“That is so, Malchus, but then they see that the tribes of the plains still hold aloof from us and pin their faith on Rome. They must know that we are receiving no reinforcements to fill the gaps made in battle, and may well fear to provoke the anger of Rome by taking part with us before our success is, as they consider, absolutely secure.”
“On the same grounds then, Trebon, they will be equally unwilling to offend us by any hostility until the scale is decidedly weighed down against us. Hannibal’s anger might be as terrible as that of the Romans.”
“There is something in that, Malchus, but not so much as you think. If Rome wins, Rome will have ample time and ample power, with the aid of all her native allies, to punish any who may have declared against her. On the other hand, should Carthage triumph, they may consider it probable that we should sack and burn Rome and then retire, or that if we remain there will be so much to arrange, so many tribes in the plains to subjugate and pacify, that we shall be little likely to undertake expeditions in the mountains. Therefore, you see, prudent men would decide for Rome. Could we have marched straight on after the victory at Lake Trasimene and have captured Rome, all these mountain tribes would have taken the opportunity to pour down into the plains to plunder and slay under the pretence of being our allies.”
It was not until nightfall that the five parties returned to the spot where they had left their leaders. Three of them had been entirely unsuccessful, but the other two had each brought in a native. These men looked sullen and obstinate, and it was not until Malchus had ordered a halter to be placed round their necks and threatened them with instant death that they consented to act as guides.
A vigilant watch was kept over them all night, and at daybreak next morning the party started. For some miles they rode along at the foot of the mountains, and then entered a valley up which a little used track ran. The men upon being questioned intimated that it was several hours’ journey to the village of the chief of whom they were in search.
This, indeed, proved to be the case, for it was not till the afternoon, after many hours’ weary journey up gorges and through mountain valleys, that they arrived within sight of the village of Ostragarth. It was situated on one side of the valley, and consisted of huts surrounded by a rough stone wall of such height that only the tops of the circular roofs were visible above it. A loud shrill cry was heard as they came in sight, a cow horn was blown in the village, and instantly men could be seen running in. Others, engaged in tending flocks of goats high up on the mountain side, left their charges and began to hurry down.
CHAPTER XV: A MOUNTAIN TRIBE
“It is a petty place for a chief of any power,” Trebon said.