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Charles Morris

The Battle of Lake Regillus

A third time Tarquin the Proud marched against Rome, this time in alliance with the Latins, whose thirty cities had joined together and declared war against the Romans. But as many of the Romans had married Latin wives, and many of the Latins had got their wives from Rome, it was resolved that the women on both sides, who preferred their native land to their husbands, might leave their new homes and take with them their virgin daughters. And, as the legend tells, all the Latin women but two remained in Rome, while all the Roman women returned with their daughters to their fathers' homes.

The two armies met by the side of Lake Regillus, and there was fought a battle the story of which reads like a tale from the Iliad of Homer; for we are told not of how the armies fought, but of how their champions met and fought in single combats upon the field. King Tarquin was there, now hoary with years, yet sitting his horse and bearing his lance with the grace and strength of a young man. And there was Titus his son, leading into battle all the banished band of the Tarquins. And with them was Octavius Mamilius, the leader of the Latins, who swore to seat Tarquin again on his throne and to make the Romans subjects of the Latins.

On the Roman side were many true and tried warriors, among them Titus Herminius, one of those who fought on the bridge by the side of Horatius Cocles, when that champion fought so well for Rome.

It is too long to tell how warrior rode against warrior with levelled lances, and how this one was struck through the breast and that one through the arm, and so on in true Homeric style. The battle was a series of duels, like those fought on the plain of Troy. But at length the Tarquin band, under the lead of Titus, charged so fiercely that the Romans began to give way, many of their bravest having been slain.

At this juncture Aulus, the leader of the Romans, rode up with his own chosen band, and bade them level their lances and slay all, friend or foe, whose faces were turned towards them. There was to be no mercy for a Roman whose face was turned from the field. This onset stopped the flight, and Aulus charged fiercely upon the Tarquins, praying, as he did so, to the divine warriors Castor and Pollux, to whom he vowed to dedicate a temple if they would aid him in the fight. And he promised the soldiers that the two who should first break into the camp of the enemy should receive a rich reward.

Then suddenly, at the head of the chosen band, appeared two unknown horsemen, in the first bloom of youth and taller and fairer than mortal men, while the horses they rode were white as the driven snow. On went the charge, led by these two noble strangers, before whom the enemy fled in mortal terror, while Titus, the last of the sons of King Tarquin, fell dead from his steed. The camp of the Latins being reached, these two horsemen were the first to break into it, and soon the whole army of the enemy was in disorderly flight and the battle won.

Aulus now sought the two strange horsemen, to give them the reward he had promised; but he sought in vain; they were not to be found, among either the living or the dead, and no man had set eyes upon them since the camp was won. They had vanished as suddenly as they had appeared. But on the bard black rock which surrounds the lake was visible the mark of a horse's hoof; such as no earthly steed could ever have made. For ages afterwards this mark remained.

But the strangers appeared once again. It was known in Rome that the armies were joined in battle, and the longing for tidings from the field grew intense. Suddenly, as the sun went down behind the city walls, there were seen in the Forum two horsemen on milk-white steeds, taller and fairer than the tallest and fairest of men. Their horses were bathed in foam, and they looked like men fresh from battle.

Alighting near the Temple of Vesta, where a spring of water bubbles from the ground, these men, whom no Romans had ever seen before, washed from their persons the battle-stains. As they did so men crowded round and eagerly questioned them. In reply, they told them how the battle had been fought and won,—though in truth the battle ended only as the sun went down over Lake Regillus. They then mounted their horses and rode from the Forum, and were seen no more. Men sought them far and wide, but no one set eyes on them again.

Then Aulus told the Romans how he had prayed to Castor and Pollux, the divine twins, and said that it could be none but they who had broken so fiercely into the enemy's camp, and had borne the news of tictory with more than mortal speed to Rome. So he built the temple he had vowed to the hero gods, and gave there rich offerings as the rewards he had promised to the two who should first enter the camp of the foe.

Thus ended the hopes of King Tarquin, against whom the gods had taken arms. His sons and all his family slain, he was left ruined and hopeless, and retired to the city of Cumæ, whence formerly the Sibyl had come to his court. Here be died, and thus passed away the last of the Roman kings.