Thither the rumour of an unsuccessful engagement and the abandonment of the camp had already made its way, and more than all the rest the horsemen had been mourned, with public as well as private lamentations.
The consul Fabius was keeping watch before the gates —for the panic had permeated even the City —when cavalry were espied a long way off, and caused no little trepidation, since men knew not who they could be.
But being soon after recognized, they turned the people's fear to such rejoicing that the City was filled with the noise of congratulations on the safe and victorious return of the horse; and from the houses which a little while before had been filled with sadness and had bewailed their sons as dead, the inhabitants ran out into the street, and trembling mothers and wives, heedless of decorum in their happiness, hurried to meet the troops, and flung themselves with utter abandonment into the arms of their loved ones, being scarcely able to control themselves for joy.
The plebeian tribunes, who had set a day for the trial of Marcus Postumius and Titus Quinctius, because of their responsibility for the reverse at Veii, thought a favourable opportunity was afforded by the odium recently incurred by the consul Sempronius for renewing men's displeasure with them.
So, having called a meeting, they loudly declared that the state [p. 387]
had been betrayed at Veii by its generals; and that1
then, because they had gone scot free, the army fighting with the Volsci had been betrayed by the consul, their heroic cavalry given over to slaughter, and the camp basely abandoned.
Then Gaius Junius, one of the tribunes, commanded the cavalryman Tempanius to be called, and turning to him spoke as follows: “Sextus Tempanius, I ask you whether you think that Gaius Sempronius the consul either joined battle at a suitable moment, or strengthened his line with supports, or performed any of the duties of a good consul;
and whether you yourself, when the Roman legions had been beaten, dismounted the cavalry of your own motion and restored the fortunes of the battle; then, when you and your troopers had been cut off from our line, if either the consul himself came to your rescue or sent supports;
furthermore, whether you had any help anywhere next day, or you and your cohort forced a way to the camp by your own valour; whether you found any consul in the camp and any army, or a deserted camp and wounded and forsaken soldiers.
In the name of your courage and your loyalty, which alone have preserved the republic in this war, you must now answer these questions; finally you must tell us where Gaius Sempronius and our legions are; whether you were abandoned, or yourself abandoned the consul and the army; —in one word, whether we have been defeated or victorious.”