His Murdered Father's Head
Est genus extremos Scythiæ vergentis in ortus

Trans gelidum Tanaim, quo non famosius ullum

Arctos abit; turpes habitus, obscænaque visu


Claud. In Ruf. ii.323-26.

So Walamir found a home, and often joined his friends in the Patriarcheion in their bathes and strolls and games in the gymnasium, having as it were grappled Eutyches to his soul with hooks of steel. He would have been even happy -- for youth is less grievously haunted than age or manhood by the gnawing vultures of memory -- if no further events had disturbed his life. But his happiness was constantly shaken by the dark news about his father's reverses. There was no way of hearing from him or communicating with him, nor did the young Ostrogoth dare to speak of him openly, or to let it be known that he was his son. He was again plunged in despair when he heard the intelligence of the drowning of thousands more of his countrymen by Fravitta's fleet during their wild attempt to cross the Hellespont on unguided rafts. After that catastrophe nothing was known for a long time, except that Gaïnas had ridden away with his remaining cavalry towards the banks of the Ister. Walamir feared that he would never again hear of his father or of his strong brother, Thorismund.

It was now January, 401. One day he was walking home with Eutyches from a rowing excursion on the Bosporus, when they saw a crowd of people assembling in the colonnade of the Forum, and were told that a deputation of Huns from Uldes, the Hunnish king, was marching to the Palace with a present to Arcadius and offers of allegiance and peace.

The two youths waited to watch the procession. The foremost Huns, who were soldiers marching in front of the ambassador, passed by. They were Taifals, the ugliest of the human race, and had the universal reputation of being also the vilest and most brutal. Nothing could be a more complete contrast than that between them and the fine-looking Goths. They were squat, and short, and yellow, and inconceivably ugly. Their cunning little eyes were the merest dots and slits in their large Mongolian faces. Their shock heads of hair seemed to be of no particular colour. Their wicked faces looked as if they were all mouths. 'Their faces,' says Jordanes, the Gothic historian, 'could hardly be called faces -- rather shapeless, black collops of flesh with little points instead of eyes; little in stature, but lithe and active; good riders, broad-shouldered, good at the bow, obstinate and proud, hiding under a barely human form the ferocity of a wild beast.' Their wars were mere enslavement, lust, and rapine. They cut down fruit-trees, they stopped wells; their chiefs boasted that where their horses had once trod no harvests ever grew. Their invasions were like the descent of devouring and disgusting locusts. The land was as the Garden of Eden before them; behind them it was a desolate wilderness.

The Goths looked on these execrable savages with a peculiarly deadly hatred. It was before the wave on wave of their innumerable myriads, pressing one after another out of the vast steppes of Asia, that, first the Ostrogoths, and then the Visigoths, had been driven forward out of the lands they loved, the lands of their immemorial possession. They felt it to be an infamy to succumb to these semi-human demons, who gained their distorted name of Tartars from the popular belief that they had been disgorged from the depths of Tartarus. But how could human valour or human wisdom fight against numbers numberless, bred as though from verminiferous pains? Warriors might fight with men, but they shrank from conflict with demon cannibals.

Some of these feelings were struggling in the mind of Walamir, and he was looking on the hideous phenomena with a shudder, when suddenly another part of the procession swept round the cornet of the Passage of Achilles into the Forum. Conspicuous among them was a young, swart soldier, clad in skins, but fully armed, carrying a long lance with something at its summit. It was the son of King Uldes himself, who had been set apart for what he deemed to be a service of honour.

At that moment Walamir was staring with a frown on the faces of the nearest Huns, not concealing an expression of unmistakable disgust, for their aspect justified and deepened the old hereditary loathing. But the quick glance of Eutyches recognised what that thing on the lance-point was. A dim rumour had reached him of the fate of Gaïnas at the hands of the Hunnish king; but as it was only a rumour, he had felt himself justified in keeping it from the ears of his friend. The news was also known to Aurelian, but he had kindly ordered his household to conceal it, and he had hoped that the procession would be over before Walamir returned from the Bosporus. Eutyches saw at once that the Hunnish prince was carrying the head of the Ostrogothic Amal who, when he last left Constantinople, had been Prætorian Præfect, Consul-designate, and Commander-in-Chief. It was so that one of the Gothic comrades of Gaïnas had carried into Constantinople the head of the murdered Rufinus; it was so that his own murdered head was now carried through the streets which had once witnessed his towering stature and lordly stride. The blood of Eutyches ran cold. What was he to do? He knew the fiery and almost ungovernable impulses of Walamir, and at that moment the young Goth was slowly turning to look at the new contingent of the Hunnish embassy.

Come away! come away!' said Eutyches in a hurried whisper. Do not let us look any longer. We have seen enough of these wretches.'

No, no!' said Walamir. Remember, I never saw such creatures as these before. I must see them march up to the Royal Gate -- -- God! what is that?'

Too fatally, with too frightful suddenness, the grim spectacle had burst upon him. With a shock of horror utterly indescribable he had seen the Hunnish prince stalking nearer with his uplifted lance -- and on its summit that livid face, those short, light curls, stiffened with dark blood. Good God! it was unmistakable! it was the head of his father Gaïnas!

With a cry like that of a wounded lion he sprang forward, and struck a wild blow at the young Hun. Happily for him, happily for Constantinople, Eutyches pulled him back with all his force. The hand of Walamir did, indeed, strike the cheek of the Hun, and in his startled fury and amazement he lost the unequal balance of his lance, and from its point the ghastly relic rolled in the dust of the street. Instantly swords flashed out. The son of King Uldes raised a yell of rage, and bloodshed would have ensued but for the admirable presence of mind displayed by Aurelian.

It is a madman!' he said, calmly addressing the Hun. 'We are not responsible. Soldiers, take away the lunatic. If need be, put him in manacles.'

The Hun had not been hurt, for the blow had scarcely reached him. He picked up the dissevered head, again spiked it on his lance-point, patted with insolent brutality the livid cheek, and marched onward with a broad grin. The attention of the multitude was too much absorbed to notice the incident. The rumour which Eutyches had heard had begun to spread among them, and they were receiving the head of Gaïnas with shouts of acclamation.

But the sight had been too much for Walamir. In the revulsion of feeling he fell senseless to the ground, and his wound, which had not long healed, burst out afresh, crimsoning with blood the Gothic wolfskin which, at some peril to himself, but in the spirit of defiant patriotism, he had always refused to discard. Aurelian's soldiers knew him, and understood the incident. To save appearances they made a show of arresting him. They fettered his hands with light manacles, and led him home. Aurelian, when he returned, excused and forgave his rashness, spoke to him a few words of quiet sympathy and warning, and set him free.

But the lad was nearly broken-hearted. He was again prostrated by a sharp attack of illness, and during his recovery he formed the invincible determination rather to beg his bread than to stay in that hateful, guilty city a day longer than he could help. As soon as he was permitted he visited Eutyches, and consulted with him and his friends what was to be done.

I cannot,' he said, remain in the house of Aurelian. I honour, I love him. He has been kind and generous. But wherever I walk in the streets I seem to breathe the crimson fumes of blood from the massacre of my people, and now I shall never be able to look upwards in the Forum without seeming to see -- -- ' He waved his hands before his face as though to avert a vision of horror.

But what will you do if you leave us?' asked Eutyches.

I have thought of that. The Gruthongs are no more. Alaric the Balt is a Therving, [13] not a Gruthong, but he is now at the head of my people. I will make my way to him.'

It will not be easy for you to make your way to Illyria in these troublous times,' said Philip.

I can be of use in that matter,' said David. Owing to the known and stainless integrity of my father, he is often entrusted with commissions by the Jewish merchants of Constantinople. Walamir could not travel with him in his Gothic dress, but if he will condescend to wear a disguise for three days, till he is well beyond the immediate boundaries of Thrace, within a week my father will take him as a companion as far as Illyricum, and even to Æmona.'

When does he start?' asked Walamir eagerly.

To-morrow,' said David, at earliest dawn. Come to him now.'

The four youths went, Philip being, as usual, delighted by even a chance of seeing Miriam. They found that little disguise was needed. An upper garment of striped cloth, worn like the Jewish abeyeh, and a wig of long, dark hair under a turban, so effectually disguised the young Goth that his best friend would not easily have recognised him, and they all laughed at the complete transformation. That night Walamir wrote a few lines to Aurelian. Illustrious and kind!' he said; after what has happened this city is to me like a dungeon or a lazar-house. I thank you with true gratitude. Pardon me that I leave you. Farewell.' He gave the letter to the slave in the porter's cell, who let him out at dawn. He had bidden farewell to Philip and David the evening before, but Eutyches met him in the Chalkoprateia, before he went into Michael's house to be disguised. With hearts full of foreboding that they should never meet again they embraced each other. Walamir, who owed so much to his friend, fell upon his neck and wept, and Eutyches wept on his neck, and, parting to fulfil their widely and divergent destinies, they saw each other no more. Walamir travelled with the Desposynos, and, pitying his almost wild impatience, Michael pressed forward as rapidly as possible on his way. They had no special adventures on the journey. In two days the youth was able to discard the disguise, which he could barely tolerate. Within a week he was at Æmona, the capital of Illyricum, where the King of the Visigoths held his Court.

It was Alaric's custom every morning to take his seat in the hall of his palace, attended by warriors with spear and shield, and there to receive all who brought him their petitions.

The session had scarcely begun when a boy in full Gothic dress, pale, but of fearless and noble mien, and beautiful as a young god, advanced alone up the hall towards the King. The Visigoths looked on in astonishment, for his bearing was that of a chief's son, and they did not know his face. Unheeding of the gaze of so many eyes fixed upon him, he walked straight towards the King's chair, bent his knee for a moment in sign of homage, and stood before him with folded arms. He was dressed entirely in white. His mantle of the finest white wool was fastened on the right shoulder with a golden eagle. His short-sleeved tunic of fine silk woven with gold threads was tightened round his waist by a girdle. His leggings reached a little below his knee, and, like his wide turned-down collar, were fringed with an ornamental pattern which indicated his high rank. Two broad bracelets of gold, after the fashion of his nation, spanned his strong, naked arms, and through the opening of his collar was visible the torque of fretted gold, carved with runes, on which one who stood near him could read the words, Gut annom hai laq (Sacred to the treasure of the Goths').

Speak, boy,' said Alaric kindly. Thy look is that of a young warrior. Hast come to cast in thy lot among us?'

King,' said Walamir, I am an Amal of the Gruthongs, the younger son of Gaïnas. I have fled from Constantinople; I would fain fight against the cowards and traitors who have destroyed my father and massacred my people. My brother -- I know not whether he lives or is dead.'

He lives, brother!' cried Thorismund, springing from his place among the bodyguard, and clasping his brother to his heart in a long embrace. He had been strangely moved from the moment his young brother had entered the hall, but in the months which had elapsed since they parted Walamir had passed the boundary between boyhood and youth. He had grown much taller and stronger, and the golden down was beginning to shine upon his upper lip. The pallor which his recent shock had left on his face, together with the improbability that he should be there, had prevented instant recognition. In truth, Thorismund thought that he had been killed with his mother in the massacre of June.

My brother!' he cried, and I thought you dead! Now, God be praised! we will never part again.'

Is he your brother, Thorismund?' said Alaric, taking him by the hand. Young Amal, you shall be as welcome to me as Thorismund has been. You shall be my page-at-arms, and you shall both be by my side when we enter the gates of Rome.'

We will!' said the young Amalings, lifting up their hands to Heaven.


[13] The Ostrogoths called themselves Gruthongs; the Visigoths bore the tribal name of Thervings.

chapter xxxv walamir and eutyches
Top of Page
Top of Page