— 5.3 —
After the battle, Posthumus Leonatus, still wearing the clothing of a British peasant, met a British lord.
The lord asked him, “Have you come from the place where our soldiers have made a stand against the Romans?”
“I did. But you, it seems, come from the soldiers who were fleeing.”
“I did,” the lord replied.
“I don’t blame you, sir, because all was lost, except that the Heavens fought on our side. King Cymbeline himself was in trouble, the wings of his army were destroyed, the rest of his army was broken, and only the backs of British soldiers could be seen because all of them were fleeing through a straight lane.
“The enemy was full-hearted, with their tongues hanging out like wolves as they slaughtered British soldiers. The number of British soldiers available to be killed was more numerous than Roman weapons could handle. The Romans killed some British soldiers, mortally wounded some others, lightly wounded some others, and frightened some others so badly that they fell down simply out of fear. The narrow pass became dammed with men who died from the wounds they received while running away and with cowards who were not wounded but will live with shame until they die.”
“Where was this lane?” the lord asked.
“Nearby the battlefield. It was sunken, and walled with turf. This gave an advantage to an old, experienced soldier, an honorable one, I promise you, who deserves to be honored by his country for as many years as it took him to grow his long beard and have it turn white.
“He and two striplings faced the Romans. The striplings were lads more likely to play boyish games than to commit such slaughter, and they had delicate faces that were fit to wear masks such as women wear to protect their faces from the Sun — actually, the boys’ faces were even fairer than those of ladies who wear such masks to protect themselves from the Sun or to protect themselves from being stared at.
“The old man and the two boys made secure the narrow path. The old man shouted to those who fled, ‘British deer die while fleeing, not our men. May souls who flee and retreat now quickly make their way to the darkness of Hell! Stand your ground, or my sons and I will be Romans and will give you that beastly death that you shun like cowards. If you want to save your lives, all you need to do is turn around and frown at the Roman soldiers. Stand your ground! Stand your ground!’
“These three, who had the confidence of three thousand soldiers, and who in action were worth as many — for three soldiers are the army when all the rest of the soldiers do nothing — with this word ‘Stand! Stand!’ were able to put color into pale faces. They were given an advantage by the narrowness of the place, and they were all the more persuasive because of their own nobleness, which could have turned a woman using a distaff into a soldier using a lance. Some fleeing soldiers they shamed but they also renewed their spirit, and some, who had fled simply because others were fleeing — a sin in war, and damned in the first beginners! — began to look like the old man and his two sons, and to turn toward the Roman soldiers, and to grin like lions at the pikes of the hunters.
“Then the chasers began to stop, and then to retreat, and soon there was a rout, with thick confusion; and then the Roman soldiers fled like chickens back up the same path down which they had swooped like eagles. The same path they had strode like victors they now strode like slaves.
“And now our British cowards, like fragments of food during hard voyages, became the means of survival in an emergency. The Roman soldiers were fleeing, exposing their backs to the British, and the back door was open that led to their unguarded hearts — as they fled, their exposed and unguarded backs became a target to strike to reach their hearts! Heavens, how the former cowards wounded the fleeing Romans!
“Some cowards who had pretended to be dead or dying, and some of these cowards’ friends whom the fierceness of the Romans had overcome, now fought back. Previously, one Roman soldier had chased ten British soldiers, but now each British soldier slaughtered twenty Roman soldiers. Those who had previously preferred to flee rather than resist, although fleeing meant dying, now became war machines on the battlefield.”
The lord said, “This was a strange joining together: a narrow lane, an old man, and two boys.”
“No, do not wonder at it,” Posthumus replied. “You are made to wonder at the things you hear rather than to yourself do anything that would cause wonder in others. You seem like a person who would mock heroism rather than yourself do anything heroic.
“Will you satirically rhyme upon this event, and then recite your poem so you can mock it? Here are two lines you can use:
“Two boys, an old man twice a boy, a lane,
“Preserved the Britons, and were the Romans’ bane.”
In the satiric lines, the old man was “twice a boy” because of senility; he was in his second childhood.
“Don’t be angry, sir,” the lord said.
Posthumus replied, “Why would I be angry? For what end?
“Of anyone who does not dare to face his foe, I’ll be the friend,
“For if he’ll do as he is made to do,
“I know he’ll quickly flee from my friendship, too.
“You have forced me to rhyme and make satiric verses.”
“Farewell,” the lord said. “You’re angry.”
“Are you still fleeing?” Posthumus asked.
The lord exited.
“This is a lord!” Posthumus exclaimed. “Oh, noble misery, to be in the battlefield, and yet to have to ask me, ‘What is the news?’
“Today how many British soldiers would have given their honors away in order to have saved their carcasses! They took to their heels to save their lives, and yet they died, nevertheless! I, protectively charmed in my own woe, could not find Death where I heard Death groan, nor could I feel Death where he struck. Being that Death is an ugly monster, it is strange that he hides himself in fresh cups, soft beds, and sweet words, and it is strange that he has more ministers than we who draw his knives in the war.
“Well, I will find Death. For the time being he favors the British and keeps them alive.”
Posthumus took off his British-peasant clothing and said, “I am no longer a Briton. I have resumed again the part that I had when I came to Britain from Italy: I am a Roman soldier.
“I will fight no more, but I will surrender to the lowest peasant who shall touch my shoulder in the act of arrest. Great is the slaughter the Romans have made here; great is the retribution that the British must take.
“As for me, the only ransom I will offer will be death. I have come here to die, whether as a Roman or as a Briton. I will not keep breathing here or elsewhere; I will find some way to stop breathing because of what I did to Imogen.”
Two British Captains and some British soldiers came onto the scene.
The first Captain said, “Great Jupiter be praised! The Roman General Caius Lucius has been captured. It is thought that the old man and his sons were angels.”
The second Captain replied, “There was a fourth man, wearing peasants’ clothing, who made the attack with them.”
“So it is reported, but none of them can be found,” the first Captain said.
Seeing Posthumus, now dressed like a Roman soldier, the first Captain said, “Stop! Who’s there?”
Posthumus replied, “A Roman, who would not now be drooping here, if reinforcements had come to him.”
The second Captain ordered, “Arrest him; he is a dog! No dog — or even a leg of a dog — shall return to Rome to tell about the crows that have pecked Roman corpses here. He brags about his service as if he were a man of reputation. Take him to King Cymbeline.”
King Cymbeline, Belarius (Morgan), Guiderius (Polydore), Arviragus (Cadwal), and Pisanio arrived, along with some British soldiers and attendants, and some Roman prisoners. The Captains presented Posthumus Leonatus to King Cymbeline, who did not recognize him. Posthumus was then handed over to a jailer.
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved