“Yes,” Malchus agreed, “but I fancy these hill tribes are broken up into a very large number of small villages in isolated valleys, only uniting when the order of the chief calls upon them to defend the mountains against an invader, or to make a simultaneous raid upon the plains.”
As they neared the village several persons were seen to issue out from the gate, and among these was a small and elderly man, evidently the chief of the party. His white hair descended to his waist; a boy standing behind him carried his bow and several javelins. The rest of the men appeared to be unarmed.
“He is a crafty looking old fellow,” Malchus said as he alighted and advanced towards the chief, “but I suppose he has made up his mind to receive us as friends, at any rate for the present.
“I come, chief, as an ambassador from the Carthaginian general. When we passed south he received messengers from you, saying that you were ready to enter into an alliance with him. To this he agreed, and sent presents. Since then you have done nothing, although he has sent to you urging you to aid him by making an attack on the tribes allied to Rome. In every battle which he has fought with the Romans he has defeated them with great slaughter; but, owing to the aid which they have received from the tribes in alliance with them, they are enabled continually to put fresh armies in the field. Therefore it is that he has sent me to you and to the other chiefs of the tribes inhabiting the mountains, to urge you to descend with your forces into the plains, and so oblige the tribes there to turn their attention to their own defence rather than to the sending of assistance to Rome. He has sent by my hands many valuable presents, and has authorized me to promise you, in his name, such lands as you may wish to obtain beyond the foot of the hills. He promises you, also, a share in the booty taken at the sack of the Italian cities.”
“Will you please to enter,” the chief said, speaking a patois of Latin which Malchus found it difficult to understand. “We will then discuss the matters concerning which you speak.”
So saying he led the way through the gates to a hut somewhat larger than the rest.
“Do you enter with me, Trebon, but let your men remain in their saddle, and hold our horses in readiness for us to mount speedily if there be need. I doubt the friendliness of this old fellow and his people.”
Upon entering the hut Malchus observed at once that the walls were covered with hangings which were new and fresh, and he detected some costly armour half hidden in a corner.
“The Romans have been here before us,” he muttered to his companion; “the question is, how high have they bid for his support.”
The chief took his seat on a roughly carved chair, and seats were brought in for his visitors. He began by asking an account of the state of affairs in the plains. Malchus answered him truthfully, except that he exaggerated a little the effects that the Carthaginian victories had produced among the natives. The chief asked many questions, and was evidently by some means well informed on the subject. He then expressed a desire to see the presents which they had brought him. Trebon went out and returned with two soldiers bearing them.