The line was drawn up, nor did the Veientes and the Etruscan levies shun the encounter. They felt almost certain that the Romans would no more fight with them than they had fought with the Aequi. That they might even be guilty of some greater enormity, exasperated as they were, and possessed of a critical opportunity, was not too much to hope.
But it turned out quite otherwise. For there had never been a war when the Romans went into battle with a keener hostility —so embittered had they been, on the one hand by the enemy's insults, on the other by the procrastination of the consuls.
The Etruscans had barely had time to deploy when their enemies, who in the first excitement' had rather cast their javelins at random than fairly aimed them, were already come to sword-strokes at close quarters, where fighting is the fiercest.
The Fabian clan was [p. 375]
conspicuous among the foremost, a spectacle and1
encouragement to their fellow-citizens. One of them, the Quintus Fabius who had been consul three years before, was leading the attack on the closely marshalled Veientes, when a Tuscan, exulting in his strength and skill at arms, caught him unawares in the midst of a crowd of his enemies and drove his sword through his breast. As the blade was withdrawn Fabius fell headlong upon his wound.
It was but the fall of one man, but both armies felt it; and the Romans were giving way at that point, when Marcus Fabius the consul leaped over the prostrate corpse and, covering himself with his target, cried, “Was this your oath, men, that you would return to your camp in flight?
Do you then fear the most dastardly of foes more than Jupiter and Mars, by whom you swore? But I, though I have sworn no oath, will either return victorious or fall fighting here by you, Quintus Fabius!” To this speech of the consul Caeso Fabius, consul of the year before, made answer, “Think you that your words will persuade them to fight, brother?
The gods will persuade them, by whom they have sworn. And let us, as is meet for nobles, as is worthy of the name of Fabius, kindle by fighting rather than by exhortation the courage of our soldiers!” With that the two Fabii rushed into the press with levelled spears and carried the whole line forward with them.