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- The Young Carthaginian - 40/62 -
last issued out. The attack was a determined one. Those next to the horsemen hewed at them with axes, those further back hurled darts and javelins, while others crept in among the horses and stabbed them from beneath with their long knives.
"We must get out of this or we are lost," Trebon exclaimed, and, encouraging the men with his shouts, he strove to hew a way through the crowd to the gate, while Malchus faced some of the men round and covered the rear. Several of the Carthaginians were already dismounted, owing to their horses being slain, and some of them were despatched before they could gain their feet. Malchus shouted to the others to leap up behind their comrades.
By dint of desperate efforts Trebon and the soldiers with him cleared the way to the gate, but those behind were so hampered by the enemy that they were unable to follow. The natives clung to their legs and strove to pull them off their horses, while a storm of blows was hurled upon them. Trebon, seeing the danger of those behind, had turned, and in vain tried to cut his way back to them; but the number of the natives was too great. Malchus seeing this shouted at the top of his voice:
"Fly, Trebon, you cannot help us, save those you can." Seeing that he could render his friend no assistance, Trebon turned round and galloped off with nine of the soldiers who had made their way with him to the gate. Five had already fallen, and Malchus shouted to the other six to throw down their arms and yield themselves as prisoners. This they did, but two of them were killed before the villagers perceived they had surrendered.
Malchus and the others were dragged from their horses, bound hand and foot, and thrown into one of the huts. The natives shouted in triumph, and yells of delight arose as the packages borne by the baggage animals were examined, and the variety of rich presents, intended for the various chiefs, divided among them.
Most of the captives were more or less severely wounded, and some of the natives presently came into the hut and examined and bound up the wounds.
"Keep up your spirits," Malchus said cheerfully, "it is evident they don't intend to kill us. No doubt they are going to send us prisoners to the Romans, and in that case we shall be exchanged sooner or later. At any rate the Romans would not dare ill treat us, for Hannibal holds more than a hundred prisoners in his hands to every one they have taken."
Three days passed, food was brought to the captives regularly, and their bonds were sufficiently relaxed for them to feed themselves. At the end of that time they were ordered to rise and leave the hut. Outside the chief with some forty of his followers were waiting them. All were armed, and the prisoners being placed in their midst, the party started.
They proceeded by the same road by which Malchus had ridden to the village, and some miles were passed without incident, when, as they were passing through a narrow valley, a great number of rocks came bounding down the hillside, and at different points along it several Carthaginians appeared. In these Malchus recognized at once the soldiers of his escort. One of these shouted out:
"Surrender, or you are all dead men. A strong force surrounds you on both sides, and my officers, whom you see, will give orders to their men, who will loose such an avalanche of rocks that you will all be swept away."
"It is only the men who escaped us," the chief cried; "push forward at once."
But the instant the movement began the Carthaginians all shouted orders, and a great number of rocks came bounding down, proving that they were obeyed by an invisible army. Several of the mountaineers were crushed by the stones, and the old chief, struck by a great rock in the chest, fell dead. A Carthaginian standing next to Malchus was also slain.
The tribesmen gave a cry of terror. Hand to hand they were ready to fight valiantly, but this destruction by an unseen foe terrified them. The Carthaginian leader raised his hand, and the descent of the stones ceased.
"Now," he said, "you see the truth of my words. Hesitate any longer and all will be lost; but if you throw down your arms, and, leaving your captives behind, retire by the way you came, you are free to do so. Hannibal has no desire for the blood of the Italian people. He has come to free them from the yoke of Rome, and your treacherous chief, who, after our making an alliance with him, sold you to the Romans, has been slain, therefore I have no further ill will against you."
The tribesmen, dismayed by the loss of their chief, and uncertain as to the strength of the foes who surrounded them, at once threw down their arms, and, glad to escape with their lives, fled at all speed up the pass towards their village, leaving their captives behind them.
The Carthaginians then descended, Trebon among them.
"I did not show myself, Malchus," the latter said as he joined his friend, "for the chief knew me by sight, and I wished him to be uncertain whether we were not a fresh party who had arrived."
"But who are your army?" Malchus asked; "you have astonished me as much as the barbarians."
"There they are," Trebon said, laughing, as some fifty or sixty women and a dozen old men and boys began to make their way down the hill. "Fortunately the tribesmen were too much occupied with their plunder and you to pursue us, and I got down safely with my men. I was, of course, determined to try to rescue you somehow, but did not see how it was to be done. Then a happy thought struck me, and the next morning we rode down to the plain till we came to a walled village. I at once summoned it to surrender, using threats of bringing up a strong body to destroy the place if they refused. They opened the gates sooner than I had expected, and I found the village inhabited only by women, old men, and children, the whole of the fighting men having been called away to join the Romans. They were, as you may imagine, in a terrible fright, and expected every one of them to be killed. However, I told them that we would not only spare their lives, but also their property, if they would obey my orders.
"They agreed willingly enough, and I ordered all those who were strong enough to be of any good to take each sufficient provisions for a week and to accompany me. Astonished as they were at the order, there was nothing for them to do but to obey, and they accordingly set out. I found by questioning them that the road we had travelled was the regular one up to the village, and that you would be sure to be brought down by it if the chief intended to send you to Rome.
"By nightfall we reached this valley. The next morning we set to work and cut a number of strong levers, then we went up on the hillside to where you saw us, and I posted them all behind the rocks. We spent all the day loosing stones and placing them in readiness to roll down, and were then prepared for your coming. At nightfall I assembled them all, and put a guard over them. We posted them again at daybreak yesterday, but watched all day in vain, and here we should have remained for a month if necessary, as I should have sent down some of the boys for more provisions when those they brought were gone. However, I was right glad when I saw you coming today, for it was dull work. I would have killed the whole of these treacherous savages if I had not been afraid of injuring you and the men. As it was I was in terrible fright when the stones went rushing down at you. One of our men has been killed, I see; but there was no help for it."
The whole party then proceeded down the valley. On emerging from the hills Trebon told his improvised army that they could return to their village, as he had no further need of their services, and, delighted at having escaped without damage or injury, they at once proceeded on their way.
"We had best halt here for the night," Trebon said, "and in the morning I will start off with the mounted men and get some horses from one of the villages for the rest of you. No doubt they are all pretty well stripped of fighting men."
The next day the horses were obtained, and Malchus, seeing that, now he had lost all the presents intended for the chiefs, it would be useless to pursue his mission further, especially as he had learned that the Roman agents had already been at work among the tribes, returned with his party to Hannibal's camp.
"I am sorry, Malchus," the Carthaginian general said, when he related his failure to carry out the mission, "that you have not succeeded, but it is clear that your failure is due to no want of tact on your part. The attack upon you was evidently determined upon the instant you appeared in sight of the village, for men must have been sent out at once to summon the tribe. Your friend Trebon behaved with great intelligence in the matter of your rescue, and I shall at once promote him a step in rank."
"I am ready to set out again and try whether I can succeed better with some of the other chiefs if you like," Malchus said.
"No, Malchus, we will leave them alone for the present. The Romans have been beforehand with us, and as this man was one of their principal chiefs, it is probable that, as he has forsaken his alliance with us, the others have done the same. Moreover, the news of his death, deserved as it was, at the hands of a party of Carthaginians, will not improve their feelings towards us. Nothing short of a general movement among the hill tribes would be of any great advantage to us, and it is clear that no general movement can be looked for now. Besides, now that we see the spirit which animates these savages, I do not care to risk your loss by sending you among them."
The news of the disaster of Lake Trasimene was met by Rome in a spirit worthy of her. No one so much as breathed the thought of negotiations with the enemy, not even a soldier was recalled from the army of Spain. Quintus Fabius Maximus was chosen dictator, and he with two newly raised legions marched to Ariminum and assumed the command of the army there, raised by the reinforcements he brought with him to fifty thousand men.
Stringent orders were issued to the inhabitants of the districts through which Hannibal would march on his way to Rome to destroy their crops, drive off their cattle, and take refuge in the fortified towns. Servilius was appointed to the command of the Roman fleet,
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