After uttering these predictions, not more cheering than true, he led out the troops, and placed his camp about Caudium, as much out of view as possible.
From thence he sent to Calatia, where he heard that the Roman consuls were encamped, ten soldiers, in the habit of shepherds, and ordered them to keep some cattle feeding in several different places, at a small [p. 561]
distance from the Roman posts;
and that, when they fell in with any of their foragers, they should all agree in the same story, that the legions of the Samnites were then in Apulia, that they were besieging Luceria with their whole force, and very near taking it by storm.
Such a rumour had been industriously spread before, and had already reached the Romans; but these prisoners increased the credit of it, especially as they all concurred in the same report.
There was no doubt but that the Romans would carry succour to the Lucerians, as being good and faithful allies; and for this further reason, lest all Apulia, through apprehension of the impending danger, might go over to the enemy. The only point of deliberation was, by what road they should go.
There were two roads leading to Luceria, one along the coast of the upper sea, wide and open; but, as it was the safer, so it was proportionably longer: the other, which was shorter, through the Caudine forks.
The nature of the place is this: there are two deep glens, narrow and covered with wood, connected together by mountains ranging on both sides from one to the other; between these lies a plain of considerable extent, enclosed in the middle, abounding in grass and water, and through the middle of which the passage runs:
but before you can arrive at it, the first defile must be passed, while the only way back is through the road by which you entered it; or if in case of resolving to proceed forward, you must go by the other glen, which is still more narrow and difficult.
Into this plain the Romans, having marched down their troops by one of those passes through the cleft of a rock, when they advanced onward to the other defile, found it blocked up by trees thrown across, and a mound of huge stones lying in their way. When the stratagem of the enemy now became apparent, there is seen at the same time a body of troops on the eminence over the glen.
Hastening back, then, they proceed to retrace the road by which they had entered; they found that also shut up by such another fence, and men in arms.
Then, without orders, they halted; amazement took possession of their minds, and a strange kind of numbness seized their limbs: they then remained a long time motionless and silent, each looking to the other, as if each thought the other more capable of judging and advising than himself.
After some time, when they saw that the consul's pavilions were being erected, and that some [p. 562]
were getting ready the implements for throwing up works, although they were sensible that it must appear ridiculous, the attempt to raise a fortification in their present desperate condition,
and when almost every hope was lost, would be an object of necessity, yet, not to add a fault to their misfortunes, they all, without being advised or ordered by any one, set
earnestly to work, and enclosed a camp with a rampart, close to the water, while themselves, besides that the enemy heaped insolent taunts on them, seemed with melancholy to acknowledge the apparent fruitlessness of their toil and labour.
The lieutenants-general and tribunes, without being summoned to consultation, (for there was no room for either consultation or remedy,) assembled round the dejected consul; while the soldiers, crowding to the general's quarters, demanded from their leaders that succour, which it was hardly in the power of the immortal gods themselves to afford them.