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Title: Tros of Samothrace
Author: Talbot Mundy
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eBook No.: 0500901h.html
Language: English
Date first posted:  Dec 2012
Most recent update: Jul 2015

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Tros of Samothrace

by

Talbot Mundy

Cover

ANNOTATED BY ROY GLASHAN

First published in book form by
Appleton-Century, New York, September 1934
and Hutchinson & Co., London, October, 1934

This e-book edition: Project Gutenberg Australia, 2015

Cover

"Tros of Samothrace," Appleton-Century, New York, September 1934



BIBLIOGRAPHIC NOTE

This saga is a composite work containing stories originally published in Adventure magazine under the following titles:

  1. Tros Of Samothrace (February 10, 1925)
  2. The Enemy Of Rome (April 10, 1925)
  3. Prisoners Of War (June 10, 1925)
  4. Hostages To Luck (August 20, 1925
  5. Admiral Of Caesar's Fleet (October 10, 1925)
  6. The Dancing Girl Of Gades (December 10, 1925)
  7. Messenger Of Destiny, Part 1 (February 10, 1926)
  8. Messenger Of Destiny, Part 2 (February 20, 1926)
  9. Messenger Of Destiny, Part 3 (February 28, 1926)

The saga was also published in 1967 by Avon in four paperback volumes with the titles:

Click here to see cover images



Cover

Adventure, February 10, 1925, with first part of "Tros of Samothrace"



TABLE OF CONTENTS



INTRODUCTORY
Talbot Mundy on Julius Caesar
and the Samothracian Mysteries

Arthur S. Hoffman, chief editor of Adventure from 1912 to 1927, wrote the following article for the magazine's "Camp Fire" section as an afterword to the first part of "Tros of Samothrace." The article contains, and is written around, a letter from Talbot Mundy in which the author describes his views of Julius Caesar as a man and a leader, and speculates on the nature of the Samothracian Mysteries.

Thanks and credit for making the text of this article available to RGL readers go to Matthew Whitehaven, who donated a copy from his personal archive for inclusion in this new edition of the book.


When Talbot Mundy first began talking to me about the Tros stories (there are to be others) and about Caesar and his times I began cussing myself for having done what I very particularly hold in contempt—I'd been swallowing whole some other fellow's collecting and interpretation of facts and the whole conception resulting therefrom. All of us are naturally inclined to do this; that is why our civilization shows so many stupidities. But a minority struggle against this lazy, sheep-like habit and try to think for themselves as best they can. I'd flattered myself I was among those who tried—and then Talbot Mundy came along and made me see what a stupid sheep I'd been.

Since school I haven't studied history (except for a few years that of ancient Ireland) or even done more than desultory reading—for example, learning from Hugh Pendexter's stories more than I'd ever known of the history of our own country, and from others of our fiction writers more of the history of various countries. I'd had to translate Caesar's Commentaries and to absorb more or less history as she is taught. It was impressed upon me that Caesar was a great man, an heroic figure. His Commentaries I accepted as true word for word. Did not other historians accept and build upon them? Were they not everywhere perpetuated in the schools without ever a question raised as to their complete trustworthiness.

In later years, of course, I learned that historians, instead of being infallible, were merely human beings grubbing among scattered bits of facts and trying to build out of them a complete conception of something on which they generally had no first hand information whatever. Also, that if one them made a mistake, many of those after him were likely to swallow the mistake and perpetuate it, and, on the other hand, that the historian of today, having at hand added bits of facts, is likely to consider the historian of yesterday very much out of date and not to be trusted too much in his deductions. In other words, any historian, including him of today, is, by the historian's own test, not a final authority but merely a more or less skilful guesser at the whole truth from what small bits of it he manages to collect.

Yet I had been swallowing whole, without question, all the historians had been handing me. To be sure, Shaw years ago had merrily slapped most of the historians in the face and presented a comparatively new conception of Julius Caesar, but by that time I'd reached the stage where I didn't accept other people's say-so so easily. Like a true sheep, I relapsed pretty well into my old conception of a very heroic Caesar and a very wonderful and rather admirable Roman Empire.

Then Mr. Mundy, after much delving into books, arose and challenged the whole works and I awoke to contempt for myself. I didn't mean I just scrapped all my old conceptions and accepted his, but I realized that I, at least, had nothing with which to support the old ideas against the new. Maybe Mr. Mundy is all or partly wrong. I don't know. Let's hear the other side in rebuttal. There are plenty of historians, both professional and amateur, among us who gather at Camp-Fire. Let's hear from them.

One thing seems clear to me. If historians have accepted the Commentaries as completely as Mr. Mundy says, then I'm "off them" and for the same reason as Mr. Mundy—I hesitate to swallow whole the account of himself and his doings that an ambitious man wrote or had written to be read by the voters and politicians he must win to him in order to realize his ambitions. Let's hear Mr. Mundy's case:

* * * * *

I have followed Caesar's Commentaries as closely as possible in writing this story, but as Caesar, by his own showing, was a liar, a brute, a treacherous humbug and a conceited ass, as well as the ablest military expert in the world at that time; and as there is plenty of information from ancient British, Welsh and Irish sources to refute much of what he writes, I have not been to much trouble to make him out a hero.

In the first place, I don't believe he wrote his Commentaries. His secretary did. Most of it is in the third person, but here and there the first person creeps in, showing where Caesar edited the copy, which was afterward, no doubt, transcribed by a slave who did not dare to do any editing.

The statement is frequently made that Caesar must be accurate because all other Roman historians agree with him. But they all copied from him, so that argument doesn't stand. No man who does his own press-agenting is entitled to be accepted on his own bare word, and as Caesar was quite an extraordinary criminal along every line but one (he does not seem to have been a drunkard) he is even less entitled to be believed than are most press agents. He was an epileptic, whose fits increased in violence as he grew older, and he was addicted to every form of vice (except drunkenness) then known. He habitually used the plunder of conquered cities for the purpose of bribing the Roman senate; he cut off the right hands of fifty thousand Gauls on one occasion, as a mere act of retaliation; he broke his word as often, and as treacherously, as he saw fit; and he was so vain that he ordered himself deified and caused his image to be set in Roman temples, with a special set of priests to burn incense before it.

As a general he was lucky, daring, skilful—undoubtedly a genius. As an admiral, he was fool enough to anchor his own feet off an open shore, where, according to his own account, a storm destroyed it. (In this story I have described what may have happened.) And he was idiot enough to repeat the mistake a year later, losing his fleet a second time.

He pretends his expeditions to Britain were successful. But a successful general does not usually sneak away by night. On his second invasion of Britain he actually raided as far as Lunden (London) but it is very doubtful whether he actually ever saw the place, and it is quite certain that he cleared out of Britain again as fast as possible, contenting himself with taking hostages and some plunder to make a show in his triumphal procession through the streets of Rome. And whatever Caesar wrote about those expeditions, what his men had to say about them can be surmised fairly accurately from the fact that Rome left Britain severely alone for several generations.

Caesar reports that the Britons were barbarians, but there is plenty of evidence to the contrary. They were probably the waning tag-end of a high civilization; which would mean that they had several distinct layers of society, including an aristocratic caste—that they had punctilious manners, and a keen and probably quixotic sense of chivalry. For instance, Caesar's account that they fought nearly naked is offset by the fact that they thought it cowardly not to expose their bodies to the enemy. Their horsemanship, their skill in making bronze wheels and weapons, and their wickerwork chariots can hardly be called symptoms of barbarism.

The Britons were certainly mixed; their aristocrats were fair-haired and very white-skinned; but there were dark-haired, dark-skinned folk among them, as well as rufous Northmen, the descendants of North Sea rovers. They can not have been ignorant of the world, because for centuries prior to Caesar's time there had been a great deal of oversea trade in tin. They used gold, and in such quantities that it must have been obtained from oversea. They were skilful in the use of wool. And they were near enough to Gaul to be in constant touch with it; moreover, they spoke practically the same language as the Gauls.

The Samothracians Mysteries have baffled most historians and, down to this day, nothing whatever is known of their actual teaching. Of course, all the Mysteries were secret; and at all times any initiate, of whatever degree, who attempted to reveal the secrets, or who did reveal any of them even unintentionally, was drastically punished. At certain periods, when the teaching had grown less spiritual, such offenders were killed.

Samothrace has no harbors and no safe anchorage, which may account for the fact that it has never been really practically occupied by any foreign power, although it is quite close to the coast of Greece. The ruins of the ancient temples remain today. It is probably true that the Samothracian Mysteries were the highest and the most universally respected, and that their Hierophants sent out from time to time emissaries, whose duty was to purify the lesser Mysteries in different parts of the world and to reinstruct the teachers. At any rate it is quite certain that all the Mysteries were based on the theory of universal brotherhood (any Free and Accepted Mason will understand at once what is meant by that) and that they had secret signs and passwords in common, by means of which any initiate could make himself known to another, even if he could not speak the other's language. The Mysteries extended to the far East, and travel to the East, for the purpose of studying the Mysteries was much more common that is frequently supposed.

Caesar loathed the Druids (who were an order—and a very high one—of the Mysteries) because his own private character and life were much too rotten to permit his being a candidate for initiation. In all ages the first requirement for initiation has been clean living and honesty. He admits in his Commentaries that he burned the Druids alive in wicker cages, and he accuses the Druids of having done the same thing to their victims; but Caesar's bare word is not worth the paper it is written on. His motive is obvious. Any any one who knows anything at all about the Mysteries—especially any Free and Advanced Mason—knows without any doubt whatever that no initiate of any genuine Mystery would go so far as to consider human sacrifice or any form of preventable cruelty.

Kissing was a general custom among the Britons. Men kissed each other. The hostess always kissed the guest. It was a sign of good faith and hospitality, the latter being almost a religion. Whoever had been kissed could not be treated as an enemy while under the same roof.

The spelling and pronunciation of common names presents the usual problem. Gwenhwyfar, of course, is the early form of Guinevere, but how it was pronounced is not easy to say. Fflur was known as Flora to the Romans, and the accounts of her beauty had much to do with Caesar's second invasion of Britain, for he never could resist the temptation to ravish another man's wife if her good lucks attracted his attention. (But I will tell that in another story.)

To me there seems no greater absurdity than to take Caesar's Commentaries at their face value and to believe on his bare word that the Britons (or the Gauls) were savages. It is impossible that they can have been so. The Romans were savages, in every proper—if not commonly accepted—meaning of the word. The only superiority they possessed was discipline—but the Zulus under Tchaka also had discipline. The Romans, in Caesar's time at any rate, had no art of their own worth mentioning, no standard of honor that they observed (although they were very fond of prating about honor, and of imputing dishonor to other people), no morals worth mentioning, no religion they believed in, and no reasonable concept of liberty. They were militarists, and they lived by plundering other people. They were unspeakably corrupt and vicious. A Roman legion was a machine that very soon got out of hand unless kept hard at work and fed with loot, including women. They were disgraceful sailors, using brute force where a real seaman would use brains, and losing whole fleets, in consequence, with astonishing regularity. They were cruel and vulgar, their so-called appreciation of art being exactly that of our modern nouveaux-riches; whatever was said to be excellent they bought or stole and removed to Rome, which was a stinking slum even by standards of the times, infested by imported slaves and licentious politicians.

But they did understand discipline, and they enforced it, when they could, with an iron hand. That enabled them to build roads, and it partly explains their success as law-makers. But Rome was a destroyer, a disease, a curse to the earth. The example that she set, of military conquest and imperialism, has tainted the world's history ever since. It is to Rome and her so-called "classics" that we owe nine-tenths of the false philosophy and mercenary imperialism that has brought the world to its present state of perplexity and distress, long generations having had their schooling at the feet of Rome's historians and even our laws being largely based on Rome's ideas of discipline combined with greed.

Rome rooted out and destroyed the Mysteries and gave us in their place no spiritual guidance but a stark materialism, the justification of war, and a world-hero—Caius Julius Caesar, the epileptic liar, who, by own confession, slew at least three million men and gave their women to be slaves or worse, solely to further his own ambition. Sic transit gloria Romae! —Talbot Mundy

* * * * *

The last paragraph gives this little brain a mighty lot to think about. Is it the Roman Empire we are to thank for much of our present-day materialism? I wonder what our world would be like now if some other people or peoples had brought to the front another kind of civilization and standard? After all it is the moral standard, the mental point of view, that endures. The Roman Empire has rotted into mere history that we argue about. But, after all these centuries, is its moral and social standard gripping and guiding us today? What will our own moral and social standard do to the future of the world?

These Mysteries of Samothrace and elsewhere—what if Rome had not crushed them out? Or did she? Are they and their teachings still among us, our backs turned to them or out feet ground on them as backs and feet were in Rome's day?

After a thousand or two years we are not quite so material as Talbot Mundy paints the Romans, but still, considering us as a whole, isn't materialism our controlling influence? The magnificent Roman Empire is rotted, gone, wiped out. The world has pretty well employed itself in proving that materialistic nations can not endure. Some time will it get tired and start developing the other kind so that they in turn can have their trial? Will our nation ever do that, or will it just go on doing what the Roman Empire did and become what the Roman Empires is—a thing wiped from the physical earth but sending its curse of materialism down the centuries?

We're not a materialistic nation? Well, if we've gone so far we don't even know we're materialistic, we're in worse shape than I thought.

(Source: The Camp-Fire, Adventure, February 10, 1925)



CHAPTER 1.
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.

[* Samothrace—an island in Greece, in the northern Aegean Sea. The name of the island means Thracian Samos ... Samothrace was part of the Athenian Empire in the 5th century BCE, and then passed successively through Macedonian, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman rule before being returned to Greek rule in 1913 following the Balkan War. Excerpted from Wikipedia. ]

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."*

[* Gwenhwyfar—Welsh form of the name Guinevere. Annotator. ]

"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."

[* Commius—king of the Belgic nation of the Atrebates, initially in Gaul, then in Britain, in the 1st century BCE. For more information, see the Wikipedia article Commius. ]

"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.

[* Euxine (Euxeinos Pontos = "Hospitable sea") —Greek name for the Black Sea. For more information, see the Wikipedia article Black Sea. ]

"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."

[* Pompey (the Great)—Gnaeus or Cnaeus Pompeius Magnus (September 29, 106 BCE—September 29, 48 BCE)— a distinguished military and political leader of the late Roman republic. Hailing from an Italian provincial background, he went on to establish a place for himself in the ranks of Roman nobility, earning the cognomen of Magnus (the Great) for his military exploits against pirates in the Mediterranean Sea after the dictatorship of Lucius Cornelius Sulla ... Pompey was a rival and an ally of Marcus Licinius Crassus and Gaius Julius Caesar. The three politicians would dominate the Roman republic through a political alliance called the First Triumvirate. After the death of Crassus, Pompey and Caesar would dispute the leadership of the entire Roman state amongst themselves. Excerpted from Wikipedia, q.v. ]

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.

[* Venus Genetrix (Latin "Mother Venus")— Venus in her role as the ancestress of the Roman people, a goddess of motherhood and domesticity. A festival was held in her honor on September 26. As Venus was regarded as the mother of the Julian gens in particular, Julius Caesar dedicated a temple to her in Rome. Excerpted from Wikipedia, q.v. ]

"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.'

[* Numidia—an ancient African Berber kingdom and later a Roman province on the northern coast of Africa between the province of Africa (where Tunisia is now) and the province of Mauretania (which is now the western part of Algeria's coastal area). What was Numidia then is now the eastern part of Algeria's coast... Excerpted from Wikipedia, q.v. ]

"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.'

[* Gaius Volusenus Quadratus—a Roman tribune under Julius Caesar. In 55 BCE Volusenus was sent out by Caesar in a single warship to undertake a week-long survey of the coast of south eastern Britain prior to Caesar's invasion. He probably examined the Kent coast between Hythe and Sandwich. When Caesar set off with his troops however he arrived at Dover and saw that landing would impossible. Instead he traveled north and beached his ships near Walmer. Volusenus failed to find the great natural harbor at Richborough, used by Claudius in his later invasion ... There is no record of Caesar's reaction to Volusenus' apparent intelligence failings ... Excerpted from Wikipedia, q.v. ]

"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."

[* centurion (Latin: "centurio")—a professional officer of the Roman army. In the Roman infantry, centurions commanded a centuria (century) of between 60 and 160 men, depending on force strength and whether or not the unit was part of the First Cohort. In the Roman legions' tactical organization, the centurions ranked above the optios and below the Tribuni Angusticlavii—the aristocratic senior officers of the Equestrian Class, subordinate to the legion commander, the Legatus Legionis. In comparison to a modern military organization, they would be roughly equivalent to an Infantry company commander, with the army rank of Captain, with senior centurions roughly equivalent to Majors. Wikipedia . ]

"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 Cassivellaunus. Author's footnote. Cassivellaunus was a historical British chieftain who led the defence against Julius Caesar's second expedition to Britain in 54 BCE. He also appears in British legend as Cassibelanus, one of Geoffrey of Monmouth's kings of Britain, and in the Mabinogion and Welsh Triads as Caswallawn, son of Beli Mawr ... Excerpted from Wikipedia, q.v.]



CHAPTER 2.
"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 3.
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-byes!" 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 4.
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. Author's footnote. ]

"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 5.
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!"

[* Lud, Llud—Celtic river god; in this context, apparently the patron deity of the river Thames. Annotator. For more information, see the Wikipedia article Nuada. Lud was also the name of a legendary British king who gave his name to the town which eventually became the city of London. See the Wikipedia article on King Lud. ]

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 6.
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 tooth-ache, 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.

[* Cair Lunden—Town of Lud, London. For more information, see the Wikipedia article on King Lud. ]

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 7.
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."*

[* Domnu—the very ancient sea-god of the Britons. Author's footnote. For more information, see the chapter on "The Gaelic Gods and Their Stories" in Charles Squire's Celtic Myth and Legend, 1905. ]

"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. Author's footnote. The Goodwin Sands are a 10-mile long sand bank in the English Channel, lying six miles east of Deal in Kent, England. More than 2,000 ships are believed to have been wrecked upon them ... Excerpted from Wikipedia, q.v. ]

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 8.
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! Caesar 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 9.
Tros Displays His Seamanship
and a Way 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. Author's footnote. ]

"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-byes 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 10.
Caius Julius Caesar

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 middle-aged 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.

[* decurion (Latin: "decurio")—a cavalry officer in command of a troop or turma of thirty soldiers in the army of the Roman Empire. In the infantry, the rank carried less prestige—a decurion only led a squad called a contubernium or "tent group" of 8 men... Wikipedia. ]

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 fulfillment 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. Author's footnote. ]

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. Author's footnote]

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 11.
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.

[* cohort (Latin: "cohors)—a fairly large military unit, generally consisting of one type of soldier ... Originally, the cohort was a sub-unit of a Roman legion, consisting of 480 infantrymen. The cohort itself was divided into six centuries of 80 men commanded each by a centurion ... Wikipedia . ]

"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 cauldron.

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. Author's footnote. ]

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 12.
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 reinforce 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 13.
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 14.
"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. Author's footnote. ]

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. Author's footnote. ]

"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 15.
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. Author's footnote. ]

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 16.
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."

[* Pytheas (c.380-c.310 BCE)—a Greek merchant, geographer and explorer from the Greek colony Massilia (today Marseille). He made a voyage of exploration to northwestern Europe around 325 BCE. He traveled around a considerable part of Great Britain, circumnavigating it between 330 and 320 BCE. Pytheas is the first person on record to describe the Midnight Sun, the aurora and Polar ice, and the first to mention the name Britannia and Germanic tribes ... Excerpted from Wikipedia, q.v. ]

"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."

[* Iceni (Latin)—Celtic tribe of eastern Britain who under Queen Boudicca fought unsuccessfully against the Romans about a.d. 60. The American Heritage Dictionary. For more information, see the Wikipedia article Iceni. ]

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. Author's footnote. ]

There was a wall of mud and wattle, reinforced 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. Author's footnote. ]

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 can not 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. Author's footnote. ]

"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 17.
A Home-Coming

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. Author's footnote. ]

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—"

[* Nodens—a sea-god of the Britons, later confused with Neptune by the Romans. Author's note. For more information, see the Wikipedia article Nodens. ]

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.

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 18.
The Phoenician 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."

[* Calais. Author's footnote. ]

"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.

[* Some authorities say Thanet, which was really an island in those days. Author's footnote. ]

"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."

[* liburnian (Latin "liburna")—a galley, a warship propelled by oars. It was a smaller version of a trireme, but faster, lighter, and more agile. The liburnian was a key part of Rome's navy. NodeWorks Encyclopedia. ]

"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.

[* Spain. Author's footnote.]

"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. Author's footnote. ]

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 19.
A 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. Author's footnote. ]

"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.

[* curmi—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." Author's footnote]

[† Just like modern jockey-caps, only made of iron. They may have been the origin of the modern jockey-cap, since the Britons 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. Author's footnote. ]

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 20.
Hiram-Bin-Ahab 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 Caesar'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 Phoenician 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. Author's footnote. An island and county at the northwestern extremity of north Wales. It is separated from the mainland by a narrow stretch of water known as the Menai Strait. For more information, see the Wikipedia article Anglesea. ]

"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? Author's footnote. ]

[† Father of Cleopatra. Author's footnote. ]

"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 21.
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 rigged 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 straddling 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 22.
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. Author's footnote. ]

"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 23.
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. Author's footnote. ]

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. Author's footnote. ]

"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 24.
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."

[* third eye—a synonym for occult vision. Author's footnote. ]

[† 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." Author's footnote. ]

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."*

[* 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. Author's footnote. ]

"The tide serves. No storm—no storm!" Tros warned the weather gods, 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. Author's footnote. ]

"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. Author's footnote. ]

"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 25.
"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. Author's footnote. ]

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 26.
"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 sea-room 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. Author's footnote. ]

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 27.
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 28.
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. Author's footnote. ]

"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 29.
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 Malmö."

"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 pantomime 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 30.
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. Author's footnote. ]

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-Malmö, 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 31.
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 forehead-band.

"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 32.
"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 fulfill, 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 33.
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 Malmö. 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 Malmö?"

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. Author's footnote. ]

Tros was puzzled.

"What if I should take you back to Malmö, 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."

[* scald, skald (Icelandic)—a court poet in Scandinavia or Iceland during the Viking age. For more information, see the Wikipedia article Skald. ]

"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 instill 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 staunched 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 34.
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, aping 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 reinforce 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 fulfill, 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 35.
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."

[* Trinobantes, Trinovantes—one of the Celtic tribes that lived in pre-Roman Britain. Their territory was on the north side of the Thames estuary in current Essex and Suffolk, and included lands now located in Greater London. Their name derives from the Celtic intensive prefix "tri-" and "novio"—new—so the name literally means "very new", probably with the sense of "newcomers". Their capital was Camulodunum (modern Colchester), one proposed site of the legendary Camelot ... Excerpted from Wikipedia, q.v. ]

"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 36.
Rash? Wise? 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 knuckle-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 wise men 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. Author's footnote. ]

"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 37.
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. Author's footnote. ]

"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 38.
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 mid-clearing. 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. Author's footnote. ]

"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. Author's footnote. ]

"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 unbacked 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 39.
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 caestus* 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.

[* caestus, cestus (Latin, from "caedere"—to strike, to punch)—a covering for the hand made of leather straps weighted with iron or lead and worn by boxers in ancient Rome. The American Heritage Dictionary. For more detail, see the article Caestus in Wikipedia. ]

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 40.
"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 thousand sesterces."*

[* sestertius (Latin)—an ancient Roman coin. During the Roman Republic it was a small silver coin and during the Roman Empire it was a large bronze coin ... In older English texts the French form sesterce is sometimes used. The sestertius was introduced c. 211 BCE as a small silver coin that was one quarter of a denarius (and thus one hundredth of an aureus), and itself valued at ten asses... Excerpted from Wikipedia, q.v. ]

"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, mumbling 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 maneuver 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 41.
"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 42.
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 trade ships began coming from the Baltic in the spring. Or if, instead of trade ships, 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 pulley-wheel 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 43.
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 creaking 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. Author's footnote. ]

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 44.
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. Author's footnote. The Pontifex Maximus was the high priest of the collegium of the Pontifices, the most important position in Roman religion, open only to a patrician, until 254 BCE, when a plebeian first occupied this post. A distinctly religious office under the early Roman Republic, it gradually became politicized until, beginning with Augustus, it was subsumed into the Imperial office. Excerpted from Wikipedia, q.v. ]

"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 S