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Over the Danube

By R.A. Emberg

IN THE king's skaale in the city of Ocum, a Gothic islet in the Roman province of Dacia, weighty matters were being discussed. A dozen Romans had requested an audience with Filimer, the young king of the Goths. They were now before the high seat.

Their spokesman, a gray bearded man, dressed in a white toga hemmed with patrician purple, was speaking.

"We have known for some time that you Goths contemplate moving on Nicopolis. It was to discuss this that we came hither."

"You seem to be alruna," the king replied. "Tell us of the garrison, many?"

"Two Spanish legions." The Roman returned readily.

Filimer stared thoughtfully at the old man. "Your reward?" he asked. "How much?"

"Only this. That we be allowed to worship the Trinity: the one God, the Holy Ghost and the son, Christus, without hindrance; that we be free to preach the gospel to Roman, Goth and Greek, that all who believe shall have everlasting—"

"Hush—hush," Filimer clapped a hand to his forehead, "My head aches with these gods of yours. One in three —three in one—I make head nor tail of them. I asked: what do you want as a reward ?"

"Nothing, King, except that we be allowed to worship as we please—and to preach the holy gospel."

"Nicomedus, you are a Roman?" The king's voice was hard.

"Aye, King. Ever my line has been Roman. My fathers stood with Caius Gracchus; ever have we stood with the common people against those who would oppress and enslave."

Yet you would turn traitor to Caesar? You invite us to take over Nicopolis? Were you a Goth and acted thus, we would flay you alive."

The Christian's eyes blazed at the mention of the Emperor. "Listen, oth, he cried, "what is this Caesar if not a blood-thirsty tyrant? Aye, Septimus Severus has drenched the empire with blood. What is the Roman Empire? Nothing but a vast slave market. What is the ruling class at Rome? Is it not the wealthy few, content to feast, watch the gladiatorial games and build monuments to itself? Rome stagnates. It has eaten the heart out of its people. For Rome, the handwriting is on the wall. It has been tried in the balance and found wanting. You Goths, even if you are pagan, are fresh and clean. You have the free clear air of the snowy lands from which you came. God willing, under you, the Empire shall become righteous, unless," he shook bis head, "you too, succumb to the corruption of palaces and possessions. My diocese has discussed the matter thoroughly. We invite, and will aid you to take the city of Nicopolis, on the condition that you give us the right to worship our God and preach his gospel." Nicomedus folded his arms and stood waiting.

FILIMER spoke in his own tongue to the Gothic haulds clustering about the high seat. They understood little Latin.

"I make nothing of his religion," he said, "but it seems to be a kindly one. There are three gods: a Jahve, a white Christus, and a Holy Ghost. By some strange alruna device, they are combined into one, then back to three and so on. The Romans will not allow the worship of these gods and they put their followers to death in man hewings in the arena. Nicomedus invites us to take over the city of Nicopolis."

"Since when has a Goth waited an invitation from any man to take anything he may with the strength of his good right arm and hard Swedish steel?" roared a red-whiskered warrior, brandishing a huge axe. "It is for us to make the conditions, Filimer, not these Roman slaves."

"Like father, like son, Wulfson," the king smiled. "Wulf, the Balt, your sire, would rather fight than eat. Aye, we shall name the terms, but why turn away allies? Now we can overcome the walls of Nicopolis."

"I thought the Romans cared not what gods a man worshipped," another ha...

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