On the conclusion of the treaty the six combatants armed themselves. They were greeted with shouts of encouragement from their comrades, who reminded them that their fathers' gods, their fatherland, their fathers, every fellow-citizen, every fellowsoldier, were now watching their weapons and the hands that wielded them. Eager for the contest and inspired by the voices round them, they advanced into the open space between the opposing lines.
The two armies were sitting in front of their respective camps, relieved from personal danger but not from anxiety, since upon the fortunes and courage of this little group hung the issue of dominion. Watchful and nervous, they gaze with feverish intensity on a spectacle by no means entertaining.
The signal was given, and with uplifted swords the six youths charged like a battle-line with the courage of a mighty host. Not one of them thought of his own danger; their sole thought was for their country, whether it would be supreme or subject, their one anxiety that they were deciding its future fortunes.
When, at the first encounter, the flashing swords rang on their opponents shields a deep shudder ran through the spectators, then a breathless silence followed as neither side seemed to be gaining any advantage.
Soon, however, they saw something more than the swift movements of limbs and the rapid play of sword and shield: blood became visible flowing from open wounds. Two of the Romans fell one on the other, breathing out their life, whilst all the three Albans were wounded.
The fall of the Romans was welcomed with a burst of exultation from the Alban
army; whilst the Roman legions, who had lost all hope, but not all anxiety, trembled for their solitary champion surrounded by the three Curiatii.
It chanced that he was untouched, and though not a match for the three together, he was confident of victory against each separately. So, that he might encounter each singly, he took to flight, assuming that they would follow as well as their wounds would allow.
He had run some distance from the spot where the combat began, when, on looking back, he saw them following at long intervals from each other, the foremost not far from him.
He turned and made a desperate attack upon him, and whilst the Alban
army were shouting to the other Curiatii to come to their brother's assistance, Horatius had already slain his foe and, flushed with victory, was awaiting the second encounter. Then the Romans cheered their champion with a shout such as men raise when hope succeeds to despair, and he hastened to bring the fight to a close.
Before the third, who was not far away, could come up, he despatched the second Curiatius.
The survivors were now equal in point of numbers, but far from equal in either confidence or strength. The one, unscathed after his double victory, was eager for the third contest; the other, dragging himself wearily along, exhausted by his wounds and by his running, vanquished already by the previous slaughter of his brothers, was an easy conquest to his victorious foe. There was, in fact, no fighting.
The Roman cried exultingly: ‘Two have I sacrificed to appease my brothers' shades; the third I will offer for the issue of this fight, that the Roman may rule the Alban
.’ He thrust his sword downward into the neck of his opponent, who could no longer lift his shield, and then despoiled him as he lay.
Horatius was welcomed by the Romans with shouts of triumph, all the more joyous for the fears they had felt. Both sides turned their attention to burying their dead champions, but with very different feelings, the one rejoicing in wider dominion, the other deprived of their liberty and under alien rule.
The tombs stand on the spots where each fell; those of the Romans close together, in the direction of Alba; the three Alban
tombs, at intervals, in the direction of Rome