| Our Island Story|
|by H. E. Marshall|
|A child's history of England from earliest legendary times delightfully retold. Beginning with the stories of Albion and Brutus, it relates all the interesting legends and hero tales in which the history of England abounds through the end of the reign of Queen Victoria. Ages 9-12 |
 THE Britons were very glad to see the last of these heathen
Saxons, and Vortimer began to restore order, and rebuild the
towns and churches, which Hengist and Horsa and their men
Vortimer was a very good king and his people loved him and
obeyed him. But there was one person in the land who hated
him. That person was his stepmother, Rowena. She hated him
because he had driven her father, Hengist, and all her
Rowena tried in many ways to kill Vortimer, but she could
not succeed. His people loved him so much that they guarded
him well. At last, however, she found a wicked man who,
because she promised him a great sum of money, agreed to
poison Vortimer. So one day the people were told the sad
news that their good king was dead. After this we do not
hear very much more of Rowena, nor do we know if she was
ever punished for her wickedness.
As soon as Vortigern heard that his son was dead, he came
from the castle in Wales where he had been hiding, and made
himself king again.
Then Rowena sent messengers to her father, and he gathered all
his ships and men together, and came sailing over the sea to
Britain once more.
 When the Britons heard that Hengist was coming, they were
very angry, and prepared to fight. Vortigern was frightened
too. He sent a message to Hengist telling him that he must
go away again. "The Britons are ready for battle," he said,
"and you and your men will all be killed if you try to
But Hengist was as cunning as ever. He sent back a message
to Vortigern saying that he did not know that Vortimer was
dead. "I came to fight for you, to help you to regain your
throne," he said. "But now that you are King again there is
no need to fight. Let us be friends. Let us all, Britons and
Saxons, meet together at a great feast. Let us forget our
quarrels and make peace. Then I will go home again with my
Vortigern told the British nobles that Hengist wanted to
make friends. The Britons really did not wish to fight any
more, so they readily agreed to meet Hengist in a friendly
way on the Plain of Salisbury, and feast together.
A day was fixed. It was in May. The grass was green and the
sky blue, and the birds sang on this bright spring day. From
all sides came the British nobles in their gayest holiday
clothes, wearing no armour and carrying no weapons.
The Saxons, too, came gaudily clad and seemingly unarmed.
There was laughter, and talk and friendly greeting, and the
feast began. Suddenly, over the noise of the feasting, the
voice of Hengist sounded loud, "Draw your daggers."
Then every Saxon drew his dagger, which he had hidden in his
stocking, and stabbed the Briton next to him. The Britons
fought and struggled bravely, but they had no chance. They
had only their bare hands
 with which to defend themselves,
for they had not dreamed of such treachery.
Only two of all the Britons were saved. One was Vortigern,
the king, because Hengist had ordered his soldiers not to
kill him; the other was Edol, Earl of Gloucester. He found a
wooden stake lying on the ground, and defended himself so
bravely with it that, it is said, he killed seventy of the
Saxons, and then escaped with his life.
After this wicked and cowardly slaughter of unarmed men,
Hengist took possession of Britain. His wild, heathen
soldiers swarmed all over the land, killing people, burning
towns and making terrible havoc everywhere. The Britons fled
in terror to the mountains and forests. Vortigern himself
fled into a lonely part of Wales. There he built a strong
castle in which to hide, for he was very much afraid. He was
afraid of Hengist and the Saxons, and he was afraid of the
Britons. He was also afraid of Aurelius Ambrosius and Uther
Pendragon, the two brothers of King Constans. For by this
time they were no longer little boys, but had grown up into
Vortigern had need to be afraid of Aurelius and Uther, for,
hearing how Hengist had taken possession of Britain, they
thought it was now time to fight for their country. So they
gathered ships and soldiers together, and came sailing over
from France to Britain.
When the Britons heard that Aurelius Ambrosius and his
brother had landed, they took heart again. They came out
from the places in which they had been hiding from the
Saxons. Joyfully they offered themselves to fight under the
banner of the brothers.
As soon as Aurelius and Uther had collected their army, they
marched straight to Wales to besiege
Vorti-  gern in his
castle. They had not forgotten that he had murdered their
brother, Constans, and they meant to punish him.
But the castle was very, very strong. Try how they might,
the Britons could not take it. Vortigern sat behind the
thick walls, and laughed at all their efforts.
At last the Britons fell upon a plan. They cut down trees
and gathered dry sticks and leaves from the forests round
about. These they piled high round the castle. Day by day
Vortigern watched the pile of wood rising, and wondered what
was going to happen.
When the Britons had gathered enough wood, they set fire to
it in several places at once. So one morning Vortigern awoke
to hear the crackle, crackle of newly-lit fires. He looked
out and saw smoke and flames all around him. Wherever he
looked he saw little tongues of fire.
Soon the little tongues grew longer and longer.
Higher and higher leapt the
flames. Fiercer and fiercer grew the heat. Vortigern's
laughter was turned to wild shrieks. In vain he prayed the
Britons to have mercy on him and let him escape. "Had you
any mercy on our brother, Constans?" said Ambrosius and
Uther. "Had you any mercy on our fathers and brothers when
you let Hengist slay them on Salisbury Plain?" asked the
Britons. "You had no mercy. You shall find none."
The roar of the fire drowned all else. The flames leaped
higher. With a crash the roof of the strong castle fell in.
Vortigern, the betrayer of his people, was dead.
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