When the treaty had been established, the brothers armed themselves, in accordance with the agreement. On either side the soldiers urged on their champions. They reminded them that their fathers' gods, their native land, their parents, and all their countrymen, whether at home or with the army, had their eye only on their swords and their right hands.
Eager for the combat, as well owing to their [p. 87]
native spirit as to the shouts of encouragement which1
filled their ears, the brothers advanced into the space between the two lines of battle. The two armies were drawn up, each in front of its own camp, no longer in any immediate danger, but their concern as great as ever; and no wonder, since empire was staked on those few men's valour and good fortune!
Alert, therefore, and in suspense, they concentrated their attention upon this unpleasing spectacle. The signal was given, and with drawn steel, like advancing battle-lines, the six young men rushed to the charge, breathing the courage of great armies. Neither side thought of its own danger, but of the nation's sovereignty or servitude, and how from that day forward their country must experience the fortune they should themselves create.
The instant they encountered, there was a clash of shields and a flash of glittering blades, while a deep shudder ran through the onlookers, who, as long as neither side had the advantage, remained powerless to speak or breathe.
Then, in the hand-to-hand fight which followed, wherein were soon exhibited to men's eyes not only struggling bodies and the play of the sword and shield, but also bloody wounds, two of the Romans fell, fatally wounded, one upon the other, while all three of the Albans were wounded.
At the fall of the Romans a shout of joy burst from the Alban army, while the Roman levies now bade farewell to all their hopes; but not to their anxiety, for they were horror-stricken at the plight of the single warrior whom the three Curiatii had surrounded.
He happened to have got no hurt, and though no match for his enemies together, was ready to fight them one at a time. So, to divide their attack, he [p. 89]
fled, thinking that each of them would pursue him2
with what speed his wounds permitted.
He had already run some little distance from the spot where they had fought, when, looking back, he saw that they were following at wide intervals and that one of them had nearly overtaken him.
Facing about, he ran swiftly up to his man, and while the Alban host were calling out to the Curiatii to help their brother, Horatius had already slain him, and was hastening, flushed with victory, to meet his second antagonist. Then with a cheer, such as is often drawn from partisans by a sudden turn in a contest, the Romans encouraged their champion, and he pressed on to end the battle.
And so, before the third Curiatius could come up —and he was not far off —Horatius dispatched the second.
They were now on even terns, one soldier surviving on each side, but in hope and vigour they were far from equal. The one, unscathed and elated by his double victory, was eager for a third encounter. The other dragged himself along, faint from his wound and exhausted with running; he thought how his brothers had been slaughtered before him, and was a beaten man when he faced his triumphant foe. What followed was no combat.
The Roman cried exultantly, “Two victims I have given to the shades of my brothers: the third I will offer up to the cause of this war, that Roman may rule Alban.” His adversary could barely hold up his shield.
With a downward thrust Horatius buried his sword in the Alban's throat, and despoiled him where he lay. The Romans welcomed their hero with jubilations and thanksgivings, and their joy was all the greater that they had come near despairing. The burial of their dead then claimed the attention [p. 91]
of the two armies, —with widely different feelings,3
since one nation was exalted with imperial power, the other made subject to a foreign sway.
The graves may still be seen where each soldier fell: two Roman graves in one spot, nearer Alba; those of the three Albans towards Rome, but separated, just as they had fought.