Eugène Sue.

The Brass Bell; or, The Chariot of Death online

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words, turned in haste to the town of Vannes to give the alarm, and to
warn the crews of the Gallic fleet to prepare for combat on the morrow.

On the way, Albinik's wife said to him:

"The heart of my beloved husband is more noble than mine. I wished to
see the Roman fleet destroyed by the sea-rocks. My husband wishes to
destroy it by the valor of the Gauls. May I forever be proud that I am
wife to such a man!"



It was the eve of the battle of Vannes; the battle of Vannes which,
waged on land and sea, was to decide the fate of Brittany, and,
consequently, of all Gaul, whether for liberty or enslavement. On this
memorable evening, in the presence of all the members of our family
united in the Gallic camp, except my brother Albinik, who had joined the
Gallic fleet in the bay of Morbihan, my father Joel, the brenn of the
tribe of Karnak, addressed me, his eldest born, Guilhern the laborer,
who now writes this account. He said to me:

"To-morrow, my son, is the day of battle. We shall fight hard. I am
old - you are young. The angel of death will doubtless carry me hence
first; perhaps to-morrow I shall meet in the other life my sainted
daughter Hena. Here, now, is what I ask of you, in the face of the
misfortunes which menace our country, for to-morrow the fortunes of war
may go with the Romans. My desire is that as long as our stock shall
last, the love of old Gaul and sacred memories of our fathers shall be
ever kept fresh in our family. If our children should remain free men,
the love of country, the reverence for the memory of their ancestors,
will all the more endear their liberty to them. If they must live and
die slaves, these holy memories will remind them, from generation to
generation, that there was a time when, faithful to their gods, valiant
in war, independent and happy, masters of the soil which they had won
from nature by severe toil, careless of death, whose secret they held,
the Gallic race lived, feared by the whole world, yet withal hospitable
to peoples who extended to them a friendly hand. These memories, kept
alive from age to age, will make slavery more horrible to our children,
and some day give them the strength to overthrow it. In order that these
memories may be thus transmitted from century to century, you must
promise by Hesus, my son, to be faithful to our old Gallic custom. You
must tenderly guard this collection of relics which I am going to
entrust you with; you must add to it; you must make your son Sylvest
swear to increase it in his turn, so that the children of your
grandchildren may imitate their fore-fathers, and may themselves be
imitated by their posterity. Here is the collection. The first roll
contains the story of all that has chanced to our family up to the
anniversary of my dear Hena's birthday, that day which also saw her die.
This other roll I received this evening about sunset from my son Albinik
the mariner. It contains the story of his journey across the burnt
territory, to the camp of Caesar. This account throws honor on the
courage of the Gaul, it throws honor on your brother and his wife,
faithful as they were, almost excessively so, to that maxim of our
fathers: 'Never did Breton commit treason.' These writings I confide to
you. You will return them to me after to-morrow's conflict if I survive.
If not, do you preserve them, or in lack of you, your brothers. Do you
inscribe the principal events of your life and your family's; hand the
account over to your son, that he may do as you, and thus on,
forever - generation after generation. Do you swear to me, by Hesus, to
respect my wishes?"

I, Guilhern the laborer, answered: "I swear to my father Joel, the brenn
of the tribe of Karnak, that I will faithfully carry out his desires."

The orders then given to me by my father, I have carried out to-day,
long after the battle of Vannes, and after innumerable misfortunes. I
make the recital or these misfortunes for you, my son Sylvest. It is not
with blood that I should write this narrative. No blood would run dry. I
write with tears of rage, hatred and anguish, - their source never runs

After my poor and well-beloved brother Albinik piloted the Roman fleet
into the bay of Morbihan, the following was the course of events on the
day of the battle of Vannes. It all took place under my own eyes - I saw
it all. Were I to have lived all the days I am to live in the next world
and into all infinity, yet will the remembrance of that frightful day,
and of the days; that followed it, be ever vivid before me, as vivid as
it is now, as it was, and as it ever will be.

Joel my father, Margarid my mother, Henory my wife, my two children
Sylvest and Syomara, as well as my brother Mikael the armorer, his wife
Martha, and their children, to mention only our nearest relatives, had,
like all the rest of our tribe, gathered in the Gallic camp. Our war
chariots, covered with cloth, had served us for tents until the day of
the battle at Vannes. During the night, the council, called together by
the Chief of the Hundred Valleys, and Tallyessin, the oldest of the
druids, had met. Several mountaineers of Ares, mounted on their tireless
little horses, were sent out in the evening to scout the area of the
conflagration. At dawn they hastened back to report that at six leagues'
distance from Vannes they saw the fires of the Roman army, encamped that
night in the midst of the ruins of the town of Morh'ek. The Chief of the
Hundred Valleys concluded that Caesar, to escape from the circle of
devastation and famine that was drawing in closer and closer upon his
army, had left the wasted country behind him by forced marches, and
intended to offer battle to the Gauls. The council resolved to advance
to meet Caesar, and to await him on the heights which overlooked the
river Elrik. At break of day, after the druids had invoked the blessings
of the gods, our tribe took up its march for its post in the battle.

Joel, mounted on his high-mettled stallion Tom-Bras, commanded the
_Mahrek-Ha-Droad_,[5] of which myself and my brother Mikael were
members, I as a horseman, Mikael as a foot-soldier. According to the
custom of the army, it was our duty to fight side by side, I on
horse-back, he afoot, and mutually support each other. The war chariots,
armed with scythes at the hubs, were placed in the center of the army,
with the reserve. In one of them were my mother and wife, the wife of
Mikael, and our children. Some young lads, lightly armed, surrounded the
chariots and were with difficulty holding back the great war-dogs,
which, after the example of Deber-Trud, the man-eater, were howling and
tugging at their leashes, already scenting battle and blood. Among the
young men of the tribe who were in the array, were two who had taken the
bond of friendship, like Julyan and Armel. Moreover, to make it more
certain that they would share the same fate, a stout iron chain was
riveted to their collars of brass, and fastened them together. The chain
as the symbol of their pledge of solidarity held them inseparable,
scathless, wounded, or dead.

On the way to our post in the battle, we beheld the Chief of the Hundred
Valleys passing at the head of the _Trimarkisia_.[6] He rode a superb
black horse, in scarlet housings; his armor was of steel; his helmet of
plated copper, which shone like the sun, was capped by the emblem of
Gaul, a gilded cock with half spread wings. At either side of the Chief
rode a bard and a druid, clad in long white robes striped with purple.
They carried no arms, but when the troops closed in to battle, then,
disdainful of danger, they stood in the front ranks of the combatants,
encouraging these with their words and their songs of war. Thus chanted
the bard at the moment when the Chief of the Hundred Valleys passed by
Joel's column:

"Caesar has come against us.
In a loud voice he asks:
'Do you want to be slaves?
Are ye ready?'

"No, we do not want to be slaves.
No, we are not ready.
Children of the same race,
Let us raise our standards on the mountains and pour down upon the plains.
March on!
March on against Caesar,
Joining in the same slaughter him and his army!
To the Romans!
To the Romans!"

As the bard sang this song, every heart beat with the ardor of

As the Chief of the Hundred Valleys passed the troop at the head of
which was my father Joel, he reined in his horse and cried:

"Friend Joel, when I was your guest, you asked my name. I answered that
I was called _Soldier_ so long as our old Gaul should be under the
oppressor's scourge. The hour has come when we must show ourselves
faithful to the motto of our fathers: 'In all war, there is but one of
two outcomes for the man of courage: to conquer or to die.'[8] O, that
my love for our common country be not barren! O, that Hesus keep our
arms! Perhaps then the Chief of the Hundred Valleys will have washed off
the stain which covers a name he no longer dares to bear.[9] Courage,
friend Joel, the sons of your tribe are brave of the brave. What blows
will they not deal on this day which makes for the welfare of Gaul!"

"My tribe will strike its best, and with all its might," answered my
father. "We have not forgotten that song of the bards who accompanied
you, when the first war-cry burst from them in the forest of Karnak:
'Strike the Roman hard - strike for the head - still harder - strike! - The
Romans, strike!'"

With one voice the whole tribe of Joel took up the cry:

"Strike! - The Romans, strike!"



The Chief of the Hundred Valleys took his departure, in order to address
a few words of exhortation to each tribe. Before proceeding to our post
of battle, far from the war chariots which held our wives, daughters and
children, my father, brother and myself wished to make sure by a last
look that nothing was lacking for the defense of that car which held our
dear ones. My mother, Margarid, as calm as when she held the distaff in
the corner of her own fireplace, was leaning against the oak panel which
formed the body of the chariot. She had set Henory and Martha to work,
giving more play to the straps which, fastened to pegs driven in the
edge of the chariot, secured the handles of the scythes, which were used
for defense in the same manner as oars fastened to the gunwhale of a

Several young girls and women of our kindred were occupied with other
cares. Some were preparing behind the chariots, with thick skins
stretched on cords, a retreat where the children would be under cover
from the arrows and stones thrown by the slingers and archers of the
enemy. Already the children were laughing and frolicking with joyous
cries around the half finished den. As an additional protection, my
mother Margarid, watchful in everything, had some sacks filled with
grain placed in front of the hut. Other young girls were placing, along
the interior walls of the car, knives, swords and axes, to be used in
case of need, and weighing no more on their strong white arms than did
the distaff. Two of their companions, kneeling near my mother, were
opening chests of linen, and preparing oil, balm, salt and witch-hazel,
to dress the wounds, following the example of the druidesses, near whom
the car was stationed.

At our approach the children ran gaily from the depths of their retreat
into the fore-part of the wagon, whence they stretched out their little
hands to us. Mikael, being on foot, took in his arms his son and his
daughter, while Henory, to spare me the trouble of dismounting from my
horse, reached out, one at a time, my little Syomara and Sylvest into my
arms. I seated them both before me on the saddle, and at the moment of
starting for the fight, I had the pleasure of kissing their yellow
heads. My father, Joel, then said to my mother:

"Margarid, if fortune turns against us, and the car is attacked by the
Romans, do not free the dogs until the moment of attack. The brave
animals will be only the more furious for their long wait, and will not
then stray away from where you are."

"Your advice will be followed, Joel," answered my mother. "Look and see
if these straps give the scythes enough play."

"Yes, they are free enough," answered my father, looking at some of the
straps. Then, examining the array of scythes which defended the other
side of the chariot, he broke out:

"Wife, wife! What were those girls thinking of! Look here! Oh, the
rattle heads! On this side the scythe-blades are turned towards the
shaft of the chariot, and over there they are pointed backwards!"

"It was I who had the weapons placed so," said she.

"And why are not all the blades turned the same way, Margarid?"

"Because a car is almost always attacked before and behind at once. In
that case the two rows of scythes, placed in opposite directions, are
the best defense. My mother taught me that, and I am showing the method
to these dear girls."

"Your mother saw further than I, Margarid. A good harvest time is thus
made certain. Let the Romans come and assault the car! Heads and limbs
will fall, mown down like ripe ears at the reaping! Let Hesus make it a
good one, this human harvest!"

Then, listening intently, my father said to Mikael and myself:

"Sons, I hear the cymbals of the bards and the clarions of the
_Trimarkisia_. Let us rejoin our friends. Well, Margarid, well, my
daughters, - till we meet again, here - or above!"

"Here or above, our fathers and husbands will find us pure and
unstained," answered Henory, more proud, more beautiful than ever.

"Victorious or dead you will see us again," added Madalen, a young
maiden of sixteen. "But enslaved or dishonored, no. By the glorious
blood of our Hena - - no - - never!"

"No!" said Martha, the wife of Mikael, pressing to her bosom her two
children, whom their father had just replaced in the chariot.

"These dear girls are of our race - rest easy, Joel," continued my
mother, even now calm and grave. "They will do their duty."

"Even as we will do ours. And thus will Gaul be delivered," answered my
father. "You also will do your duty, old man-eater, old Deber-Trud!"
added the brenn, stroking the enormous head of the war-dog, who in spite
of his chain, was standing up with his paws on the horse's shoulder.
"Soon will come the hour of the quarry, fine bloody quarry, Deber-Trud!
Her! Her! To the Romans!"

The mastiff and the rest of the war pack responded to these words with
furious bayings. The brenn, my brother and myself cast one last look
upon our families. My father turned his spirited stallion's head towards
the ranks of the army, and speedily came up with them. I followed my
father, while Mikael, robust and agile, holding tightly with his left
hand to the long mane of my galloping horse, ran along beside me.
Sometimes falling in with the sway of the horse, Mikael leaped with it,
and was thus raised off the ground for several steps. We two, like many
others of our tribe, had in time of peace familiarized ourselves with
the manly military exercise of the _Mahrek-Ha-Droad_. Thus the brenn, my
brother and myself rejoined our tribe and took our stand in the ranks of

The Gallic army occupied the summit of a hill about one league's
distance from Vannes. To the east their line of battle was covered by
the forest of Merek, which was filled with their best archers. To the
west they were defended by the lofty cliffs which rose from the bay of
Morbihan. At the lower end of the bay was the fleet, already weighing
anchor to proceed to the attack of the Roman galleys, which, motionless
as a flock of sea-swans, lay at rest on the waves. No longer piloted by
Albinik, the fleet of Caesar, although floated by the rising tide, still
held its position of the previous evening, for fear of running upon the
invisible rocks.

Before the army flowed the River Roswallan. The Romans would have to
ford it in order to attack us. Skillfully had the Chief of the Hundred
Valleys chosen his position. He had before him a river; behind him the
town of Vannes; on the west the sea; on the east the forest of Merek:
its border chopped down, offered insurmountable obstacles to the Roman
cavalry; and with an eye to the Roman infantry, the best of Gaul's
archers were scattered among the mighty trees.

The ground before us, on the opposite side of the river, rose in a
gentle slope. Its crest hid from us the road by which the Roman army
would arrive. Suddenly, on the summit of the slope there dashed into
view several Ares mountaineers, who had been sent out as scouts to
signal to us the approach of the enemy. They dashed down the hill at
full speed, forded the river, joined us, and breathlessly announced the
advance of the Roman army.

"Friends!" the Chief of the Hundred Valleys called out to each tribe as
he passed on horse-back before the army in battle array; "rest on your
arms until the Romans, drawn up on the other bank of the river, begin
to cross it. At that moment let the slingers and archers shower their
stones and arrows upon the enemy. Then, when the Romans are forming
their cohorts on this side, after crossing, let our whole line fall
back, leaving the reserve with the war-chariots. Then, the foot soldiers
in the center, the cavalry on the wings, let us pour down in a torrent
from the top of this rapid decline. The enemy, driven back again to the
river, will not withstand the impetuosity of our first charge!"

Immediately the hill-top opposite the army was covered by the numberless
troops of Caesar. In the vanguard marched the "Harassers," marked by the
lion's skin which covered their heads and shoulders. The old legions,
named from their experience and daring, as the "Thunderer," the "Iron
Legion," and many others whom the Chief of the Hundred Valleys pointed
out to his men, formed the reserve. We saw glittering in the sun the
arms and the distinctive emblems of the legions, an eagle, a wolf, a
dragon, a minotaur, and other figures of gilded bronze, decorated with
leaves. The wind bore to us the piercing notes of the long Roman
clarions, and our hearts leaped at the martial music. A horde of
Numidian horsemen, wrapped in long white robes, preceded the army. The
column halted a moment, and several of the Numidians went down at full
tilt to the brink of the river. In order to ascertain whether it was
fordable, they entered it on horse-back, and approached the nearer side,
notwithstanding the hail of stones and arrows which the Gallic slingers
and archers poured down upon them. More than one white robe was seen to
float upon the river current, and more than one riderless horse
returned to the bank and the Romans. Nevertheless, several Numidians, in
spite of the stones and darts which were hurled upon them, crossed the
entire breadth of the river several times. Such a display of bravery
caused the Gallic archers and slingers to hold their fire by common
accord, and do honor to such supreme valor. Courage in our enemies
pleases us; it proves them more worthy of our steel. The Numidians,
certain of having found a ford, ran to convey the news to the Roman
army. Then the legions formed in several deep columns. The passage of
the river commenced. According to the orders of the Chief of the Hundred
Valleys, the archers and slingers resumed their shooting, while Cretan
archers and slingers from the Balearic Islands, spreading over the
opposite bank, answered our people.

"My sons," said Joel to us, looking towards the bay of Morbihan, "your
brother Albinik advances to the fight on the water as we begin the fight
on land. See - our fleet has met the Roman galleys."

Mikael and I looked in the direction the brenn was pointing, and saw our
ships with their heavy leathern sails, bent on iron chains, grappling
with the galleys. The brenn spoke true. The battle was joined on land
and sea simultaneously. On that double combat depended the freedom or
slavery of Gaul. But as I turned my attention from the two fleets back
to our own army, I was struck to the heart with a sinister omen. The
Gallic troops, ordinarily such chatterers, so gay in the hour of battle
that from their ranks rise continually playful provocations to the
enemy, or jests upon the dangers of war, were now sober and silent,
resolved to win or die.

The signal for battle was given. The cymbals of the bards spoke back to
the Roman clarions. The Chief of the Hundred Valleys, dismounting from
his horse, put himself some paces ahead of the line of battle. Several
druids and bards took up their station on either side of him. He
brandished his sword and started on a run down the steep hill-side. The
druids and bards kept even pace with him, striking as they went upon
their golden harps. At that signal, our whole army precipitated itself
upon the enemy, who, now across the river, were re-forming their

The _Mahrek-Ha-Droad_, cavalry and footmen, of the tribes near that of
Karnak, which my father commanded, darted down the slope with the rest
of the army. Mikael, holding his axe in his right hand, was, during this
impetuous descent, almost continually suspended from the mane of my
horse, which he had seized with his left. At the foot of the slope, that
troop of the Romans called the Iron Legion, because of their heavy
armor, formed in a wedge. Immovable as a wall of steel, bristling with
spears, it made ready to receive our charge on the points of its lances.
I carried, in common with all the Gallic horsemen, a saber at my left
side, an axe at my right, and in my hand a heavy staff capped with iron.
For helmet I had a bonnet of fur, for breastplate a jacket of boar-hide,
and strips of leather were wrapped around my legs where the breeches did
not cover them. Mikael was armed with a tipped staff and a saber, and
carried a light shield on his left arm.

"Leap on the crupper!" I cried to my brother at the moment when the
horses, now no longer under control, arrived at full gallop on the
lances of the Iron Legion. Immediately we arrived within range we hurled
our iron capped staffs full at the heads of the Romans with all our
might. My staff struck hard and square on the helmet of a legionary,
who, falling backward, dragged down with him the soldier behind. Through
this gap my horse plunged into the thickest of the legion. Others
followed me. In the melee the fight grew sharp. Mikael, always at my
side, leaped sometimes, in order to deliver a blow from a greater
height, to my horse's crupper, other times he made of the animal a
rampart. He fought valorously. Once I was half unhorsed. Mikael
protected me with his weapon till I regained my seat. The other
foot-soldiers of the _Mahrek-Ha-Droad_ fought in the same manner, each
one beside his own horseman.

"Brother, you are wounded," I said to Mikael. "See, your blouse is red."

"You too, brother," he responded. "Look at your bloody breeches."

And, in truth, in the heat of combat, we do not feel these wounds.

My father, chief of the _Mahrek-Ha-Droad_, was not accompanied by a
foot-soldier. Twice we joined him in the midst of the fight. His arm,
strong for all his age, struck incessantly. His heavy axe resounded on
the iron armors like a hammer on the anvil. His stallion Tom-Bras bit
furiously all the Romans within reach. One of them he almost lifted off
the ground in his rearing. He held the man by the nape of the neck, and
the blood was spurting. When the tide of the combat again carried Mikael
and myself near our father, he was wounded. I overcame one of the
brenn's assailants by trampling him under my horse's feet; then we were
again separated from my father. Mikael and myself knew nothing of the
other movements of the battle. Engaged in the conflict before us, we had
no other thought than to tumble the Iron Legion into the river. To that
end we struggled hard. Already our horses were stumbling over corpses as
if in a quagmire. We heard, not far off, the piercing voices of the
bards; their voices were heard over the tumult.

"Victory to Gaul! - Liberty! Liberty! Another blow with the axe! Another
effort! Strike, strike, ye Gauls. - And the Roman is vanquished. - And
Gaul delivered. Liberty! Liberty! Strike the Roman hard! Strike
harder! - Strike, ye Gauls!"

The song of the bards, the hope of victory with which they inspired
their countrymen, caused us to redouble our efforts. The remains of the
Iron Legion, almost annihilated, recrossed the river in disorder. At
that moment we saw running in our direction a Roman cohort,
panic-stricken and in full rout. Our men had driven them back from the

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Online LibraryEugène SueThe Brass Bell; or, The Chariot of Death → online text (page 4 of 9)