it may be ye may hold them
for a year or five or fifty. But in the end they will overwhelm
you and their last fury will be ten times greater than the first."

He was speaking to Tros as much as to the five kings. They heard
him in breathless silence knowing he spoke of realities,
distinguished from the unrealities that impose themselves as
daily life. They knew that behind his words there was another
meaning, and an inner within that, to which none but druids held
the key. Not one, not even Tros, the son of an Initiate of
Samothrace, but that respected him as a man who walked with gods
and communed with them hourly.

But Gwenwynwyn, king of the Ordovici, rubbed his bottle nose and
sought to twist that pause to his advantage, he being one of
those who can see no profit to himself unless another loses. He
feared Caswallon's power. He hated Tros without rhyme or reason.

"Lord Dragon," he began, in a voice that was as soft and gentle
as his face was sly--for he came from the far west, many days'
ride distant beyond the mountains from a country where men's
voices were as musical as rain--"we ourselves know your words are
true and sacred. But I am told the Lord Caswallon helps the Lord
Tros to build a warship on the river nearby his town of Lunden. I
am told, too, that he lent him men to raid Gaul. Is that the way
to make the Romans treat us peacefully?"

Caswallon raised his fist to smite the chair-arm, but checked
himself respectfully in time.

"Lord Druid," he said, forcing his voice to moderation, "you
spoke of holding Rome at bay maybe for fifty years. That is a
man's life. Shall we not play each of us a man's part if we
resist the Romans that long? If I should leave my corner of
Britain free, I would not fear to meet the judges of the dead.
Did Fflur, the mother of my sons, bear men to wear the Roman yoke?"

The rebuke he received was swift and chilling.

"How free is your corner of Britain now?" the old prelate asked
sternly. "Are there no slaves?"

Gwenwynwyn laughed. Caswallon put his head between his hands and
sighed. But Gwanar, king of the Iceni, did not care to see
Caswallon grinned at by a man who came from so far to the
westward that one might almost say he was a foreigner. Gwanar's
way was blunt and bluff when the Lord Druid's eyes were not
directed at him.

"Why does the Lord Tros build the ship?" he asked. "What can he
tell us about that and about Gaul and Caesar? That is"--he had
caught the eye of Taliesan--"if your holiness permits."

Tros rose to his feet, and his sword that he had leaned against
the chair, dropped to the floor with a clatter that startled all
of them. "Lord Taliesan, lords of Britain," he began.

The five kings shuddered when he used the Lord Druid's name, but
the old man, leaning to rest his chin on a hand far whiter than a
woman's, nodded him permission to continue.

"Lord Taliesan, most reverend druids, lords of Britain," he began
again, "I am a blunt man. I am not schooled in subtleties of
discourse. I am used to shipboard, where the gear, aye, and the
wind and every detail of the ship is known by its proper name to
save confusion. I pray you bear with me if I call danger by its
right name.

"I have kept peace where the other man would let me all my days.
I have seen peace broken for the sake of plunder, for the love of
women and for revenge. Caesar, the Roman, adds thereto a fourth
way--ambition, greater than any the world has ever seen. Aye,
greater than Alexander's. He is learned. He is the first of
Rome's high priests.* Caesar can split with you the fine
hairs of philosophy and law. But he will come with legions and
tax-gatherers. And when he goes, it will be with chains of
prisoners, leaving his lieutenants to complete the harvest he
began, a harvest of money and slaves."

----------
* Pontifex Maximus--an office that Caesar held almost as soon as
he was old enough to wear the toga. Tros undoubtedly understood
that this office was mainly political, but he also knew that his
hearers, except perhaps the druids, did not understand that.
----------

"The Lord Caswallon is for making ready one more--one last time,
to smite the Roman legions when they set foot on the shore of
Britain. I warn you, you will lose all and, not least, your old
religion, unless the Lord Caswallon shall prevail over the Roman
when that day comes.

"I know Gaul. End to end I know it. I have seen, with these eyes
I have seen the druids burned alive by Romans, their own Gauls
not daring to prevent. Druids I have seen, tied hand and foot and
five together, roasted over slow fires while the legions cheered."

There was a chorus of sibilant ejaculations. Not a king there but
would rather die in agony himself than see a druid harmed. But
the old Lord Druid nodded to Tros to continue.

"I came to Gaul to help the druids. For the druids' sake my
father died, tortured to death by Caesar because he would not
tell Caesar the druids' secrets. I am no favorer of bloodshed,
but I warn you, you must save this Isle of Britain from the
Romans, or the ancient wisdom that your druids serve will become
but a myth, a memory. Men will know no more of it.

"Rome tolerates all creeds, all priesthoods save and except that
ancient wisdom. She guts, defiles and burns out by the roots
whoever and whatever teaches that Rome--rotten, bold and
greedy--is not immortal, the beginning and the end.

"Water will rust iron," he said, looking straight at the old high
priest. "I know, none better, that if the Romans conquer Britain,
and though they rip the carcasses of all the druids into bleeding
clay, or throw them living into the arena to be burned or torn by
dogs, the soul of your religion will persist. In the end it will
weaken Rome, as water corrodes iron. But the water will be
stained, poisoned until none can drink it."

He paused, looked at the five kings one by one, and then again at
the white-haired Taliesan.

"I saw a man in Syria, who knew the secret of the fire. He
carried hot coals in his hands. He walked on a bed of burning
charcoal. He was unhurt. Scornful of men's ignorance or, it may
be, pitying them, he bade them do the same. Some listened.
I have seen the burned hands and the tortured feet of men
who did obey him.

"You see me. I am a navigator. I can sail a ship through storm
and darkness, leagues beyond sight of land, and make my landfall.
Shall I laugh and bid a landsman do the same?

"I have seen the Lord Caswallon ride an untamed horse, sitting
the frantic beast as easily as I stand on a heaving poop or climb
to a masthead. Shall he bid me ride the horse because he knows
the trick of it?

"Shall a woman bid a man bear children?

"I have heard said and I believe you holy druids understand far
more of the laws of life than ordinary mortals do. I see that
kings pay homage to you. In all modesty I tender mine. And yet,
no doubt because you must, you keep those holy secrets to
yourselves as intimately as a woman keeps the secret of gestation
in her womb.

"Because and if you know how to prevail against the iron heel of
Rome, by dying, maybe as a tree dies that the seed may live,
shall ye bid men who do not understand your Mysteries to
do the same?

"Behold me. No man ever lived or shall live who can make me
strike one blow against another country's freedom. Saving your
holy presence, none shall stay my hand from striking against
Rome, if blow of mine can check that wolf-brood's cruel course!

"Slaves are there in Britain? Holy Taliesan, Rome eats slaves as
fire eats fuel! She imports them by the hundred thousand and they
die like droves of rats. They sell the women to be perched in
chairs along the mean streets to solicit passers-by. They send
the strong young men into the arena to die fighting one another
or to be tossed by bulls or torn by hungry brutes. They sell the
heart-broken and unresisting to the landowners to toil under the
lash on farms, thus forcing their own Italian freemen to become
soldiers, since there is no work left for them to do. The
soldiers go forth conquering more countries, capturing more
slaves, plundering more treasuries for gold with which Rome may
gorge herself."

He paused.

"I build a ship. By the Lord Caswallon's leave I build a ship. I
build her to defend myself against the Romans and to set forth
seeking some far corner of the earth that Rome has not polluted."

He stooped, picking up his sword and held it by the scabbard,
shaking it above his head.

"I crave peace," he said in his ringing voice that thrilled with
love of action. "My heart yearns for the sunlit skies, stars and
the open sea. It is enough for me to wage that war within me that
a man must before he may dare to hope for freedom. But I love
life. It pleases me to call no king my master and to bind myself
to obey no senate's bribed and compromised decrees. Of all
things, independence is my first love, freedom to go how, when
and whither I will. Yet I say this--"

He paused dramatically, lowered the sword and leaned both hands
on it.

"What I seek for myself, I will deny to no other man. What I seek
for myself, I will fight for another's sake. Myself, my ship, my
men and all I have are at your service, if you yourselves will
fight for your own freedom."

He sat down amid grunts of approval, and Caswallon spanked his
hand down on the chair-arm. But the druids sat still, and
Gwenwynwyn of the Ordovici, on the prelate's right hand, took
advantage of the ensuing silence.

"Why do they call it the dung ship?" he asked in his suave, soft,
musical voice.

And three kings laughed. Gwenwynwyn dropped more water on the fire:

"Myself, I have come a very long way to discuss peace in the
presence of the son of the Dragons. I could have heard the
dunghill cockadoodles at home."

"Lud's blood!" Caswallon was quicker on his feet than Tros, but
the old Lord Druid checked them both with no more than a gesture.

"No oaths here!" he said sternly. "No violence!"

They two sat down again, and both men looked ashamed.

"I have heard that the Lord Tros consults sorcerers about the
dung and such matters as that," Gwenwynwyn added.

"Peace!" Taliesan commanded. "Lord Gwanar, let us hear your view
of this."

But Gwanar, king of the Iceni, came from Lindum where impenetrable
marshes to the south and eastward circled and divided up the
pasture land. So were men's minds, definite and plain in some
things but venturing with caution onto unknown ground. He rose
to his feet:

"Lord Druid, might we hear the Lord Caswallon first?"

The prelate nodded. Caswallon rose, the firelight showing up
the woad-blue patterns on his white wrist as he twisted his
moustache. Anger blazed in him when he met Gwenwynwyn's eyes, but
he controlled it when the old Lord Druid frowned.

"Brother of gods," he began, then threw both hands behind him and
his chin up in a gesture of resolution. "Like the Lord Tros I
have sought peace, and I think you know that. I continue to seek
peace. But the Cantii, to the southward, look to me to help them
repel Caesar, who has sent ambassadors to me. I have not yet
answered those ambassadors, except with a challenge to Caesar to
fight me hand-to-hand, which they say they will not carry to him.
I think that if my brother kings would lend me men so that Caesar
should know we have an army too numerous for him to overcome,
then we might have peace certainly."

He sat down again and threw one long leg over the other, leaning
back to study the faces opposite. But Tros noticed that his wrist
was trembling. There was an explosion coming.

Gwenwynwyn, safe at the prelate's right hand, stirred the danger
mischievously, speaking in a voice as gentle as a child's.

"If we should send men, then we would have none to defend us if
the Lord Caswallon should try himself to conquer Britain."

The explosion came.

"Send none!" Caswallon answered, leaping up. "I want no
weaklings! You have no men strong enough to march the distance!
Let them wait there in the west until Caesar comes and carries
them to Rome in chains! I will be glad to see it!"

He paused because the old druid checked him.

"Lord Druid, may I speak? I will state this question plainly. No,
I care nothing about the Lord Gwenwynwyn. Let the Romans have him
and his people. I will say no more about him."

"Speak courteously," Taliesan commanded.

"Brother of gods, I speak in reverence," Caswallon answered. He
stood with bowed head, then looked up slowly. "You have said it
is not wise to resist the Romans. But I am the one who must feel
their heel first. I am a king and I must aid my people. I am
willing. Caesar has sent ambassadors. They offer me Caesar's
friendship. They offer to make me king not only of a part of
Britain, but of all of it."

"There! There!" Gwenwynwyn interrupted. "Didn't I tell you?
Didn't I tell you?"

"Peace! The Lord Caswallon speaks," said Taliesan. He appeared
unmoved, but he was almost supernaturally calm.

"Son of the Eternal Sun, I speak with reverence, but in despair.
What I must suffer, let these suffer with me! I will do more than
yield to Caesar. I will say to his ambassadors that he should
come soon, swiftly."

"No! No! No!"

Four kings were on their feet, gesturing indignantly, but they
sat down when Taliesan motioned.

"There," Gwenwynwyn interjected, suavely as a critic at a singing
competition. "He is Caesar's friend. I said so."

And Caswallon thundered at him:

"If I must be Caesar's friend to save the holy druids, then I
will be!"

Gwanar, king of the Iceni, rose at that.

"Watch me then! See how soon I will overrun your country! I will
burn Verulam and Lunden before ever you let Caesar come!"

"Who threatens? I will have no threats here!" Taliesan exclaimed
in a voice that brought utter silence. For a minute there was no
sound except heavy breathing and the crack of burnt wood falling
on the hearth. Then he nodded to Caswallon to continue speaking,
though he looked too tired to hear him.

"Lord Druid, I have done with threats. I speak of what is. Let
the outcome rest with thee. Rule thou my brother kings. Tomorrow
I will answer Marius, the Roman, and he shall say to Caesar one
of two things. Either he shall say, 'Come, Caswallon welcomes
you!' or he shall say 'Caswallon and his brother kings have
raised ten thousand men and will resist invasion!' That is my
last word. I speak with reverence."

He sat down. Tros nodded. But a great sigh came from the
white-haired Taliesan. Then a stillness fell, in which the
cracking of the burning logs was like the snapping of loud whips.
Red firelight fell on a dozen spell-bound faces, bearded and
unbearded alternating. The old Lord Druid's white hands gripped
the throne-arms. It was his turn next to speak. He and none other
could control those kings. In his hands lay the issue, peace or war.

They waited, hardly breathing. The firelight flickered. A
big log cracked, and fell among the crimson coals, tossing
a burst of sparks.

"He sleeps," said a druid, leaning forward, holding up a finger.
But the old Lord Druid stirred. Three times his lips moved, but
no sound came. Three times he grew rigid and relaxed, all eyes
observing. Then his head fell forward on his breast and both
hands slipped on to his lap.

"He is weary. He sleeps," said the druid again, but five kings
stared with frozen faces and none else said a word.

Tros moved from his place on tiptoe, passing through the shadows
behind the chairs, and leaned over the throne-back from behind.
None breathed. There was no sound other than the cracking sparks.
Then Tros's awed voice broke hoarsely on the stillness:

"He is dead!"





CHAPTER XLV

EOUGH, THE SORCERER

So ye accuse me? Ye say I stand between Eternity and treason.
A sorcerer lives, ye say, and the responsibility is mine.
Mine be it.

When was it that ye gave comfort to the people who are not
as ye are? But ye bid me to slay their comforter.

Him ye call a sorcerer, and me ye call a druid. They, though;
call him their prophet, and of me they speak fearfully, in doubt
and mistrust of the grandeur in which ye clothe my office.

In that their sorcerer brought them comfort that ye would not,
and I could not give them, he is greater than I and more noble
than you. Ye who bid me to slay him because he betrays the
Ancient Wisdom, have ye taught them any wisdom?

When did Wisdom ever rob the wretched of their hope and faith, in
order that intolerance might smell more rotten in the nostrils
of Eternal Mercy?

--From the Sayings of the Druid Taliesan



A druid, face whiter than his robe, took Tros's sleeve, drew him
into shadow behind the semicircle of chairs and faced him, his
hand on Tros's forearm trembling.

"Dead!" he said. "Do you know what that means?"

"It means war," Tros answered in a growling undertone. "Gone! The
last of the Great Druids! None to replace Taliesan! Go you"--he
took Tros feverishly by the shoulder--"go you to the dining-hall.
Keep silence. See that the kings' followers suspect nothing until
we decide what shall be told, and when and how."

"Another could do that better than I," Tros objected. "The
Lord Caswallon--"

The druid gestured with his head toward the firelight where five
kings knelt. That, plainly, was a family affair. Decency forbade
intrusion. Tros tiptoed to his chair, picked up his sword,
buckled it with a shake of the hips and shoulders. Then, not
glancing once behind him, he tiptoed to the door, unlocked it and
passed out into darkness.

There was a passage twenty feet long, with a door at the farther
end. He had time and opportunity to gather all his wits.

So when he emerged on to the dais in the dining-hall he had
managed to assume that carriage of the loins and shoulders of a
man who has accomplished, who awaits but the announcement of
success. It was a true stage entrance that he made, into the fire
and sconce-light. Babbling of tongues ceased. All eyes turned
toward him. A minstrel, strumming wandering airs, muted a chord
with the flat of his hand.

"Noblemen," said Tros, and his voice was confident, "I beg leave
to enjoy your company. The chief druids and your kings confer
about an offer I have made them."

His words fell flat. He knew why. He had come forth from the
conference unattended, which was such an unheard-of thing in that
land of ceremonious hospitality that it conveyed an impression of
something being wrong. Before any one could question him, he had
forestalled the question, head to one side, grinning:

"Your kings would let none leave the room with me, lest
I persuade him while their backs are turned! Shall I try
my eloquence meanwhile on your good company? Or have you
better entertainment?"

They had been growing rather bored with their own expedients for
keeping out of mischief. The druids appeared to have received
strict orders to keep them sober, so the mead, good though it
was, came slowly up the cellar stairs in parsimonious instalments.

Some of them were playing games with knucklebones across the
table. Others had been half asleep when Tros came in. All roared
to him for a story. Druids, calm-eyed and incurious, as much at a
loss as priests in general are to entertain men who would rather
be elsewhere or else drinking themselves quarrelsome, added
their voice to the chorus. Tros spread his legs, and began
without more ado:

"I wager you have never heard of Troy."

And he began to tell them that tale, alchemy of will recoining
Greek hexameters into the prose of Gaul while he stood there and
kept tragedy at bay. He concentrated all his intellect, his whole
genius. And he began by picturing the fair-haired Helen for
them as a British woman, whom each man present might have
known and loved.

No question that he held them. From the moment that he spoke
of Helen, blue-eyed, with the spun-gold tresses and the smile
like rosy morning on a white-capped sea, he had them by the
heart-strings and imaginations. All he needed then was music, and
a minstrel came unasked to sit on the floor of the dais, eyes
fixed on Tros's lips, and pluck suggestive harp-strings that
began to change the prose into a chant until Tros was singing,
almost before he was aware of it.

But he had not sung further than the rape of Helen--she had not
reached Troy--when a horn blown down the night wind, outside the
building and beyond the gate, brought every man in the room
upstanding. There came a clamor on the great gate bell. Men's
voices raised in anger, fear, haste, panic or some such emotion.
The rattle of bronze and squeak of an opening gate. Then
cantering horse hoofs and a thunder on the hospice door.

None spoke. Men looked to their arms that stood in rows against
the long wall opposite the hearth where a druid stood on guard,
his hand raised. None beneath the rank of king might wear his
sword in that place, and none dared disobey the druid. Four
druids hurried to the door; the rest dispersed themselves about
the room, ready to check too headlong curiosity.

The thundering ceased, and on a blast of wintry air that sent the
smoke billowing from the hearth, five Britons burst into the room
at the heels of a man who was neither Briton nor yet Northman,
but half of both. They shouted for the Lord Caswallon, but he
cried, "Tros! The Lord Tros!" with a parched throat, and there
was frozen slobber on his beard. He staggered, lurched into the
room, blinded by the firelight. Tros leaped from the dais and in
six strides had him by the shoulders.

"Now then, Skell, what is it?"

Skell could not speak. Tros shook him, but the words cracked
in his throat. It was the five who followed Skell, who broke
the news:

"The Lady Fflur--raped--gone, the Romans have her!"

Turmoil! Such a roar as goes up when the battle ranks engage.
Tros seized a half-filled mug of mead and thrust the rim of it
between Skell's teeth, bending his head back by the hair, holding
his shoulders in the hollow of his left arm. Skell swallowed
half-a-dozen gulps, spat, broke his own news:

"Helma! The Lady Helma! Gone! The Romans have her!" Suddenly his
own fear for himself came uppermost. "Lord Tros, not my doing!
No, no! Not I! Skell was faithful!"

He vomited the mead on to the floor. Tros gave him more of it.

"Now speak," he said, "for this time I believe you."

There was too much stark fear in the eyes of Skell for anything
but naked tragedy to lie behind it. Never a man in that emotion
thought of coining lies. Truth he might not tell, but it would be
the truth as he conceived it.

"Speak!" Tros said again, and shook him, but Skell was losing
consciousness.  His eyes were glazing with the film that comes
of uttermost exhaustion. Hands pawed feebly at the air, knees
doubled under him, and what few words he murmured died in the
babel of hoarse British shouting before they reached Tros's ear.

And then Caswallon appeared, pale as a ghost from a tomb, the
woad-blue patterns on his neck and forearms standing out like
fretwork, back to the door to keep the other kings from bursting
through, his eyes ablaze with horror.

"Hold!" he thundered in his line o' battle voice that crashed
among the ceiling beams.

And there was silence for the space of ten breaths. Then the
hoarse voice of one of the five messengers:

"The Lady Fflur, gone, seized on her way to Merrow--Romans!"

There was thumping on the door behind Caswallon, but his hand was
on the bronze latch and there were no four kings in Britain who
could break his finger hold.

"Tros!" he said.

"Aye," Tros answered, "they have Helma too."

The blood crept back into Caswallon's face until the veins of his
neck swelled and his cheeks flushed.

"Britons!" he said. "The great Taliesan is dead. He died with the
word Romans on his lips!"

He let the latch go, striding forward to the dais edge, and four
kings came in a hurry through the door behind him, each as
phantom-pale as he had been. They were in time to listen, that
was all. Caswallon had the ears of that assembly.

"Sons of Britain!" he began. "Will you endure that Romans send
ambassadors to me to blandish us with words and seize my wife, a
king's wife, while my back is turned in conference with holy druids?"

There began a clatter of swords and swordbelts as the druid by
the wall gave every applicant his weapon. Small risk of a quarrel
now between the five kings' followers, and a chance, a hope at
any rate, that they would cut their visit short on receipt of
that emphatic hint. The laws of hospitality were adamant. Not
even druids could have asked them to depart.

"Britons!" Caswallon thundered. "What would you think of a king
who should submit to this indignity! This outrage! Rot me the
king who would endure the hundredth part of it! I lead against
the Romans! Who comes?"

They roared and, breaking the druidic rule, drew swords, stamping
their right feet until the floor shook and the ceiling beams were
thunderous with tumult.

"Britons!" yelled Caswallon. "The Lord Taliesan, the son of
Dragons, brother of the gods, is dead!"

Silence again, save only the murmur of awe-struck druids passing
somebody's commands in undertones. Caswallon dropped his voice to
a sepulchral note.

"These four, my brother kings, will bear me witness that the
great Lord Druid died in conference, his whole attention strained
to keeping peace with Rome! The gods have summoned him. He died,
the word unspoken. There is none now to advise us how the gods
would rede this riddle. There never was in our day one but that
grand Lord Druid, whom we loved, who could have told us how to
tolerate this outrage without losing manhood. Are we men?"

He paused.

"I will speak no word of vengeance in this holy place, this house
where my father lived, where I was born, that I gave to the great
Lord Druid. But I speak of manhood, that he praised this night to
all of you. The word he left unspoken, speak ye! The riddle
that he died before he answered, answer ye! Is it peace or
war with Rome?"

They drew their swords again. Eyes met. There was a long breath
and a thunderous answer:

"War!"

"War be it!" said Caswallon, turning to the four kings who had
had no say at all in that decision. He offered to embrace them,
and the first two kissed him with good grace. Gwenwynwyn of the
Ordovici, third in line, however, stepped back and his silky
voice sweetened the silence.

"A minute. Whose wife is missing? My wife keeps her household
modestly where I left her in Glamorgan."

Caswallon checked him with a gesture that looked like a blow
controlled in time.

"No arguments!" he said. "Gwenwynwyn, lord of the Ordovici, you
and your followers may go home!"

"Indeed, and we do!" Gwenwynwyn answered. "My brother kings bear
witness that the great Lord Druid spoke of peace. He died, having
spoken of nothing else than peace. He did not speak of hunting
other men's stray wives."

Gwanar, king of the Iceni, stepped between the two and threw an
arm around Caswallon's shoulder.

"The Lady Fflur is worth a thousand men and fifteen hundred
horses!" he said boldly. "So they shall go with you to Gaul if
need be."

"That is a new way to sell horses," Gwenwynwyn said in an aside
that could be heard throughout the room.

"Horses?" Tros exploded. He had left Skell in the hands of the
druids who knelt on the floor beside him, administering some kind
of drug. Caswallon's messengers were talking to excited groups.

"Who has ships? My man Skell says the Lady Fflur, my wife and
seven slave-women, along with eight or ten of their escort, were
seized on their way to Merrow by a party of Romans dressed like
Gauls. Marius and Galba--"

"Who went in pursuit?" Caswallon interrupted.

"Skell says half the countryside."

Caswallon barked for his own five messengers. They left the
groups and came to stand in line before him.

"Sieves!" he said, scowling "Tosspots! Bottomless buckets
of gossip!"

He forgot that he had given them no opportunity to tell their
tale to him direct. Now they confirmed what Tros said, adding:

"Pursuit started late. One of the slave-women gave the Romans the
slip and made her way to a farmhouse. A man put her on horseback,
and they killed both horses under them. He rode to Lunden, she to
the shipyard. Sigurdsen found a horse for Skell and sent him
hotfoot, because of all in the shipyard only Skell knew the way
to Verulam. We overhauled Skell not a mile from here."

"One more such service, and I set Skell free!" Tros muttered.

"Lord Caswallon, come and look at the horses if you think we
wasted time," urged one of the messengers.

"Horses? Ships!" Tros exploded again. "That honest Marius had
this planned from the beginning! I will wager all my shipyard to
a broken wheel that the Romans had a fast ship waiting in the
port of Hythe. The Northmen burned Hythe. There would be no
Britons there. They can't rebuild the place before spring."

"No," said a messenger. "The slave-girl told us they were headed
eastward, toward Thanet, maybe."

"Quick, then!" Tros was thinking instantly in terms of wind and
tides. "To the south coast with a hundred men! Take ships and
head them off. Get between them and Gaul!"

"No ships," Caswallon answered with a gloomy shoulder shrug.

"All hauled out for the winter, cordage laid away. My Lunden men
may overtake them before they reach Thanet," he added, trying to
speak hopefully.

"Not they!" Tros answered. "The Romans are good on land; they lay
all plans carefully. It is only at sea they are duffers. It might
take them a week to reach Gaul from Thanet unless the wind backs
to the northeast."

"Which it will," Caswallon said.

"Which it will," said Gwanar, king of the Iceni.

Tros knew they spoke the truth. The marvel was that a Roman ship
should have reached Thanet in winter time in the teeth of the
prevailing northeast gales. Yet there could be no other possible
solution of the riddle. Neither Marius nor Galba would have taken
flight unless a ship were waiting to carry them back to Gaul. It
would have been absolute madness to carry off Fflur and Helma
unless they could convey them out of reach. Fflur's and Helma's
value would be as hostages in Caesar's camp.

"We waste time," Caswallon said. "Who comes? Gwanar"--he turned
and looked into the eyes of him of the Iceni--"will you send me a
thousand men?"

Gwanar nodded.

"You must feed them," he answered.

Tros, hands behind him, grinding his teeth savagely, strode up
and down the dais. Ship not yet half-built, young wife in
Caesar's hands, friendship to Caswallon pledged, the bireme he
had won from Caesar three parts broken up, all useless, and no
British ships available or even seaworthy, supposing they could
be fitted out within a week or a month or three months. A
fine predicament.

"Fool that I was to take a woman to myself!" he muttered,
knowing, nonetheless, that he loved Helma and would bring her
back from Gaul or perish trying. He recalled his father's words:

"A woman is experience, a man's friend insofar that she provides
experience. Nevertheless, my son, experience is warfare between
soul and circumstance. The less a man is tangled up with
circumstance, the more he is his own master and free to
enlarge horizons."

Tros knew he was not his own master that hour and it fretted him
more than did the thought of being tricked by Caesar's jackals,
Marius and Galba. He felt like a man in chains. Had only Fflur
been carried off, he could have abandoned his own plans
cheerfully and have thrown his whole strength and resources into
an effort to help Caswallon. That would have been sacrifice for
friendship's sake, a satisfying, splendid course, whatever came
of it. But now he must abandon all plans and unite his efforts to
Caswallon's for his own sake, for his own pride.

The love he had begun to feel for Helma he recognized as
something he might not repudiate and might not subordinate to
other considerations. So long as she was faithful to himself, he
had to set her first in his appalling host of obligations.

Suddenly he turned and took Caswallon by the shoulder. "Friend o'
mine," he said, "will you guard my back if I pluck these
chestnuts from the fire for both of us? Lud rot these other
kings! They stink of jealousy! Gather your thousand men, ten
thousand, any number. But guard my shipyard while I out-speed
Caesar! Should I fail, you will have the men to follow up with;
though the gods alone know how you will ever carry them to Gaul!
Speed is the first consideration, speed the second, speed the
last! Will you trust me?"

"As for that, I have ever trusted you. Let us go. We will talk on
the way," Caswallon answered.

But that was Britain. They could not take Roman leave as Marius
had done. There were farewells, ceremonious and long-drawn
blessings from the druids, and a midnight invocation to the gods
who had summoned the great Taliesan at last to impoverish men's
counsels and enrich their own.

"Him whom we revered, treat ye, O Powers of the light that burns
in darkness, with all honor and all gentleness. As he poured
wisdom on us, pour ye your love on him."

Then away under the frosty stars, Caswallon driving faster than
his gentlemen-at-arms could ride and Tros beside him huddled
against the wind that nipped face, feet and hands, Caswallon
tossing down to Tros disjointed scraps of conversation.

"None to replace Fflur, and Caesar knows it!"

Then presently:

"None to replace Taliesan. The gods know that!"

Silence, and after a while:

"Taliesan could have solved it. _Hi-yeh! Hup!_ Lud love 'em, but
the druids keep fat horses! We'd have done better with my own
tired team."

Silence again, the trees like phantoms flitting by, steel stars
overhead, no clouds, but a wind that cut like a whiplash. Then:

"I would have listened to Taliesan. If he had answered one word.
But he didn't, and now Caesar's answer comes. War! So be it."

He made harsh noises with his teeth that sent the horses
headlong, faster than ever. The din of the escort galloping
behind grew more remote. Tros beat his fingers on the wooden rail
that topped the basketwork. Presently Caswallon again:

"These horses are like snails! And Fflur in the hands of Marius!
Will he dare insult her? Will he dare--"

Noises in his teeth; then whip and a furious charge at a
watercourse where the cat's ice crackled at the stream's edge and
the water raced among the singing stones. A bump that made Tros's
spine tingle and his teeth snap, a shout, ice-cold spray that
froze on the face and on the chariot side, a swift succession of
swaying jerks, and they were up the far bank, Caswallon easing
the team to a canter to let them recover wind. Then:

"No chance of learning anything this side of Lunden unless they
sent a messenger to meet us. Left or right, nobody'd know anything."

"Yes," said Tros.

"Who?"

"Eough."

"The sorcerer? Lud save us, Tros! From Taliesan's death chamber
to the charcoal-burner's wizard? What next?"

"Any lee in a gale!" Tros answered. "Eough can help us. I sent
him a full firkin of new cod's oil less than three days gone.
Turn out when you come to the track that leads to Eough's place."

"We passed it long ago."

"No lies to me, Caswallon! You and I are too good friends, and
you too much the man for that game! Turn out on the road to
Eough's. I'll swallow the blame for sorcery, which frets
me not at all. Good Taliesan is gone. We must make the best
of evil Eough."

"A mad night! Lud's blood, a mad night!" Caswallon muttered. But
when they reached the mound-encircled roadhouse where the teams
were changed he sent all of his escort except Orwic ahead of him
along the road to Lunden, giving no excuse except that they
should gather news and have it ready for him against his coming.
Tros pulled Skell down from behind a Briton's saddle and ordered
him into the chariot.

"Skell knows more than he has told," he muttered, stamping his
feet to warm them.

"Lud's liver! What would my men say if they knew I rode to
Eough's on such a night!" Caswallon remarked, examining the fresh
team, tightening a bridle. "Orwic, druid's curses on you if you
tell what you shall see tonight!"

But Orwic laughed. His youngsters' generation lacked a good deal
of its elders' piety.

"I am all for seeing sights," he answered, mounting a ramping
stallion that swerved away from him. But he was in the saddle
quicker than the squealing brute could move. "Lead on. This is
cold work, waiting."

For about three-quarters of an hour they followed in the escort's
track, then suddenly Caswallon swung the team around a clump of
oaks and drove full gallop into the gloom of a sighing forest.
No stars now. There was hardly a glimpse of sky between the
swaying treetops. Only a gloom that even Tros's eyes hardly
penetrated--black, solid night on either hand, that breathed of
dry leaves. Ahead, a winding trail that took the whole of
Caswallon's woodcraft and all his horsemanship to follow. He
drove headlong, leaning forward, crying to the horses.

Once when he pulled up sharp at a fallen tree before he plied the
whip and jumped it, Orwic, thundering behind, reined in the red
stallion with forefeet over Tros's head. Once they plunged into
an icy marsh, and Orwic's stallion had to be hitched to help the
struggling team toward a bed of rushes, whence they staggered
back to firm ground. And once both horses fell in a frantic heap
on the ice at the edge of a watercourse. The twisted harness had
to be untangled in the dark, both horses kicking blindly and
Caswallon laughing nervously as he hove them to their feet by
main force.

"Not so bad," he commented. "I had expected worse than this!"
Then on again, full pelt beside the brook where pollard willows
looked like goblins in the wan gloom and the rabbit holes,
between the patches of refrozen snow, were a maze of unseen
danger underfoot.

Both chariot horses limped when Caswallon reined at last before a
thatched mud hovel and Orwic, leaning from the saddle, thundered
with his spear butt on the oaken door. Caswallon got down,
feeling the horses' forelegs, and there was a long wait, no sound
from within the hut, until Orwic wheeled his stallion away and,
retreating twenty or thirty yards made ready to charge and smash
the door to splinters. It was then that a voice from an oak tree
called to them.

"What damage have I done you? Why break my house?"

It was a voice as clear and ringing as a young man's, with a note
of anger in it and no reverence. Orwic rode under the tree and
poked among the branches with his spear-point.

"Come down, and tell us where to find Eough!" he shouted.

"I can tell you that without coming down, and you can't reach me
with the spear!" the voice retorted. "Caswallon, the king, Tros
the ship-builder, and Orwic, the coxcomb! Come from seeing the
Great Druid die! Blind as bats in daylight, all of you! I know! I
watched the heavens from a treetop."

"Come down!" commanded Orwic.

"Get an ax. Cut down the tree!" Caswallon ordered, blanketing the
horses. That would have been real generalship, except for one or
two facts. The tree, for instance, was eight or nine feet thick,
and there was no ax.

"Come down, Eough, or I will send Skell up after you!" said Tros.

"I am not afraid of Skell, who is afraid of me!" the voice
retorted.

"Oh, very well," said Tros, and began to pull his cloak off.
"I'll come!"

"I can jump like a squirrel from tree to tree. What do you want?
Have you brought some fish oil? Charcoal for fish, dung for oil,
nothing for nothing! Caswallon is a king. People who trust kings
deserve to be tricked!"

"My promise."

"Promise of Tros the ship-builder? Fish-Oil Tros. Smoked-Herring
Tros. Cod's-Liver Tros. Horse-Dung Tros. Very well, I'm coming."

He came with so little noise and on the far side of the tree that
he was on the ground before they were aware of it, a dwarf in a
jelly-bag cap and leather jerkin, with a beard to his middle and
long hair over his shoulders; in all respects a giant in
miniature--heavy, strong, athletically shaped, walking toward
them as if he owned the forest. The horses shied, but not at him.
When he whistled, a wolf came and fawned against his legs.

He made no remark, but went to the back of the hut and entered
through a window. Presently, from within, he opened the door and
stood there with a newly lighted fire blazing on the hearth
behind him. Smoke filled the room, not finding its way out yet
through the square hole in the thatch. With smoke and fire behind
him, he looked like a gnome from the infernal regions. Caswallon
made motions with his right hand and muttered invocations to the
Lords of Light.

"Kings who enter here must bow their heads!" said Eough. He
laughed, and slapped the arch of the low door. "High enough for
me! You big proud fellows stoop, stoop all of ye! Skell, the
squealer, Skell, the slave, Skell, the pirate's bastard! Leave
Skell to watch the horses. Lame horses, I must mend their legs.
Come on in. What are you waiting for? Caswallon, Caswallon, the
king is afraid! So would I be afraid if I hadn't the given word
of Fish-Oil Tros. Come in."

He turned his back on them, and they entered one by one into a
dingy cabin, marvelously clean but heaped with odds and ends.
Bags, hanging from the roof-beams, bulged with mysterious
contents and had to be dodged, although Eough's head missed them
comfortably. He set three stools before the fire, signed to his
visitors to sit down and himself stood with his back to the wall
in the one place where the smoke did not curl in stinging clouds.

He was apple-cheeked, and the cheeks were bright red, as red as
his cap, from exercise in the frosty night. Crowsfeet at the
corners of his eyes betrayed age, but he looked otherwise not
older than Caswallon, until he showed his hands, that were an old
man's, knotted with protruding knuckle-bones. His bare legs,
strong as oak boughs and as brown as oak tan, had not a
hair on them.

"Now," he said, "Taliesan is dead, and so you come to me. I could
have told you Taliesan would die. His time had come. I was up in
the treetop watching the conjunction of the stars. Kings and
fools don't understand such simple mysteries."

"What else did the stars tell you?" Tros asked, pointing at him
with his long, sheathed sword.

"Put that thing down!" He whistled the wolf and it came
liplifted, snarling. "You didn't come to ask me about stars or
about Taliesan, who was a good friend of mine, although you, you
fools, call me a sorcerer. If it hadn't been for Taliesan your
pack of hunting, drinking, swaggering madmen would have tried to
kill me long ago, but Taliesan knew the charcoal-burners must
have a wise man to guide them. Who will protect me now Taliesan
has gone? You?" he asked, pointing a crooked finger at Caswallon.

"Come to the point!" said Orwic, grinning, touching the dwarf's
breast with the point of the long spear. "Tros thinks you can
tell him something. Tell it!"

"You will protect me?"

"I have given you dried fish and fish oil, lots of it," said
Tros. "I want sulphur tonight."

"You shall have it."

"It was you who told me, a month ago, which way two of my runaway
slaves had gone. Tell me now where the Lady Fflur is, and
my wife Helma."

"The Romans have them. Any fool could know that."

"Where?"

But Eough shook his head. "I don't trust kings."

Tros looked at Caswallon, who screwed up his face in unconcealed
disgust. He was an easy-going king, but had his prejudices.

"He should have been roasted long ago," he remarked, and then
spat in the fire.

"Nothing for nothing," Tros answered. "Give him your protection."

Caswallon laid his face between his hands, sighed and looked
up again.

"I gave Marius protection," he said gloomily. "We waste time.
What can Eough say? Oh well, what does it matter? One rascal more
or less, Lud's mud! This is a mad night! Speak," he said,
frowning at the dwarf. "I protect you in coming and going, in
house and holding, so you break no common law."

"I witness!" Tros exclaimed.

"I witness!" echoed Orwic. Orwic grinned, he was enjoying it. The
expression of Eough's face hardly changed, although his eyes
seemed to hint at laughter.

"Sorcery is against your common law, and you call me a sorcerer,"
he answered. "If I tell you what I know, you will have me burned,
so I will tell you what the charcoal-burners told me. That is not
sorcery, is it? Are they sorcerers?"

"Speak!" Caswallon exploded irritably. "I protect you if you
speak, not otherwise. Have you the spear ready, Orwic?"

Before Orwic could answer or move, the dwarf had sprung for the
small, square window and had vanished through it.

"I don't trust kings! I will tell Tros what I know. Let him come
out here," he called from outer darkness.

So Tros gathered the cloak around him and strode out into the
night, stumbling over tree roots, feeling his way clumsily, his
eyes bewildered by the darkness after firelight. The dwarf took
him by the hand and pulled him in great haste, warning him when
to duck the branches, until they reached a rock and a tangle of
brambles that protruded through frozen snow.

Down under the rock they went into a cavern that reeked of fish,
and there they sat on empty barrels when Eough had lighted and
trimmed a lamp wick, Tros cursing the cold and the stench, while
his eyes tried to pierce the shadows in search of the sulphur his
heart desired.

"Now," he said, when the dwarf climbed a barrel and faced him,
"call it sorcery or call it charcoal-burners' gossip, but tell me
what you know about the Lady Fflur and my wife."

"Why not call it truth?" the dwarf suggested. "Don't you propose
to believe me?"

"Truth then. Go ahead, but tell it."

"Weeks, weeks, weeks, weeks, weeks--five weeks. Three Romans.
Two-and-twenty men from Murchan, king of Gwasgwyn.* A small ship
at the south end of the Isle of Thanet. Gauls and Romans all
dressed alike, Romans pretending to be Gauls. Can't fool me,
though. Can't fool the charcoal-burners. Two-score Gauls and
Romans waiting in the ship. Watch changed every hour or two.
Five-and-twenty, getting very hungry, lurking on the downs by
Merrow Pool, stealing sheep. Much trouble with the sheep-dogs.
Frightening the shepherds off with sheets tied to a pole. Marius
the Roman's barber staying at the gatehouse by Lud's Bridge; one
Gaul brings him messages; he tells Marius when he shaves him in
the morning. The king's wife, your wife, eight slave-women, two
other women, Marius, Galba, charioteers and ten-man escort--all
off to the king's farm near by Merrow. Simple enough. Ship
waiting, not too far. Charioteers dead. Four escort dead. Others
tied, taken along. All worth money over there in Gaul."

--------
* The modern Gascony.
--------

"Has the ship gone?" Tros demanded.

"Wind's good," Eough suggested, and Tros swore savagely. The wind
had backed to the northeast two or three hours ago. It would be
blowing a three-reef gale by morning.

"Why didn't you tell me all this before?" Tros asked him. "Why
should I?" Eough retorted, and Tros nodded grimly.

There had been no reason why an outlawed man should run with
information to a king who only tolerated him because the druids
had suggested tolerance. There was no real reason why he himself
should expect favors from the dwarf. Yet they had struck up
friendship on a fish-oil bargain basis, and he had learned to
value the dwarf's judgment as well as his knowledge of alchemy
and an almost superhuman skill in sifting news.

"You and I have been good friends," he said, watching the dwarf's
eyes by the light of the flickering wick.

"Nothing for nothing!" the dwarf retorted,  quoting him
against himself.

He was reading Tros's eyes quite as sharply as Tros could
read his.

"Certainly," said Tros, "but there are some things a man can't
pay for in one life."

"Oh, you know that?" said the dwarf. "Where did you learn wisdom?"

"I am on my way to Gaul to recover my wife and the Lady Fflur
from Caesar's hands," said Tros. "Will you come with me and bring
about fifty charcoal-burners?"

"Oh!" the dwarf exploded. "Oh! Who ever heard the like of that!"

He rolled sidewise off the barrel in a paroxysm of almost
inaudible laughter.

Suddenly he rested his chin on the barrel and peered into Tros's
eyes.

"Charcoal-burners! Me! What impudence! Who ever heard the like of
it! Why yes, we'll come!"

"I will pay you."

_"Na-na-nah!_ No bargains!" said the dwarf, pointing his
crooked finger at Tros's face. "You go for what you want.
I go for what I want. You find the ship and the food. I
find the charcoal-burners."

Tros began to hesitate. The dwarf's consent was too quick not to
imply trickery. His unwillingness to stipulate for payment, too,
was so unlike his usual method as to arouse suspicion that he had
some method in mind of paying himself handsomely. But outside
Caswallon and Orwic were filling the night with howls and shouts
to Tros to hurry.

"Can I bring a hundred men and all their women?" the dwarf asked.

"Bring as many as I can crowd into the longship, not one more,"
Tros answered. "Bring them to the shipyard now. No waiting. I
won't wait one tide for them. And bring sulphur, all you have."

"Tros! Tros! Tro-o-os! Where are you, Tros!"

Tros found his way out of the cave, but the dwarf lingered. The
wolf came and clicked jaws a yard behind Tros's heels as he
followed the sound of the voices. Caswallon and Orwic had
wandered away from the cabin in search of him. They crashed among
brambles and snow-covered roots, cursing Eough and sorcery and
all that forest.

When Tros found them the three together found their way back to
the chariot more by the sound of Skell's voice than by eyesight.
Eough--speaking in grunts to Skell--was on his knees in front of
the horses, rubbing something on their legs that stank like
rotten fish but, judging from the way they held their ears,
appeared already to have eased them. It might have been sulphur
and fish oil and something else, a smell Tros did not recognize.

"A mad night and a mad waste of time!" Caswallon snorted.

For a minute Tros did not answer. He was figuring in terms of ebb
and flow.

"Two tides and we are on our way to Gaul, that is, if you dare!"
he said at last.

"After such a night as this; I dare all hell!" Caswallon growled.





CHAPTER XLVI

EOUGH APPLIES ALCHEMY

Ye bring sacrifices and pray for a miracle to save you from the
consequences of your greed and evil-doing. But ye call him an
outlaw, a devil, a sorcerer, the enemy of Light, who taketh in
humility what is and therewith doeth what ye lack the manhood
to attempt.

--From the Sayings of the Druid Taliesan



Beacons, warning every man of fighting age to rally toward
Lunden, blazed on hilltops, growing pale against the dawn as they
neared the shipyard, where Caswallon set Tros down. He and Skell
walked the last quarter-mile of the distance.

"You are half a free man," Tros remarked to him. "One more such
service, and I will try to forget old treacheries. Nevertheless,
you have not yet told the whole of it. I hate a man who goes half
distances, brave one minute, afraid for his skin the next. You
have until we reach the shipyard to discover to me whether you
are my man, truly, or a mere scared, lower benchman, straining at
the oar for better food and less whip. Mind you, I can smell a
lie three leagues away!"

Skell eyed him sidewise as Tros, pretending not to see, was
perfectly aware.

"Lord Tros," he said awkwardly, his breath coming in startled
puffs on the frosty air, "a slave who was born free must make the
most of any chance to bargain for his freedom back again."

Tros spun on his heel and shoved him by the shoulders so that
they faced each other.

"You poor, miserable bastard, I will make no bargains!" he
retorted. "Master and slave, druid and layman, king and subject,
it is even so aboard ship. If a captain lets a crew drive
bargains, then the crew is without a captain, slave without a
master! Your duty is to me. My duty to use judgment. I will do
mine. Do you yours or suffer for it!"

Still Skell hesitated. Mightily he feared Tros. More than he had
ever loved a human being, almost, that is, he felt affection for
him. But he had too long trafficked in treachery, too highly
valued his own volatile adroitness to surrender an advantage
without stipulations.

"You said half free?" he asked. "I served you well tonight. I
nearly killed myself."

"Maybe better dead than half dead!" Tros retorted, laying a hand
on his sword-hilt. "Mine to give, and mine to take away! You are
no longer half free! Now speak. Say what you know."

Skell sighed and shrugged his shoulders. "There is not much
satisfaction in serving a man who--"

"There is satisfaction to me in being served well!" Tros
interrupted, cutting him short. "There is none in being played
with fast and loose! You have while I count ten."

Skell's eyes betrayed that he did not know what would happen when
the count of ten was finished. It was what he did not know that
conquered him. Given a certainty, his mind would have started
instantly devising schemes to take advantage of it. He had known
Tros long enough to know he would not kill a man merely for
disobedience, but he also knew he was a man of swift expedients.

"I was afraid to tell you," he stammered. "You have accused me
before this of treachery. You might do it again. I asked Eough.
He said to go ahead and tell you. So I made up my mind to bargain
for my freedom."

Tros was silent, stern-lipped.

"It was Galba"--Tros grinned savagely--"Galba in the shipyard,
under the lee of the sawing shed, hinted there might be an
incident, and opportunity thereafter for a man of tact to do
himself some good. He said if a certain person should be missing,
I would do well afterward to speak to you about it. He said I
should tell you then that you can have the person back by coming
to Gaul and making profitable terms with Caesar."

"Did he name the person who might disappear?" Tros demanded.

"No."

"When did this conversation take place?"

"In the afternoon two days before you left for Verulam. One day
after it was known that you would go to Verulam."

"And you, you dog! You never thought of warning me?"

They were not far from the shipyard. Tros drew a silver whistle
from his breast and blew three peculiar, sharp blasts on it.
There was instant noise and movement. The gate slammed. Conops
came running, with two Northmen behind him, all three breathless,
slipping and stumbling through the shallow snowdrifts.

"Put Skell in irons!" said Tros. "Fetter him hand and leg. Short
rations. Let him have no speech with any one."

They stared, for the news had gone through the shipyard that
Skell was lucky to have been chosen midnight messenger. However,
they seized him, asked no questions, hurried him away. Tros
strode to the gate alone and stood there until Sigurdsen came,
still pulling on his clothes.

"Sigurdsen, launch the longship! Don't tell me she's frozen on
the mud, I know it! Work her loose! Boil water, soften the mud
with hot fish oil, anything. Have her ready for sea tonight!
Steady now! Mark this--if you as much as whisper that it can't be
done I'll find me a new lieutenant! Put stores aboard for a
hundred men for one week. Set fifty Britons at once to spreading
pitch on her from stem to stern.

"Fill one of the waterbutts with charcoal. Put aboard twice as
much rope as you think we'll need. Take one of the bronze anchors
from the new ship and secure it close to the mast where we can
use the halyards to get it overboard. Bows and arrows, swords for
forty men, shields, axes. Leave the rest to me. Report to me when
the ship's afloat."

Tros went in search of the slave-girl who had brought the news.
She had heard his whistle and was already cooking breakfast
for him, weeping beside the hearth, tears dripping in the
sizzling bacon.

"You are free!" Tros informed her by way of greeting. "I will
give you the document. Now, now! No slavering! Get up! Put the
food on the table and talk while I eat. Stop crying or I won't
hire you."

The night's ride had sharpened his appetite. He ate enormously,
listening with grunted comments and curt questions to the woman's
half hysterical account.

"By the River Wey we waited while they watered the horses. The
Lord Galba was amusing the company on the riverbank, singing a
song about his own country. But the Lord Marius sat horseback on
a high mound, and I saw him take his helmet off and wave it. Then
men who looked like Gauls--but some of them shouted in the Roman
tongue--came running out of ambush and cut off those of the
escort who had not yet crossed the river.

"The Lady Fflur jumped into a chariot, but two men seized the
horses' heads, although she beat them with a whip. There was
fighting and men slain. The Lady Helma cried to me to hide and
then run for help. I jumped into the water where there was ice
among the rushes. I couldn't see much. I was half frozen and
afraid to move. Two men came and searched for me, talking Roman
to each other, but they could not wait long, and presently I saw
them ride away eastward, following the others.

"Then I ran until I found a farmhouse where the man said I was a
runaway slave and wished to hold me for the reward. But I
persuaded him, and he took two horses, setting me on one. So we
rode to Lunden, crying alarm to the few whom we met on the way.
But they laughed at us, and we had no time to stop and explain. I
came straight to Sigurdsen and he sent Skell."

"Well, you are free," said Tros, "and I will hire you for a wage
to be the Lady Helma's servant, so that you may earn yourself a
dowry and become an honest woman."

He strode out into the shipyard, where all was already bustle and
confusion. Shouts and an oily stench from where the longship lay,
announced that Sigurdsen had gone to work. There was a crackling
of wood under the cauldrons where the Britons were heating pitch,
and some of the Northmen were rigging tackles by the waterside
and passing ropes to a mooring in mid-river to help launch the
longship as soon as the mud was thawed.

Tros visited the biggest store-shed, calling to Conops to come
and unlock it, then summoning a dozen Britons to follow him
inside. He made them fill one barrel full of the yellowish
crystals he had dug from beneath Caswallon's stable. That and
twenty of the round lead balls he had made for ammunition for the
catapults, he ordered rolled outside into the yard.

"The druids," he said to Conops, "are full of wisdom in the ways
of peace. But for making war against Caesar, with only one ship
and a hundred men, sorcery seems better. When Eough comes,
let me know."

He was still greatly puzzled about Eough; half feared the dwarf
would not come after all, although hitherto he had always kept
his promises and had even made the charcoal-burners keep theirs.
He wondered why Eough should wish to go to Gaul and take a
hundred charcoal-burners with him, women too. It was a mystery,
he decided, and it was a part of his philosophy that the
mysterious evolves into the beneficial.

He could crowd two hundred into the longship in addition to his
Northmen to man the oars and the yards and the braces, although
it would be tight quarters. He suspected a hundred woodsmen, used
to outlawry and self-concealment, would be better against Caesar
than a thousand of Gwanar's men, provided only he could manage
them, which he might do with Eough's help. Whereas, not Gwanar
himself, still less Caswallon, would be likely to keep control of
a thousand Iceni and perhaps as many Trinobantes, even supposing
it were possible to land them on the coast of Gaul.

"Little man," he said to Conops, "I shall need you ten times
over. Yet you shall stay here and guard my half-built ship. Ten
of those hot stinkballs go with me. Ten are for you to keep. When
Eough comes with the sulphur we will mix the charge for them.
Roll me out a barrel of that resin. Set it near the other barrel,
so. Eough shall appoint you lord high second sorcerer. I give you
command over the shipyard, to guard it in my absence. He gives
you command over the dark powers of the underworld, in proof of
which, when the longship sails, you shall let off one hot
stinkball, taking care to keep up-wind of it.

"After that, I think, those Britons I must leave behind will be
afraid to disobey you. And there won't come too many visitors to
steal the fittings. I will leave you enough money to buy food
with, but buy only a little at a time. Buy hand-to-mouth, and let
the slaves know you are doing that. So you can refuse to buy at
all and they can all go hungry if you have any trouble with
them.  Glendwyr I will take with me. That hot-blood might
kill you otherwise."

Conops grinned sourly. "What have I done that you should leave
me?" he demanded.

"You have done well," Tros retorted. "The reward of doing well is
a more severe task, always. Attend to this one properly, and I
may send you to Caesar next, lone-handed, to cut his ears off!"

"Master, master! Let that woman Helma go her way!" Conops urged,
his one eye gleaming jealously. "You and I are not made for
marrying. Let Caesar have her. No luck, so long as we are tied to
a woman's skirt! One trouble on the last one's heels. Follow my
way and have a new woman in every port you come to, like a ship
tied to a mooring, that can let go when her captain pleases."

He stopped because Tros was grinning at him, more than because
Tros's fist was raised. But he ducked the fist, nevertheless.

"If you had two eyes, my little man, I'd knock one out for you!"
said Tros.

But though he stooped to pick up a lump of wood and made believe
to throw it, Conops stayed within range.

"Master, I'm right and you know it! Look at this now! A wonder
ship but half built, and a woman."

Tros hove the lump of wood, purposely missed him by an inch or
two, laughed and walked away toward where Sigurdsen was brewing
agonizing stenches, scalding the legs of men who did not get out
of the way in time and nigh breaking the backs of others who
hauled on anchored tackles at the word of command. Tros watched,
observed that the pitch was very nearly spread on the ship's
undersides from mud to waterline--for that job went swiftly with
fifty men--and ordered a sheerlegs carried up, three tree-trunks
set up tripod fashion with a great bronze block hung from
the summit.

"You'll break her back," warned Sigurdsen. But Tros preferred the
risk of that to more delay.

They passed the tackle to a capstan fifty feet away. Twenty men
on the capstan put strain on a sling under the ship's bow, easing
the ship's weight off the thawed ooze and, at a blow of the
whistle, all tackles worked together. The ship did not budge,
although dry timbers creaked and a tackle broke with a noise like
one of Tros's new catapults. Sigurdsen assumed a told-you-so
expression. But Tros doubled the crew on the sheerlegs, tried
again and, at the next attempt, the longship slid into the river.

"Now she will leak like a sieve!" said Sigurdsen. "There's no
pitch on her bottom."

"Pitch her inside then! Slap it on thick and throw sawdust on it.
We sail tonight."

There were a thousand things to see to, not least the new
half-finished ship that must be covered and protected in all ways
possible. Tros went up to examine the new deck that Sigurdsen had
started laying in his absence, and presently gave an order that
nearly broke his heart. He made them bring the newly finished
linen sails out of the sailshed and spread them tent-fashion over
the ship's gaping waist, with loose boards under them.

"They'll be ruined," he muttered, "ruined!"

But it had to be.

And then Caswallon, fresh from a council meeting, wanting
to be comforted.

"Lud rot them! They will offer gold for Fflur. They bid me send a
messenger to Caesar and demand what price he asks, and to tell
you to do the same for Helma. My Lundeners will pay Fflur's
ransom but not your wife's. Pursuit? Aye, three thousand men
turned out, and they've hung a dozen of my shepherds for not
reporting that Romans were lurking near Merrow. About a hundred
men reached Thanet in time to see the Roman's ship put to sea in
a gale. What shall I do, Tros? Lud o' Lunden, what a helpless
cockerel a king is, if his men won't fight! Will you take my
message to Caesar for me?"

"No," said Tros, stroking his beard thoughtfully as he leaned
back against an oaken prop that supported the great ship's hull.
"But if you can send a messenger to Gaul, who will start a rumor
that you will sail a week or two from now to have at Caesar with
ten or fifteen thousand men, do that by all means."

Caswallon laid a blue-veined white hand on his shoulder.

"Brother Tros, we must pay Caesar's price. My council say they
will not feed Gwanar's men, nor do they want Iceni quartering
themselves in our towns. They offer gold for Fflur's ransom, and
beyond that nothing. They loved Taliesan. They are thinking only
of his funeral."

"How much do they love you?" Tros inquired.

Caswallon hesitated now to answer that. Tros continued his line
of thought:

"If you should be a prisoner in Gaul or should be slain in Gaul,
how deeply would it stir them?"

"I don't know," Caswallon answered. "But I think that in the
spring they might send an expedition."

Tros laughed. "Buy back your wife from Caesar with your subjects'
money? If Caesar would sell, which I doubt, though he loves gold.
Sail with me, man! I sail tonight. Either I win back Fflur and
Helma or I die."

Caswallon's eyes gleamed.

"My son is too young to act as regent," he said, "but my
cousin Orwic--"

"Tonight's tide!" Tros said with deliberate emphasis. "Get that
messenger to Gaul if you can do it. Have him say that every
fishing ship in Britain is being prepared to go to sea."

Caswallon drove away for further wrangling with his council,
promising, if nothing else, to send that messenger. Tros went on
working like Force incarnate to make the shipyard safe, and to
provide sufficient plain, hard labor to keep his Britons out of
mischief during his absence. He did not much care whether
Caswallon should elect to come with him or not.

It was nearly nightfall when at last Eough came. It was a strange
procession that he led. Two hundred men and women, fifty
children, clothed in skins, all carrying wicker baskets in which
their miserably insufficient household goods were packed, trailed
behind Eough like a flexible long monster snaking through the
shadows. Those in front carried bags of sulphur in addition to
their baskets. All, even the women and children, had rough
knives. They reeked of fish oil, as if they had used up all
Eough's treasure on their skins before they came away. Eough's
wolf ran in and out among their legs like a shuttle weaving an
interminable pattern.

Tros observed them from the poop of his half-finished ship,
wondering more than ever what their willingness to go to Gaul in
winter-time might mean. He had promised them no reward, had
offered no inducement beyond that one proposal made to Eough.
There was something more than melancholy; there was a determined,
almost a religious air to their procession. They resembled ants
that he had seen in warmer climes, migrating from abandoned nests.

Conops, staring distrustfully, admitted them through the gate,
but though he gave them no direction, they seemed to know exactly
what to do. They filed toward the middle of the yard where they
squatted densely around Eough who stood in the rough circle in
their midst. He began talking to them, but his words were
intended for them and none else; his head and hand moved in
gestures of emphatic speech, but not even the sound of his voice
reached Tros.

They made no answering murmur to the dwarf's remarks, but sat
quite still and listened.

Tros sent them dried fish, carrots and cracked wheat. They
devoured the food, not eagerly, not even with a display of
interest, continuing to listen to Eough's speech. As gloaming
deepened they began to resemble ghosts attending a voiceless oracle.

"They make me think of rats that leave a ship," Tros muttered.
The thought made him shudder. Was he himself a rat, deserting his
own half-finished wondership? Was Caswallon a rat deserting
Britain? Was Britain doomed?

Presently he called Eough over to where the barrels stood,
bidding him bring sulphur.

"Mix!" he commanded.

Eough pounded the sulphur and charcoal separately, then mixed a
quantity of each with powdered resin and oak sawdust, adding the
yellow crystals afterwards. Tros took about a spoonful of the
mixture and ignited it in a far corner of the yard. It spluttered
as it burned. The stench nearly choked him and the heat, from
even that small quantity, was almost incredible. When he returned
he found Eough wetting down the sawdust.

"Try again," said Eough.

The stuff was harder to ignite, but jumped and scattered as it
burned, making a worse stench than ever. Satisfied, Tros filled
up one of the leaden balls with the preparation and inserted an
oil-soaked fuse into the hole. Then he filled the remaining nine
lead balls in the same way, stowed those where Conops could find
them in emergency and ordered the rest of the sulphur, resin,
charcoal and yellow crystals carried on board the longship.





CHAPTER XLVII

THE START OF THE MAD ADVENTURE

And if your cause be just, doth Wisdom bid you flinch because
the unjust tell you courage is folly?

--From the Sayings of the Druid Taliesan



It was bitter cold that night, with a bright half moon and no
more east wind than sufficed to stir a ripple on the surface of
the river. Caswallon came near midnight, swathed in furs,
accompanied by two of his relations and one serving-man, with
enough weapons between them to have furnished three times
their number.

Nearly all Lunden turned out to see Caswallon off, most of them
wishing him druids' blessings on his venture, all of them pleased
that he was running his own risk instead of taxing them to ransom
Fflur, but some of them crying farewell to him as if he were
sailing on his last adventure. His oldest son, yet hardly old
enough to use men's weapons, clung to him, begging and pleading
to be taken on the expedition.

"Nay, my son, and for the last time!" Caswallon answered. "Stay
here and obey Orwic. Study how to king it in my shoes if I should
die over there in Gaul."

Then Eough, under a beacon flare, with cries and weird ceremony,
investing Conops with underworld powers with which to guard the
yard while Tros was absent; Caswallon adjuring his people to let
the yard alone; Eough in person carrying the leaden ball into the
middle of the yard, dancing around it, chanting incantation;
Conops, torch in hand, as scared as any one.

Conops lit the fuse and hid behind a pile of timber in great
haste, although Tros had told him to withdraw with dignity. There
was a splutter, a great gasp from the assembled crowd, and then,
what had not been foreseen, an explosion. The bomb burst like a
thunder-clap, its stenching contents scattering far and wide. It
started three fires in the woodpiles, that had to be doused with
earth and snow by terrified British slaves, and the stench, even
out in the open yard, was suffocating, almost unendurable. The
crowd vanished, most of them pursuing runaway horses.

"Brother Tros, I fear this," Caswallon announced. His face was
ashen-gray. "Do we journey in league with all the underworld?"

"No farther under than the bottom of the horsedung in the cave
beneath your stables," Tros replied. "I never guessed that stuff
would burst. Did you send that messenger to Gaul?"

"He leaves Lunden tonight by chariot to Pevensey, thence in the
ship of Lomar, the tin merchant, who put in for repairs three
months ago on his way from Ictis and frets to reach Gaul, where
he can sell his cargo to the Romans."

Tros laughed.

"Let's hope he didn't see the hot stink burst. I'd rather he'd
hear of it. They'll magnify the story. He'll multiply it in his
head all the way between here and Gaul. By the time it reaches
Caesar there'll be talk of fifty thousand men on the way,
all armed with the guts of earthquakes and the foul breath
of Cocytus!"

Caswallon murmured, but the thought of Fflur had him by the
heart-strings. He was raised on ancient legend. High romance and
derring-do were of the breath he breathed. Knight-errantry,
however little practiced, lingered in the veins of every
well-bred man in Britain, that and a sort of fatalism linked to
faith in trial by ordeal. He proposed to confront Caesar,
challenge him in person. He had no other plan, left all else to
the Powers of the Unseen Universe that, he believed, took a
deeply personal interest in the affairs of men.

It was a mad adventure--only the wan moonlight on the Thames to
help them clear the mud-banks, Northmen at the oars, chanting a
low dirge about the fights of Odin, all the ship's waist stinking
with the crowd of charcoal-burners soaked in fish oil, and only
Tros at the helm with any notion what the plan might be.

And even Tros had hardly any plan at all. He only knew the half
moon promised him fine weather, and remembered that his father on
his death-bed, prophesied a long life for him on many lands and
seas, with many a brush with Caesar, that should end in his
becoming Caesar's more or less ally at last. As he believed in
death-bed prophecies, so he believed in giving prophecy an
opportunity to work.

"I undertake an enterprise of hazard, knowing a man can not die
until his time comes," he assured Caswallon. "My time to die is
not yet. Therefore I can not fail if I go forward."

Forward he went, down-Thames on the top of the tide, too busy
admiring the longship's motion and her easy steering to let
conjecture worry him. He had the gift of letting the past go,
living with all his faculties in each existing moment.

"The future," he said to Caswallon, "is the past reshuffled. Who
were the Gauls who helped the Romans carry off our wives?"

"The men of Murchan, king of Gwasgwyn who shall die, as I live!"
Caswallon answered.

"I remember, Eough said it."

Eough was at the masthead, watching stars, and nothing could
persuade him to come down, despite the cold and though Tros
shouted to him a dozen times that he could see the stars as well
from the after-deck. When he did come down at last, Tros gave the
steering oar to Sigurdsen and followed Eough forward to where the
graceful bow began its upward curve toward the high serpent
figurehead. There he cornered him.

"What have you seen?"

Eough shrugged his shoulders. No speech reveals an artist's inner
thought, and there were no words to tell what Eough had seen. The
shrug was helpless.

"Good or bad?" Tros asked.

"Some won't like it, but you can't change it," Eough retorted.

"For me, success or failure?" Tros asked.

"That depends on you," said Eough.

"For you, then--what?"

"Depends on me," Eough answered.

Suddenly Tros felt afraid, not of the dwarf but of the dwarf's
intentions. Eough sensed it.

"We will pay our fare. We are honest people," he said, blinking,
nodding, rubbing his legs to warm them.

"You mean your fare to Gaul?"

Eough nodded again.

"You will do my bidding?"

More nods, three in swift succession.

"Why do you wish to go to Gaul?"

"Britain is no more good for us. Taliesan is dead. There will be
war. We get behind the war, to the place whence it comes. In the
front of the war where the swords clash and the horsemen hunt men
for the sake of killing, it is not good for charcoal-burners."

"Then you won't return to Britain?"

Eough laughed on a high note like a small boy.

"Does a chicken return into the egg?" he asked.

Tros made his first mistake then. He returned to the stern of the
ship and took Caswallon into confidence.

"Migration," he announced, "like birds that fly south for the
winter, only these birds won't return. You'll have to find new
charcoal-burners around Lunden."

For a minute or two Caswallon refused flatly to believe him. As
the truth began to filter through the crust of his autocracy,
almost his very reason wavered. Rage burned into a frenzy.

"Throw them overboard!" he exploded, gulping. "Lud's liver! The
ungrateful, treacherous dogs! Leave Britain, and without our
leave? Bid your Northmen gut them! Swine! They have lived in our
forests, and we let them live, not even burning their ghastly
sorcerer, as we should have, but for Taliesan! This comes of
taking reptiles in place of honest men. Here--"

Tros had to restrain him forcibly. He would have leaped into the
ship's waist, sword in hand. He wanted to wreak murder on
unnatural ingrates. Not that he had ever loved them or rejoiced
in them as fellow countrymen. Far might that be from him! They
were not even tax-payers. The point was, they had no right to go
and ought to be killed for wanting to. They were vermin, godless
sorcerers and insolent, ungrateful swine.

He came near to fighting Tros, because Tros dared to protect them.

"I have a plan by which we can succeed with charcoal-burners
better than with all your armed men," Tros explained. "These
people have been hunted for generations. They are adepts at
concealment. They will not be noticed. None will suspect them.
They will be grateful to me for taking them to Gaul, and to you,
too, if you'll only let them."

But Caswallon would hear none of it.

"You will next ask me to be grateful to those swine!" he thundered.

Nothing calmed him until the tide turned and the ground swell,
aftermath of days of storm, pitched and rocked the longship until
the rising sun danced like a drunken partner to the figurehead.
The King of all the Trinobantes lay down then and vomited his
spleen among the lazy, laughing waves.

"Am I a fish?" he groaned. "O Lud! O mother of my sons, that you
should have brought me to this pass! Tros, brother Tros, I die!
_Whoooo-up! waw-hu-ep-ah!_ Bear me a last message to my wife. O
Fflur--_eeyuerup_--Ca-Caswallon dared the sea for love of you
and--_whooerreeup!"_

Eough massaged him until the blood returned to head, hands, feet
and vertigo departed. Caswallon threatened the dwarf with death
for touching him, but Eough persisted and Caswallon's own
attendants were too sick to interfere. At last the dwarf
contrived a fearsome draft of fish oil mixed with onion juice and
made Caswallon swallow it, forcing his jaws apart with iron
fingers, rolling him over on his back and holding his nose until
the mess was down. Caswallon retched and gurgled, but the
sickness ceased.

Before long he was sitting up and swearing like a gentleman,
rinsing his mouth with sea-water to change the taste, and
presently demanding food. Eough cooked it, using charcoal in a
sand box forward. And whether the roe venison was hung exactly
long enough, or whether Eough wrought miracles of cooking,
Caswallon voted it the best food he had eaten in a dozen years.

"You dog of a sorcerer!" he roared. "If shame didn't forbid, I
could forgive you!"

But Eough, sure of Tros's protection, cared not at all for kings
and went forward to mix ground sulphur with the crystals,
charcoal and resin with the sawdust, damping the lot with
sea-water and then filling the ten leaden bombs. But he did not
insert the fuses yet. He seemed to have a cautious reverence for
the offspring of his alchemy, which profoundly impressed the
whole ship's company.

Not long after dawn there came a light wind, biting cold but
favorable, and Tros set sail. Then, having set a course "with
the wind under the lobe of your left ear," he gave the steering
oar to Sigurdsen and lay down to sleep on a pile of sheepskins. But
Caswallon was in no mood for sleep and insisted on asking questions.

"I will tell you whither we go when the gods tell me! I will
sleep on it," Tros answered irritably.

But Caswallon did not believe in that kind of divination, any
more than Tros believed in discussing plans that were as
yet but half formed in his mind. They had to compromise, each
having half his own way, the plan not outlined, but the problem
definitely stated.

"I know Caesar," Tros began. He always began discussions of
Caesar that way. "He does his dirty work by proxy. If it
succeeds, he takes the credit; if it fails, he blames his agent.
They were the men of Murchan, king of Gwasgwyn who carried off
our wives. They will not go to Caritia where Caesar may be, but
will return with their prisoners to Gwasgwyn, where Caesar will
presently follow them, unless the gods prevent.

"But Gwasgwyn is far distant on the western coast of Gaul, so
this being winter time, two things are certain. They will not
travel all that way by sea, because of risk of storms. Nor did
they come all that distance by sea in the first place. Their ship
came from some harbor on the northern coast of Gaul, and will
return thither, whence they will proceed to Gwasgwyn overland.

"It would be in keeping with Caesar's character to pretend to
rescue our two wives from Murchan's men as the party travels
across country. Marius and Galba, you may be quite sure, will
hurry to Caesar's winter quarters by the shortest route, give him
all the necessary information, and thereafter hold their tongues
or say what Caesar puts into their mouths.

"Now we are not so far behind that Roman ship. They put to sea in
a gale, it is true, but with the tide against them. Later, the
wind shifted to the southwest. Then it failed. This ship of ours
sails half as fast again as anything the Romans have this side of
the Gates of Hercules. If they should go as far as Seine-mouth we
might even overtake them, although that is too good to expect.
They will make all haste. They will whip the oarsmen.

"I am hoping they will make for Seine-mouth, and I think that
likely because it would be an easy place for them to have
obtained a fairly good ship and a Gaulish pilot who would know
something of the course between there and Thanet. Caesar has had
hard work to find pilots who knew the coast of Britain, but I
know there was one such at Seine-mouth because I myself had
information from him last year.

"Calculating tides, the wind and one thing and another, I believe
they can not reach Seine-mouth much before tonight, near
midnight. At any rate, I think they will not sail farther to the
west than Seine-mouth, and we may be fairly sure they will make
some kind of signal before they reach whichever port they have in
mind. That signal will be answered from the shore. If it is
night-time, we shall see the signals, a flare from the masthead,
some sort of beacon on land. They will not see us, and I know the
Seine-mouth estuary. I can creep in unseen in the dark.
Thereafter, leave it to the gods, who I think are our friends,
not Caesar's."

Tros curled himself among the sheepskins then and snored in
answer to Caswallon's questions. Prods in the ribs took no
effect. Apparently he did not hear demands for information as to
what use charcoal-burners might be put to, and how he proposed to
employ the murderous, hot stinkballs.

But when, after two or three hours, Caswallon himself lay down to
sleep, Tros awoke as if by intuition, and, after conning the
ship's position, went up to the bow to talk with Eough. They
talked for at least an hour in undertones, whereafter Tros lay
down again and slept like a man without a trouble on his mind.





CHAPTER XLVIII

THE LIBURNIAN

Any fool can stir anger. Cowards, liars, hypocrites and thieves
can stir enmity. Ye need no manhood in the broth of vengeance;
its ingredients are on the lips of fools, and in the hearts of
the proud whose pride is meanness, and of the mean whose pride
is ill-faith.

But which of you can change anger into good-will? Which of you
can change enmity into friendship? That one hath manhood. Aye, he
useth it. The Lords of Life will not neglect to test him. He is
worthy, that one, of the hammer-blows of Wisdom, on the anvil
of life.

--From the Sayings of the Druid Taliesan


The wintry wind blew fair for them that whole day long, and the
Northmen slept in watches, resting to be ready for the oar work
if the wind should fail. When the half moon rose, it fell
calm--one of those rare, shimmering nights with stars like
silver, when the tinkling sea resembled polished glass and the
ice froze brittle on wet rope-ends.

Eough went to the masthead. It was Eough who reported three
bright beacons in a row, a mile or more inland, beyond the
shadowy low marshes. Seine-mouth estuary lay on the port bow,
many miles away. The tide was slack--about to set against them,
but also against the enemy, so be the enemy were there. They had
seen no glimpse of any ship, but Tros felt more than ever sure
his guess was accurate.

"When I sleep, the gods instruct me," he assured Caswallon.

But Caswallon, stamping his feet on deck to keep warm, breaking
ice from his moustache, was doubtful of that and of every other
article of Tros's faith, until Eough cried out again from where
he swayed, a motionless, small phantom, dark against the starlit
sky. "Two lights now on a ship's spar. One at either end!"

Caswallon saw them as the longship lurched over a silent swell.
"Out oars! Row!" he yelled excitedly. "Tros, get your hot stink.
engines ready! Lud! We have them! Luck o' Lud o' Lunden!
Row, you rascals!"

Distance was deceptive on that dark expanse of water. Tros
took thought.

"They could hear oars," he warned. "They have thirty or forty
fighting men. If we outrow them and throw the burning stink
aboard, we might kill Fflur and Helma. Think, man, think! Don't
waste breath."

But Caswallon could only think in terms of chariots and horses,
of ambush and sudden swoops on a surprised foe. He cursed the
wind that had failed them. He cursed the sea because he could not
walk on it. He cursed Tros, because he could not race that Roman
ship and ram her, pitch the burning stink into her hold and
snatch the prisoners away before it sank with all its crew. He
was for action, swift and resolute.

"The stinkballs would kill us as well as them," said Tros, taking
the steering oar.

He knew those waters. Setting slow time for the oar-beats,
husbanding the Northmen's strength, he set a course in-shore to
where the tide would flow against him with less force.

And then the unexpected happened. He caught the sound of oars
between him and the enemy.

He ordered silence--let the ship swing any way she pleased
--climbed to the masthead and clung there beside Eough.
Once, then again, he caught the flash of moonlight on an
oar-blade, but the cold air filmed his eyes, and the ship's
motion, adding to the heaving of the moonlit waves, made vision
difficult. It was a long time before he made out the hull of a
long, low rowing boat.

"Liburnian," he muttered.

It was one of those fast boats the Romans used for harbor work
and for taking messages to ships at sea, rowed by eight or a
dozen men.

He watched with running eyes until the cold grew unendurable,
then returned to deck.

"That might be Caesar himself in that liburnian," he said. "And
if I knew it were I would take all chances."

Caswallon did not hesitate.

"I order you! Start the oars again!"

"Not so," Tros answered. "I am captain. You are king of a piece
of Britain. I think they come for Marius and Galba, who will make
all speed for the shore to convey their news to Caesar. If we
watch the liburnian, we may learn where Caesar is."

"Caesar will be where those three lights are," said Caswallon,
pointing shoreward toward Seine-mouth.

"No," said Tros, "those are guide lights, three in a line to show
the channel."

"Make for them then! Get there first and block the channel!"

"Can't be done," Tros answered. "Tide and a whiff of wind against
us. Tide increasing. From that masthead I saw a light in motion,
and I think there is a pilot coming out, but it may be one of
Caesar's warships."

He could no longer hear the liburnian, so he lowered the sail and
started the oars. Slowly at first, then faster he took the
longship nearer shore, until he could discern the low cliffs
dimly and could hear the pounding of the surf.

He took a sounding and dropped anchor.

"Now," he said, "if the gods are our friends, we may accomplish
something. Caesar's camp used to be yonder." He pointed. "A small
camp, about two hundred infantry and fifty horsemen, near a place
where crossroads meet. The bigger camp lies yonder."

He pointed again, this time much farther to the westward.

"See. You can see the watchfires along the rampart. That bigger
camp is outside the Gauls' town, maybe a mile away from it.
Between that and us lie the harbor and the River Seine. When I
was in Gaul, Caesar hardly ever slept a night in the large camp
because it is across the river, which delays the receipt of
messages from other points. Except when he is on the march he
likes a small camp best and not too many onlookers, not too many
men who might report his doings. He has a theory, too, that the
legions admire him more if they don't see him too often. It
doesn't amuse him to be commonplace. Watch our charcoal-burners."

They were hanging overside, crowded against the landward rail,
all as silent as ghosts. Caswallon swore aloud. It irked him to
see men eager to leave Britain.

"Throw them overboard! See if they can swim!" he snorted.

But instead, Tros issued food to them, dried fish and roasted
wheat in sufficient quantities to last for several days. Then he
sent for young Glendwyr to come to the steering deck. Two
Northmen brought him, so seasick he could hardly stand.

Caswallon pitied him: He seemed to bear no malice against a rebel
taken in the act, defeated and enslaved, although he loathed the
charcoal-burners who had never lifted hand against him.

"Come now, Glendwyr," he said kindly, "make me glad I did not
hang you. Let me see you play the man."

"I would have hanged you, had rebellion not failed!" the youngster
answered. "It would have been more merciful than slavery."

Tros cut that altercation short.

"Your chance!" he said sternly. "If you want your freedom, work
for it. I charge no tenths, the way the Romans do.*  Whoever
serves me faithfully receives freedom, and I hire him thereafter
as a free man. What do you say?"

---------
* By Roman law a freed slave had to pay a tax to the state of a
tenth of his market value.
---------

"I am sick. I am fit for nothing," Glendwyr answered.

"So. That is when a man's true spirit shows itself. Sick as you
are, do you propose to earn your freedom?"

"How?" asked Glendwyr.

"He is no good," said Caswallon.

But Tros was not so sure. He tried again: "Will you serve me
while my back is turned?"

Once more Glendwyr hesitated. He eyed Tros and then Caswallon.

"I hate you both. Better kill me," he answered.

Tros laughed.

"Young fool, I need no leave of yours if I choose to kill you.
You are my property. I offer you a man's chance to be your own
man again."

"I crave freedom, but as a free man I will never serve you,"
Glendwyr answered.

"Never is a long time. We will cross that river when we reach
it," said Tros. "Can you swim?"

Glendwyr nodded.

"Can you swim from here to shore? A long way, mind. The sea is
like ice. Very well, I'll have two Britons rub you down with fish
oil. Put oiled wool in your ears. Wait, I'll lower a boat and
send you half way to the shore. You swim the rest. Take food with
you tied in a bladder. When morning comes, find out where they
have taken the Lady Fflur and the Lady Helma. Bring a message
from them back to me. You will have to search for me. I will not
be standing on the highest point in sight."

"Very well," said Glendwyr. "But don't talk to me afterwards
about faithful service and such balderdash. I serve myself. I
have no love for you whatever."

"Nevertheless, remember this," said Tros. "You have owned a slave
or two, young fellow, but you are now at the business of being
one. No matter how much Caesar is my enemy, nor how much the
Gauls hate Caesar, and even if I should be taken and crucified,
you are a slave. One word from me and you would be proscribed and
hunted down. You must return to me to receive your freedom.
Nothing for nothing. I give freedom for honest service."

Glendwyr nodded. As a man whose father had owned slaves he
understood the system. All freemen of whatever race were in
league against the slave, and those who had themselves been
manumitted were the worst of all. A runaway slave's sole hope of
escaping crucifixion was to take to the mountains as an outlaw,
or to enlist in some foreign mercenary army. But the latter was
impossible where Rome held sway.

Tros ordered the rowboat put quietly overside, told off two
charcoal-burners to rub Glendwyr, face and all with oil, and
climbed once more to the masthead where he remained for half an
hour. When he returned to the deck he looked pleased, although
his teeth were chattering.

"What like was Lomar's ship?" he asked. "He who carried tin and
took your messenger?"

Caswallon described the ship as nearly as he could, but he could
have described a horse much better.

"All the Ictis tinships carry an iron basket at the masthead, in
which they burn towflares, that the ship may see the way by
night, or for some such reason."

Tros chuckled.

"That is not a Roman warship coming out. Tide and wind must have
carried Lomar from Pevensey to Seine-mouth, where I suppose the
Romans ordered him to make haste to Caritia. Now he is coming out
of Seine-mouth on a tide that will take him two-thirds of the
way. Is Lomar any kind of friend of yours?"

"Aye, surely. Many times he has brought tin and traded it for
wool in Lunden."

"Go borrow that iron basket from him then. Four Northmen
shall row you. Put Glendwyr into the water half way between
here and the shore, and then row to meet Lomar's ship. Wait!
Has he a figurehead?"

"No, his ship is a blunt-bowed thing, not nearly as long as this
but, I should say, as high out of the water. No figurehead before
or behind."

"Axes!" Tros commanded.

And almost before Caswallon had stepped overside into the rowboat
with four Northmen all armed to the teeth, Sigurdsen and some
others, grumbling superstitiously, were chopping off the
long-necked serpents that adorned the longship's ends.

"Now we shall have no luck at all!" growled Sigurdsen. "As well
lop off a horse's head and tail!"

But Tros leaned overside and gave additional instructions
to Caswallon:

"First and foremost, borrow that iron basket. Second, get all the
news you can from Lomar. Third, try to persuade him to stand far
out to sea, so that he will be out of sight by morning, or else
to anchor before morning in some land-locked cove where the
Romans aren't likely to see him."

Caswallon was rowed away and again Tros climbed to the masthead.
Presently in the wan light of the moon he caught sight of the
liburnian returning shoreward. The light at Lomar's masthead had
burned itself out, but beyond it two small lights at either end
of a spar explained that another ship was laboring under oars,
presumably trying to enter the channel against the tide.

Then came mist on a breath of warmer air. White cat-tails puffed
along in streaks prophetic of a dense fog. Tros began to fear
Caswallon might be lost, began to wonder whether he must burn a
flare for him and risk all consequences.

So an hour passed. Once, he heard a distant crash that sounded
not quite like a long wave bursting on the shingle. Long after
that he heard the heavy thump of long sweeps and the squeak of a
swaying spar as Lomar's ship went by. The mist increased, but
with occasional puffs of wind that blew long sea-lanes, down
which the moon shone brightly. Then oars again, the steady thump
and swing of seamen born to the business, and presently
Caswallon's hail out of a fog bank:

"Tro-o-o-s!"

He shouted back to give them the direction. Five more minutes and
Caswallon came climbing up, wet to the skin. The Northmen
followed, dragging up a huge iron basket.

"Lud's luck!" Caswallon announced. "Give me dry clothes, Tros. We
got Marius and Galba. Slew them both! Your Northmen are first
rate fellows! Row? Lud's backbone! We came full speed out of a
bank of fog and crashed into the liburnian! Look at the boat's
bow! Lucky you built her of oak or we'd be swimming yet! We upset
the liburnian and Galba jumped aboard us. I hacked his neck
through clear to the backbone, so he couldn't tell me much. Then
Marius got both hands on the boat's edge and one of the Northmen
helped him in.

"He knocked them overboard and rushed at me, so I had to stop
him, point to the throat. He went over backward and vanished.
Armor too heavy, I suppose. Then I had to pull the two Northmen
out of the water. The fools can't swim! One of them pulled me in.
By Lud, I'm as wet as a fish. Liburnian's crew? Oh, the Northmen
knocked them on the head with oars as they tried to swim.
There'll be no tales told ashore! Glendwyr? Yes, he left all
right, swimming strong, blowing like a porpoise. Just before he
jumped in he said he was sorry he'd insulted you. He asked me to
say he would do his best and he wishes you druids' luck.

"Lomar? Yes, we tackled him after we scuttled the liburnian.
Lomar put into Seine-mouth, leaking badly, but he has sickness
aboard, so the Romans sent him out again on the tide and told him
to dump his sick men overboard out of sight of land. Lomar's as
mad as a forked eel. He wants the money for his tin, but the
Romans won't pay him until he takes it to Caritia and he's afraid
his ship isn't seaworthy. He intends to put into a cove before
morning and try to patch her up, but he says if the Romans catch
him there, they'll chase him out to sea. So he'll have to
be careful."

"How much tin has he?" asked Tros.

"As much as his ship can carry, stowed under a structure like a
house-roof around the mast, not unlike the one we have on this
ship. He set my messenger ashore before he left port. The man
jumped overside and swam for it. And you were right, Tros. He's
already talking about fifty thousand men. Lomar asked me whether
it's true that the druids have armed us with thunderbolts. I told
him yes. Caesar's ears will burn by morning!"

Tros ordered the iron basket hoisted to the masthead and
fixed in place.

"Now we needn't worry," he said. "We're Lomar's ship. Was his
hull pitch black?"

Caswallon nodded, pulling on warm, dry trousers that one of his
own attendants offered, making shift himself with blankets out of
Tros' store.

"Luck o' Lud!" said Tros. "It looks like it. Lomar with a sick
crew, the Romans will never venture near this ship. They'll never
doubt we're Lomar. Mist, and no sign of wind. Plenty of time
between now and morning. Sigurdsen!"

The giant Northman stood before him, arms folded on his breast.

"I never tempt a friend beyond his strength," said Tros. "This
was your ship once. You shall come ashore with me. You and the
four best men you have. Caswallon, will you leave your party on
board here? Then we needn't be afraid that our Northmen will put
to sea and leave us."

Sigurdsen scowled. Caswallon laughed.

"You doubt my faith?" asked Sigurdsen.

"Not I," said Tros, "but I propose to test it like a new rope,
not using too much strain at first. You, I, the Lord Caswallon
and Eough for the shore. We will try to steal more boats to land
the charcoal-burners. Put those stinkballs into the boat. Let
Eough have charge of them."



[[To file 2 of 2]]

---------------------

[[ File 2 of 2--Tros of Samothrace, by Talbot Mundy ]]





CHAPTER XLIX

LUCK O' LUD O' LUNDEN

Some of you pray for Lud's luck. And the worldly wise mock you,
saying Luck loves only strength and wealth and cunning. But I
tell you, ye reap as ye sowed in former lives; and in this life
ye are sowing what ye shall reap in lives to come. Faith, hope,
courage, these three are the seeds of Good Luck. Sow ye
therefore, lest the unused seed should rot.

It is too late now to change what ye call Luck. Ye must reap as
ye sowed in former lives. But Destiny depends on how ye sow and
what ye sow in this life. Faith, hope, courage--greed, fear,
malice. Choose. As ye sow ye shall reap.

--From the Sayings of the Druid Taliesan



They found three boats keels upward on the beach, but it took
until dawn to land the charcoal-burners because the boats kept
losing themselves in the fog between ship and land.

"The women. The children," Eough demanded when the last of his
skin-clad men stood shivering on shore.

Tros grinned.

"They are no use to you yet," he answered. "Business first."

"I have never broken a promise," said the dwarf.

"Nor I," Tros answered. "You shall have those women and children
when the work is done."

Eough shrugged his shoulders philosophically, but he did not like
the idea of having to leave hostages in Tros's hands. He set the
stinkballs higher up the beach and waited for further orders.

"Now remember," Tros advised him, "if the Romans see you they
will make sport of you because you are small, and you will have a
hard time to get away from them. Some dealer might even claim you
as a slave. Or you might be kidnaped and smuggled away to Rome.
Keep out of sight as much as possible. Choose your best man and
send him to offer faggots for sale to the legionaries.

"They're the most improvident wastrels in the world with fuel. At
the rate they were burning watchfires last night, no wood-stack
would last a week. They're certain purchasers. He'll find the
quartermaster who does the purchasing in a building that faces
the front entrance of the camp. Let him bargain a bit for
appearance' sake, but be sure he accepts finally whatever price
is offered.

"The rest of you go to the woods you'll find in that direction--"
he pointed southward--"glean faggots, and conceal the stinkballs
in the largest ones. Then, when your man has done the bargaining,
carry the faggots into the camp and stack them where the
quartermaster shows you. Your men must return to the woods to
sleep, but you report to me. Leave two of your men here. One of
them will find you later on and tell you where I'm hidden. The
other will find Glendwyr and tell him."

Eough concealed the stinkballs under heaps of seaweed in the
charcoal-burners' baskets and departed into the fog, as
business-like as if he were leading a hundred slaves to market.

"Did he understand at which camp he is to offer wood for sale?"
Caswallon asked.

"Yes, the smaller one, where Caesar may be."

"What if Caesar is not there?"

"What if the gods are not around us!" Tros retorted. "I never
think in terms of 'what if not.' I look at what is. Let us do our
part and trust the gods to do theirs. Observe this fog. Could the
gods have dropped a better screen over our movements? I will
believe the gods are neutral when I see it proved! We are
hostages to luck. The gods love boldness. Forward!"

Nine of them, Tros leading and two wretched-looking charcoal-burners
last, began to march inland, pausing frequently to listen for
voices or footsteps, following a footpath but avoiding habitations,
seeking high ground in order if possible to get above the mist.
They were discovered and barked at by the dogs, but no harm came
of it. And at one place where they crossed hoar-frosted grassland,
three stray horses made them believe they had been detected by
Caesar's cavalry. Discovering the mistake, Caswallon would
have caught one of those horses and ridden it, had Tros permitted;
but horse theft was too likely to have started hue and cry.

Caswallon was still obsessed by the notion of finding Caesar and
challenging him to single combat. As simple as a child where
chivalry concerned him, he was even nervous lest Tros should
claim precedence and fight the Roman first. In vain Tros told him
twenty times that Caesar would consider himself too civilized for
that kind of encounter.

"He murders by proxy at wholesale. He is brave in battle, but he
would laugh at the idea of trial by ordeal."

"I have heard," Caswallon answered, "that the Romans are
great fighters, hand-to-hand. Marius told me that even their
public games are fights to the death in an arena between
picked antagonists."

"Foreigners fighting, Romans looking on!" Tros answered. "Another
of their pretty little games is watching prisoners torn by wild
dogs. I tell you, if you should walk up and challenge Caesar, he
would simply have you put in chains and keep you to grace his
triumph when he goes to Rome."*

---------
* See Caesar's _Commentaries_ for his own admission of how he
treated Gaulish chiefs who presented themselves before him,
relying on his supposed chivalry.
---------

Caswallon refused to believe it. Unwillingness to upset Tros's
plan was all that prevented him from going there and then in
search of Caesar. And even so, if he had known how vague Tros's
plan still was, he might have gone in any case. Tros was simply
trusting in what Caswallon would have called, "Lud's Luck."

They reached high ground at last and lay down behind a fallen
tree to munch cold breakfast and wait for the mist to disperse.
They could hear the tubas blow in Caesar's camp, the occasional
galloping footfall of a mounted messenger, shouting and the usual
medley of camp noises, but they had little idea how close they
were. When the fog did lift at last, leaving a light haze, they
discovered they were hardly a quarter of a mile away. They could
see Caesar's tents--the little one he slept in, and the big one,
sumptuously furnished, warmed with charcoal braziers, with the
standards pitched in front of it, in which he lived by day.

There was no doubt, after they had watched for half an hour, that
Caesar was in the big tent. A constant stream of messengers came
and went. Men who appeared to be important officers stood near
the tent in groups, entering one by one as they were summoned.
The camp was laid out spaciously and contained more wooden huts
than tents. Bright fires were burning at each intersection of the
lines, and at those groups of soldiers stood warming themselves;
but most of the officers and men, not on actual duty, were pacing
solemnly in twos along the rampart, or to and fro on the
parade ground.

"How shall we reach Caesar?" Caswallon grumbled.

But Tros was studying the woodstack, which, as he had guessed
might be the case, was running low.

It was heaped about midway between Caesar's tent and the rear
camp entrance, and had a ragged, untidy look from having been
extravagantly requisitioned the preceding night.

"We will stay here," said Tros. "This place serves perfectly." In
a low voice he gave his orders to the two charcoal-burners,
having learned long since in dealings with them that the only way
to make them even wish to understand him was to moderate his
voice. They nodded and went off in different directions, one
toward the woods to the southward, the other toward the harbor
where Caesar's new fleet was building and twenty or thirty ships,
unrigged as yet, lay anchored.

Suddenly Tros gripped Caswallon's forearm.

"Hermes! That fellow Caesar is a swift one! Look!" He pointed to
where a long, white road ran nearly due south over the horizon.
"That tale of ours of thunderbolts and fifty thousand men and an
invasion worked! He takes precautions, whether or not he believes
the news!"

The advance guard of a legion, mounted men with their helmets and
covered shields swung over-shoulder, jogged over-hill, blurred by
the haze, and there was infantry behind them. Men with ropes and
pegs were already marking off at one end the lines for new
ditches and ramparts, to enlarge the camp.

"Luck?" said Tros. "We have it all! This arriving legion will
want fuel. They'll requisition most of Caesar's small stack. Our
charcoal-burners will find a ready market. They'll be heaping
faggots all day long to replenish Caesar's pile while the new
legion's foragers pile up a heap of their own."

And so it happened. A fatigue party reduced the fuel stack by
two-thirds its bulk, throwing it near the middle of the rectangle
being marked out for the use of the arriving legion.

But presently the light haze cleared away before a breath of
wind, and Tros changed his mind about the luck being all his. He
felt a cold chill creeping down his spine, that had nothing to do
with the frosty air. He could see far out to seaward. His jaw
jerked forward and his amber eyes glared like an angry cat's.

"Fool!" he muttered. "Idiot! I might have known the sea was my
sphere and the dry land Caesar's!"

He pointed. Almost out of sight to westward, the ship from which
the liburnian had carried Marius and Galba to their doom toiled
against the tide along the coast.

"They put in to drop Marius and Galba! They mean to land the
women somewhere nearer Gwasgwyn! Zeus! Trust Caesar to pretend to
have nothing to do with the business until he can find some way
of covering his own tracks! Lud, Lud, Lud, Lud! What now?"

"To our ship! Back to our ship!" Caswallon. urged instantly. "Up
anchor. Give chase!"

For about ten breaths Tros thought of that. Then:

"No!" he said simply. "Can't desert Eough and the
charcoal-burners."

"Phaugh!" Caswallon snorted. "Those swine?"

"They have our stinkballs."

"We have courage. Our wives are yonder!"

"If we stay here, young Glendwyr will get word to us."

"Of what we already know! Let Glendwyr rot! Come on, Tros! Back
to the ship!"

"No!" said Tros.

"Lud's blood, man! Why not?"

"Because the gods love men who do not change their plan at every
setback. Because I can see Eough and his hundred bringing faggots
from the woods. Also because if we should move our ship in the
wrong direction, the Romans might suspect it is not Lomar's tin
ship after all; and they can move by land much faster than we
could row against the tide. Here we lie unsuspected. Let us see
what happens."

"Lie here like a frozen dog while Fflur, the mother of my sons--"

Caswallon set his jaw and lapsed into angry silence, glancing at
Tros from time to time as if he had begun to lose all confidence
in his ally. But Tros watched Caesar's camp and the legion,
tramping down the long white road, singing, shields and helmets
slung over their shoulders; wagons, war machines, camp followers*