The Fight between the Horatii and the Curiatii
The Romans and Albans had all assembled to view the battle between their champions, and were eagerly awaiting the struggle which was to decide their fate. They had agreed that the nation which won should rule over the one which was worsted in the fight that was about to begin.
Encouraged to do their best by the feeling that so much depended upon their valor, the Horatii and Curiatii met. The Romans and Albans, stationed on either side, watched the encounter with breathless interest and in anxious silence.
The six young men were equally brave and well trained, but before long two of the Horatii fell, never to rise again. Only one of the Roman champions was left to uphold their cause; but he was quite unhurt, while all three of his enemies had received severe wounds.
The Curiatii were still able to fight, however, and all three turned their attention to the last Horatius. They hoped to dispatch him quickly, so as to secure the victory for Alba before the loss of blood made them too weak to fight.
The Roman champion knew that he would not be able to keep these three foes at bay, and he noticed how eager they were to bring the battle to a speedy close. To prevent that, he made up his mind to separate them, if possible, in order to fight them one by one.
He therefore made believe to run away, and was followed, as quickly as their strength allowed, by the Curiatii, who taunted him for his cowardice, and bade him stand and fight. The three wounded men ran on, as fast as they could, and were soon some distance apart; for the one whose wounds were slightest had soon left the others behind.
Horatius turned his head, saw that his enemies were now too far apart to help one another, and suddenly rushed back to attack them. A short, sharp encounter took place, and the first of the Curiatii fell, just as one of his brothers came to help him.
To kill this second foe, weakened as he was by the loss of blood and by the efforts he had made to hurry, was but the work of a moment. The second Curiatius sank beneath his enemy's sword just as the last of the Alban brothers appeared beside him. With the courage of despair, this Curiatius tried to strike a blow for his country; but he too fell, leaving the victory to Horatius, the sole survivor among the six brave warriors who had begun the fight.
The Romans had seen two of their champions fall, and the third take refuge in what seemed to be cowardly flight; and they fancied that their honor and liberty were both lost. Imagine their joy, therefore, when they saw Horatius turn, kill one enemy after another, and remain victor on the field! Shout after shout rent the air, and the Romans were almost beside themselves with pride and gladness when the Alban king came over and publicly said that he and his people would obey Rome.
Leaving the Albans to bury their dead and bewail the loss of their liberty, the Romans led their young champion back to the city, with every sign of approval and joy. Compliments and praise were showered upon the young man, who, in token of victory, had put on the embroidered mantle of one of his foes.
Every one received him joyfully as he entered the city,—every one except his sister Camilla. When she saw the mantle which she had woven and embroidered for her betrothed, she burst into tears. In her sorrow she could not hold her tongue, and bitterly reproached her brother for killing her lover.
Horatius, angry at being thus reproved, roughly bade Camilla dry her tears, and told her she was not worthy of being a Roman, since she welcomed her country's triumph with tears. As she kept on crying, after this harsh reproof, Horatius suddenly raised his hand and struck her a deadly blow with the same sword which had taken her lover's life.
The sight of this heartless murder made the Romans so angry that they wanted to put the young man to death, in spite of the service he had just rendered his country. But his aged father implored them to spare his life. He said that two of his sons were lying on the battlefield, where they had given their lives for Rome; that his lovely daughter Camilla was no more; and that the people ought to leave his only remaining child as a prop for his old age.
When Tullus Hostilius heard this pitiful request, he promised to forgive Horatius upon condition that he would lead the Roman army to Alba, and raze the walls of that ancient city, as had been agreed. The Albans were then brought to Rome, and settled at the foot of the Cælian hill, one of the seven heights of the city.
By other conquests, Tullus increased the number of his people still more. But as the streets were not yet paved, and there were no drains, the town soon became very unhealthful. A plague broke out among the people, many sickened and died, and among them perished Tullus Hostilius.