Story type: Literature
The Avars, led by Cacan, their king, crossed, in the year 611, the mountains of Illyria and Lombardy, killed Gisulph, the grand duke, with all his adherents, in battle, and laid siege to the city of Friuli, behind whose strong walls Romilda, the widow of Gisulph, had taken refuge. These events formed the basis of the romantic, and perhaps largely legendary, story we have to tell.
One day, so we are told, Romilda, gazing from the ramparts of the city, beheld Cacan, the young khan of the Avars, engaged in directing the siege. So handsome to her eyes appeared the youthful soldier that she fell deeply in love with him at sight, her passion growing until, in disregard of honor and patriotism, she sent him a secret message, offering to deliver up to him the city on condition of becoming his wife. The khan, though doubtless despising her treachery to her people, was quick to close with the offer, and in a short time Friuli was in his hands.
This accomplished, he returned to Hungary, taking with him Romilda and her children, of whom there were four sons and four daughters. Cacan kept his compact with the traitress, marrying her with the primitive rites of the Hungarians. But her married life was of the shortest. He had kept his word, and such honor as he possessed was satisfied. The morning after his marriage, moved perhaps by detestation of her treachery, he caused the hapless Romilda to be impaled alive. It was a dark end to a dark deed, and the perfidy of the woman had been matched by an equal perfidy on the part of the man.
The children of Romilda were left in the hands of the Avars. Of her daughters, one subsequently married a duke of Bavaria and another a duke of Allemania. The four sons, one of whom was Grimoald, the hero of our story, managed to escape from their savage captors, though they were hotly pursued. In their flight, Grimoald, the youngest, was taken up behind Tafo, the oldest; but in the rapid course he lost his hold and fell from his brother’s horse.
Tafo, knowing what would be the fate of the boy should he be captured, turned and galloped upon him lance in hand, determined that he should not fall alive into the hands of his cruel foes. But Grimoald’s entreaties and Tafo’s brotherly affection induced him to change his resolution, and, snatching up the boy, he continued his flight, the pursuing Avars being now close at hand.
Not far had they ridden before the same accident occurred. Grimoald again fell, and Tafo was now obliged to leave him to his fate, the fierce pursuers being too near to permit him either to kill or save the unlucky boy. On swept Tafo, up swept the Avars, and one of them, halting, seized the young captive, threw him behind him on his horse, and rode on after his fellows.
Grimoald’s peril was imminent, but he was a child with the soul of a warrior. As his captor pushed on in the track of his companions, the brave little fellow suddenly snatched a knife from his belt, and in an instant had stabbed him to the heart with his own weapon Tossing the dead body from the saddle, Grimoald seized the bridle and rode swiftly on, avoiding the Avars, and in the end rejoining his flying brothers. It was a deed worthy the childhood of one who was in time to become a famous warrior.
The fugitives reached Lombardy, where Tafo was hospitably received by the king, and succeeded his father as Grand Duke of Friuli. Grimoald was adopted by Arigil, Duke of Benevento, in whose court he grew to manhood, and in whose service his courage and military ability were quickly shown. There were wars between Benevento and the Greeks of southern Italy, and in these the young soldier so greatly distinguished himself that on the death of Arigil he succeeded him as Duke of Benevento.
Meanwhile, troubles arose in Lombardy. Tafo had been falsely accused, by an enemy of the queen, of criminal relations with her, and was put to death by the king. Her innocence was afterwards proved, and on the death of Ariowald the Lombards treated her with the greatest respect, and raised Rotharis, her second husband, to the throne. He, too, died, and Aribert, uncle of the queen, was next made king. On his death, his two sons, Bertarit and Godebert, disputed the succession. A struggle ensued between the rival brothers, in the course of which Grimoald was brought into the dispute.
The events here briefly described had taken place while Grimoald was engaged in the Greek wars of his patron, Duke Arigil. When he succeeded the latter in the ducal chair, the struggle between Bertarit and Godebert was going on, and the new Duke of Benevento declared in favor of the latter, who was his personal friend.
A scheme of treachery, of a singular character, put an end to their friendship and to the life of Godebert. A man who was skilled in the arts of dissimulation, and who was secretly in the pay of Bertarit, persuaded Godebert that his seeming friend, Duke Grimoald, was really his enemy, and was plotting his destruction. He told the same story to Grimoald, making him believe that Godebert was his secret foe. In proof of his words he told each of them that the other wore armor beneath his clothes, through fear of assassination by his assumed friend.
The suspicion thus artfully aroused produced the very state of things which the agent of mischief had declared to exist. Each of the friends put on armor, as a protection against treachery from the other, and when they sought to test the truth of the spy’s story it seemed fully confirmed. Each discovered that the other wore secret armor, without learning that it had just been assumed.
The two close friends were thus converted by a plotting Iago into distrustful enemies, each fearing and on guard against assassination by the other. The affair ended tragically. Grimoald was no sooner fully convinced of the truth of what had been told him than he slew his supposed enemy, deeming it necessary to save his own life. The dark scheme had succeeded. Treason and falsehood had sown death between two friends.
Bertarit, his rival removed, deemed the throne now securely his. But the truth underlying the tragedy we have described became known, and the Lombards, convinced of the innocence of Grimoald, and scorning the treachery by which he had been led on to murder, dismissed Bertarit’s pretensions and placed Grimoald on the throne. His career had been a strange but highly successful one. From his childhood captivity to the Avars he had risen to the high station of King of Lombardy, a position fairly earned by his courage and ability.
We are not yet done with the story of this distinguished warrior. Bertarit had taken the field against him, and civil war desolated Lombardy, an unhappy state of affairs which was soon taken advantage of by the foes of the distracted kingdom. The enemy who now appeared in the field was Constans, the Greek emperor, who laid siege to Benevento, hoping to capture it while Grimoald was engaged in hostilities with Bertarit in the north.
Grimoald had left his son, Romuald, in charge of the city. On learning of the siege he despatched a trusty friend and officer, Sesuald by name, with some troops, to the relief of the beleaguered stronghold, proposing to follow quickly himself with the main body of his army.
And now occurred an event nobly worthy of being recorded in the annals of human probity and faithfulness, one little known, but deserving to be classed with those that have become famous in history. When men erect monuments to courage and virtue, the noble Sesuald should not be forgotten.
This brave man fell into the hands of the emperor, who sought to use him in a stratagem to obtain possession of Benevento. He promised him an abundance of wealth and honors if he would tell Romuald that his father had died in battle, and persuade him to surrender the city. Sesuald seems to have agreed, for he was led to the walls of the city that he might hold the desired conference with Romuald. Instead, however, of carrying out the emperor’s design, he cried out to the young chief, “Be firm, Grimoald approaches”; then, hastily telling him that he had forfeited his life by those words, he begged him in return to protect his wife and children, as the last service he could render him.
Sesuald was right. Constans, furious at his words, had his head instantly struck off; and then, with a barbarism worthy of the times, had it flung from a catapult into the heart of the city. The ghastly trophy was brought to Romuald, who pressed it to his lips, and deeply deplored the death of his father’s faithful friend.
This was the last effort of the emperor. Fearing to await the arrival of Grimoald, he raised the siege and retreated towards Naples, hotly pursued by the Lombards. The army of Grimoald came up with the retreating Greeks, and a battle was imminent, when a Lombard warrior of giant size, Amalong by name, spurring upon a Greek, lifted him from the saddle with his lance, and rode on holding him poised in the air. The sight of this feat filled the remaining Greeks with such terror that they broke and fled, and their hasty retreat did not cease till they had found shelter in Sicily.
After this event Bertarit, finding it useless to contend longer against his powerful and able opponent, submitted to Grimoald. Yet this did not end their hostile relations. The Lombard king, distrusting his late foe, of whose treacherous disposition he already had abundant evidence, laid a plan to get rid of him by murdering him in his bed. This plot was discovered by a servant of the imperilled prince, who aided his master to escape, and, the better to secure his retreat, placed himself in his bed, being willing to risk death in his lord’s service.
Grimoald discovered the stratagem of the faithful fellow, but, instead of punishing him for it, he sought to reward him, attempting to attach him to his own service as one whose fidelity would make him valuable to any master. The honest servant refused, however, to desert his old lord for a new service, and entreated so earnestly for permission to join his master, who had taken refuge in France, that Grimoald set him free, doubtless feeling that such faithfulness was worthy of encouragement.
In France Bertarit found an ally in Chlotar II., who took up arms against the Lombards in his aid. Grimoald, however, defeated him by a shrewd stratagem. He feigned to retreat in haste, leaving his camp, which was well stored with provisions, to fall into the hands of the enemy. Deeming themselves victorious, the Franks hastened to enjoy the feast of good things which the Lombards had left behind. But in the midst of their repast Grimoald suddenly returned, and, falling upon them impetuously, put most of them to the sword.
In the following year (666 A.D.) he defeated another army by another stratagem. The Avars had invaded Lombardy, with an army which far out-numbered the troops which Grimoald could muster against them. In this state of affairs he artfully deceived his foes as to the strength of his army by marching and countermarching his men within their view, each time dressed in uniform of different colors, and with varied standards and insignia of war. The invaders, deeming that an army confronted them far stronger than their own, withdrew in haste, leaving Grimoald master of the field.
We are further told of the king of the Lombards whose striking history we have concisely given, that he gave many new laws to his country, and that in his old age he was remarkable for his bald head and long white beard. He died in 671, sixty years after the time when his mother acted the traitress, and suffered miserably for her crime. After his death, the exiled Bertarit was recalled to the throne of Lombardy, and Romuald succeeded his father as Duke of Benevento, the city which he had held so bravely against the Greeks.2 views