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London was but a heap of ashes when Beric arrived there. It had been a trading place rather than a town. Here were no Roman houses or temples with their massive stone work; it consisted only of a large collection of wooden structures, inhabited by merchants and traders. It lay upon a knoll rising above the low swampy ground covered by the sea at high water, for not till long afterwards did the Romans erect the banks that dammed back the waters and confined them within their regular channel. The opposite shore was similarly covered with water at high tide, and forests extended as far as the eye could reach. London, in fact, occupied what was at high water a peninsula, connected with the mainland only by a shoulder extending back to the hills beyond it, and separated by a deep channel on the west from a similar promontory.
It was a position that, properly fortified by strong walls across the isthmus, could have been held against a host, but the Romans had not as yet taken it in hand; later, however, they recognized the importance of the position, and made it one of the chief seats of their power. Even in the three days that he had been absent Beric found that the host had considerably increased. The tribes of Sussex and Kent, as they heard of the approach of the army, had flocked in to join it, and to share in the plunder of London.
Another day was spent in feasting and rejoicing, and then the army moved northward. It consisted now of well nigh two hundred thousand fighting men, and a vast crowd of women, with a huge train of wagons. Two days later, news reached them of the spot where Suetonius had taken up his position and was awaiting their attack, and the army at once pressed forward in that direction. At nightfall they bivouacked two miles away from it, and Beric, taking Boduoc with him, went forward to examine it. It was at a point where a valley opened into the plain; the sides of the valley were steep and thickly wooded, and it was only in front that an attack could well be delivered.
"What think you of it, Beric?" Boduoc asked.
"Suetonius relies upon our folly," Beric said; "he is sure that we shall advance upon him as a tumultous mob, and as but a small portion can act at once our numbers will count but little. The position would be a bad one had we any skill or forethought. Were I commander tomorrow I should, before advancing to the attack, send a great number round on either side to make their way through the woods, and so to attack on both flanks, and to pour down the valley in their rear, at the same time that the main body attacked in the front. Then the position would be a fatal one; attacked in front and rear and overwhelmed by darts from the woods on the flanks, their position would be well nigh desperate, and not a man should escape."
"But we must overwhelm them," Boduoc said. "What can ten thousand men do against a host like ours?"
"It may be so, Boduoc. Yet I feel by no means sure of it. At any rate we must prepare for defeat as well as victory. If we are beaten the cause of Britain will be lost. As we advance without order we shall fly without order, and the tribes will disperse to their homes even more quickly than they have gathered. Of one thing you may be sure, the Roman vengeance will be terrible. We have brought disgrace and defeat upon them. We have destroyed their chief cities. We have massacred tens of thousands. No mercy will be shown us, and chiefly will their vengeance fall upon the Iceni. When we return to the camp, go among the men and ask them whether they mean to fight tomorrow as they fought Cerealis, or whether they will fight in the fashion of the rest. I fear that, wild as all are with enthusiasm and the assurance of victory, they will not consent to be kept in reserve, but will be eager to be in the front of the attack. I will go with you, and will do my best to persuade them; but if they insist on fighting in their own way, then we will go to them one by one, and will form if we can a body, if only a hundred strong, to keep, and if needs be, retreat together. In speed we can outrun the heavy armed Roman soldiers with ease, but their cavalry will scour the plain. Keeping together, however, we can repel these with our lances, and make good our escape. We will first make for home, load ourselves with grain, and driving cattle before us, and taking our women and children, make for the swamps that lie to the northwest of our limits. There we can defend ourselves against the Romans for any length of time."
"You speak as if defeat were certain," Boduoc said reproachfully.
"Not at all, Boduoc; a prudent man prepares for either fortune, it is only the fool that looks upon one side only. I hope for victory, but I prepare for defeat; those who like to return to their homes and remain there to be slaughtered by the Romans, can do so. I intend to fight to the last."
Upon rejoining the Sarci, Beric called them together, and asked them whether they wished on the following day to rush into the battle, or to remain in solid order in reserve. The reply was, that they wished for their share of glory, and that did they hold aloof until the battle was done and the enemy annihilated they would be pointed out as men who had feared to take their share in the combat. When the meeting had dispersed Beric and Boduoc went among them; they said nothing about the advantage that holding together would be in case of defeat, but pointed out the honour they had gained by deciding the issue of the last battle, and begged them to remain in a solid body, so that possibly they might again decide the battle. As to disgrace, they had already shown how well they could fight, and that none could say that fear had influenced their decision. Altogether two hundred agreed to retain their ranks, and with this Beric was satisfied. He then went off to find his mother, who was as usual with the queen. She would not hear of any possibility of defeat.
"What!" she said. "Are Britons so poor and unmanly a race, that even when twenty to one they cannot conquer a foe? I would not believe it of them."
"I don't expect it, mother, but it is best to be prepared for whatever may happen." He then told her of the arrangements he had made.
"You may be right, Beric, in preparing for the worst, but I will take no part in it. The queen has sworn she will not survive defeat, nor shall I. I will not live to see my country bound in Roman chains. A free woman I have lived, and a free woman I will die, and shall gladly quit this troubled life for the shores of the Happy Island."
Beric was silent for a minute. "I do not seek to alter your determination, mother, but as for myself, so long as I can lift a sword I shall continue to struggle against the Romans. We shall not meet tomorrow; when the battle once begins all will be confusion, and there would be no finding each other in this vast crowd. If victory is ours, we shall meet afterwards; if defeat, I shall make for Cardun, where, if you change your mind, I shall hope to meet you, and then shall march with those who will for the swamps of Ely, where doubtless large numbers of fugitives will gather, for unless the Romans drive their causeways into its very heart they can scarce penetrate in any other way."
So sure were the Britons of victory that no council was held that night. There were the enemy, they had only to rush upon and destroy them. Returning to his men, Beric met Aska.
"I have just been over to your camp to see you, Beric. I have talked with Boduoc, who told me frankly that you did not share the general assurance of an easy victory. Nor do I, after what I saw the other day--how we dashed vainly against the Roman line. He tells me that your men, save a small party, have determined to fight tomorrow in the front line with the rest, and I lament over it."
"It would make no difference in the result," Beric said; "in so great a mass as this we should be lost, and even if we could make our way to the front, and fall upon the Romans in a solid body, our numbers are too small to decide the issue; but at least we might, had the day gone against us, have drawn off in good order."
"I will take my station with you," Aska said; "I have, as all the Iceni know, been a great fighter in my time; but I will leave it to the younger men tomorrow to win this battle. My authority may aid yours, and methinks that if we win tomorrow, none can say that you were wrong to stand aloof from the first charge, if Aska stood beside you."
Thanking the chief warmly for the promise, Beric returned to the Sarci. Feasting was kept up all night, and at daybreak the Britons were on foot, and forming in their tribes advanced within half a mile of the Roman position. Then they halted, and Boadicea with her daughters and the chiefs moved along their front exhorting them to great deeds, recalling to them the oppression and tyranny of the Romans, and the indignity that they had inflicted upon her and her daughters; and her addresses were answered by loud shouts from the tribesmen. In the meantime the wagons had moved out and drew up in a vast semicircle behind the troops, so as to enable the women who crowded them to get a view of the victory. So great was the following that the wagons were ranged four or five deep. Beric had drawn up the men who had agreed to fight in order, in a solid mass in front of the tribe. He was nearly on the extreme left of the British position. Aska had taken his place by his side. His mother, as in her chariot she passed along behind Boadicea, waved her hand to him, and then pointed towards the Romans.
"Look, Aska," he said presently; "do you see that deep line of wagons forming all round us? In case of disaster they will block up the retreat. A madness has seized our people. One would think that this was a strife of gladiators at Rome rather than a battle between two nations. There will be no retreat that way for us if disaster comes. We must make off between the horn of the crescent and the Romans. It is there only we can draw off in a body."
"That is so, Beric," the chief said; "but see! the queen has reached the end of the lines, and waves her spear as a signal."
A thundering shout arose, mingled with the shrill cries of encouragement from the women, and then like a torrent the Britons rushed to the attack in confused masses, each tribe striving to be first to attack the Romans. The Sarci from behind the company joined in the rush, and there was confusion in the ranks, many of the men being carried away by the enthusiasm; but the shouts and exhortations of Beric, Aska, and Boduoc steadied them again, and in regular order they marched after the host. In five minutes the uproar of battle swelled high in front. Beric marched up the valley until he arrived at the rear of the great mass of men who were swarming in front of the Roman line, each man striving to get to the front to hurl his dart and join in the struggle. The Romans had drawn up twelve deep across the valley, the heavy armed spearmen in front, the lighter troops behind, the latter replying with their missiles to the storm of darts that the Britons poured upon them. With desperate efforts the assailants strove to break through the hedge of spears; their bravest flung themselves upon the Roman weapons and died there, striving in vain to break the line.
For hours the fight continued, but the Roman wall remained unbroken and immovable. Fresh combatants had taken the place of those in front until all had exhausted their store of javelins. In vain the chiefs attempted to induce their followers to gather thickly together and to make a rush; the din was too great for their voices to be heard, and the tribesmen were half mad with fury at the failure of their own efforts to break the Roman line. Beric strove many times to bring up his company in a mass through the crowd to the front. The pressure was too great, none would give way where all sought to get near their foes, and rather than break them up he remained in the rear in spite of the eager cries of the men to be allowed to break up and push their way singly forward.
"What can you do alone," he shouted to them, "more than the others are doing? Together and in order we might succeed, broken we should be useless. If this huge army cannot break their line, what could two hundred men do?" At last, as the storm of javelins began to dwindle, a mighty shout rose from the Romans, and shoulder to shoulder with levelled spears they advanced, while the flanks giving way, the cavalry burst out on both sides and fell upon the Britons. For those in front, pressed by the mass behind them, there was no falling back, they fell as they stood under the Roman spears. Stubbornly for a time the tribesmen fought with sword and target; but as the line pressed forward, and the horsemen cut their way through the struggling mass, a panic began to seize them.
The tribes longest conquered by the Romans first gave way, and the movement rapidly spread. Many for some time desperately opposed the advance of the Romans, whose triumphant shouts rose loudly; but gradually these melted away, and the vast crowd of warriors became a mob of fugitives, the Romans pressing hotly with cries of victory and vengeance upon their rear. Beric's little band was swept away like foam before the wave of fugitives. For a time it attempted to stem the current; but when Beric saw that this was in vain he shouted to his tribesmen to keep in a close body and to press towards the left, which was comparatively free. Fortunately the Roman horse had plunged in more towards the centre, and the ground was open for their retreat.
Thousands of flying men were making towards the rear, but with a great effort they succeeded in crossing the tide of fugitives, and in passing through outside the semicircle of wagons. Here they halted for a moment while Beric, climbing on the end wagon, surveyed the scene. There was no longer any resistance among the Britons. The great semicircle within the line of wagons was crowded by a throng of fugitives behind whom, at a run now, the Roman legions were advancing, maintaining their order even at that rapid pace. Outside the sweep of wagons women with cries of terror were flying in all directions, and the horses, alarmed by the din, were plunging and struggling, while their drivers vainly endeavoured to extricate them from the close line of vehicles.
"All is lost for the present," he said to Aska, "let us make for the north; it is useless to delay, men; to try to fight would be to throw away our lives uselessly, we shall do more good by preserving them to fight upon another day. Keep closely together, we shall have the Roman cavalry upon us before long, and only by holding to our ranks can we hope to repel them."
Many of the women from the nearest wagons rushed in among the men, and, placing them in their centre, the band went off at a steady trot, which they could maintain for hours. The din behind was terrible, the shouts of the Romans mingled with the cries of the Britons and the loud shrieks of women. The plain was already thick with fugitives, consisting either of women from the outside wagons or men who had made their way through the mass of struggling animals. Here and there chariots were dashing across the plain at full gallop. Looking back from a rise of the ground a mile from the battlefield, they saw a few parties of the Roman horse scouring the plain; but the main body were scattered round the confused mass by the wagons.
"There will be but few escape," Aska said, throwing up his arms in despair; "the wagons have proved a death trap; had it not been for them the army would have scattered all over the country, and though the Roman horse might have cut down many, the greater number would have gained the woods and escaped; but the wagons held them just as a thin line of men will hold the wolves till the hunters arrive and hem them in."
The carts crowded with women, the plunging horses in lines three or four deep had indeed checked the first fugitives; then came the others crowding in upon them, and then before a gap wide enough to let them through could be forced, the Roman horse were round and upon them.
The pause that Beric made had been momentary, and the band kept on at their rapid pace until the woods were reached, and they were safe from pursuit; then, as they halted, they gave way to their sorrow and anguish. Some threw themselves down and lay motionless; others walked up and down with wild gestures; some broke into imprecations against the gods who had deserted them. Some called despairingly the names of wives and daughters who had been among the spectators in that fatal line of wagons. The women sat in a group weeping; none of them belonged to the Iceni, and their kinsfolk and friends had, as they believed, all perished in the fight.
"Think you that the queen has fallen?" Aska asked Beric.
"She may have made her way out," Beric said; "we saw chariots driving across the plain. She would be carried back by the first fugitives, and it may be that they managed to clear a way through the wagons for her and those with her. If she is alive, doubtless my mother is by her side."
"If the queen has escaped," Aska said, "it will be but to die by her own hand instead of by that of the Romans. I am sure that she will not survive this day. There is nothing else left for her, her tribe is destroyed, her country lost, herself insulted and humiliated. Boadicea would never demand her life from the Romans."
"My mother will certainly die with her," Beric said, "and I should say that all her party will willingly share her fate. For the chiefs and leaders there will be no mercy, and for a time doubtless all will be slaughtered who fall into the Roman hands; but after a time the sword will be stayed, for the land will be useless to them without men to cultivate it, and when the Roman hands are tired of slaying, policy will prevail. It were best to speak to the men, Aska, for us to be moving on; will you address them?"
The old chief moved towards the men, and raising his hand, called them to him. At first but few obeyed the summons, but as he proceeded they roused themselves and gathered round him, for his reputation in the tribe was great, and the assured tone in which he spoke revived their spirits.
"Men of the Sarci," he said, "this is no time for wailing or lamentation; the gods of Britain have deserted us, but of this terrible day's defeat none of the disgrace rests upon you. The honour of the victories we won was yours, and though but a small subtribe, the name of the Sarci rang through Britain as that of the bravest in the land. Had all of your tribe obeyed their young chief and fought together today as they have fought before, it may be that the defeat would have been averted; but you stood firmly by him when the others fell away, and you stand here without the loss of a man, safe in the forest and ready to meet the Roman again. You are fortunate in having such a leader. I may tell you that had his counsel prevailed you would not now be mourning a defeat. I, an old chief with long years of experience, believed what he said, young though he is, and saw that to fight in a confused multitude on such a field was to court almost certain defeat.
"Thus then I placed myself by his side, relying upon his skill in arms and your bravery, and throwing my fortune in with yours. I was not mistaken. Had you not firmly kept together and followed his instructions you too would have been inclosed in that vast throng of fugitives hemmed in among the wagons, slaughtered by the Roman footmen in their rear and cut down by their horse if they broke through the line of wagons. You may ask what is there to live for; you may say that the cause of Britain is lost, that your tribe is well nigh destroyed, that many of you have lost your wives and families as well. All this is true, but yet, men, all is not lost. Great as may have been the slaughter, large numbers must have escaped, and many of you have still wives and families at home. Before aught else is thought of these must be taken to a place of safety until the first outburst of Roman vengeance has passed.
"Had Beric been the sole leader of the Britons from the first there would be no need of fearing their vengeance, for in that case none of their women and children would have been slain, and they would be now in our hands as hostages; but that is past. I say it only to show you how wise and far seeing as well as how brave a leader in battle is this young chief of yours. While all others were dreaming only of an easy victory over the Romans he and I have been preparing for what had best be done in case of defeat. To return to your homes would be but to court death, and if we are to die at the hands of the Romans it is best that we should die fighting them to the end. We have therefore arranged that we will seek a refuge in the Fen country that forms the western boundary of the land of the Iceni; there we can find strongholds into which the Romans can never force their way; thence we can sally out, and in turn take vengeance. There will rally round you hundreds of other brave men till we grow to a force that may again make head against the Romans. There at least we shall live as free men and die as free men."
A shout of approval broke from the men.
"You need not starve," Aska went on. "The rivers abound with fish and the swamps with waterfowl. There are islands among the swamps where the land is dry, and we can construct huts. Three days since, when he foresaw that it might be that a refuge would be needed, Beric despatched a messenger home with orders that a herd of three hundred cattle and another of as many swine should be driven to the spot near the swamps for which we propose to make, and they will there be found awaiting you."
There was again a chorus of approval, and one of the men stepping forward said, "Beric is young, but he is a great chief. We will follow him wherever he will take us, and will swear to be faithful and obedient to him." Every man raised his right arm towards the sky, and with a loud shout swore to be faithful to Beric.
"You are right," Aska said. "It is of no use to obey a chief only when ranged in battle; it is that which has ruined our country. There is nothing slavish in recognizing that one man must rule, and in obeying when obedience is necessary for the sake of all. As one body led by one mind you may do much; as two hundred men swayed by two hundred minds you will do nothing. I shall be with Beric, and my experience may be of aid to him. And if I, a chief of high standing among the Iceni, am well content to recognize in him the leader of our party, you may well do the same. Now, Beric, step forward and say what is next to be done."
"I thank you," Beric said when the shout of acclamation that greeted him when he stepped forward had subsided, "for the oath you have sworn to be faithful to me. I pretend not to more wisdom than others, and feel that in the presence of one so full of years and experience as Aska it is a presumption for one of my age to give an opinion; but in one respect I know that I am more fitted than others to lead you. I have studied the records of the Romans, of their wars with the Gauls and other peoples, and I know that their greatest trouble was not in defeating armies in the field but of overcoming the resistance of those who took refuge in fastnesses and harassed them continually by sorties and attacks. I know where the Romans are strong and where they are weak; and it is by the aid of such knowledge that I hope that we may long retain our freedom, and may even in time become so formidable that we may be able to win terms not only for ourselves but for our countrymen.
"The first step is to gather at our place of refuge those belonging to us. Therefore do you choose among yourselves twenty swift runners and send them to our villages, bidding the wives and families of all here to leave their homes at once, taking only such gear as they can carry lightly, and to make with all speed for Soto, a village in the district of the Baci, and but a mile or two from the edge of the great swamp country. It is there that the herds have been driven, and there they will find a party ready to escort them. Let all the other women and children be advised to quit their homes also, and to travel north together with the old men and boys. Bid the latter drive the herds before them. It may be months before they can return to their homes. It were best that they should pass altogether beyond the district of our people, for it is upon the Iceni that the vengeance of the Romans will chiefly fall. By presents of cattle they can purchase an asylum among the Brigantes, and had best remain there till they hear that Roman vengeance is satisfied.
"Let them as they journey north advise all the people in our villages to follow their example. Let those who will not do this take shelter in the hearts of the forests. To our own people my orders are distinct: no herd, either of cattle or swine, is to be left behind. Let the Romans find a desert where they can gather no food; let the houses be burnt, together with all crops that have been gathered. Warn all that there must be no delay. Let the boys and old men start within five minutes from the time that you deliver my message, to gather the herds and drive them north. Let the women call their children round them, take up their babes, make a bundle of their garments, and pile upon a wagon cooking pots and such things as are most needed, and then set fire to their houses and stacks and granaries and go. Warn them that even the delay of an hour may be fatal, for that the Roman cavalry will be spreading like a river in flood over the country. Beg them to leave the beaten tracks and journey through the woods, both those who go north and those who will meet us at Soto. Quick! choose the messengers; and such of you as choose had best hand to the one who is bound for his village a ring or a bracelet, or some token that your wives will recognize, so that they may know that the order comes from you."
Twenty young men were at once chosen, and Boduoc and two of the older men divided the district of the Sarci among them, allotting to each the hamlets they should visit. As soon as this was decided the rest of the band gave the messengers their tokens to their families, and then the runners started at a trot which they could maintain for many hours. The rest of the band then struck off in the direction in which they were bound. With only an occasional half hour for food and a few hours at night for sleep they pressed northward. Fast as they went the news of the disaster had preceded them, carried by fugitives from the battle.
At each hamlet through which they passed, Aska repeated the advice that had been sent to the Iceni. "Abandon your homes, drive the swine and the cattle before you, take to the forests, journey far north, and seek refuge among the Brigantes. A rallying place for fighting men will be found at Soto, on the edge of the great swamps; let all who can bear arms and love freedom better than servitude or death gather there."
Upon the march swine were taken and killed for food without hesitation. Many were found straying in the woods untended, the herdsmen having fled in dismay when the news of the defeat reached them. As yet the full extent of the disaster was unknown. Some of the fugitives had reported that scarce a man had escaped; but the very number of fugitives who had preceded the band showed that this was an exaggeration. But it was not until long afterwards that the truth was known. Of the great multitude, estimated at two hundred and thirty thousand, fully a third had fallen, among whom were almost all the women and children whose presence on the battlefield had proved so fatal, and of whom scarce one had been able to escape; for the Romans, infuriated by the massacres at Camalodunum, Verulamium, and London had spared neither age nor sex.
On their arrival at Soto they obtained for the first time news of the queen. A chief of one of the northern subtribes of the Iceni had driven through on his chariot and had told the headman of the hamlet that he had been one of the few who had accompanied Boadicea in her flight.
At the call of the queen, he said, the men threw themselves on the line of wagons in such number and force that a breach was made through them, horses and wagons being overthrown and dragged bodily aside. The chariot with the queen and her two daughters passed through, with four others containing the ladies who accompanied her. Three or four chiefs also passed through in their chariots, and then the breach was filled by the struggling multitude, that poured out like a torrent. The chariots were well away before the Roman horse swept round the wagons, and travelled without pursuit to a forest twenty miles away. As soon as they reached this the queen ordered the charioteers to dig graves, and then calling upon the god of her country to avenge her, she and her daughters and the ladies with them had all drunk poison, brewed from berries that they gathered in the wood. The chiefs would have done so also, but the queen forbade them.
"It is for you," she said, "to look after your people, and to wage war with Rome to the last. We need but two men to lay us in our graves and spread the sods over us; so that after death at least we shall be safe from further dishonour at the hands of the Romans."
When they had drunk the poison the men were ordered to leave them for an hour and then to return. When they did so the ladies were all dead, lying in a circle round Boadicea. They were buried in the shallow holes that had been dug, the turf replaced, and dead leaves scattered over the spot, so that no Roman should ever know where the queen of the Iceni and her daughters slept.
Although Beric had given up all hope of again seeing his mother alive, the news of her death was a terrible blow to him, and he wept unrestrainedly until Aska placed a hand on his shoulder. "You must not give way to sorrow, Beric. You have her people to look to. She has gone to the Green Island, where she will dwell in happiness, and where your father has been long expecting her. It is not at a death that we Britons weep, knowing as we do that those that have gone are to be envied. Arouse yourself! there is much to be done. The cattle will probably be here in the morning. We have to question the people here as to the great swamps, and get them to send to the Fen people for guides who will lead us across the marshes to some spot where we can dwell above the level of the highest waters."
Beric put aside his private grief for the time, and several of the natives of the village who were accustomed to penetrate the swamps in search of game were collected and questioned as to the country. None, however, could give much useful information. There was a large river that ran through it, with innumerable smaller streams that wandered here and there. None had penetrated far beyond the margin, partly because they were afraid of losing their way, partly because of the enmity of the Fen people.
These were of a different race to themselves, and were a remnant of those whom the Iceni had driven out of their country, and who, instead of going west, had taken refuge in the swamps, whither the invaders had neither the power nor inclination to follow them.
"It is strange," Aska said, "that just as they fled before us centuries ago, so we have now to fly before the Romans. Still, as they have maintained themselves there, so may we. But it will be necessary that we should try and secure the goodwill of these people and assure them that we do not come among them as foes."
"There is no quarrel between us now," the headman of the hamlet said. "There has not been for many generations. They know that we do not seek to molest them, while they are not strong enough to molest us. There is trade between all the hamlets near the swamps and their people; they bring fish and wildfowl, and baskets which they weave out of rushes, and sell to us in exchange for woven cloth, for garments, and sometimes for swine which they keep upon some of their islands.
"It is always they who come to us, we go not to them. They are jealous of our entering their country, and men who go too far in search of game have often been shot at by invisible foes. They take care that their arrows don't strike, but shoot only as a warning that we must go no farther. Sometimes some foolhardy men have declared that they will go where they like in spite of the Fenmen, and they have gone, but they have never returned. When we have asked the men who come in to trade what has become of them they say 'they do not know, most likely they had lost their way and died miserably, or fallen into a swamp and perished there;' and as the men have certainly lost their lives through their own obstinacy nothing can be done."
"Then some of these men speak our tongue, I suppose?" Aska said.
"Yes, the men who come are generally the same, and these mostly speak a little of our language. From time to time some of our maidens have taken a fancy to these Fenmen, and in spite of all their friends could do have gone off. None of these have ever returned, though messages have been brought saying they were well. We think that the men who do the trading are the children of women who went to live among them years ago."
"Then it is through one of these men that we must open communications with them," Aska said.
"Some of them are here almost daily. No one has been today, and therefore we may expect one tomorrow morning. This is one of the chief places of trade with them. The women of the hamlets round bring here the cloth they have woven to exchange it for their goods, others from beyond them do the same, so that from all this part of the district goods are brought in here, while the fish and baskets of the Fenmen go far and wide."
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