I know, and can feel, Amazon and the batch of writer they hired – are up shitcreek with no paddle! They want to keep DEAD Aragorn in their series. This is a huge mistake. The Christian crowd will be turned off. He’s already a Christ-like figure. To reborn a young version of him, is a disaster waiting to happen. Being a Biblical Scholar, I study how the Bible has been tweeked. You can not alter Genesis, unless you highlight what is hidden.
Guess who has the solution? This time I will not be giving it away for free. I want to sign a contract with Lara Roozemond to be OUR agent. A for Agent. A for ‘No Aragorn’. Am I thinking about a Female Aragorn? Yes, but, perhaps not. I have found the Missing Link – that will blow your mind!
I want to know their secret before I die! What makes women tick? Tell me……
The news comes courtesy of TheOneRing.net (via Slashfilm), who tweeted on Wednesday that multiple sources have confirmed to them that the billion-dollar Lord of the Rings TV series‘ first season will center on a young Aragorn. The report goes on to say that the show will not be a retread of the events of the War of the Ring, and will be focused on the events found within the Appendices, which gives a wealth of material for the TV show to explore.
My working theory is that, if this report is reliable, the show will track Aragorn as he is fostered by Elrond in Rivendell, following the young heir as he learns the truth of his royal blood all the way, meets and falls in love with Arwen, and becomes the Chieftain of the Dúnedain, a.k.a. the Rangers of the North.
Arnoldine Adriana “Adine” Mees (1908–1948)
I suspect Lara Roozemond likes the Dragon tattoo, and thus I invented The Rose Wing. I think I got two hits on my hand. I am doing a good job of getting into the mind of the Bond and Rose Woman because I grew up with dramatic women. I will be posting Tom Snyder’s devious delving into the mental illness of my Rose Women to show everyone how my families PRIVACY was invaded – for money! I am an a Artist! I have the Sight! I see Lara is wearing the cap of the Horse Consortium with BAD. The A crowns her. What does the B&D stand for. Arion Roozemonde moves to Carmel founded my members of the Bohemian Club. The B. What a great name! A Harlequin Romance name! Arion has a split personality. I have sensed Lara is – ANGRY?
“There is no Anger above the Anger of women.”
“She shouldn’t get on a horse. She thinks she is the reincarnation of a Centauride. She was a shut-in as a child, and read a lot. She has an altar to Hera. She believe men fucked the worship of her all up. She is out for revenge.
Uh-oh. He’s feeling dominated and wants the upper hand. If he touches her in a superior manner, she’ll kick the shit out him! She knows French Foot Boxing. When her eyes start blazing, and she declares “I am Arion!” best cut her off.”
ROSAMUNDA THE PRINCESS:
AN HISTORICAL ROMANCE OF THE
“NON EST IRA SUPER IRAM MULIERIS.” – Ecclesiasticus XXV, 23.
“There is no anger above the anger of a woman.” – Ecclesiasticus XXV, 23.
ROSAMUNDA THE PRINCESS
EVERY era of the world’s recorded vicissitudes has its peculiar charm. History which links together for us the successive ages of the past, is like a silken cord upon which are strung a vast number of variously-hued gems. Here is one of sober and Subdued tint, – a period of grave pursuit and monastic learning, – there a cycle of years, which like the clear sapphire seems to reflect the serenity of heaven itself, – here another of dark and cloudy appearance, fit emblem of an ignorant or indolent age. Now and then, too, comes a ruby or a carbuncle red with the fierce carnage of warlike races, a jewel precious after its kind, and not ill-beseeming the ancient diadems of hardy kings. And although we of these gentler times may prefer to adorn the regal coronal with the more temperate beauty of the white diamond, the tender pearl, or the milky and delicate brilliance of the changeful opal, it may yet be no unpleasant pastime for us in our lighter moments to give wing to our thoughts, and send them back to dip and hover, swallow-like, over the ruddy stream of those past and angry ages, whose fittest types are the crimson gems on the chain of the world’s rosary.
Such a wild and stormy epoch were the fifth and sixth centuries of the Christian era, during which time prodigious swarms of barbarians poured down like devouring locusts on the whole of the European continent, and with amazing success and rapidity forcibly possessed themselves of Thrace, Pannonia, Gaul, Spain, Africa, and a large portion of Italy. Wherever these terrible warriors penetrated, bloodshed and ruin marked the way. Fertile districts they waste, cities they sacked and plundered, villages they to ashes; men, women, and infants, without distinction, fell victims to their lawless arms. Fire, pestilence, and
famine ravaged the land before and around them, and still new herds of invaders followed, expelled, and routed their fierce predecessors, preying; like savage beasts on their own kind. Distinctive titles applied by authors of that distracted age to several of the barbarian princes, mark the horror dread which they inspired among the civilized nations. Epithets such as “The Scourge of the Lord,” “The Destroyer of are peoples,” are continually employed in contemporary records to designate these formidable chieftains. Beneath the blow of their irresistible battle-axe, the Roman power which had queened it so long over the kingdoms, sank and perished. New blood was infused into the veins of the world, and the old modes of government, policy and thought were swept from their foundation. An age of devastation, conflict, and excitement, shook the continent of Europe from end to end, and in a brief span changed its whole face and spirit. Art, science, and learning fell into disrepute among the laity; all skill save that of arms was reckoned contemptible; and deeds of the wildest daring, or of the cruellest revenge received the praise due to virtue and courage. It is therefore’ no matter for wonder that in the history of these turbulent centuries, when human life was valued only in respect of physical strength and prowess, when hatred, ambition, love, and vengeance tore the hearts of men with their keenest fangs, when womanhood knew no softness and manhood no remorse, many a strange adventure and wild pathetic romance are found interwoven with details of rapine and conquest, – like tears upon a blood-stained page; stray chords of eolian music borne to our ears by the blast of the angry storm-wind.
Courtly poets and minnesingers of old days perpetuated the memory of romances such as these in their songs and impromptu rhymes, some of which lived into succeeding ages, and finally incorporated themselves as popular legends, either to take lasting hold of the minds of men among other grim and sad realities of the past, or to fade away into the region of mythical story and national folk-lore.
Chief among the mighty names of the Teutonic heroes, and foremost in the annals of those wild and warlike episodes
which even so late as the reign of Charlemagne, the German minstrels still continued to celebrate in song, we find the name of the renowned Scandinavian warrior Alboin, and the story of the Gothic Princess, – proud and beautiful Rosamunda.
And it may be observed by way of tribute to the art of poetry, that we owe almost all our esoteric knowledge of this disturbed but important era in the formation and destiny of Europe, to the individual romances preserved by itinerant bards and monkish rhymers; so true it is that the biography of one great man or woman of an age presents a bettor picture of its polities, events, and manners, than the most minute and exhaustive general history.
Let us, then, eschewing further preface, employ the power which these poetic chroniclers have placed in our hands, and annihilate time and space by and of the only magic wand which modern science knows, to reproduce, as on the table of a camera obscura, some few scenes of an old and terrible drama, first written with no inventive pen and sober ink, but with warm earnest blood at the point of many a terrible sword.
IT was the first watch of a certain summer night in the year of our Lord 564. A fair, bright moon had risen over the ancient city of Sirmium, on the banks of the river Savus in Pannonia, a city Roman in name and in architecture, but now inhabited and governed by a fierce tribe of the Gothic race, the pagan Gepidæ. The broad paved streets, across which here and there were flung the black shadows of projecting porticoes, resounded no more with the sharp clang of Roman arms, nor did the sweet full song of Christian praise awake any longer the echoes of yonder marble columned temple. Instead of these, the step of the barbarian Swede trod the thoroughfares, the flat blade of his rude battle-axe glinted under the white light, and snatches of wild hymns in praise of Odin or of Thor disturbed at intervals the serenity of the soft evening air. For the Gepidæ, singular in this respect among their kindred, still clung with a hardy fidelity to the faith of their early northern sires. Christianity had ratified its triumph in the world long since, through the conversion of the Emperor Constantine; and the great convocation held at Nice in 325, had secured the recognition of the Catholic Church as the only true institution of Almighty God. But as it is in these days, so it was then. Catholicity failed to content the whole world. Heresies without number sprang up among the nations, and the Christians, who before their emancipation had contended only with pagan persecutors, now found themselves attacked and challenged by their own brethren, insomuch that in a short time the dissension within the camp became as grievous as ever the conflict with secular authorities and heathen rule had proved in older days. At the time of which we write, Arianism was the most popular and widely-spread of these heretical outgrowths from the parent tree; and it was perhaps rather complimentary than otherwise to the Church Catholic and Apostolic, that nearly all the rough and bloodthirsty hordes which first ravaged and then occupied central Europe, when time and the pressure of association had obliged them to abandon their hereditary creed, disdained the pure milk of the Word as too refined and delicate a potion for their spiritual appetites, and adopted in preference the theological vagaries of Arius. The Gepidæ,
however, as we have seen, were, eyen in the latter part of the century, still staunch to the old Gods. At once the and the frankest of the barbaric clans, they scorned the pretence of conversion to any new beliefs, with good reason deeming the warlike religion of the Norse better fitted than the mild doctrines of a saint her faith, to that adventurous and pitiless course of life which it was their pleasure to pursue. So their altars still smoked to Odin the Hero, and they swore their most solemn vows before the shrine of the terrible Three, the changeless and cold-hearted Nornir; and ever at their festivals the mead-cup was emptied to the honour of the immortal dwellers in Asgard, and to the spirits of the valiant warriors feasting in the Valhalla of the gods.
Tonight the gods were the theme of song in the pavilion of the Gepide king. He and his followers were encamped outside the city walls of Sirmium, for there had been a battle between the Gepide; and their rivals, the Winili, or Langobards with whom they were at feud, and the Langobards had gained the victory. But the vanquished were a hardy race, and their ill-fortune did but serve to fortify their fierce and steadfast spirit, Death they dreaded not, and extinction itself was a slight evil in their eyes when compared with the shame of surrender to a foe, or the bitterness of relinquishing the chance of vengeance. So they comforted themselves with the prospect of speedy retaliation, and pledged themselves, as they wiped their blood-stained axes, to seek no rest and beget no heirs until they had humbled Audoin, the prince of the victorious tribe. Therefore, when their corselets were doffed and the shields were laid aside in the tents, a great feast was held in the pavilion of Turisend the Gepide chief, and many were the mighty warriors assembled about the board; but the face of the royal host was sad, and his courtiers ate and drank in silence, for the feast they kept that night was a feast of Death.
Eighty years of wild and martial life had knotted the brow and whitened the long beard of king Turisend, and his figure, though grand and sinewy as became his race and his station, was gaunt in its outline like that of an ancient forest-tree that has weathered many angry storms. Grim of aspect though he was, the face of the old chieftain was not devoid of that strange pathos which we are wont to find in the features of the aged, and the grey eyes, that shifted to and fro so restlessly under their shaggy overhanging fringes, were softened at times with a haze like that of tears. For the youngest son of King Turisend lay dead on the battle-field at Asfeld far away, and the heart of the old man was heavy for the sake of the youth who had been his pride and his best beloved.
Suddenly, in the midst of the silent guests uprose a tall
stalwart Goth, with bare brown arms and neck, round which were ornaments of gold. And the tones which rolled from his massive throat were deep as echoes of thunder from the bosom of a cavern.
“King Turisend,” he said; “and ye his warriors who feast with him tonight before the gods, give heed to me the minstrel Thorsen, for the spirit of the dwellers in Asgard has come upon me, filling my veins with fire, that this night I may sing inn your ears a song of counsel and prophecy at the bidding of Odin the Mighty, Destroyer of armies, Avenger of the Gothic race!”
And straightway all the warriors at the king’s table leapt to their feet and shouted together,
“It is well said! Give ear to the scalder Thorsen, the son of Knud, and to the prophecy of Odin the Hero, the Avenger of men!” So the king called a page, and bade him fetch a harp for the bard; and Thorsen swept its sonorous strings with his great broad hands, on which the corded sinews shewed like the gnarled branches of a leafless oak, and anon he lifted his mighty voice and sang his inspired rhyme.
“One even at his palace gate,
Like a marble column grand and tall,
Odin the War-god, the Hero stood,
Crisp was his hair and red as blood,
And his ample chest was broad and straight.
As a city wall!
“North and south he spread his hands
Over all the Gothic lands;
Over camp, and moor, and glen
Stretched his mighty arms asunder
Far as their embrace could reach,
And like thunder
In the van of armed men,
Was the stirring of his speech.
“I am the Hero-King of old,
Odin the Lord of Death, the Strong;
And in my courts of gold
Revel and rite I hold,
Banquet and song!
Each in his brazen chair,
My warrior sons who fell in fight
Feast at my board tonight!
“ ‘But apart in that vast hall
Nearest to Odin’s throne,
Stands the chief seat of all
Never was there hero meet
Yet to fill that royal seat,
Never yet have human feet
Those bright steps ascended;
Yet must I find me one
Worthy to rule my feast,
Ere night be ended,
Ere in the fruitful east
Reddens the sun!
“ ‘Thus above the Gothic lands
Spread I my hands;
Thus from the south and north
Call I my children forth;
Ye who have souls of flame
Sons of a mighty Sire,
Ye whom the thirst for fame
Quickens like fire,
Chiefs, whose undaunted souls
Odin alone controls,
Hear and obey;
Dire the gift I ask,
God-like the mighty task,
God-like will I repay!
“ ‘For by these ruddy hairs,
Red with ten thousand wars,
Odin, whom Heaven adores,
Odin the Hero swears;
He shall be counted meet
That most exalted seat
Who to my throne shall bring
Over my solemn feast
He shall be chosen priest,
Worthy renown and sway.
God-like the gift I ask,
God-like the mighty task,
Like a God I repay!’
“Thus, with his arms asunder,
Cloud-like and grand,
Over all the northern land
Odin rolled his voice in thunder;
And from the south and north
Slowly his sons came forth
One by one;
While in the amethyst
Splendour of sunset mist
Sank the sun.
“Then to their sire’s feet
Deadly gifts the heroes bore,
Wine that slays by smooth deceit,
Gold for bribes, and iron for war;
But never a word and never a breath
Parted the lips of the Lord of Death.
“Silent evermore and dim,
Dread of form and vast of limb,
Odin sat unmoved and grim:
None of all his sons had grace
Worthy that exalted place,
Sadly, with averted face,
Passed they all away,
None was found to rule the feast
And already in the east
Dawn was gray.
“Then against the sky behold
Moved a shape of awful seeming
Fair and tall, with hair of gold
Down its marble bosom streaming.
Red its slender hands with blood
Cold its eyes with bitter hate;
Pale as stone and proud it stood,
Terrible as Fate.
“Rose the mighty God, and straightway
Bending from his brazen gateway
Spoke with swift and bated breath:
‘Who art Thou, – more dread than Odin?
Art thou mortal, – art thou human?’
‘Yea,’ she said, ‘an angry Woman
Stands before thee, Lord of Death!’
“Loudly then, as rolls the thunder,
Odin laughed with triumph dread,
And with both his giant hands
Whirled the brazen gates asunder!
‘Enter thou, my child he said,
‘Thou my best beloved art,
For the gift thy Lord demands
Is the hate within thy heart!
Nothing knows the mighty Odin,
Curse divine or vengeance human,
Rage of God or mortal foeman,
Deadly as the wrath of woman!’
“Thus for the heroes’ feast
Odin found a ruler meet;
And the champion’s golden seat
Thus was won,
Ere in the fruitful cast
Broke the sun!”
The song was ended, and as the minstrel’s hand dropped from the strings of the harp, a low murmur arose among his audience. No one applauded, for the rhapsody was regarded by most of those present as a prophetic inspiration from a divine source, as, indeed, Thorsen himself had declared it; and to the less reverent of the company the sentiments set forth by the song were somewhat distasteful. One or two old veterans of the battle-field gnawed their grey beards in silence, indignant that either god or mortal should have presumed to assert thus emphatically the superiority of feminine over male malignity. But as Thorsen yet stood erect in his place, the fervour which had prompted his minstrelsy
still warm on his rugged brow, the eyes of all the guests moved with one accord towards the entrance of the pavilion. For there, one shapely hand raised high to push aside the heavy folds of the tent canvas, stood King Turisend’s fair granddaughter, Rosamunda. Her form was tall and majestic, passing the common height of womankind, and her bare rounded arms displayed such muscular development as no princess in Europe now-a-days can boast. Her hair, coarse in fibre and ruddy-gold in hue, streamed in crisp wavy masses to her waist, and about her head sparkled a bright circlet, significant of her noble station. Rosamunda’s was not that high-bred-type of beauty which in later times adorned the royal courts – delicate pink and white loveliness, with all life bloom, the sweetness and the fragility of the blush-rose – but rather the grand outline of shape and the splendid cast bf features which one imagines to have characterized Semiramis and Cleopatra; and which, if tales be true, is yet found in the women of some wild tribes.
Rosamunda!” cried the old king. It was the first out-spoken word which had been heard since the cessation of the song. And as if the utterance of that single name dissolved a spell, the guests with one impulse aroused themselves from meditation, and besought their chief that the princess might enter the pavilion.
“Come hither, my child,” quoth Turisend, mildly; “sit thee here at my right hand, and drink from my cup. What brought thee to our tent tonight?”
“I stood alone in the moonlight without,” she answered him, “and I heard the song of Thorsen the bard. My lord, take heart, the prophecy of Odin will not deceive.”
“Alack, daughter!” sighed the white-haired king, looking fondly upon her, “when brave warriors fail to conquer, and iron harness to resist, when sword, and helm, and shield avail not to, strengthen fierce hearts, what can the fair soft fingers of a woman do to avenge a nation disgraced?”
Rosamunda cast down her eyes.
“My fathers sire,” she said, “needs not that I should tell him how many and how strange are the chances of warfare.”
“Nay, child,” responded the aged chieftain, mournfully shaking his long beard, “for have I not this day beheld the death of thy brave uncle, my dear son Thurismund? Well and ‘valiantly he fought, a true prince of the Gothic race that knows not fear, of foe, but neither did his daring nor the might of Odin avail to save us from defeat. We are fallen! – fallen!”
“Alas, my Turisend!” groaned a husky old warrior, infected with the melancholy of his liege-lord, “times were otherwise with us when Ardarich, thy great ancestor, led
our fathers to combat against the tyrannous Hun! Were not the Gepidæ – the proud invincible Gepidæ – first of the Gothic race to cast off that hateful yoke? Ours was a nation of victors then, brooking no master save our own, – and now, woe the day” – we are like to become servants of Audoin the Langobard! Chances of warfare, these, princess the chances of all human things!”
Rosamunda’s face brightened with new colour.
“Aye,” she said, earnestly, “but the poet would have us know that chance is; powerless to cheat or assuage the hatred of a wrathful woman! Her vengeance strikes as strike the lightnings of the high gods, – most true, most sure, unswerving, and unmoved by lapse of time. She, while inauspicious seasons pass, remains ever fixed in her purpose, patient and inflexible as heaven, eagle-eyed for the opportunity she desires. Your bribes may fall you, your fire may be quenched, the hand that guides your sword may err, the steel may snap asunder; a thousand fatalities may check the rage or baulk the skill of men. But he who dares a woman’s anger grips the horny palm of Death himself, yea, even though she wear sweet smiles upon her lips, saluting that doomed man with words of love and favour. None of her wiles shall be sponsors for her faith; year after year she will hunt down her prey, till at last her hour comes; she marks it well, she strikes, – the man she hates is crushed to powder. What she conceives shall surely issue in her deed; nor gold, nor prayers, nor touch of children’s lips, nor terror of steel shall buy compassion of her, if she be proud or injured, or oppressed. No guerdon which men or gods can pay shall prevail to abate a tiny measure of that woman’s vengeance, though to wreak it she slay a hero. Her hand will not refrain from mixing the poison cup because she hears her sucking child is dead, nor will her resolute fingers quiver on the dagger’s hilt albeit kingdoms fall, and priests and prophets blaspheme their gods!”
Scarce had the princess pronounced these last words, her eyes dilated and her voice powerful with emotion, than there was heard the dull trampling of many feet upon the sward outside the tent, and the hand of a man suddenly raised the drapery which covered the opening to the pavilion. Rosamunda started from the board, and the chieftains about her rose uneasily. A tall and stately figure, habited as a warrior, entered the banquet-tent, and with uncovered head approached the king. The stranger, though but a youth in years, moved with so haughty a gait, and wore so ferocious an aspect, that the pages who stood by the chair of Turisend involuntarily recoiled, and shrank, with blanched cheeks, into the darkest corners available. Forty armed men flocked
into the pavilion behind the unexpected visitant, following him in well-ordered silence, as vassals wait upon their lord. Dignified and calm, the Venerable Turisend arose and fastened his dim eyes earnestly on the face of the young man before him.
“Thou art Alboin, prince bf the Langobardi,” said he, in deep constrained tones, “thou art the slayer of my son Thurismund. It was thine arm that struck him to the earth, thy spear that cleft his heart! Wherefore comest thou hither to his father?”
“King Turisend,” responded the Lombard heir, “thou sayest truly; and it is the deed whereof thou speakest that brings me into thy presence tonight. My father, the mighty Audoin, holds triumphant festival with his chiefs, rejoicing over the honour our arms have won, and over the f all of thy princely son, whose life the Christians’ God delivered into these unworthy hands! But, albeit the glory of our successes on the plain of Asfeld be thus due in so great a measure to me, my father’s warriors in vain besought him to permit me a place beside his own at the feast of victory. ‘My chief’s are not unmindful, ‘said my royal sire, ‘of those wise and honourable customs which our great ancestors inflexibly observed, and which I also will retain inviolate. Whatever merit or prowess may distinguish prince of Scandinavian blood, whatever fame his skill or courage may have earned, ye know well that he cannot be admitted to sit at the table of the king until he shall have solemnly received his arms from a foreign and a royal hand. Go then, my son, ‘he added, ‘depart in accordance with the dictates of our national law, and seek forthwith the honour thou lackest at some neighbouring court.’ Thus my father dismissed me; and I, choosing from among his guests these forty companions of my fortunes in arms, sped hither straightway to thee, most Venerable host, since in very sooth thy royal pavilion for the nonce stands nearer our own than any other, and I am in haste to take that promised seat at our board, which cannot be mine till I invested with the rights of manhood. Do thou then, O Turisend, as becomes thine exalted station and warlike renown, extend to Alboin the favour he demands! As thy suppliant, and not as thine enemy, I present myself tonight in thy royal presence, to crave of thy courtesy a boon which no warrior of regal lineage dare for shame’s sake refuse to one of equal rank. I kneel for thy grace, noble Gepide, – delay not the performance of thy part in the ceremony!”
So speaking, the heir of the Langobard monarchy sank upon his knee before the father of his victim, with eyelids
lowered and head abased, counterfeiting the gait of a decorous humility, although more; than one ‘spectator of the scene perceived a scornful and defiant curl upon; his lip, which betrayed the true character of his emotions, and of the motives that had really impelled him thus to out-rage the sorrowful court of King Turisend. That aged chieftain of a pagan race proved; himself at least more generous and refined of heart than his Christian visitor. For, as we have seen, all the Scandinavian tribes which had settled in Lombardy professed some form, orthodox or heterodox, of the new creed, and the Langobard people over whom the fierce Audoin feigned, had long adopted the Arian perversion of the faith. Nor did this difference of religious opinion between the Winili and the Gepide nations tend to mitigate the bitterness of hatred which warlike rivalry had enkindled between them. The converts, albeit themselves in a state of enmity with Mother Church, regarded the adorers of Odin and Thor with all the disdainful rancour of theological pride; and the followers of the northern gods, returning scorn with scorn, contemned the renegades as a perjured and time-serving generation, unworthy the grand lineage and the ancient country whence they had sprung.
Angry reflections on this fruitful theme, awakened no doubt by the words of Alboin’s address, swept through the perturbed minds of his hearers, and many a wrinkled brow in the assembly deepened its furrows bodingly above eyes that sparkled fire as the young man ceased speaking. For a brief space there was a pause, pregnant with awe, while the old Gepide king wrestled silently with the black wrath which rose in his desolate soul, and then, making no attempt to raise the petitioner from his knees, he gave answer thus in low, stern tones: –
“Prince, the favour and the hospitality thou claimest at our hands we freely bestow. Our honour demands that we receive this visit peaceably and in good faith; wherefore I bid thee welcome to our court and solemn festival. But, my son, where are the arms with which I must invest thee? Let thy followers produce them!”
Scarcely were the words uttered than Alboin suddenly leapt from the ground, and turned his face upon the forty warriors who had entered the tent behind him; and as though the action were recognised among them for a preconcerted signal, every right hand in the company sought the sword-hilt ominously, and every voice responded with one accord in a deep rough murmur: –
“The trophy! the trophy!”
Again the eyes of Alboin moved to the countenance of
his royal host, and extending towards him both his mailed arms and empty hands, he cried aloud in ringing tones: “King of the Gepidæ, thou hearest how my brave companions remind me that only half of my errand to thee is yet accomplished. The laws of our court and nation demand that I bear to my father’s feet for token and for of my valour, the helmet, the shield, and the sword of the man I have slain! It is with the arms of thy son that thou must invest thy suppliant; it is with his breastplate that my heart must be covered, his crest, that must surmount my brow! Such is the sum of my petition, and of King Audoin’s command, and such the favour, which, well I know, O Turisend, thy courtesy and thine honour will right accord!”
Words like these, spoken with so much audacity of manner and of phrase on an occasion of such sorrow and disappointment to the Gepidæ, were in the highest degree irritating to the proud spirits of their chiefs. A clamour of indignant expostulation arose from the throng which surrounded Turisend; and many of his followers, but for the obedient love and Veneration they bore him, would straightway have I thrown themselves upon the overbold intruder, like eager hounds upon a wild boar. This the old man well understood, as, looking round upon their strained and hungry faces, he waved them back with a steady hand.
“Norsemen,” he said, addressing his own people rather than the Scandinavian prince who stood before him, – “ye know that the years which are past, Wacho the predecessor of Audoin slew with his own hand Tatus, lord of these Winili, and Ildechis the only son of the dead man fled hither to me for refuge. And Wacho demanded him of me, that he might die as his father had died, threatening me and mine with implacable and powerful enmity if I should refuse to deliver up my guest. Then I called you, my chiefs, to judge between us in a national assembly, and I bade you decide whether it were wise in us for so small a matter, to risk the wrath of and of the Winili. And all of you answered me with one consent: – ‘It is better, O Turisend, to suffer annihilation, than to violate the laws of hospitality!’ Goths, those words of yours were well and nobly spoken; be once again as brave and as just! Another son of the Winili comes to beg a favour at our hands, and if his request sound harshly in our ears, it is not because he asks a thing amiss, but because our hearts are wounded. Who of you all around me suffers so much as I, who have this day looked upon the face of my dead son? But we, who are men, must not endure the dominions of a childish spleen. Alboin does but ask his lawful guerdon, and Turisend will not withhold a spoil so
rightly won. Go, therefore, one of you, my chiefs, and bid my son Kunimond bring hither his brother’s arms.”
Then in the midst of a sullen hush, one tall gaunt figure arose and quitted the pavilion to do the will of Turisend, and none of they Gothic veterans spoke a word or moved; a hand until the messenger returned. With him came Kunimond, the king’s only remaining son, father of the beautiful Rosamunda; a man of ripe; and vigorous years, stalwart; in limb, huge of stature, and like all the rest of the Gepide chiefs, bareheaded. In either hand he carried the still blood-stained weapons of his brother Thurismund, – helm and targe, sword and corselet, and passing proudly by the heir of the Lombards, laid his burden at the feet of the aged king.
“Thou hast commanded, my father,” he said, bending low “and I have done thy bidding.”
“Son Kunimond” returned the royal Goth, “the gods approve thy doing. And now I am glad that thou earnest not hither sooner.”
“Father,” said the younger man, “the kingly office which thou holdest compelled thy presence at this feast of death; but as for me, I sought rather the stillness of mine own tent, for my heart was heavy in my bosom, and I cared not to drink wine.”
“Foolishly spoken, dull Goth!” muttered the deep voice of a Langobard behind Alboin. “Wine in the skull makes mirth in the breast!”
“Darest thou jest with a foe?” cried Kunimond furiously, his fierce blood breaking over his face like flame. “Son of a hound! I tell thee I will make a goblet of thy dog’s head, and drink thine own blood out of it!” (1) Uttering this taunt, he sprang towards a battle-axe which lay near at hand upon a pile of arms in a corner of the pavilion, but Turisend, calm and dignified still, interposed a stern rebuke.
“Son, thy vengeance forgets alike mine honour and thine own rank, Threats such as this which thou hast uttered are oftenest fulfilled upon him who makes them.”
Kunimond paused and stood silent, trembling in every massive limb of his body under the force of arrested passion, but the thirsty heart of Alboin leapt high at the words, and he laid them up in his memory for a day of yet completer triumph and crueller achievement. And Rosamunda noted the vicious gleam that flashed in the steely, scornful eyes of the Lombard prince, and straightway, out of her untempered soul arose a wild and desperate anger, swift and strong as the biting sea-wind that rises out of the tameless deep at
night. Strange and awful that the first sharp emotion which ever entered her fair bosom should be the passion, not of love, but of hate, – hate in all the mighty intensity and fiery impatience of a sudden and overwhelming desire. So fierce, so potent was the intoxication of her wrath, that as he stood and faced the man who had evoked it, her whole being sickened with revulsion, and half unconsciously she extended her tremulous hands, seeking some human support. Dizzily the torch-lights of the pavilion rocked before her eyes, the murmur of voices round her concentrated itself into a thin sharp whisper, and the agitated faces of the warriors fluctuated and mingled like the faces of phantoms in a fever-dream, till with a low sigh she recovered herself, touching the hand of her father.
“Rosamunda! Why camest thou hither?”
But she answered nothing; she had no senses save for one. Alboin knelt again at the feet of Turisend, his own war-harness laid aside on the ground, and his limbs invested with the spoils of his victory, a demon incarnate in the iron frame which once had held the beating heart of Thurismund the Gepide. A shout of satisfaction arose from the forty Winili as their prince sprang deftly to his feet, belted and helmed; but the Gothic chieftains gave no response in sound. Bitterest rage, like deepest love, is mute.
The ceremony over, Turisend beckoned his self-invited guests to the banquet-table, with an austere courtesy of which they were not slow to avail themselves. One after one the Gepidæ resumed their seats, each tacitly taking his command from the eyes of the aged monarch, till but one place was unoccupied, – the stool upon which the ill-fated Thurismund had been wont to sit beside his father’s royal chair. One man alone in the company yet remained standing, nor was the delay made without intention or significance. Alboin still waited by the side of his host, watching with tiger-like acuteness of gaze the shadow of contending passions that strove together in the old veteran’s rugged face. The Gepidæ perceived the additional insult designed, and one of them, bolder or more privileged than the others, rose to yield his own seat to the Langobard hero. The action recalled Turisend to a vivid sense of the crisis; the hard ice of pride which had restrained the tide of his sorrow broke up beneath the stroke; – he raised his eyes, and looked full at the slayer of his child. That look Alboin answered as none but a savage could have done, – he seated himself in Thurismund’s vacated place. Utterly unmanned, the poor old king turned away his head, and laid his quivering hands upon the arm of Kunimond, who sat at the right of the
throne. Tender remembrances, futile regrets, unutterable loathing rushed into his mind; the father was no longer a king, nor the aged man. a warrior; tears darkened the sight which time had already dimmed; ‘the staunch old heart found vent at last for its grief In words.
“Ye; gods!” he cried with faltering lips, “how dear is that place, – how hateful is that person!”
Like the first blast of a long-brooding storm, the passionate exclamation swept the banquet-table, and provoked to speech the choler which devoured the souls of Kunimond and his companions. With a pagan oath the Gothic prince brought his giant fist as furiously down upon the oaken board before him as though he struck a Langobard in the forehead, and while the horn-cups reeled and clattered together, cried, “By the sinews of Odin and Thor, chieftains! we do ill to entertain in this goodly fashion such Christian curs as these! They pollute our meats, they poison our wine, – the very tent smells foully of their presence! Behold their unkempt manes and shaggy lengths of beard, look at the white bands with which they swathe their crooked legs, and say if they resemble not alike in form and odour the unclean steeds of our Sarmatian plains!”
“Thou hast aptly jested, rude Goth,” responded Alboin, with ready asperity, “for like wild steeds the Winili can kick when they list! Go, visit the field of Asfeld, and mark the spot where thy dainty brother’s corpse was trodden today in the dust beneath our prancing hoofs!”
Thus the tempest burst, and in a moment the pavilion was alive with flashing steel. The Gepidæ sprang to their feet, the swords of the Winili flew from their scabbards. Imprecations and cries of rage heightened the tumult, and the Feast of Death might indeed have doubly justified its name, had not the noble Turisend again interfered to save his own reputation and the lives of his guests.
“Depart, I pray you, Langobards!” he cried, raising his bare arms above the sea of swaying combatants, “and you, my Gepidæ, restrain your unseemly anger! Alboin, I have granted thee thy will, I have yielded to thee the trophy and the favour thou earnest to seek; take now thy dismissal from a board whereat thou canst sit no longer in safety or in honour.”
At the voice of the brave and ancient king the Goths were stung with shame, and hastily the older men stretched forth their brawny hands to check the choleric onslaught of their younger companions. “Peace, peace!” they shouted, “it is the will of Turisend!”
Then amid the subsiding uproar Alboin stood forward,
and intrepidly addressed his royal entertainer, his tall robust figure gleaming under the ruddy light in the dinted armour of Thurismund.
“King of the Gepidæ!” he cried, in a voice like the sound of a clarion, and all the pavilion stood hushed to sudden stillness, “well and proudly hast thou dealt with me and my people tonight l I own thine honour, though l hate thy tribe! But give me yet one further grace, and Alboin shall be henceforward foe of thine no longer, but friend and staunch ally for evermore. Refuse, and I will push my ire and the ire of my father’s house against thee and thine, until no Gepide warrior shall remain alive to say to his peer – ‘Our name and nation have passed away.’
“I have seen Rosamunda, the daughter of Kunimond, present here tonight. Give her to me in marriage, and bind the souls of Winili and Gepidæ in one!”
He ceased and fixing his eyes hard on the face of the princess, stepped rapidly to her side and stooped to kiss her lips. But the fiery Rosamunda, too horror-stricken for words, struck dumbly at him with her scornful hands, and with a gesture of supreme abhorrence spat her hatred into his smiling face, and fled!
Rout and confusion followed her The Gepidæ were elated and triumphant, the Lombards maddened with the sting of insulted pride. Alboin alone prevailed to stem the torrent of impending conflict. With many an arrogant threat he drew his vassals forth from that fateful pavilion, where in his royal seat amid the Babel of arms and shouting, with the blood-red glare of the sinking torch-light upon his bowed and whitened head, Turisend the Gothic king sat weeping at the banquet-table of Death.
(16:1) The Langobards, says Gibbon, propagated the belief that their heads were formed like the heads of dogs, and that they drank the blood of their vanquished enemies. Hence the significance of Kunimond’s retort.
DAYS and nights coursed slowly onward in the Gothic camp, which yet remained upon the hill slope outside the gates of Sirmium; troublous days of uncertainty and watchfulness; nights of anxious consultation and little rest. Turisend, stricken down by age and sorrow, lay sick upon his couch in the royal palace within the city, whither the Gepide chief’s had borne him, helpless and paralysed, from the pavilion which had been the theatre of the stormy scene recorded in the last chapter. Kunimond and the Gothic army still maintained their post, hourly expectant of the reprisal with which the last words of Alboin had so proudly
menaced them. All night the watch-fires shewed brightly against the clear summer sky, and the fall figures of the sentinels moved darkly to and fro among the white tents. At daybreak and at sunset it was Kunimond custom to gather the wisest and most skilled of the warriors about him on the hill side, whence the distant camp of the Winili could be observed, to hold debate on the purpose of the foe, and on the surest plan for defeating it, whether by action or by wile. From these councils Rosamunda was never absent. Vainly had her father sought to hinder her sojourn in the camp; vainly had he endeavoured by entreaty and by argument to persuade her that her best and fittest asylum would be found in the palace of Sirmium. “Battle,” he had told her, ‘is inevitable, and it may be a battle that will leave few of s alive. What wilt thou do amidst the dying and the dead when the waters of the Savus are red with blood, and the carrion birds darken the air above the corpses?” And she had answered between her teeth, “If I can do nothing else, I will at least be a hawk to pick out the dead eyes of Alboin!”
So he let her abide in the camp, dauntless and stately, with that black and bitter anger rankling in her woman’s heart. And at night, when the fires burned and the sentinels kept watch, it was her wont to go out alone under the stars, and all night long to pace up and down between the tents and the signal-lights. But there were other eyes than those of her own people that noted these strange wanderings, – eyes impelled by love as hers by hate. For, from an out-post of the Langobard encampment, beneath the wing of a pine-wood coppice, the slayer of Thurismund watched the tents of the Gepidæ. There, through many a long hour of darkness, the solitary figure waited, leaning against the massive trunk of a black-plumed tree, wakeful and sharp-sighted as the night-birds upon its branches. Thus it chanced that he marked against the depths of transparent sky the outline of a woman’s form lithe and majestic, flitting constantly to and fro along the ridge of the opposite hill, and he knew well, by the fierce desire of love that throbbed with every pulse of his body, that the woman he saw was Rosamunda, – Rosamunda, who had bewitched him with her wild beauty, who had spit upon him in her savage rage, and who even now, while he was gazing thus upon her unseen, was meditating how best to wreak her vengeance upon him! Then a thought came into his head; a daring, cruel thought, on which he at once prepared to act. He resolved to make an ambuscade with a few of his trustiest adherents, and at the darkest and drowsiest hour of the next night, to take advantage of Rosamunda’s rambles, and either entrap her by foul means, or carry her off by force of arms. Darkest and
most silent of all the night watches was the slow still hour before the early dawn. The camp-fires had smouldered down to ashes, the sentinels were weary of their monotonous patrol, the moon had driven her silver galleon ashore below the Claudian range. This was the time he chose, when the Gepide princess waited alone and sleepless upon the edge of a jutting crag, remote from the tents, and watched the distant lights grow faint in the camp of the Winili.
Suddenly, as she stood there, something stirred in a thicket beneath the height. She listened intently, holding her breath hard. It must be a snake dragging itself through the dry brittle grass; a snake, – or a man!
It was but one word spoken in a whisper she could catch no tone, no inflexion by which to recognise the voice. Was it one she knew?”
“Who calls upon me?” she demanded, after a pause. “Speak again, Gepide!”
But she had already betrayed herself, and the answer she asked was not vouchsafed in words. In a moment a soft step sealed the crag, a black shape deepened the gloom around her. Then she felt the grasp of a man’s hands, and something fell upon her, shutting out the air and the dim remote lights in the camp of the foe, closing thickly about her face, and stifling her voice in its heavy folds. Too late, she guessed what disaster had befallen her! . . .
GREY and misty, an hour afterwards, the daybreak began to strike the crests of the Gothic tents. Warriors who had passed the night in broken sleep, in anxious thought, or in debate with their comrades, donned their harness and went forth to reconnoitre. Kunimond stretched his great limbs, devoured his morning’s meal, tossed off a cup-full of Chian, and sent a messenger to summon his chiefs. “For,” said he, gruffly, “we waste our time in waiting for these lazy Winili. Today we must give them combat.”
But when the messenger had departed on his errand, Kunimond remembered Rosamunda. “She will be angry,” he thought, “if I bid her not to our council. Moreover her ready wit and shrewd advice may serve our dull heads some good turn.”
So he strode out to his daughter’s tent. But there he found the nest empty, the robes and the golden fillet that marked her rank lying upon the bearskin which covered the ground, and her attendant maid crouching, alarmed and abject by the pillows of the couch.
“Where is thy mistress, child?” cried Kunimond.
“My lord,” replied the girl, “I have neither seen nor heard of her since midnight. She could not rest, and so went forth to walk awhile. And since she came not hither again, I thought that she must be with thee.’’
Kunimond let the canvas fold of the tent; door drop from his hand, and stood a minute silent. Far from suspecting the truth, he concluded only that Rosamunda exhausted at length by her long vigil, must have fallen asleep upon the soft sward of the hill-slope. But scarcely had this idea occurred to him, than there arose in the camp without a confused noise of voices, the rattle of arms, and the tramp-ling of feet; a noise-that swelled and grew momentarily, drawing nearer and nearer to the spot where he stood. Looking forth, he saw advancing a crowd of Gepide warriors, whose number was constantly augmented by new followers from the rows of tents between which the throng passed. With the foremost came a Langobard emissary, conspicuous by the rolls of white bandage upon his legs, and the ensign wrought upon his head-piece.
“It is a challenge that he bears” thought Kunimond; “Alboin then will fight with us today.”
Not a pace from his daughter’s tent the band of warriors halted, and the voice of the Langobard rang out clear and sharp through the expectant hush which sealed the lips of his audience.
“Hail, Kunimond!” he cried, “give me safe conduct before I deliver my message. For the tidings I bring thee are such, that when. I have told them, my life may be in no small peril among thy Goths.”
“Speak, herald,” responded Kunimond, gloomily, “speak, and fear not. We do not war with unarmed men!”
Then said the Langobard: “My lord and the leader of the Winili, Alboin, son of our king, bade me give the message with which he has charged me to none other than thyself, O Kunimond! For he sends thee word that thy daughter, the beautiful Rosamunda, lies captive in his royal tent, whence no sword nor ransom shall buy her back. Three hours since, he bore her away from thy camp by force In the darkness, because she scorned his wooing when he would have won her like a lover. And now, if thou wilt yield her peaceably, my lord will retire from thy frontiers, and leave thee and thine in peace; moreover, there shall be a treaty
of alliance between him and thee. But if not, then upon thy head shall be the blood of all the Goths whom Alboin will slay; and thou shalt lie in the dust of the valley with thy brother Thurismund, and Rosamunda shall see thy face no more. For the rest, my lord bade me tell thee he is a servant of the true God, and intends thy daughter no offence save in the bond of Christian wedlock. And now, noble Gepidæ, it is thine to speak; what reply shall I bear from thee to the mighty Alboin?”
He ceased; and in agitated and angry silence the eyes and ears of the Goths hung thirstily upon their chief. Red flush and the pallor of death swept alternately over Kunimond’s downcast face; he gnawed his long yellow moustache, and beat his buskined foot upon the ground. At length he slowly raised his head and answered shortly: –
“Say to Alboin, that I and my Gepidæ will meet him and his dogs in the vale of the Savus at noon today.”
But as the last word left his lips, a Goth of splendid build and noble gait stepped forward from the ranks of the warriors surrounding Kunimond, and making obeisance, thus addressed the prince: –
“Kunimond, champion of the Gepidæ, and ye my peers who stand in his presence, I pray you pardon ray temerity in proffering advice which is unasked. But I beseech my prince that he will permit the herald of the Winili to retire for a space while I lay before you that which is in my mind.”
Kunimond bent his head in acquiescence, and turning to the messenger of Alboin, bade him withdraw for a brief interval. “And now,” he said, when the Langobard, conducted by two Gepide guards, had retired, “unloose thy tongue, Helmichis, and shew us this advice of thine.” Then the Gothic men gathered closely together, and Helmichis spoke.
“Comrades,” said he, “it is my counsel that we be not over-hasty in this affray. My years do not number those which most of you can count, nor do I boast of many scars, for I have not yet passed my seventh lustre. Yet, methinks that the advice I mean to give you savours of a discretion which is worthier a riper age than mine. Thou knowest well, O Kunimond, that our troops are but weak and pitiful when measured by the strength of the enemy. Mighty though we be in valour and in hate, we rank but as a handful of men before an army of wild beasts. Thou needest not, my prince, that I should remind thee of our late defeat, nor of that shameful loss which cost the life of Thurismund. Again to suffer rout or to flee before these barbarous Scandinavians would be a disaster well-nigh fatal to our life as a nation. I counsel, therefore, that rather than encounter the superior
numbers of the Winili unaided, we send with all speed to Cibalæ and to Mursa, where some three cohorts of Roman soldiery are garrisoned. With them we still hold friendly relations; but their emperor, Justinian, secretly mistrusts the growing Lombard power, and the policy of the eunuch Narses. The troops at Mursa are attached to Belisarius, the scourge of the Vandal race, and: we shall not solicit their succour in vain. Leaged with these men whose nation was once so mighty, we cannot miss our triumph, nor fail to compel the restitution of Rosamunda. For consider, that should we attempt an enterprise against Alboin unassisted, and be overcome his wrath and his disdain may cost our princess both her honour and her life. It is to rescue her that we must now contend; so long as she remains in the tent of the Langobard, so long we endure an intolerable injury and disgrace. In the name of Odin, then, let us strike the blow with no uncertain hand! Better to delay oar reprisal awhile with the assurance of ultimate victory, than to hurl ourselves like impulsive children on a powerful foe, and again, like children, be humbled and dispersed!”
Thus he spoke, and for a minute none of the throng about him uttered a word. Then Kunimond, glancing round upon the ring of thoughtful, harassed faces, fetched a sigh like that of a man who yields perforce to some bitter ordeal of pain that is to save his life, and made response in few and earnest phrases.
“Helmichis, I thank thee. Goths, he hath well said. Shall I know the taste of meat or the blessing of rest, until Rosamunda be given back to me? Who of you will go to Mursa on our errand?”
So the herald of the Winili was recalled, and dismissed in safety to his master, bearing with him the defiance of the Goths, and a fierce warning that their vengeance should not tarry long. And before the tuft of his helm had dipped below the brow of the height, six of the most astute and honourable men among the Gepidæ were already on their way with their message to the Romans at Mursa and Cibalæ.
AS yet Turisend the king knew not of the loss of Rosamunda. The sunset of that fateful day found him in the grasp of death. Bare of ornament and rude of fashion was the royal chamber, simple and rough the bed of goat-skin which supported the nerveless limbs of the aged hero.
But the withered face that lay upturned and white on its hard unrestful pillows, was grand and patient as the visage of a marble Prometheus. Fit ending, fit death-bed for the sturdy pagan chief whose greatest joys had ever been found upon the battle-plain, and whose eighty years had known neither the soft delights of idle civilization, nor the wild excesses of a corrupt and luxurious court. Beside the couch knelt his only son Kunimond, unhelmed, unarmed, his hauberk and quiver upon the ground at his feet; and in the darkness by the portal a drowsy guard kept solitary ward.
And as the twilight deepened into mystery, and the shadows into substance, father and son, with voices half inaudible, held converse together for the last time.
Kunimond knew that the old man’s life was ebbing with the day. The loss of his boy, – the Benjamin of his heathen soul, – the cruel insult which his wounded love had received at the hands of Alboin, and the bitter remembrance that the treasured arms of the dead Thurismund had become the trophy and boast of his enemy, these were thrusts which the proud and tender heart of the old warrior could not parry. Still, lying there upon his rude and hardy death-bed, the feeble tide of his thoughts set all in one current. Some day, he told himself, the time of reckoning would surely come, and Alboin should fall before the sword of an avenging Gepide. Then, recalling painfully every incident of that direful banquet-night in the pavilion, he bethought himself of the bard Thorsen’s inspired verse, and of his fair granddaughter’s panegyric upon the power of womanly wrath. And his blood for a moment grew warm, and his faint pulse throbbed with the hope that perchance by the favour of Odin, the prophecy might be fulfilled, and to her it might be given to compass the ruin of the man whose heel was set on the necks of the Goths.
So he rolled his grey filmy eyes upon his son, and asked in a quavering whisper for Rosamunda.
“Let her come to me, Kunimond I Bid thy vassals fetch her hither! Let me lay my hands but once upon her hair of gold, – of gold which no days sun shall warm and redden again for me l. Thou movest not My son, bring hither Rosamunda!”
The tall figure of the kneeling man quivered. And Turisend, blind with the mists of Death, felt the tremor of the bed, and stretched forth his weak and wandering hands towards his son.
“Rosamunda,” he repeated, “my grand child Rosamunda. Bring her hither to me before I die!”
Kunimond bowed his head upon the drapery of the couch, answered in a slow whisper, –
“Father, I cannot. My daughter is a captive in the tent of Alboin the Langobard.”
And he wept aloud.
But the old king neither spoke nor stirred again, he lay stark and dumb upon the goat-skin, with a rigid face of stone, and open sightless eyes, in which the dim light of hope and love was quenched for evermore. For the shock of that last ill news had stricken him to death, and the staunch old pagan soul had gone forth amid the darkness of the night to seek the Valhalla of its wild and hardy race.
THE messengers of Kunimond sped well. The Romans, as Helmichis had prognosticated, were distrustful of the Vandal race, and suspicious in particular of the dauntless Alboin, in whom Justinian saw but too dearly the future invader of Italy. With the briefest possible delay, therefore, the imperial legions garrisoned at Mursa marched into Sirmium, filing in martial order past the closed gates of the palace wherein the Gothic chieftain lay dead. But twelve hours ago the thunder of their even tread and the clang of their war-harness would have thrilled his veins with eager hope, and kindled fire in his dying eyes, – and now, were his beloved Gepidæ to achieve the sovereignty of all the world, it would seem Less than the play of a little child to the spirit that moved beyond the sun!
Alboin still continued to make his post of observation under the shadow of the pines. And now he started as he saw issuing forth from the gates of Sirmium a force which he knew to be not that of the Gepidæ; for as file after file tramped by unto the camp with the regular step and absolute silence of perfect discipline, he saw that he had no longer Gepidæ but Romans against him. There was no time to be lost; hastening back to his camp he roused his sleeping warriors, and bade them prepare to start forthwith on their retreat to their own capital.
“Let despatch and stillness be your watchwords,” said he, “let no sound be heard, no light seen. Once back within the walls of Leuphãna, we may defy the legions of Rome! Our prize and prisoner, the Gepide princess, shall lead the way, and we, her escort, will follow close.”
So there was no battle in the valley of the Savus the next day, for by the dawn the plains which fronted the city of Sirmium were bare, and nothing remained to mark the place
where the Winili had lain, save the blackened circles of their extinct watch-fires, and the brown lines of furrowed sod which the hoofs of their horses had left along the turf. Then began a long and tedious march over the wastes and fenlands of Pannonia, six hundred miles of retreat and pursuit through a wild champaign of many devious ways, a land which the vagrant Langobards knew well, but with which their enemies were unfamiliar. Against this superior luck of the Winili, combined with the advantage of an earlier start and the unrivalled generalship of Alboin, the Gepidæ and their allies had no chance of success in the race; they wandered continually out of the right track, were often forced to retrace their steps, and oftener at a loss for pioneers, so that the pursued were fast and sound within the walls of their capital before the pursuers sighted its outermost hamlet.
And yet this vast expanse of desolated territory had once been all included in the dominion of mighty Rome, and her armies had known and had trodden proudly every fruitful league between the northern ocean and the tideless central sea. But these men who marched side by side with the Goths were no sons of the old triumphant city which had held half the globe in fee, whose muscular grip all the nations had dreaded, whose iron thongs had bound heroes and kings, whose awful voice had claimed obedient hearing alike in Gaul, in Britain, in Germania. Fallen was that rich and splendid Western Empire, faded were the glories of the godlike Cæsar, a weak and degenerate race of princes swayed the sceptre which had once been second in might only to the winged bolt of immortal Jove; and the warriors of the new Valentia were strangers and vagabonds in the country which their fathers had trodden with the confident step of the conqueror.
At length Leuphãna was reached; not however until Alboin and his fair captive were already within its gates. Then the allies, pitching their camp before the city, as the Winili had done so lately in sight of Sirmium, sent their v summons to the Lombard chief. He must surrender the Gepide princess unharmed to her people, or Leuphãna should be stormed forthwith. But Alboin and his inflexible father returned for all reply a message of defiance couched in the most arrogant and disdainful terms. The Goths, indignant, began the assault without further parley or ado. On one side were passion and insulted pride, on the other despair and fear, and the sharp hunger for revenge.
Kunimond and Helmichis directed all the efforts of the Gepidæ. From dawn till sunset they were found at their posts beneath the buttresses, encouraging and commanding: by turns.
Steadily and bravely the enterprise progressed; dauntlessly men and generals alike performed their respective parts. For, before the eyes of every warrior in the pagan host, rose the vision of a beautiful damsel threatened with dishonour and doom, who stretched her: white arms towards her people and cried to them for release from the thrall of the; man she hated. And day and night at the heart of every Goth; burnt the one fierce resolve, that come what might for them, that; cry should not be uttered in vain! So they were strong, every man of them; and the Romans finding them so brave and earnest, took heart and energy from theirs and helped them well.
Then at last came the struggle, and its crown.
Kunimond, wounded in the thigh by an arrow from the city walls, had retired for a space to his tent, and left the storming of the gates to roll and roar on under the command of Helmichis and the chiefs. It was high noon, and the glare of the summer sun beating sharply down on the bald dusty plain, had so quickened the galling of his wound that he had feared to remain longer astride his horse, lest pain and loss of blood should overcome him with some sudden swoon. He threw himself on the mantle which served him by night for a couch, and demanded a goblet of tempered wine, which his leech permitted him to swallow while the” hurt was washed and bandaged. Then lying back in silence, and leaning his head upon some cushions which his attendants had provided, the king presently seemed to sleep.
Sigvald the physician softly withdrew, and stood in the tent-door, shading his eyes from the scorching light, and watching as best he could the progress of the attempt on the Langobard city. He could see little, however, for the swirling wreaths of dust which eddied high over the scene, and the misty scintillation of the quivering heated air above the level. Confused cries, the dull thud of charging and rallying companies, and the clang of steel, mingling in one hoarse continual din, came to his ear unbroken and monotonous, till it seemed to his fancy like the incessant booming of a stormy sea upon a rocky shore. How long he stood watching and listening he knew not The heat and the light both lessened, and the sun verged considerably towards the west Sigvald had many times turned his gaze upon the King, but Kunimond, worn out with bodily fatigue and mental exhaustion, slumbered heavily. Suddenly across the open came a new sound, like a peal of thunder – roll upon roll; a volume of thick grey dust rose into the air like smoke; there was a moment’s hush, and then a wild jubilant cry, the cry of a triumphant host, that was caught up from rank to rank like the echoing notes of a clarion-call.
“A breach! a breach!” shouted Sigvald aloud in his excitement. “The wall has fallen! praise be to Thor the Hammerer!”
His fervid ejaculation dispelled the torpor which had so long wrapt the brain of the King. He raised himself on his elbow, and looked earnestly at the animated face of his attendant. “Who praises the gods” he asked, in deep husky tones: “Sigvald, how goes the battery?”
“Noble Kunimond,” responded the leech, with an elated smile, “the Hammer of Thor has fallen on the Winili! It was I who praised the god, – the Gepide troops already muster in the streets of Leuphãna!”
“Thy hand, good Sigvald! give me thy hand!” cried Kunimond. “I must needs rise and be gone! Ill, indeed, that when at last the way is opened, my Goths should enter the city of the foe without their chief! Sigvald – my horse!”
But the physician entreated him to be patient. “Thou wilt but tear thine hurt afresh,” he argued, “thou wilt faint in the fray, and be pounded to death in the crowded breach. Helmichis and the chief’s Hogen and Eric are doing their stoutest; thy presence will distract them with a new anxiety. Rest, rest, my chief, and at dawn tomorrow thine own hand shall plant the Gothic ensign on the walls of the Vandal!”
“By all the Dwellers in Asgard it is hard!” muttered Kunimond surlily. “Send, then, some scout to learn how the fight goes within the city! the Winili are strong, strong and desperate! Bid them send me tidings of Rosamunda! Oh, that my own hand were on the bridle!”
Slowly the hot day declined, and the red sun, his golden armour flecked as if with blood, brake open the burnished portals of heaven and entered victorious within them. All around his path in the western reaches lay broken spears and shafts of light, ruddy-tipped and feathered with cloud; beneath him lay scattered in dark level bars the shattered pillars of heaven’s colossal gates.
Fast over the plain from the Langobard city a body of Gothic horsemen came spurring through the mellow glory, towards the tent of the wounded chief.
Sigvald, straining his sight to recognise them, saw that the foremost steed carried a double burden. It was the charger of Helmichis, jaded, foam-plashed and battle-stained, but mighty yet in his paces, out-stripping with pride and vivacious mettle the hoot’s of his companions, singly ridden. Nearer and nearer he drew with flying main and thundering gallop, bearing the comely forms of his master and his master’s prize of victory, the fair and queenly Rosamunda!
Rosamunda! free and undishonoured!
A minute later the noble war-horse stood riderless, shaking his steamy flanks at the king’s tent-door, while Rosamunda, proud and triumphant, stood clasped in her father’s embrace, with her fair face hidden upon this sturdy breast! It seemed to them, that such a moment of meeting was well bought by all the fear and shame that had foregone it.
THE Gepide tribe of the Gothic settlers in Europe possessed: the range of country including and surrounding the Dacian or Transylvanian mountains and plains. Their fastnesses were the old Roman cities of Sirmium and Singidunum, on the site of which latter place is built the modern town of Belgrade.
It was in Singidunum that Kunimond resolved to establish his court, if ‘court’ that can fairly be called which was but a mere unpolished circle of rough chieftains and barbarous vassals, unconstrained by etiquette, and undistinguished by meretricious splendour or corrupt living. all that these hardy Northmen knew of regal state, all that they prized of august rank, they had seen and honoured in Turisend, and now they rejoiced to find in his son that heritage alike of prowess and of strength which made for them the only glory of kingship. Power was, their measure of a Master, – power, not of possessions, nor of pageantry, nor even of crafty government, but of the inherent might of manhood; the power of the brave warrior, and of the successful champion. Nothing else, nothing less was able to win their rude love, or to move their admiration. Ignorant of all arts save that of warfare, and entertaining a steady contempt for luxurious surroundings and personal adornments, their garb was of the homeliest and most unæsthetic description, their songs and pastimes were all indissolubly connected with the national passion for conquest. The rooms of Kunimond’s palace, high-sounding epithet for the ancient tenement which the Gepide prince had chosen to appropriate, were utterly devoid of all those many graces, of ornament which we are wont to imagine indispensable. To the lodgment of royalty. In the principal apartment there were only the barest necessaries of board and settle. The massive stone walls were ungarnished save by scattered clusters of spears and other items of battle-gear, the pavement uncarpeted but for a few roughly dressed goat-hides which here and there covered the
floor before the seat of a chieftain. All that marked the dignity of the place was to be found, not in the appointments of the room, but in the men who occupied it. Men they were who needed no trappings of wealth or of art to enhance their grand individuality, men whose forms and faces made their greatness; men of iron limbs and thews like flexible steel; mighty in war, impatient of disaster, unrelenting in victory, fearless of death. These were the heroes whose blood moved through the veins and impelled the heart bf the hardy dauntless world of the early Middle Age. And of such a race came the Gepide virgin, Rosamunda, exemplar and model of the true strong-minded woman. Born and reared in the lap of a nation whose customs made but small distinction in the training of the sexes, and whose laws permitted any able-bodied person, – man or maid, – to carry arms, the daughter of Kunimond was from childhood an Amazon in heart and physique. Not the less a woman, because so unlike the feminine portraiture of our emasculated times; but such a woman as suited most fitly that age of iron, a woman who would have deemed the reproach of cowardice and fear as great a disgrace to her womanhood as the charge of falsehood or of wantonness. Such, as please God, the return of virile strength to the heart of our palsied world may again bring forth in the good days to come, but then with purer and higher aspirations than were possible to the pagan Rosamunda.
Nevertheless, in the eyes of her father she would have seemed better had she been a man. In the eyes of Helmichis she could never have seemed better than herself. Brief had been the interval of peace between Kunimond and the Winili, since the restitution of the Gepide princess; and although Leuphãna still remained in the hands of the Langobard tribe, the pride and passion of Alboin had sustained a wound which sorely chafed his imperious spirit, and he steadfastly directed all his hopes and purposes towards the accomplishment of future vengeance. Nevertheless, while Audoin lived and reigned, the fire of this revenge was perforce starved into patience, for the politic old Lombard monarch obliged his son to epouse Chlotswinda, daughter of a Keltic king whose friendship seemed far more desirable for the welfare of a growing dominion than the alliance of a paltry tribe like the Gepidæ. But Chlotswinda was no happy wife. Alboin’s love was elsewhere, and he had no soft words for the Frankish woman whom his father had forced into his reluctant arms. So for a short space she languished and grieved after the home she had left, and then, neglected and unwept, she died, giving birth to a girl whom her husband named Albswinda. But before that birth
and death took place, the soul of Audoin himself passed away into the land of shadows; and the majesty of the Langobards devolved on the slayer of Thurismund.
Chlotswinda had barely drawn her last breath when the new king of the Lombards dispatched an ambassador to Kunimond’s abode at Singidunum. Curt and pregnant was the announcement which Alboin thus transmitted to his hereditary enemy.
“I am,” said he, “sole ruler of the Langobardi, and the wife of my youth is dead. Give me thy daughter Rosamunda to fill her place, else I will bring against thee all the strength and power of my people to beleaguer thy strongholds, and to sweep thy tribe away from the face of the earth for ever.”
Such were the words which the emissary spoke in the hall of Kunimond’s palace. And Rosamunda, sitting at the feet of her father, heard them. Then, before the Gepide chief could make reply, she had leapt to her feet and answered the herald proudly and scornfully out of the fullness of her wild and dauntless soul.
“Go back, and tell your master that Rosamunda the princess flings his challenge in his face! Tell him the Goths will perish to the last man of them rather than yield to his embrace the daughter of that house whose blood is red upon his hands! Tell him that the heart which beats here,” she touched her bosom lightly as she spoke, “is none of a craven’s nor of a traitor’s, and that if he triumph over my people and carry me again to captivity within his palace. I and his death-warrant will enter its doors together! Let him force his love upon me if he dare, and the hand of a woman and not of a warrior shall compass shamefully the overthrow of your hero-king!”
Standing erect and defiant before the Langobard she waved her queenly hand in sign of dismissal with such an air as a goddess might have fitly assumed toward some ignoble suppliant after pronouncing an adverse and irrevocable oracle.
The envoy hesitated, and glanced furtively at Kunimond, as though reluctant to depart without a direct message of reply from the Gepide lord himself. But Kunimond’s face was averted, and his brow was heavy and lowering.
“She hath spoken, Langobard,” he said, in a voice that shook with the tremor of wrath; “get thee hence, obey her bidding, and prepare for war as ye may list.” And without gesture or word of salutation he suffered the ambassador to depart.
Kunimond then relapsed into a long and moody silence, out of which he at length roused himself by a sudden effort,
and called the warrior Helmichis, who sat with others of his chiefs at the further end of the great hall.
“Helmichis,” he said, “my daughter hath greatly praised to me thy valour and thy noble daring in conflict It was the strength of thine arm and the skill of thy brain which alone availed to rescue her from thraldom, and to restore her untouched to the hearth whence she was stolen so basely. With thee therefore, preferred above thine elders, will I share the command of the Gepide host in this new campaign. Be gallant and undismayed as hitherto, and perchance some higher dignity, some worthier guerdon of thy prowess may be thine in the day of victory and of vengeance!”
Thus he spoke, and as Helmichis, hopeful and exultant, bent the knee before his prince, the eyes of maid and warrior met.
ALBOIN’S inveterate hatred of the Gepidæ, no less than his burning desire for the possession of beautiful Rosamunda, impelled him to the speedy resumption of hostilities against Kunimond. The Langobard envoy did not fail to recount with stinging exactitude the circumstances of his reception at the Gothic court, and the defiant message with which the princess herself had answered his lord’s rough wooing.
Prompt of action as terse in speech, the Lombard chief lost no time in setting about the fulfilment of his threat, while yet he did not suffer impatience to override military discretion. For, recalling the disaster he had suffered at Leuphãna, a disaster mainly owing, as it seemed, to Roman intervention, Alboin resolved, in imitation of Kunimond’s policy, to augment the already powerful hosts of his own subjects with the troops of the Avari, a neighbouring tribe of Huns, whose Chagan, or prince, had held amicable relations with the court of Audoin. His overtures were prosperous. The Chagan, proud to be leagued with the Lombard hero, consented with alacrity to the proposals submitted to him; and with little delay, the combined armament started for the Gepide frontier under the guidance and generalship of Alboin.
Meantime, on the other side, Kunimond and Helmichis were no idlers. Singidunum was fortified and garrisoned with such men as could be spared for the purpose, but, as before at Sirmium, the Gepide king desired first to encounter the enemy in open plain, with the flower of his troops, rather than risk the danger of siege and slow starvation within city walls.
“The gates are behind us,” he said, “at the worst we can retreat within them. But before that, let a push be made to rout the invaders in a fair field.” There was no foreign and this time for the Gepidæ, for the Roman garrisons of Mursa and of Cibalæ had been recalled, and both the towns abandoned to the ever-increasing hordes of barbarians, as it had fared in like fashion, one by one, with all the northern possessions of the fallen Empire. And to the seat of the Byzantine Empire itself the Goths demurred to appeal, for the Emperor Justinian was dead, and the sway of their enemy, the crafty eunuch Narses, now at its zenith.
Gallantly not withstanding, the warriors of Sirmium and Singidunum prepared to resist the approaching foe, ignorant of the precaution which that foe had taken to enhance his prospect of victory. But Kunimond, to whose vision the death of Thurismund and the abduction of Rosamunda were ever present, forbade his daughter to imperil herself a second time by sojourn in the Gepide camp. He assigned her instead an apartment on the wall of the city, whence the distant tents of her tribe could be well descried, and whence she might, perchance, look forth upon the inevitable contest and calculate its issues.
Here, therefore, in the midst of her Gepidæ maidens, the brave princess found herself compelled to await, with unutterable suspense and heart-rending agitation, the result of the struggle which should decide her own fate and the fortunes of a whole nation.
But of that momentous conflict she was” destined to witness neither the end nor the beginning.
A detachment of the vast army of Lombards and Avari, directed by the wile of Alboin, manoeuvring to a remote side of the city, led the deluded Goths to follow, and as soon as the latter were well away from their entrenchments, a prodigious swarm of Huns and Vandals rising from ambush on every hand fell upon the Gepide flank and rear like the closing waves of a mighty and tumultuous sea.
And Rosamunda, where she sat disconsolate and watchful in view of the deserted tents, caught dim snatches of the noise and shouting in the alley far away, and feverishly wrung her hands and wondered what it meant. So that one of the women who stood by, seeing her mistress so distraught, and being fain to divert the current of her troublous fancies, sat down to a tapes try frame, and cast the ivory shuttle through the bright meshes, while she lifted her voice and sang: –
“If the web of my life were unwoven,
And the weaving to me were consign’d,
I f the hue of the years to be proven
Were left to my mind,
“Would I weave such a tissue as this is,
With a heart for the shuttle I hold,
With garlands of laughter and kisses
And centre of gold?”
Then straightway another maid, who knelt beside her combing a fleece, took up the burden of the music, and answered, singing: –
“Ah no l for the world’s bitter weather,
The sun and the wind and the rain,
Would blend your fair colours together
With tarnish and stain!
“Better broider in dyes that are lasting,
With shuttle of stone or of steel,
For a heart may get broke in the casting
Too sorely to heal!”
And anon, both sweet voices glided thus together into the dainty measure of the rhyme: –
“Sing shuttle! my fingers shall follow
Obedient, the track that you make,
Flying this way and that, as the swallow
Skims over the lake!
“Plick-pleck! now he dips to the subtle
Sleek water, and cleaves it apart; –
Plick-pleck! now he rises! Sing shuttle,
Sing swallow, sing heart!”
But in the intervals of the song, the noise and the shouting of the distant medley floated in, confused and discordant, through the open narrow loop-hole of the turret-chamber, and Rosamunda, standing there upon the watch, lifted her hand imperiously to silence the voices of her maidens.
“Girls,” she said, “I pray you hold your peace. Your singing jars upon my heart! No more of singing within the walls of our city until the king return to us, rich with spoil of gold and gear from the ravished pavilion of Alboin! Then in your song you shall hail our Gepide chieftain Lord of two nations, heir new-born of blood to sudden splendour, – Kunimond the strong, Avenger of the noble Dead! O my father!” she cried, with passionate gesture and utterance, turning her wild shining eves from the wondering maids towards the valley where the battle raged unseen, “remember Thurismund! Remember the fair stripling who fell on the bare Sarmatian plain, fighting there hand to hand with the Langobard, while the roll of war thundered behind him like the sonorous tramp of our martial gods, and the shrill shriek of arrows cleft the air above his dying head! Father, today avenge thy name and his, and that dire disgrace which struck the heart of our land through his breast, waking wrath in women and tears in the eyes of men for the dear sake of the
royal boy they loved! O Master! father! king! remember my thrall in Leuphãna, and the cursed love of Alboin! remember the palace of the Langobard whence the hand of Helmichis plucked me back yet virgin from the imminent embrace of Audoin’s heir, this vampire of our house, this baneful carrion-hound that preys upon human loves, – this Alboin whom I hate! Ah, dearest Chief! here, here I await thy triumph! my hands are fain to clasp thy knees, thy feet, thy throat; my heart is fain to leap against thine own; my fervent lips are athirst to hail thee lord and conqueror; king. whom one fair and gracious day hath doubly crowned, alike with the adoring love of thy Goths and with the guerdon of the invader’s despair and fear!”
Her bosom heaved tumultuously, she hid her face in her clasped hands, and leaned trembling against the stone ledge of the tiny window.
“Pray Heaven!” cried one of her attendants, “that the chances of the day may be as thou sayest, princess!” Then another, who had taken her mistress’s post of watch by the casement, answered quickly, “Heaven shall tell us soon in sooth, be fortune what it will! For hither comes one of our men, running u p from the valley as though the three Nornir themselves were behind him! Doubtless he carries tidings for us!”
And at that, Rosamunda looked out again and saw the Gepide of whom her maiden spoke, pass on rapidly beneath the wall toward the city gates, and there with frantic gesticulations demand admittance. But of what passed in words nothing reached the lofty turret-window where the women were listening so eagerly. Only, a wild commotion ensued, a panic-stricken rush of feet and rattle of arms, and then the. Terrible sound of a mighty despairing wail, in which the voices alike of men and women shared. Then over the plain without came another and another Gepide, with flying feet, and fearsome eyes that glared in their widened sockets, hurrying towards the city like men pursued in delirium by some dreadful spectre. At the sight of them Rosamunda’s brave hope gave way.
“O my heart!” she cried, “I fear some awful evil! See how our people fly! O my King, my father, – the gods preserve thee! Helga! Thorelil! some one approaches, some messenger who would speak with us! Be noble, heart of Rosamunda the princess, – quit you well, unsteady knees of Rosamunda! He is coming, this bearer of ill-news!”
Pale as some fair ghost might stand, she stood motionless while the Gepide messenger entered, – a gallant warrior whose face she knew well. She had last seen him passing out through the gates of Singidunum at sunrise, in command of
a troop, bold and intrepid of bearing, his face brightened with the light of confidence and courage. And now he stood before her downcast and gloomy, with eyes that did not dare to meet her own, self-confessed before he spoke, as the bringer of disastrous tidings!
Nevertheless, there was no tremor in the voice with which Rosamunda bade him tell his errand.
“Welcome, Hogen,” she said, as he paused in the doorway. “Thou hast news for me, I doubt not.”
“Alas, princess!” answered the miserable Gepide, “forgive me the words I must speak. All is lost to us! Kunimond is slain, the Goths are overthrown, the greater number of them dead or dying; Helmichis has turned traitor to save his life, and sworn allegiance to Alboin!”
Still white and unclenching, the daughter of Kunimond faced the Gepide warrior.
“Say on!” she cried, “thou hast further news to tell! I am a princess born, I will not wonder nor weep at thy tidings! Hogen, sayest thou this Alboin whom we smote so lately hath made himself our master? Sayest thou that a Gothic chief hath paid him fealty and sworn him service?”
“Aye, madam,” responded the warrior, “Alboin truly is master, but wile and not valour earned him his victory. Thou hast yet to learn the history of this day’s calamity, Know then that our conqueror came against us leagued with the hosts of the Avari! Our legions stood alone before the camp at sunrise, but the light that fell upon the targes of Alboin’s armament discovered the war-harness of the Hun as well as that of the Langobard! This I saw, and told thy father, but he bade me hold my peace, lest our troops should be discouraged and fainthearted. But when Helmichis led the van across the glen yonder, I knew we were marching on our deaths. And straightway, on every side of us, Huns and Vandals rose by hundreds from their ambush in the copses, all the covers were alive with them; hopelessly outnumbered we were beaten down like grass under the hail, the valley is sown with our flesh and watered with our blood!”
There were bitter tears in the eyes of the Gothic warrior as he told the news. But not in the eyes of the woman he addressed. Scarcely she seemed to note his presence, or to heed the sobbing, heart-stricken girls who surrounded her. Not hers to weep, or to yield to weak despair, when father, country, freedom and love fell smitten into the dust of death at her feet. The power of a hatred and pride such as would have made common natures base, ennobled her soul and lifted it beyond the touch of meaner passions. For her, all the sting, all the bitterness of the day’s disaster was in the
shame of it. The sorrow, the desolation of her own ruined life, – for these, as yet, she cared nothing.
Standing upright, with clenched fingers and marble face, she uttered aloud the monody of her wounded spirit. Not as though addressing her attendants, but rather like one who by spoken words struggles to realize conviction of some awful truth, incredible by means of thought alone.
“So,” she cried, “ends a noble dynasty! Our nation, our name, and our lord have assed this day for ever into nothingness! Henceforth the deeds of our past are writ in water, no jot of that which once we held, – renown, honour, success, shall stand to prop our story up and make a landmark of it for the unborn world! We are fallen, we are dead, crushed, cast out; our glory is no more than extinguished flame! And I, who should have filled my father’s place years hence, chief and queen of the Gepidæ, – I am the most degraded and dishonoured slave in Alboin’s court; while these – O ye gods – these are no more Goths but Langobards, and their master is lord of the accursed Winili – Alboin – the conqueror of our race, – Alboin whom Helmichis serves!”
Then one of the serving-girls, – she who an hour since had chanted the first stanzas of the shuttle-song, – Thorelil, fairest and tenderest of all the maids in the Gothic court, – rose from her place, and drew softly within her own the clenched, defiant hands of the princess.
“Sweet,” she whispered, “be not so strange of speech! Look upon us whose eyes are fruitful with womanly tears; not barren as thine are! O Rosamunda, be gracious to thy sorrow, and to theirs who mourn for thy father! Let thine hands rest here in mine, lean thine head upon the bosom wherein my heart waits to give thee comfort! I love thee well, my noble princess! what, no word, no tear? Speak for me, Gudrun!”
“Alack!” cried the girl whom she adjured, “pray the gods; rather to be tender with her and smite her dead! Who now comes this way to augment our grief with more of ill news? Holy heaven, defend us!”
For, as she uttered the cry, Alboin himself stood in the open doorway. In his hand he carried the spear of Thurismund, and the barb of it was wet and red with Gepide blood. Behind him pressed a throng of his retainers, whose evil-omened faces Rosamunda remembered to have seen once before under the ruddy torch-light of Turisend’s royal tent. Then they and their lord had come as suppliants to the Gepide king; now they trod the floors of the Gepide palace, masters and disposers of all within or around it!
On the threshold of Rosamunda’s chamber the Lombard prince halted, and stood surveying her.
“Sweet lady,” he said, “grace be with you!”
“Sweet lord,” she answered bitterly, “I give you thanks! Is that my father’s blood upon your hands? Reach them hither to me, and l will kiss them!”
But with the word “my father’s blood,” the salt springs of her grief suddenly overflowed her sterile eyes; she sobbed, reeled, and fell swooning at the feet of Alboin.
THUS was the vaunt of the Lombard champion redeemed by his deed. For the death of Kunimond, last of the Gepide chiefs, and the loss of his entire army in the fatal valley of the Ister and the Savus, struck so dire a chill of despair to the hearts of the garrison left within the walls of Singidunum that when the conqueror appeared at its gates and demanded immediate surrender, the resistance he encountered was of the feeblest. Dejection had seized upon every man in the city, not one of whom but had lost some of his dearest in that day’s terrible rout, not one of whom but felt that the life and name of his tribe had passed away with the breath of his king. Moreover, all the sturdiest and noblest of the Goths had gone out to battle in the train of Kunimond and Helmichis. They were all dead, and the few hundred veterans and youths who remained to guard the walls of Singidunum, could make but paltry defence against the assaults of a vast host, directed with unerring leadership and flushed with success. Not that the garrison gave in tamely to their doom. Broken spirited, heart-sore though they were, they launched their handful of arrows bravely on the beleaguers, and when Alboin forced the gates of the city, their dead bodies lay bloody and stark about the trenches and along the silent streets.
That struggle, that last slaughter, was the death-throe of the Gepide tribe, and the anguish of it, though sharp and hard, was brief enough. Scarce an hour after Hogen had de-livered his budget of melancholy news to Rosamunda in the turret-chamber, Alboin was master of Singidunum, and of the fair princess for whose sake he had stormed its ramparts. No Gothic warriors now to fight for the honour of their darling, – no Helmichis to bear her away triumphant upon his gallant war-horse! The brave charger lay dead in the glen among the corpses of the Gepidæ, his great sides crusted with blood, and the javelin of an Avar through the mighty, silent heart that had known no fear nor weariness in life.
And his master, Helmichis the Goth, was a renegade in the camp of the Huns and Vandals!
Now Alboin, though a heretic, was still a Christian, and had Christian scruples – at proper seasons – upon the score of unlawful love. Rosamunda was a princess, the daughter of a proud and fierce-tempered race, a woman whose favour he was fain to conciliate, as well for love’s sake as for that of safety. Policy, therefore, combined with religion in this instance to restrain the precipitancy of his passion. He resolved to give her no cause for reproaching him with dishonourable conduct towards herself, and hoped that when once the crown and the ring had bound her his lawful spouse, she would speedily forget the ruin which her house and her nation had sustained at his hands.
So little Alboin knew the heart of Rosamunda!
But for a brief season he judged it prudent to leave his captive in peace with her maidens within the precincts of the Langobard palace, to which she and they had been newly conveyed. Well the princess understood that her marriage with the Lombard champion was inevitable, unless, indeed, she should choose to evade it by a voluntary death. But no such hysterical intent disturbed the mind of this hardy maid. Another and more vengeful purpose nerved her with strange unwomanly calmness in the teeth of the doomful wedlock to which she was destined, giving to all her words and ways so stern and unblenching a courage, that her damsels took it for the insensibility of madness.
So, on a night, as the princess sat with them in one of the rooms of the Langobard palace, the maidens, to try her mind, made doleful lamentation over the fallen fortunes of their race. They wept for the two brave sons of Turisend, slain both by one detested hand; they spoke in low, hushed voices of the treacherous stratagem by means of which Alboin conquered the Gepidæ; they told piteous tales of the slaughter in the valley of the rivers, and bitterly deplored their own shameful servitude, and the bondage of her who should have been their queen.
But Rosamunda, sitting apart and silent, neither wept with them, nor reproved their weeping. And when one of the maidens said to her, “Princess, heedest thou nought of all these things?” she only retorted fiercely, “Did I not speak once on the day when my father was slain, and when Singidunum fell?”
At last said Gudrun, a girl of more discernment than the rest, “Let us talk together of the warrior Helmichis, and of his dishonourable surrender to the foeman.”
So they told one another softly the whole shameful story, how he to whom above all men the Gepidæ bad looked for
valiant example, had basely yielded himself and his legion. To Alboin, preferring ignoble safety to a glorious death.
And one said, “He feared when he saw the Huns, and the trap into which the Goths were drawn.”
And another, “They say he was bold enough at first, until he knew that the tide of fate was against us. It was the death of the king that appalled his spirit. He could not fight alone.”
And a third, “Yea, and he hath done well, for Alboin favours him, and hath made him his armour-bearer.”
Then the red colour spread over the face of Rosamunda, and her fair limbs trembled. But for all the sorrow and the wrath at her heart, she uttered not a word nor a sigh, until the flame of the lamp in the chamber grew dim, and the maidens weary of their talk. Then she rose and dismissed them to their sleeping-room, and remained alone, standing in the silence.
Upon a stone pedestal fronting the threshold of the chamber, Alboin, – to convert or to insult his prisoner, – had placed a sacred image, such as Christians, both orthodox and heretic, were wont to set up in their houses, as of old the Greeks and Romans had set up on the family hearth the effigies of their Lares and Penates. Above this image hung the brazen oil-lamp, its fitful, sickly light making the painted face and limbs of the figure seem to writhe and quiver in ghastly pantomime. A moment Rosamunda glanced at it, half in wrath, half in scorn; then turning away she passed on to the window, and stood in the gleam of the starlight, looking out across the wide purpled landscape, and away towards the region of the North, where, over dark seas lay the wild home of the Goths and Vikings, the land of Odin and his warlike Jarls. And the free-breath of the great earth-mother touched her lips, the power of speech awoke within her; she stretched out her white hands to the night, and poured forth her heart in a river of swift and ardent prayer.
“Ah! grand and awful gods of the North!” she cried, “vast spirits who dwell in the crystal pavilions of the stars, – Genii of Asgard and of Æser, hear the voice and the oath of Rosamunda the princess! Of all the faithful Goths who served you and swore by your mighty names, I alone remain, – l alone, a maid and a bond-slave! But the soul within me is strong and free, and the woman’s hands l raise to your thrones have grasped spear and bow in the day of battle! Give me power to redeem the honour of the Goths, give me might to avenge the shame that lies upon the glory of my father’s race! We must die, we must perish, – l and my people, yea we must perish; but like the sun, let us go down in blood! Ye also, gods of the
Norse, are passing away from our world; already your mighty shapes grow dim and shadowy in the upper air, – obscured by the incense smoke of Christian altars. Weaker deities with beardless faces, mild and childlike, usurp the thrones your giant forms so long have filled l Where once the majestic form of the war-god Odin towered in huge divinity, stand the feeble and lacerated feet of the pale Christ! Where once we beheld a stately and fertile goddess, – Hertha, the life-giving mother and queen, – there kneels a slender and timorous maiden with downcast eyes and wounded heart, a vestal, unmated and sorrow-stricken! These are the new divinities, these, – the rejected, the mean, the suffering; and to give these place, O grand and sturdy gods of the ancient faith, are ye and yours dethroned! But for me ye still live, for me ye reign as of old. Stoop from your eternal seats, steel my hungry spirit, strengthen my eager hands! Grant me my fill of the bitter vengeance I seek, let me drink a rich draught of the Christian blood of the Langobard! Strike through me, through me, dread Nornir, three-formed Destiny, weavers of human doom, pitiless Udr, Verthandi and Skulld! To this end only I live, to this I devote my virginity; may Vara and Synia witness my oath, and, if I fail, avenge with double curse the broken faith of Rosamunda! For all whom my soul found worthy have passed away, save one; and that one lives to bear the name and to carry the heart of a traitor!”
Angry and tearless, she tossed her bare gleaming arms aloft, and sank upon her knees in the glint of the star-light. Behind her the lamp had spent its puny flame, and the image of the deity she disdained was shrouded in darkness. Around and beneath the earth lay sleeping yet, the pulses of her great heart beating out the hours of silence, one by one; above, the passionless stars swept on in their glittering courses. But beyond the faint reaches of the eastward hills lay a single narrow streak of grey light, hazy and indistinct, the lifting eye of the new dawn. And first to know and to herald its coming would be the wild birds of the air. Nature’s poets, types of the singers and missioners whose voices warn the world, whose spirits float on wings of freedom, untamed and unafraid; the ichor of whose wondrous strength is the pure element of the open heaven!
THE sun had set upon Rosamunda’s marriage-day. The new queen of the Lombards sat alone in her bridal chamber, meditative and gloomy. She had not yet laid aside the jewels of her unaccustomed regalia, and the folds of her
broidered wedding-robe lay glittering about her feet. What a melancholy fate was hers; and yet neither her face nor her altitude would have aroused the pity of a spectator. Rosamunda was not a lovable woman; she lacked the charm of pathos even in situations of the profoundest misfortune.
By-and-by, while she sat there, moody and immobile, a faint stir made itself audible behind the arras at the further end of her apartment Slowly and cautiously the heavy folds of the tapestry were pushed apart, and the tall figure of a man discovered itself under the uncertain flicker of the cresset lights which illumined the bridal chamber. Becoming aware of a new presence, Rosamunda lifted her head and turned her eyes with some curiosity on the intruder. Immediately a sharp spasm convulsed her whole frame, she started to her feet and uttered a sudden cry: “Helmichis!”
The man whom she named darted forward, threw himself before her, and seizing the hem of her robe covered it with passionate kisses.
For a moment Rosamunda looked down on the kneeling Goth with an expression of deep and strangely mingled emotions. Then all that was tender, all that was regretful in the glance disappeared, her beautiful face took upon it only a gaze of hard contempt, and she recoiled as though from some noxious or ignoble thing.
Helmichis was not slow to note or to interpret the silent significance of her action.
“Rosamunda,” he said, “my princess, my queen, be patient with me! I am here at the peril of my life, and my time for speech with thee is short.”
“Speak,” she answered coldly, and with averted eyes. “I know well that life is dear to thee; that thou hast already amply proved.”
“Not dear for mine own sake, Rosamunda,” he said.
He had taken her taunt mildly, as some men take such things of women. This stung her the more.
“How,” she retorted, angrily, “art thou not Alboin’s armour-bearer, – thou, a Gepide chief?”
He answered slowly, looking full at her knitted brows, and speaking with almost a smile upon his lips: “Art not thou Alboin’s wife, – thou, a Gepide princess?”
She would not deign, he knew, to defend herself by pleading as some women would have done, the weakness or the helplessness of her sex; she would answer him as man to man. But to his surprise no answer reached him. Rosamunda reddened, and stood silent. The Goth rose from the kneeling posture he had retained throughout the brief dialogue, and confronted her, endeavouring by closer scrutiny
of her face to gain, if possible, some indication of the thoughts which filled her brain. At length, dreading the return of Alboin, he resolved again to address her.
“Rosamunda, think not that I am unaware of the purpose thou hast at heart in consenting to a marriage which is hateful to thee. I am not come hither to insult my princess with the display of a traitor’s malice, rejoicing in her misfortunes. But I have chosen this night – this hour, as most befitting the defence which I have to make to thee. Rosamunda, thou believest me guilty of an infamous perfidy, thou believest that I sold my honour and my service into the hands of Alboin for the paltry meed of life as a vassal in the hire of the Langobard. It would have been the part of a noble Goth to have died spear in hand with his face toward the foe. A chief of the Gepidæ should rather have slain himself with his own hand than have suffered the thong of his adversary to bind him. None but a craven or a traitor could be so unmindful of the stern traditions of Odin’s sons, as to prefer a voluntary servitude to the glorious death of a free warrior. Thus didst thou reason, my princess, and in thine eyes the name of Helmichis was shamed as the name of a dastard and a renegade. But now hear the truth. – On the day of that miserable slaughter I knew not that Alboin had brought the Huns against us in his train. Not one of us knew of their presence in the field until too late. Thinking to close upon the rear of Alboin’s army while engaged in fight with the men under Hogen’s command, I led my troop of horse into the defile of the glen. There the wily Lombard had packed his Huns in ambush. In the thick of the struggle which followed I contrived to send one of our company for aid, to Kunimond. Instead of help he brought me back the dire tidings of thy father’s death. He had seen the king fall under the hoofs of his own steed, – had seen him lie prone in the dust of the plain, his head stricken from his neck by the hand of Alboin. Then I raised myself in my stirrups and beheld the height covered with corpses, the Lombards everywhere triumphant and spreading fast to the walls of Singidunum. In that moment too my horse was mortally thrust, he reeled beneath me and fell, his huge frame crashing like a hurled rock among the thick branches of the coppice trees. The voice of the Avar who had struck us down rose harshly over the din of the fray; ‘Yield, chief of the Goths, give up thine arms, and I spare thy life!’ He deemed me such a prize as might secure him favour with Alboin. Quickly, as the sword flashes overhead ere it descends, a sudden wave of thoughts swept through my mind.
“The king is dead – Alboin marches on our city. For aught I know, our chief’s are all slain save myself, and for me
there is no chance of rescue or of escape at this crisis. By my death Rosamunda will be left unchampioned, she will be borne captive to the Lombard palace, no man of her race will remain to watch over her destiny, or, if need arise, to avenge her honour. I will go into thraldom with her, l will become for her sake her master’s vassal! Princess, I surrendered my arms to the Hun, I entered the service of the Langobard; and I have striven so successfully for his favour, that tonight my fortune gives me this happy chance of speaking alone with my queen! For thee, Rosamunda, for thee, and for the great love I bear thee, have I chosen to forego the glory of the warrior for the collar of the serf! Use me now in thy designs, appoint me any part thou mayst list, bid me undertake in thy service whatever enterprize thou dost meditate against our Vandal lord, and thou shalt find the heart within me at least as brave and as dauntless as when it beat against thine own in the flight from the fallen walls of Leuphãna!”
The earnestness of his voice, if not the longing in his eyes, would have convinced any woman under heaven of his truth.
Rosamunda slowly extended her hands towards him, and clasped his firmly and softly within them. Frank she was in acknowledging an error, as fierce in resenting an injury.
“I have wronged thee, Helmichis,” she said. “But yet I was not wholly blameful, for I knew not until now of the love thou bearest me. Had I known it earlier, I might have read thine actions by its light.”
He caught her quickly in his arms.
“O Rosamunda!” he cried, “thou hast seen it in my face, thou hast heard it in my voice a hundred times and more! Could I ever look on thee, my sweet, as on another woman, or didst thou ever hear in my speech to another the passion that made every word I spoke to thee like a beat of my heart?”
“Nay” she said, putting him from her gently, “maidens seek not for such signs as these!”
But she trembled and faltered a little as she spoke.
“Yet, Rosamunda,” he murmured, gazing earnestly at her, “I think, too, that thou lovest me?” She gave him no answer in words; only she lifted her eyes and looked him full in the face. There she let him read the reply he sought; and in silence she dropped her head upon his breast. Thus had love power to make even this woman lovable!
ALBOIN’S marriage with Rosamunda was, for the Lombard monarchy, the inauguration of a series of fresh and brilliant conquests. For the next year destiny favoured our Vandal hero with the powerful alliance of Narses the Roman general, a stroke of fortune which was brought about in the following manner.
A quarrel had arisen between the eunuch, then exarch of Ravenna, and the Empress Sophia, Justin’s wife. Narses was deposed from his vice-royalty and a new governor appointed, but the transaction did not end there. Sophia added to the letters of recall addressed to the fallen statesman these insulting words: “Let Narses leave to men the exercise of arms and the dignities of political administration. His proper place is among the maidens of my palace, where a distaff shall be placed in his hands.” Narses, stung to the quick, retorted, “I will spin the empress such a thread as she shall not easily unravel I” And from his enforced retirement at Naples he sent messages to Alboin, inviting him to undertake the invasion of the Roman territory in Italy, and proffering his own assistance to the enterprise.
The ambitious warrior-king snatched eagerly at this brilliant chance of conquest. On the 32nd of April, 568, the whole nation of the Lombards, with twenty thousand confederates gathered from the kindred tribes of Germania, abandoned their northern plains and crossed the Julian AIps. From the snowy heights of these majestic mountains they first beheld with exultation the fair and fruitful region which was destined to become their own.
With the consummate wit of a born general, Alboin controlled his vast host. In military tactics no man before or since ever surpassed him. By his wise direction, the Lombards and their allies used every available means of conciliating the inhabitants of the country upon which they descended. No plunder, no devastation was permitted; villages, orchards and vineyards were respected; order and peace everywhere followed the march of the wily barbarian. Thus he traversed the whole inland district without once meeting an army in the field. Milan (Mediolanum) opened her gates to the invaders on the 4th of September, 569. Pavia (Ticinum) succumbed latest of the imperial strongholds, and at length only Rome and Ravenna remained to the Byzantine empire. The mastery of the whole of North Italy was thus secured to the Lombards; and their chief, who had hitherto
controlled a mere rough tribe of Vandals in the wilds of Pannonia, beheld himself the despotic governor of a vast and beautiful territory, rich in cultivation and inhabitants. Success being thus assured, Alboin resolved to celebrate his conquest with feast and revelry, and to hold at Verona a triumphant banquet, on a scale becoming the resources of so great a prince.
The night chosen for the carousal was in the balmiest and most enchanting season of the year. The palace banquet-hall was opened to the soft twilight of a sky which the sun seemed loth to quit, and the faint evening breeze mingled freely with the rich odours of the flowers and wine which covered the glittering tables of the festival. At the head of one of these stood the throne of the hero Alboin; about him were grouped the chief’s of the Langobard race, and of the allies who had assisted to bring their mighty enterprise to its splended issue. Fronting the royal scat, at the further end of the hall, and surrounded by her women, sat Rosamunda, diademed and robed like a goddess, the fairest and most regal spectacle amid all the magnificent pageantry.
Midnight was near at hand, and the guests had already drunk deeply, when the voice of Alboin suddenly rose high above the songs and the laughter of the festival.
“Bring hither,” he cried, “our cup of victory! It is time we should taste together the crowing libation of the feast!”
Then, turning to the assembly, he added, “Chiefs, this is the night of the Langobards triumph. I have reserved till now the fulfilment of an oath I swore long since. Tonight I drink a draught of my richest Falernian from the skull of the man who once vowed to do the like with mine! Ill he judged to make such boasts in the ear of Alboin l Now let his pagan ghost bear witness to my revenge, and see with shame the lips of the man he dared to menace rest on the jewelled brim which once contained his own lack-lustre brain!”
And rising in his place, he held aloft before the guests a strange goblet which one of his attendants had filled with Falernian wine. It was a human skull, hollowed, set in gold, and studded with costly gems.
“Comrades!” cried Alboin in exultant tones, as the warriors about him sprang from their scats, – “I drink to the lasting dominion of the Lombard dynasty, from the skull of Kunimond the Gepide!” Then, wiping his beard after the draught, he called Helmichis, who, as his duty demanded, stood behind his lord.
“Here, Goth,” said he, placing the skull in his retainer’s hands, “carry thy master’s head to thy master’s daughter!
Bid our lovely Rosamunda do equal honour to our triumph, and rejoice while she drinks with her departed sire!”
Helmichis trembled, and threw a fearful glance towards the face of his proud mistress; but the look he met there determined him on a mute obedience. Amid a profound silence Rosamunda rose, took the dreadful goblet steadily in her hands, and setting her lips upon its brim, she kissed it, drank, and said aloud: “The will of my lord is done.” And none but Helmichis as he bent before her, heard the fierce words she added low to herself: “Dog of a Langobard! though I die for it, this insult shall cost thee thy life tonight!”
The celebration of the toast thus savagely inaugurated, was the closing episode of the banquet. Rosamunda retired first, taking with her the train of waiting-women; soon after the chief’s dispersed, and the remains of the feast were Left to the greed of Alboin’s barbaric serfs.
But when the Lombard hero had stumbled, heavy with wine, to his bed-chamber, and the vast stone court of the palace was deserted and silent, Helmichis, lying restless on his couch, distinguished the sound of a footstep approaching his room. Noiselessly he rose, and lifting the tapestry which covered the threshold, perceived Rosamunda advancing, along the corridor which Led from the women’s apartments. As she came stealthily forward, her long bright hair falling unbound about her neck, her face stern and unnaturally pallid under the white glint of the moonlight that flooded the narrow gallery, Helmichis involuntarily recalled the prophecy of Thorsen the Gothic Scalder: –
“Then against the sky behold
Moved a shape of awful seeming,
Fair and tall, with hair of gold,
Down its marble bosom streaming.
‘Who art Thou, – more dread than Odin
Art thou mortal – art thou human?’
‘Yea,’ she said, ‘an angry Woman
Stands before thee, Lora of Death!’ ”
Low and eager the tones of Rosamunda’s voice broke in on his musings.
“Helmichis,” she said, looking fixedly upon him, “the time has come for the performance of thy promise. Dost thou still love me, and art thou as willing to do me service now, as thou wert on my bridal night?”
“My queen,” responded the armour-bearer with worship in his eyes as he drank in with them her glorious beauty, “I am ready to die for the sake of but one hour of thy love! Why hast thou so long denied it to me, – thou who hatest me not?”
He would have fallen at her feet, but with a rapid gesture she restrained him.
“Stand up,” said she, “I doubt not thy devotion. But it is not vows nor prayers which I ask of thee tonight, – it is work, – work which shall earn thee the reward thou seekest. Thou wert witness of the indignity Alboin put upon me an hour since before all his guests at the banquet; nay, thou thyself wert forced to endure the keen edge of his grim jesting. Give me thine aid, Helmichis, to wash out these insults in the blood of their perpetrator, – the Lango-bard who slew my father and my father’s brother! Refuse me, and I will hazard the attempt alone, rather than remain longer unavenged; comply, and so soon as Alboin’s corpse lies at our feet, I will yield myself into thine arms! Helmichis, wilt thou win me so? Is thine heart as brave as was thy boast?”
She spoke in a rapid intense whisper, searching his face meanwhile with a gaze of the deepest earnestness. He hastened to answer her in the same hushed tone.
“Have I not told thee, my sweet, that I would gladly risk any death for thy sake? But I like not that thou shouldst be sharer in this adventure. There is great danger –.”
She interrupted him angrily.
“Long ago I vowed to the Nornir that Alboin should die by no other hand than mine! I seek only thine assistance, Helmichis; when once he is in our power it is who must strike!”
Looking into her wrathful eyes, and hearing the decision of her tones, the Goth resolved not to contest the point. But he urged instead a new proposition.
“If such be thine intent, Rosamunda, we cannot – we dare not attempt the exploit, unless Alboin’s henchman, Peredeus, be gained at least to secrecy. Dost thou not know that he guards the sleeping-room of his lord? How shall I protect thee against both master and vassal? Doubtless he would arouse Alboin, or even fly to summon men from the guard-chamber. Think me not over cautious; my timely advice once saved our nation from ruin.”
“What, then, wilt thou have me do?” asked the queen impatiently. “My wrath admits of no delay; Alboin must not look upon the rising of another sun! Speak, hast thou no scheme to propose?”
For a few moments he reflected, and then answered slowly, “Aye, Rosamunda, and it shall be briefly told. Peredeus hath a passion for thy maid, Thorelil; she is coy as women will be, and he eager as becomes a lover. Write here on thy tablets a message which I will carry to Peredeus, appoint
a meeting with him alone, an hour hence, in the ward-room of the western gallery, and sign, not thine own name, but the name of her whom he loves. I will charge myself to remove his possible scruples. It is but for a brief space I will tell him, ‘and the king is oppressed with heavy sleep.’ And further, I will offer to take office as his substitute, till he return, and should need arise, to excuse him satisfactorily to Alboin. All this is easy enough. Your part, my sweet, is worthier of your better skill. The eastern ward-room is disused and utterly dark; its window is masoned up, the passage that leads to it is buried in absolute gloom. Peredeus will not be able to see thee, but he will hear the rustle of thy garments and take thee for Thorelil. Be silent until he embrace thee, or seek to use some such endearment. Then discover thyself in terms of indignation, resent his insolence, discredit his excuses, and threaten him with the anger of his lord. When he implores thy clemency and describes the letter he has received, begin to waver, and seeming but half to relent, depart as if to question thy maid. But ere thou leavest him be careful to exact his promise to remain there till thou return, warning him that if he escape thou wilt certainly acquaint Alboin with his offence against thee. The rest remains with us, Rosamunda; only give me the tablets quickly.”
She placed them in his outstretched hands.
“Helmichis, thy wit almost equals a woman’s,” she said. “But how shall I account to Peredeus for my presence at such an hour in the ward-room?”
“That, my queen,” he answered, “I leave to wit which is quite a woman’s.”
IN the thick darkness of the ward-chamber upon the eastern wing of the palace, Rosamunda awaited the coming of Peredeus. Her suspense was brief enough, for the ardour of love gave speed to his feet, and the rattle of steel harness soon made itself heard in the vaulted passage without. Pausing at length, and groping for the arched open entrance of the ward-room, he gave vent to a low anxious exclamation.
“My beloved! art thou here?”
There was no reply; only the rusting sound of a woman’s drapery sweeping past the stone walls and over the pavement towards him. Peredeus extended his arms, caught the
moving form passionately to his breast, and kissed its parted lips with all the enthusiasm of a hungry lover.
“Sweetheart,” he whispered, “this is indeed kindly done l I knew thou wouldst not be always obdurate! Oh, that I might see thy face! Come out into the moonlight but for a moment; we may easily slip hither again unobserved. Everybody in the place is asleep, – the guards arc all lying as drunk as hogs around the banquet-tables! I saw them as I passed just now. Such a spectacle! ’Tis well for them that their lord is in the same plight!” And there he stopped the flow of his loquacity to laugh.
Rosamunda wrested herself from his grasp.
“How now!” cried she, in accents of extreme displeasure, “what insolence is this? For whom dost thou take me, Peredeus?”
The deluded henchman checked his untimely mirth, and retreated from her at least as briskly as he had advanced, muttering with a horrified expression of voice, “I thought it was Thorelil!”
“Not so,” returned his companion sternly, “I am Rosamunda. Knave, thy lord and mine shall hear betimes of the outrage thou hast offered me. What! couldst thou fancy the wife of Alboin would stoop to wanton with such as thou art?”
“By all the life in my body,” reiterated the dupe, “l swear I came hither to find Thorelil!”
Rosamunda laughed scornfully.
“A crafty tale,” she sneered, “but hardly clever enough to beguile me! Thorelil is the most bashful and discreet of all my tire-women. She is the last maiden to have given thee a midnight tryst in such a place as this!”
“I crave thy noble patience, madam,” cried Peredeus eagerly, “I have here the letter she sent me not an hour ago! If thou wouldst but deign to come out of this dark hiding-place, I could shew thee the very words she wrote!”
“Give me the letter here,” said the queen, hastily snatching away the tablets as he drew them from the pouch at his girdle, “I will take the writing hence to Thorelil, and question her myself. But attend, and beware; this may prove but a trick of thine to escape my just resentment. If thou darest to quit this room till my return, I warn thee the king shall assuredly learn what insult thou hast presumed to put on Rosamunda! And I warrant thee too thy head shall answer him for that!”
She paused, expecting his asseverations of obedience, but affairs suddenly assumed an aspect for which, at this stage of the dialogue, she was unprepared.
“Fair lady,” said Peredeus, changing his tone of alarm for
one of curiosity, “it seems to me that the trick, if there be one, is on thy part rather than on mine. I understand not how I came to encounter the queen of the Lombards here tonight. Nor why,” he added, after a moment, “Thorelil doth not appear to keep the assignation she herself made with me. Will my lord’s wife condescend to explain at least the first of these seeming mysteries?”
Rosamunda had trusted, by the adoption of an indignant manner, to bully Peredeus out of daring to start this difficulty. Finding, however, that she had failed to intimidate him sufficiently, she raised her tone to the highest pitch of arrogance.
“It is not befitting the queen of the Lombards to justify herself at the bidding of her husband’s servitor. My conduct and my actions, fellow, are no concern of thine! Didst thou dream I should stoop to make excuses or explanations to thee?”
But she had gone too far; or perhaps the darkness emboldened Peredeus. Had he been able to see her face he might have shewn less temerity. Thrusting himself before the archway to prevent her egress, he resumed: “Madam, though l am a serf, I am yet no fool. This letter – this meeting – this attempt to detain me here, are but passages in a play of which l know not the purport!”
Rosamunda grew desperate. Night was already far advanced, – she could afford to waste time no longer.
“Peredeus,” cried she, turning to bay like a hunted deer, “thou shalt hear the truth! Alboin has grossly affronted me at the feast tonight. He made rude sport before all his chiefs of the memory which is dearest and holiest to me, and compelled me, with bitter taunts, to drink wine with him out of my father’s skull. Stung to the heart, I have sworn to suffer the hateful love of thy Langobard master no longer. Now choose – at once! Associate thyself with me and with Helmichis in our design against Alboin’s life, and win thereby my gratitude and the richest reward which thou canst ask or I can give. But if thou oppose thyself to me, and seek to hinder this enterprise, l will accuse thee to Alboin of a treasonable attempt upon my honour, and my testimony shall not lack support. Then, Peredeus, thou wilt stand but small chance with Rosamunda’s lord.”
A flash of admiration for the courage of the woman, who in such a place and season could be thus lavish of her threats, crossed the brain of Peredeus. But he also had a purpose in view, and answered her with simple earnestness:
“Queen Rosamunda, I neither hate nor love thy lord.
But my heart is set upon winning my dear mistress. She doth not think of me unkindly, but dares give me no hope, fearing to incur thy displeasure by favouring openly the suit of a Langobard. Promise me the hand of the fair maid Thorelil, and I will do for thee tonight whatsoever thou shalt demand.”
“Thy request is freely granted, good Peredeus,” returned the queen. “And it shall be my care to give thee with thy wife such dower as my treasury may be able to bestow. Now go hence quickly, seek Thorelil, and bid her prepare to quit Verona with thee and me at dawn. Get horses and attendants ready with all the speed thou canst use. Tomorrow’s sunset must see us within the Roman walls of Ravenna.”
Then she said to herself, “Great Odin! how weak are these men, – or rather, how strong is their love! What indignity will they not endure, what treachery will they not commit, for the sake of the women who have won their hearts!”
DAWN was already peering greyly into the room wherein Alboin lay stretched in heavy slumber. The tread of Rosamunda and Helmichis passed his couch unheeded; no sound so gentle could reach his torpid brain. Facing the dim light he lay, but half disrobed, the glittering taberd of his festal attire still covering his breast, and upon the velvet mantle which enwrapped his feet were the purple stains of wine yet wet and bright as fresh-spilt blood. Rosamunda, bending over a pile of arms beside the couch, lifted noiselessly the spear which had once been Thurismund’s, pressed its barb against her lips, felt its edge, and whispered as she drew her fingers caressingly along its shining haft, “Good steel tonight thou shalt strike thy best and most re-doubted blow, though it be a woman’s hand that direct thee!”
Then, glancing at Alboin, she added in louder tones, “Rouse him, Helmichis, I cannot slay a sleeping man. Besides, I would have him look upon my face!”
Her voice seemed to stir confusedly the dulled senses of her drowsy lord. His lips unclosed, he moved on his pillow and muttered hoarsely: –
“By the power of God, methinks the wine hath drawn a richer flavour from the heathen skull of the Gepide l Fill again to me, Henrick, – let the gracious juice flow freely!”
“Aye!” repeated Rosamunda, looking at him, “let it flow! I feel stronger again! Awake, Alboin!” she cried, “bestir thyself, Christian toper! It is the daughter of Kunimond who calls!”
The king’s eyes unclosed heavily, he glared about him a moment like a ferocious beast suddenly roused from his lair, struggled to his feet, and snatching up a small wooden stool from the floor beside the bed, hurled it drunkenly at Helmichis.
“What dost thou here, Goth?” roared he with an oath; “who bade thee hither to disturb me?”
Then, perceiving his wife, he broke into a rough fit of laughter. “Ah ha! my handsome witch!” he cried, “was the Falernian sweet last night? What thinkest thou of my dainty goblet?”
“Ill thou judgest to bandy jests with Rosamunda!” she answered, quoting his own words with emphatic bitterness. Defend thyself, Langobard! l this is thy last battle with the Gepidæ!”
As she spoke, Helmichis, taking her words as a signal for the encounter, attacked the king with a short poignard; but Alboin, though unarmed and barely sober, was an antagonist of such strength and alertness, that the struggle might have gone hard with the Goth but for the interference of his mistress.
Choosing a moment when Alboin’s arms were raised to parry an impending thrust, she drove her spear with a mighty effort full at the king’s uncovered breast. Instantly the bright vest was darkened with a crimson stream, and a yell of pain and fury burst from the lips of the wounded man. Grasping the haft of the lance with both hands he sprang blindly forward, and wrenched the weapon from his wound. The blood spurted forth with redoubled violence, a terrible shiver convulsed his limbs, he collapsed, groaned, and dropped upon his face. The spear of Thurismund had done its destined work with awful fidelity, and the Lombard hero, who had cheated Death on a hundred battle-fields, sank pierced to the heart upon the floor of his bed-chamber, to breathe his last at woman’s feet!
So grim at times is the irony of that fate which governs great men’s histories!
Rosamunda turned from the corpse of the man she had slain to look in her lovers face. Laying her hand softly in his, she said, “Now at last, Helmichis, I am free. My work is accomplished, my father’s house is avenged, – Rosamunda is thine!”
The Goth remained silent. He bent his head and kissed the hand she had given him.
In the courtyard beneath, the sound of horses’ hoofs broke the stillness of the early dawn.
“Listen!” said the queen, raising her hand, “they are there awaiting us, – Peredeus and Thorelil. Quick, Helmichis! the new day is already bright over-head; it is time our journey were begun. Once within the gates of Ravenna we may laugh the Lombards to scorn!”
“Alas! Rosamunda,” murmured the Gepide chief, as they passed the chamber threshold together, “thou hast this day lost a kingdom for my sake!”
She answered, looking tenderly upon him, “Yet, though men’s tongues may call me queen no longer, I have gained a better sovereignty over the heart of my love!”
So she spoke, not knowing that fortune had already decreed to her the crown and the purple of Ravenna!