He hath a princely countenance.
Philip von Artevelde.
Olympias at this time was subject to fits of overwhelming depression, in which the wheels of life seemed to stand still. She did not leave her room the next day, and asked Philip and Kallias to excuse her absence.
It is a lovely day,' said Philip, and I know, Kallias, that you are fond of fishing. Let us take one of the boats. While you fish I will lie lazily in the stern, and then we can talk to our hearts' content. The fish won't matter much,' he added, with one of his old smiles.
Ah!' said Kallias, I see you still pretend to be sceptical about my skill as a fisherman. Well, I shall refute your chaff by bringing home a big basketful of thunnies for the Lady Olympias, and you shall not have one.'
Then I shall talk loud, and drive the thunnies away,' said Philip, as he took his place at the helm, while Kallias rowed the painted shallop over the bright blue waters, which flashed in the morning sunlight.
Did you ever see "the unnumbered laughter of the sea" to greater perfection?' said Philip. Now, here is a delightful spot to anchor, under this wooded hill; so fish away, Kallias, and talk at the same time. Where did you make your first resting-place after you left us?'
I travelled as fast as I could to the Court of Alaric at Æmona, and there I saw -- -- '
Thorismund and Walamir,' said Philip. I want very much to hear about them.'
Thorismund,' said Kallias, but, alas! not Walamir.'
Alas? Why alas? Are there more miseries to tell? What a world it is!'
You shall hear. Thorismund's first question -- for he had seen me at the Patriarcheion in old days, and recognised me -- was about you. He has always loved and admired you since that old wrestling-bout at Antioch, when you both were boys. As I told him the state of things in Constantinople he fretted and fumed with indignation. He loathes the very name of Constantinople. His eyes flash with anger when he speaks of it. Then he asked after Eutyches, and I did not disguise from him the gloomy aspect of our affairs. "But where," I asked, "is your brother Walamir? His soul was knit to that of Eutyches in one of the closest friendships I have ever seen." He bent his eyes down, and said, "We none of us know where my beloved brother is. We were both with King Alaric when he invaded Italy, and when he retreated from Pollentia and reached Verona. But at Verona we were surprised by the forces of Stilico, and his Alan auxiliaries fell on us so furiously that Alaric himself was nearly taken. He escaped by the swiftness of his warhorse, and I was with him. We were not really defeated; all our forces retreated in perfect order beyond the Alps. But, alas! my brother Walamir was taken captive, perhaps slain. We have not heard of him since."
A pang shot through my heart as I heard this, Philip, for I thought how deeply it would grieve Eutyches; but I murmured to Thorismund some words of hope.
"Yes," he answered, "he may still be alive; but if so, it is in slavery, and that is worse than death."
"Would he not have written to you?" I asked.
"No; the boy's proud spirit would prevent him from writing, even if it were possible, from amid the degradation of slavery."
I had no more to say, but promised that, as I was on my way to Italy, I would make every possible inquiry, and might perhaps be able to secure the ransom of Walamir if he still lived.
"If not," said Thorismund, passionately, "there is still revenge."
Alaric had heard that there was a messenger from the Patriarcheion at Constantinople, and sent to ask me to his evening banquet. He is a splendid young king, a far finer type of Goth than Gaïnas. He has an air of natural nobleness, and the Visigoths say that when they elevated him on their shields no chieftain ever looked braver and worthier; but he keeps no state, and talked with me familiarly about the Patriarch, whom he greatly reveres, and about himself. He is convinced that he shall live to sack the Eternal City. He told me, as he told his long-haired chiefs, that before his first invasion of Italy he had heard the voice, as of an Archangel, cry to him from the depths of a grove, "Speed! Speed, Alaric! Thou shalt penetrate to the City."
I suppose that the warrior read the doubt in my face, for he smiled and said, "And I did penetrate, ad Urbem; not, indeed, this time to the Eternal Urbs, but to the river Urbis, on which Pollentia stands! Tell them at Constantinople that, in spite of the brag of Stilico's bard, Claudian, we were not beaten at Pollentia. The dwarfish Alan, Saulus -- whom God destroy! -- burst on us upon Good Friday -- the ugly heathen Tartar! They seized some plunder, and recovered the old purple robe stained with the blood of the Emperor Valens at Adrianople; but we were unbroken, and Stilico made a treaty with us."
I never saw anyone so swift to read thoughts as Alaric, Philip. I suppose he read the word "Verona" in my face, for he added, "No, nor were we beaten at Verona either. And the prophecy to me will be fulfilled. Italy has not yet heard the name of Rhadagais. They will hear it next year; and whether I shall help him to ravage Italy, or not, depends on circumstances; and," he added in a low voice, "on Stilico and Honorius."
Then he began to talk with imprudent frankness, as I thought, of Stilico and of both the Emperors. For Stilico he has an immense admiration, and more than half shares his view that the best thing the Goths can do is to amalgamate faithfully with the Romans as one nation, and found a nobler race. He thinks that Stilico is a born king among a nation of intriguers and drivellers, besotted with a superstition which is but the caricature of genuine Christianity, and slaves to abject despots. He feels unbounded scorn for both their Sublimities, Arcadius and Honorius. He regards them both as pale-blooded weaklings, the puppets of their own eunuchs. He calls Arcadius a devotee only fit to grovel over sham relics, and be led by the nose; and he regards the impotent Honorius as a mixture of timidity, cruelty, and slyness. These Goths rarely conceal their opinions. He actually showed at his table -- and with me, an unknown reporter, present -- a coin which had been struck as a caricature of Honorius, which represents, not the old Roman she-wolf suckling the immortal twins, but a she-ass suckling a hen! It is meant partly, perhaps, as an insult against the Christians under the old calumny of their being asinarii, but chiefly to ridicule Honorius's paltry propensity to make pets of hens, in feeding which he spends half his time. "It is the only thing the phantom is fit for," said Alaric.
I left Æmona the next day, and, amid various adventures, of which we may talk another time, I made my way in the course of two or three months to Aquileia, Milan, and Rome. I found Rome in a state of anxiety and alarm. You know how full the air is of rumours when communications are interrupted. There had been a long drought, and the Romans, who fancied that Alaric would soon be on his way against them, had placed their chief hope in his inability to cross the swollen rivers of Lombardy. One day vast clouds of dust proclaimed the approach of an armed band. The Romans cowered behind their newbuilt walls, and not even a scout would venture to reconnoitre. Then, as the poet Claudian has since described it, the people, gazing from the walls, saw amid the dust the good white head which all men knew -- the noble face of Stilico, shining like a star out of the storm. You can imagine how they shouted. With Stilico among them they felt that Rome was free.'
Were you present at the great triumph one has heard of?' asked Philip.
Yes, and I never saw, or hope to see, anything so magnificent. Honorius came on purpose to celebrate the triumph, with Stilico, his father-in-law. They had raised a triumphal arch for the occasion, on which they spoke of "The Goths subjugated for ever." I am told that Alaric and his chiefs roared with laughing when this was reported to them. Honorius was made Consul for the sixth time, and as Rome had only three times seen an emperor during the century, they made the most sumptuous preparations.'
What did they think of their Emperor?'
'Stilico had given him his cue, and he laid himself out to win their hearts. He would not allow the senators to walk before his triumphal car. He looked unusually well, for a flush was on his sallow cheek, and he wore the diadem, and a jewelled trabea, and strings of Arabian emeralds round his neck. But there were some old Romans who rather despised his jewellery. "Cincinnatus, and Marius, and Julius Cæsar did not ride in that bedizenment; all that pernicious rubbish came in with Constantine," I heard one old officer mutter to the Senator Lampridius, who stood by him; and Lampridius murmured in reply two savage lines of Sidonius on Constantine:
Saturni aurea sæcla quis requiret?
Sunt hæc gemmea, sed Neroniana.'
'Where were you?'
Pope Innocent had kindly secured me a place on the steps of the Julian Basilici, so that I saw the procession wind all along the Sacred Way, and up the Capitoline Hill, amid all those temples and palaces. Every roof was densely crowded, and there fell a perfect snow of roses and garlands before the horses' feet.'
Was the Emperor alone in the chariot?'
No; Stilico was by his side in plain armour, but looking every inch a hero; and more than half the enthusiasm of the Romans was for him. Behind them rode the young Empress Maria, daughter of Stilico -- a virgin wife, they say -- looking like a flower of perfect loveliness; and beside her, in a very simple attire, her noble brother, Eucherius, who has a great future before him.'
I say, Kallias,' said Philip; you see it is high noon. How about those thunny fish for Olympias?'
You scamp!' said Kallias; I should have caught two dozen at least if you had not frightened them away by making me talk so much. We'll have some lunch now, and then I won't tell you a word more till I've caught enough. And, to punish you, I assure you that what I have still in store will surprise and interest you immensely.'
Oh! I say, that is too bad!' said Philip; I have a great mind to give you no lunch at all till you have told me.'
They opened the basket which the slaves of Olympias had put into the boat, and found it full of delicious grapes and figs, cakes, and a bottle of rich Thasian wine -- for though she was herself abstemious to the utmost austerity, their hostess insisted on dieting Philip in the way which she regarded as most likely to restore his strength.
After their refreshment Kallias told Philip that he had the orders of Olympias to make him rest awhile and take a siesta, and Philip reluctantly obeyed. While he slept Kallias steadily fished on, often glancing at his slumbering features, sometimes with sorrow to see how wasted they were, but with more hope, because he was gradually returning to his normal strength and brightness.
By the time Philip awoke, Kallias had caught as many fish as would serve the whole household of Olympias, and triumphantly showed them to his companion, who at first declared that he must have bought them of some fisherman on the sly, until Kallias punished him by making him wait for the rest of his story till he had caught half a dozen more.
Then he laid his rod and net aside, and proposed that they should row in, and finish his narrative at home, as there were things which perhaps Olympias would like to hear.
They found the lady a little less dejected, and Kallias was glad to help in diverting her melancholy thoughts.
Resuming his account of the triumph of Honorius, he said: 'Philip, I have kept back from you what interested me more deeply than all the imperial pageantry. I told you that Honorius exempted the senators from pacing before him; but immediately behind his chariot walked, two-and-two, a long line of Gothic captives; and first in the row, showing that he was of noble birth, I saw -- -- '
Philip started up and grasped the hand of Kallias.
You saw -- -- Oh! I guess it.'
Yes,' said Kallias, I saw young Walamir, the friend of our Eutyches. He was walking with his looks cast on the ground, in the deepest dejection. But as he passed the steps of the Basilica I attracted his attention. He recognised me; for one instant his face brightened, and then the light faded from it, as though he were ashamed to be seen in the guise of a captive and a slave. But I determined not to lose sight of him, and threaded my way through the crowds which closed behind the procession. I once more got close to him on the summit of the Capitol. I asked where I could see him, but he only shook his head; he did not know.
Several days passed, and I sought for him in vain. At the close of a week of pageants, thanksgivings, pæans, and festivities there was to be a splendid gladiatorial show, at which Honorius himself was to preside, with Stilico beside him. Constantine had discouraged gladiatorial shows, and many of our great Christian saints and Fathers had indignantly denounced the butchery of human beings for amusement in the presence of a gloating multitude. But Rome is still a half-pagan, or more than half-pagan, city, and the Flavian Amphitheatre has perpetuated the bad tradition. Honorius, half-curious to see so world-famed a spectacle, offered but a languid resistance to what was deemed a politic concession; and, worst of all, a gladiatorial show afforded the easiest means of getting rid of many of the Gothic captives.
Of course, Philip, you and the Lady Olympias will believe me when I say that I had not the least intention to be present, lest I, like the young Alypius whose story is told by Augustine, should be brutalised and carried away by the horrible excitement. I stood by the Arch of Titus to watch the motley, eager crowd rolling its vast volume into the many doors of that colossal amphitheatre. Then a strange thing happened.
An Eastern monk in the sheepskin of a hermit passed me, attracting many eyes; for hermits are a far rarer sight in Rome than in our East. He was tall and gaunt, and his hair was grey, and his sheepskin mantle was squalid and tattered. He saw me standing by the Arch, not hurrying forward with the crowd, and, fixing on me his eyes, which seemed to burn with an inspired lustre, he said in Syriac, "Youth, I see that thou art a Christian, who wilt not follow the multitude to do evil; yet I bid thee come with me into yon revel of demons; it may be that thou shalt see strange things to-day."
"Who art thou, Father?" I asked.
"Men call me Telemachus," he said. "I am a hermit from Zagba. Few in this city speak Syriac; none know me. If any seek to know my name hereafter, thou canst tell them who I am and whence I came."
I could not help accompanying him, for his words seemed to have in them a Divine command. We entered the Amphitheatre, which was already so densely crowded that we could only get places among the slaves and the poorest of the people at the summit. I confess it was a splendid sight. The sun shone down on that vast building and the 80,000 people whom it held. The vast silken awning flapped against its straining cords overhead. The gala-dress of multitudes of women variegated the scene, and they looked like beds of flowers among the white togas of the men. The great area of the floor was strewn with dazzling sand. In the podium, in their richest pomp, sat the Emperor and Empress, with Stilico, and Eucherius, and the Princesses Serena and Thermantia, arrayed in pearls and precious stones, which flashed as they moved. All the senators and aristocracy of Rome were there. I saw, and blushed to see, many even of the clergy present. One chief element of expectation was the news that the general contests after the single combats were to be sine missione -- that is, that they were only to be terminated by the death of the combatants; and that a young and beautiful Goth of the noble family of the Amalings would fight among the captives. My heart was sick with fear, for I knew that this must be no other than Walamir.'
Here Philip, in his excitement, seized the arm of Kallias, and gazed open-mouthed on his face.
The first part of the show was harmlessly magnificent. Some of the Palatini had a sham cavalry fight, and went through manoeuvres on their pawing steeds. There were allegorical scenes and processions. Then wild beasts -- lions, tigers, ostriches, even camelopards -- were exhibited, and I, who had never seen these strange and beautiful creatures, was intensely interested.
But then began the wickedness to which the huge mass of spectators had been looking forward with a sort of unspoken passion. The first of the gladiatorial fights was proclaimed by the herald's voice:
"Satyrus, the gladiator, will now be matched against Walamir, the young Gothic Amal, each with swords and in full armour."
As I heard the herald's sonorous tones my heart burned within me with hot indignation; for Walamir was little more than a boy, and it was monstrous to match him, as they had done, against the most renowned and most successful gladiator of Italy, who had been trained in the schools of the lanistæ from his earliest years, and had gained many crowns.
I looked at the hermit, but he seemed to be lost in prayer, and utterly oblivious to everything around him.
The two marched round the arena. They saluted the Emperor with uplifted swords. I thought that I detected a note of defiance and despair in Walamir's voice, as he joined in the heroic customary chant, "Ave Cæsar, morituri te salutamus."
Then they stood nearly in the centre, and all those eighty thousand eyes were bent upon them, and the clash of swords began. And still Telemachus neither spoke nor moved.
The strength, courage, and agility displayed by Walamir would have stirred the heart of Alaric himself with pride; but I saw from the first that he neither was nor could be an equal antagonist to the cool, trained giant of mature age, consummate skill, and herculean strength against whom he had been pitted. The only marvel to me, as I sat there sick with dread, trembling with excitement, and thinking of you and Eutyches, was that he sustained so long the unequal struggle.
Then rose the indescribable panting shriek of "Habet" as Satyrus inflicted his first wound, and the red stream rushed over Walamir's armour. That shout seemed to awaken Telemachus. He sprang up, flung one glance around him, and then stalked with swift strides down the ambulatories. I did not know at first what he intended to do; and the spectators were far too intent on the combat to notice him, for Satyrus had only inflicted a flesh wound, and Walamir, with undaunted spirit, was renewing the hopeless strife.
But just as Telemachus had nearly reached the cancelli -- the gilded barriers erected to prevent any wild beast from leaping up among the people, as had once occurred -- a blow on Walamir's helmet smote him to the ground, and instantly Satyrus was striding over him with uplifted sword, and looked up at the spectators as he awaited the signal to slay or save.
Usually the thumb was uplifted and the life spared if the defeated combatant had shown conspicuous heroism; and it might have been thought that the youth, the beauty, the bravery of the young Amal would have pleaded for him. But no; he was one of the dreaded, hated Goths, and without an instant's hesitation twenty thousand thumbs were ruthlessly turned down, to demand that Satyrus should plunge the sword into his throat or breast.
Then it was that, to the utter amazement of everyone present, from the Emperor to the meanest slave, Telemachus, like one inspired, sprang over the cancelli, and, rushing forward with a cry, strode over the prostrate Ostrogoth, and with a gesture of command confronted the victorious gladiator.
Satyrus sprang back astonished, as though he had seen a spirit, and lowered his sword-point. A nominal Christian, he felt a sort of overpowering awe in presence of the strange figure, emaciated face, and flashing eyes of the tall, gaunt hermit. But at the same instant the multitude had recognised the stranger's purpose, and a yell of rage and disappointment arose, as though all the demons had been let loose. Satyrus had drawn back to the wall of the arena staring, with wide-opened eyes, apparently in superstitious dread. Walamir had risen to his feet. Telemachus stood alone between them. But at once every conceivable missile on which the people could lay hands was hurled at him; and then many, quite mad with wrath, had themselves sprung over the barrier and were striking at him with staves. They hurled him to the ground, they kicked and smote him, and flung stones on him. I, too, had leaped the barrier, but I was one among hundreds. What could I do?
It soon appeared that he was dead; and then a wave of remorse swept over the minds of the assailants, and a hush followed. "Who was he?" was murmured from lip to lip. The Emperor was himself as agitated as was possible to his lympathic temperament. He had risen from his seat, and beckoned the herald to bid anyone who knew the murdered monk to say who he was. I was too much excited to be afraid, and, striding under the Emperor's box, I shouted, "Emperor, he was Telemachus, the hermit of Zagba."
It seemed, even to myself, as though I had spoken in a voice of unnatural power, and also as if my few words had produced an impression far more intense than seemed proportionate to their simple purport. An awful contagious excitement seized the minds of the multitude. They shrank back on all sides from the body of the murdered saint. It lay in the hot sunlight, dark on the dazzling white sand with which the arena had been strewn, and the blood from his many wounds had dyed his robes; men declared that it lay encircled by an aureole. The Emperor and his attendants rose; but before he left the Amphitheatre he ordered the heralds to proclaim that the games were ended, and would not be resumed, and that the corpse of Telemachus, the hermit of Zagba, was to be honoured as that of a saint and martyr.
The awestruck multitude streamed out of the vomitoria, and went home with a sense of supernatural terror in their hearts; but many re-entered the actual arena, until it was thronged throughout its huge ellipse, to gaze more closely on the man who had died to save the lives of men. While their feelings were thus absorbed to the exclusion of every other thought I looked out for Walamir. He was leaning against the wall under the podium, pale and faint from loss of blood. I asked him about his wound.
"It is nothing," he said, "though I have bled so much. But oh! Kallias, my soul is sick with horror and hatred. Can you not help me to escape to my own people?"
The thought had occurred to me before he spoke. Very near us was the door of the spoliarium, into which the dead bodies were dragged after a fight. I whispered to him to slip into it while no one was looking, and I stole in immediately afterwards. It was empty. The attendants had been attracted to see what was going on; and, most fortunately, the farther exit was also unlocked, for they had expected to have to deal with many corpses. We were standing unobserved in the shadow of the mighty pile. I know not what strange premonition or unformed surmise had made me put in my wallet the thin overdress of a parabolanus. But I had done so, and suggested to him to throw off his armour and put on the disguise, folding the cowl over his head. Then he leant on my arm, and we walked by bypaths to my lodgings, which the Bishop had assigned to me near the Lateran. Our steps were marked with blood; but that was unavoidable, and very few people were in the side-streets. On the way we passed a little barber's shop, and by a sudden inspiration I went in and bought a plain black wig, which I placed on the short, sunny curls of the Amal. He was thus effectually concealed from notice, and I took him direct to my own cubicle, and brought him food.
It was not yet noon; but as not a moment was to be lost, and as escape was hopeless without aid, I decided to go straight to the palace of Stilico and to enlist his sympathies for Walamir.
It would, I knew, be hard to get an audience with the mighty Vandal, who was at once Prime Minister and Generalissimo, the husband of the Princess Serena, the father of the Empress Maria, and the official guardian both of Arcadius and Honorius. But God's unseen providence favoured me; for in the hall of the palace I saw the noble young Eucherius, Stilico's son. Jealousy raged on every side of the great Vandal like a furnace, and he was therefore most careful to bestow no great offices on his son, and to surround him with no splendour; although even these precautions did not avert the rumour that he was secretly plotting to make him an emperor. As Eucherius came forward I held forth my hand in sign of appeal. He stopped, and I asked him to grant a private interview of five minutes. He granted it, and I briefly told him the story of Walamir. He is not nearly so Romanised as his father, and I knew that his sympathy with the Goths was strong. Touched by the story, and by the bravery of the young Ostrogoth in his combat with Satyrus of which he had been a witness in the Colosseum, he said: "To-morrow the Emperor and my father are sending letters to Constantinople. The messengers will go by ship from Ostia to Dyrrachium. The Bishop of Rome, in whose protection you are, will be doubtless glad to send you back with answers to the letters you have brought to him from the Patriarch John. Let the young Goth be disguised, and accompany you as a subordinate. I will furnish him with a pass." I thanked him warmly and kissed his hand. Walamir was overjoyed. All went well; and it was worth all the risk to observe his passionate delight when the ship was well out of sight of land, and he was able to strip off the disguise. You would have laughed to see him toss the black wig into the sea, and emerge in his own bright hair.'
Did he get over his wounds so soon?' asked Philip.
Yes; and he attributes it to the hardy temperance of his training. Aware of the propensity of his nation to excess, neither he nor Thorismund ever touch wine; hence their wounds heal far sooner than those of their comrades.
Thanks in part to what he learned from Eutyches, Walamir has before his mind the loftiest ideal of what the Goths should be. He thinks that if they ever come to ruin, it can only be through their own faults and vices. He sets them a high example, and, when opportunity offers, he tells them his convictions. And now I have no more to narrate, and I feel sure that the Lady Olympias must be tired.'
Did Walamir get safely to the Court of Alaric?'
Yes, and I had the happiness of seeing his meeting with his brother. They are in truth a par nobile fratrum.'