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separate duties, were so arranged as to be capable of uniting at a signal in any
numbers, on any given point. Each body of men was commanded by a tried and
veteran warrior, in whose fidelity Alaric could place the most implicit trust, and to
whom he committed the duty of enforcing the strictest military discipline that had
ever prevailed among the Gothic ranks. Before each of the twelve principal gates
a separate encampment was raised. Multitudes watched the navigation of the
Tiber in every possible direction, with untiring vigilance; and not one of the
ordinary inlets to Rome, however apparently unimportant, was overlooked. By
these means, every mode of communication between the beleaguered city and the
wide and fertile tracts of land around it, was effectually prevented. When it is
remembered that this elaborate plan of blockade was enforced against a place
containing, at the lowest possible computation, twelve hundred thousand
inhabitants, destitute of magazines for food within its walls, dependent for
supplies on its regular contributions from the country without, governed by an
irresolute senate, and defended by an enervated army, the horrors that now
impended over the besieged Romans are as easily imagined as described.
Among the ranks of the army that now surrounded the doomed city, the division
appointed to guard the Pincian Gate will be found, at this juncture, most worthy of
the reader's attention: for one of the warriors appointed to its subordinate
command was the young chieftain Hermanric, who had been accompanied by
Goisvintha through all the toils and dangers of the march, since the time when we
left him at the Italian Alps.
The watch had been set, the tents had been pitched, the defences had been raised
on the portion of ground selected to occupy every possible approach to the
Pincian Gate, as Hermanric retired to await by Goisvintha's side, whatever further
commands he might yet be entrusted with, by his superiors in the Gothic camp.
The spot occupied by the young warrior's simple tent was on a slight eminence,
apart from the positions chosen by his comrades, eastward of the city gate, and
overlooking at some distance the deserted gardens of the suburbs, and the stately
palaces of the Pincian Hill. Behind his temporary dwelling was the open country,
reduced to a fertile solitude by the flight of its terrified inhabitants; and at each
side lay one unvarying prospect of military strength and preparation, stretching
out its animated confusion of soldiers, tents, and engines of warfare, as far as the
sight could reach. It was now evening. The walls of Rome, enshrouded in a rising
mist, showed dim and majestic to the eyes of the Goths. The noises in the
beleaguered city softened and deepened, seeming to be muffled in the growing
darkness of the autumn night, and becoming less and less audible as the vigilant
besiegers listened to them from their respective posts. One by one, lights broke
wildly forth at irregular distances, in the Gothic camp. Harshly and fitfully the
shrill call of the signal trumpets rang from rank to rank; and through the dim thick
air rose, in the intervals of the more important noises, the clash of heavy hammers
and the shout of martial command. Wherever the preparations for the blockade
were still incomplete, neither the approach of night nor the pretext of weariness
were suffered for an instant to hinder their continued progress. Alaric's
indomitable will conquered every obstacle of nature, and every deficiency of man.