26 May, 219 BCE,
536 Years since the Founding of Rome
Costa del Azahar
26 May, 219 BCE,
536 Years since the Founding of Rome
Costa del Azahar
Praefectus Marcus Valencius knew both the elation of battle and the fear of quickening death in equal share, for he had partaken of both in good measure throughout his life. The thought ran through his head as he parried the savage blow of a Numidian warrior with his own sliver of forged steel, and counter-slashed the attacker in a clangor of metal. He was still ahorse, that much he could thank the gods for, but they were fickle and soemtimes cruel and thus his arms were nicked with cuts and a savage gash on his cheek bled wetly where one of the Punic horsemen had rent the bronze face-plate of his crested helmet. He was surrounded, at least seven horsemen that he counted yet remained of the dozen that had swarmed their small group on the waterfront. With short, heavy breaths he swung his sword about left and right, keeping the dusky-skinned riders at bay and sapping his strength with every blow. Another rasp of steel rang across the cobbled ramp as he blocked a swift stab from a horseman who had edged his beast up adjacent to his own, so close he could feel the horse's breath as it passed and the heat from its body as he and the other rider met eye-to-eye. He swung back fiercely, and chanced a look over his shoulder to see the rowboat with Publius Scipio making headway out into the water safely. Reassured in that knowledge, the Prefect turned his attention entirely to the enemies at hand, resolving to send as many of them to Charon before he made the ferryman's ride himself.
Horns were sounding in the distance, signalling another assault on the city. Momentarily distracted, he missed the next strike and felt a wincing red stab of pain as a red mouth opened on his flank, piercing his leather curiass where no bronze protected him, and felt the warm rush of blood over his skin. His horse suddenly reared in madness, pierced by a four-foot javelin barbed with iron in its neck. The creature thrashed about beneath him, it's screams something beloning in nightmares. The world spun and then he was on the ground, his mount slain under him.
It was then he was aware of the renegade, Cale Valens, amongst his attackers. The Etruscan was like a whirling daemon, his plain sword flushed red with blood from one end to the other. One moment he was turning aside the clumsly stroke of a Punic rider, the next sinking his blade into the man's side as he sat in the saddle. He killed indiscriminately, striking horses and men alike. The scene was a chaotic tapestry of bloodshed, as one after the other fell to the soldier's whirling, thrusting gladius. The look in his eyes was one he recognized in madmen he had seen after the battle of Telamon. Before he knew it six of the seven Numidians were on the ground clutching their wounds or lying eternally still, and the other was on his hands and knees trying to regain his feet, his face a mask of blood where the gladius had hewn off his nose and part of his cheek. Cale was walking behind the man, shoulders heaving from exertion, but calm. He put the sword tip to the back of the man’s neck and casually shoved downward exerting a sickening crunch as the enemy dropped to the bloody cobbles.
“Can you walk?” he asked Marcus.
Eyes wide with disbelief, the Prefect nodded, and groaned in pain as he managed to stand.
“You can hang me later,” Cale said.
“Hang you? I should reward you the Corona Civica, you fool!” he replied, laughing in elation despite himself. He was about to say the should hasten back to the city, when the sounds of fresh horse-hooves clattering on the stones interrupted him.
A score of Numidians flooded onto the ramp, their dark hair braided in bronze and silver tangles that bobbed as they came. A Carthaginian rode at their head, on a fine black courser armored in leather scales. He raised his hand.
“Surrender, or die,” he commanded in Greek.
Marcus knew the words, though he was sure the Etruscan could not comprehend them. He gauged their situation and state, noting the many cuts on Cale’s slender frame and fiercely aware of his own wounds, and motioned for the soldier to drop his weapons.
“We surrender then,” he replied, tossing his sword to the ground.
The small ship rocked gently in the lapping waves of the Mare Meditteranean, and overhead seagulls orbited the towering mast, calling lazily to one another between rays of dancing sunlight that reflected across the sea like a glimmering mirror.
Folco heaved again over the railing, though he was sure that the contents of his stomach were long gone by now. He had never seen such a wide expanse of water in all directions before, and the nauseating feeling of being swallowed by the waters lurked over him even though Captain Julus swore the coast was just beyond sight to the north.
He had been vomiting ever since they dragged him into the small rowboat, and it only got worse when they pulled the boat up onto the larger ship called Perseus, which had been anchored in a rocky cove just north of Saguntum's harbor. And thus he had stayed wet and cold, shivering like a sick dog, leaned against the bulwarks with his bowels loose and his eyes watery.
Quintus Sabucius had taken it in stride, seemingly the old soldier had spent time on a ship before, probably serving against the Illyrian pirates. He lurked in the rear of the vessel, a thick cloak wrapped around him, mumbling to himself as he gazed westward.
Up on the main deck where the rudder was tended by two strong-looking sailors, Publius Cornelius Scipio stood speaking with the ship's master, Julus--a dusky-skinned Greek with a thick beard of curls and a twinkle in his eyes that spoke of mischief done. The crew was as surly a set of rogues as the young Iberian could imagine, with men of all sorts of races and backgrounds amongst it, including a fearsome-looking Numidian with skin as black as night and eyes white like a wolf's.
"Will there be a chase?" Scipio was asking the Captain. The young nobilitas stood with his hands on his narrow hips, his eyes dark as he looked out to sea.
"Like as not," Julus responded absently, then cleared his throat after the look Scipio gave him plainly said that ambiguous answer was not what he wanted to hear. "I mean--beg your pardon, sir, but who knows? Either they don't care and have more important things to do, or they decide to chase us down on the coast. I can't say."
"Very well," Scipio replied. "See to it you arm your men, just in case." Most merchant captains, especially the rougish ones such as Julus, the nobleman knew, carried a supply of weapons on board to fight off coastal pirates. A few bows, swords, and other implements perhaps. Nothing that would stop the assault of Carthaginian marines, but anything was better than bare hands.
Rubbing his brow, the young patrician came off the deck and retired to his chamber on the ship, a small, squat room normally used for stowage of salted meat from the smell that hung about the place.He unbuckled the baltaeus that held his sword and hung it upon a hook on the wall.The visage of that rogue soldier who had saved his life was burned into his mind---fiendish, primitive, full of spite and rage, but at what? If he hated him, why did he save his life? Scipio wondered. He was sweating. He sat down upon the rickety bunk against the wall and closed his eyes, just for a moment, contemplating what he would say to his father when they arrived at Roma...
31 May, 219 BCE,536 Years since the Founding of Rome
"Loose!" The centurio bellowed hoarsely, waving his rod. The men threw their missles as one, or nearly so, sending a wave of barbed points arching through the dismal grey skies against their eneimes not twenty paces away, chanting and hollaring like anmials. The javelins, Etruscan pila, were four feet long and tipped with pyramidal spikes of iron. They split flimsy shields and pierced flesh, dropping many of the battle-line in one volley. The wounded writhed on the ground yet still the others carried on, arms raised in a battle chant and voices high in ululation. And then they came, first as shambles and then as a whole, feet churning through the mud.
The hastati were the youngest soldiers of the legion wealthy enough to afford equipment, mostly young men from Latium and Umbria, and thus were equipped with a full panapoly of weapons and gear. Wearing both plumed bronze helments and greaves to cover their leading leg, the hastati were expected to weaken the enemy enough so the next line of soldiers, the heavy infantry called pricepes, could advance and finish them. Teenagers for the most part, they had been wearied beyond their years by the recent fighting in Gaul and were now a force of hardened warriors to be reckoned with.
“Lock shields!” The centurio shouted, and the hastati closed their ranks to bring up their oval scutum to cover one another in line, a locking of wood and metal as the iron-trimmed edges clanked together. The scutum was heavy, nearly twenty pounds, and against this wall the Illyrian warriors crashed like a cacophonous wave of men. One lithe warrior went up and over the shields, flinging himself into the mass of Roman soldiers behind them where he was quickly pierced by several swords in succession. The hastati struck back against the pressing wave with their short stabbing swords, meeting flesh more often than not in a slick exercise in butchery that soon left more than two dozen Illyrians writhing on the ground in agony as their life left them. The Roman strengh lay in the dense formation of the hastati, a mass of shields and swords that only struck when the enemy exposed themselves. The Illyrians, on the other hand, while the most Hellenized of the Dacians, were nonetheless barbarians yet, and fought with ferocity and reckless abandon.
Publius Cornelius Scipio, First Consul of Rome, sat astride a white courser not twenty meters behind the battle line, observing. Surrounding him were the white-cloaked bodyguard horsemen of the equites consulares, hand-picked Italian riders sworn to life-guard the magistrates of Rome. The battle had been brief and could truly be called scarcely more than a skirimish—some two hundred odd tribesmen sent by Demetrius of Pharos to harass the Roman landing party had put up stiff but in the end fleeting resistance for two days, and now they lay dead or dying on the marsh ground out before him with only their companions in the citadel on the ridgeline remaining to oppose him.
Scipio nodded, and undid the strap of his crested helmet to lift it from his head. Unencumbered, the sounds of the screaming men were louder now, but the battle was all but over. The pricipes stood quietly in the second rank, their weapons not yet even drawn. “Send word to the Senate,” Scipio said without looking at the tribune who sat beside him. “We will envelop Dimale by nightfall. Say that I expect to hold the fortress within five days.”
“Yes, sir,” the tribune said, saluting, then turned his horse to canter off back toward the beach where the Roman fleet lay at anchor.
Illyria was a hard land of rolling mountains and barren ridges seperated by vales of deepest pine forest and murky swampland. The principal Illyrian tribes were the Agraines, Triballi, and the Paeones. The Liburni and Delmate were famous sea-farers and notorious pirates who had been a scourge on Roman and Hellene shipping over the Adriatic for ages. The Illyrians fought in a savage manner with javelin and spear, while the nobles fought on horseback. They even brought their slaves to fight alongside them. Eight years ago, an uprising amongst an almost-unified army of Illyrian tribes was squashed by another Roman army, and a pliable young heir was placed on the throne after the forced abdication of Queen Teuta. The Roman senate thought that the man they had placed in effective control of Illyria, one Demetrius of Pharos, would keep order. But Demetrius had entered into an alliance with the Macedonians, and once again raiding had begun on Roman shipping lines by the notorious pirates, a fleet led by Demetrius himself.
Publius Scipio had thought he cornered Demetrius at Dimale, a coastal fortress north of Eprius and south of Dalmatia, but the rouge had escaped the day before, leaving a token garrison to fortify the strongpoint. Robbed of a quick and decisive victory, the Consul was visibly upset. Behind him the signifiers carried an a quila and the standard-carriers bore the crimson banners of the Senate and People of Rome as well as the Ist and 3rd Legions, flapping lazily in the salty sea-breeze. Scipio turned to guide his horse back towards the beach where even now the slaves local workers were busily latching together their camp for the night.
"Sir?" Scipio turned to see who addressed him. Two legionaries and a junior tribune stood with a portly fellow with thick brown locks of hair and a pock-marked face. His clipped ears spoke of clashes with the law, and the empty scabbard on his belt showed that he had come armed before the guardsmen relieved him of those.
"What is the meaning of this, Marcus?" Scipio asked with airs.
"Sir, this man here is a deserter from the enemy. He has information on their fortifications."
Scipio examined the man more closely. He was no Illyrian, that much was certain; but neither was Demetrius and his band was like to include many such vagabonds---bandits and pirates all. He bore curious tatoos of ink on his wrists and neck, and he certainly smelled like a pirate. His horse cantered anxiously, pawing the ground. "Well, speak man, I am a Consul of Rome and have not all day to wait."
"Yessir, of course," the man said in a Ionic-accented butchery of commoner's Latin. "I was on the detail helped built the palisades, lord. "Pitched them timbers together tight as hell, we did. But there's a trench leads round the back way, through the drainage off the hilltop. I recon you could easily get men through there, at night."
"Tribune, have him show you the portal he speaks of," Scipio commanded. The legionaries grabbed the rogue each by an arm and led him away at the Consul's brief jerk of his head.
"Sir?" The Tribune Marcus asked as the commander turned his horse to leave.
"He'll expect some sort of recompense sir, a bit of coin or some food perhaps?"
"He'll get nothing of the sort," he replied, motioning to the fasces standing nearby. "Deserters recieve death."
"Death!" One of the Punic officers shouted, a wide grin on his face. There were a score of them gathered around Cale and Marcus Valencius, whose wrists were bound in fetters. The Numidians were swarthy and lean with long faces and curious inkings on their brows, their braided hair hanging in long tails over their shoulders. The officer's suggestion promted laughter from them when it was translated. Cale did not understand the word, but the message was clear enough.
After the brief fight on the waterfront the Prefect had surrended them into custody of the band of Punic cavalrymen that had arrived at the last, hoping that some military tradition would save them from being cut to pieces. Or the Prefect himself, perhaps, for he was nobilitas and an officer, due courtesy from the enemy. Cale knew no such hospility would extend to him. Yet here they were, bound and guarded, led down the narrow cliff passes onto the flatlands in the south and therein to the outlying pickets of the Carthaginian camp.
A city, more like. They came to the guardsmen at the entrance to Hannibal's camp, tall African soldiers with crested helmets lined with gold and burnished bronze chestplates linked with iron chainmail beneath. Each bore a long-hafted lance that parted as the officer exchanged passwords and allowed them to enter the camp. The rows of linen tents stretched out for miles it seemed, long lines of stables and workshops hastily erected for the siege, and a perpetual haze from the thousands of cookfires smoking throughout the day and night. Everywhere soldiers marched, men of all races and creeds--Iberians, Celts, Africans, Numidians, Mauretanians, Gauls, Greeks. An army made up of all the world's diverse peoples, united against the citizens of Saguntum--and Rome. Marcus Valencius had been relieved of his helmet and cloak, and their weapons were now carried by a gap-toothed rider who seemed to especially like the balance of Cale's short gladius.
Cale glanced at the sky and mumbled a quick prayer to Mars, as they were led deep into the center of the encampment. The roar of elephants from their pens in the distance trumpeted like horns, and the clopping of horses' hooves sounded upon the marching fields. To the north, the walls of Saguntum were being advanced upon by a fresh assault-force with ladders upon their backs, showers of arrows falling from the ramparts.
The officer's camp was a compound enclosed by a thick wall of freshly-cut timbers sharpened into a palisade atop an earthen dike. Inside the tents were two, three times larger than the others, of fine linen and canvas. White banners with golden trim hung from tall posts lazily drifting in the morning breeze, and incense from offerings burnt in golden braziers on the steps of the shrine to Baal-Hamon, the dark and cruel god of the Carghagians. A troop of famed Punic noble horsemen paraded by as they marched near, the sunlight glimmering upon their long lances and brightly polished helms tipped with plumed feathers of great birds never before seen by a Roman.
Shoved to their knees with a sudden butt-stroke to their backs, the two were made to wait while their captors went into the largest tent to confer with their masters, leaving four of the Numidians to guard them.
"Fine mess we're in now, eh?" The Prefect muttered under his breath, casting a sidelong glance at the Etruscan.
Cale did not reply, deep in his own thoughts.
A trumpeter sounded, and the tent-flap parted as a party of officers emerged. Cale instantly knew one was Hannibal--his poise and the keen intellect in his eyes marked him from the others at once; he stood like an eagle amongst pigeons. They spoke in a strange Phoenician dialect, Hannibal examining them both briefly, appraisingly, before murmuring something to his lieutenants and walking away. Instantly two large Africans grabbed at Marcus' arms, twisting them behind him and dragging him into the tent. The Prefect did not struggle over much, knowing its futility. Cale was largely ignored, until a stocky looking fellow with a broad belt and leather vest of armor approached and clutched his chin in one hand.
"My, you are a well put together one, arent you boy?" He asked in Greek, which was the common trade-tongue, assuming Cale spoke it.
He did not answer, feigning ignorance, and simply glared at the man with an intensity that would have made most men shrink. The Carthaginian laughed and let him go. "You'll speak in time. I've never seen one who didn't. But for now, its to the pens with you."
The Punic prison camp was a pit that that had been dug from the earth, and from the looks of the carvernous size was once a rock quarry used by the Saguntines. A pen-wall of sharpened stakes surrounded it now, with two squat watchtowers overlooking the handful of prisoners--mostly runaway slaves and men who had deserted from the Saguntine army--who cringed within it. The heavy gate was bounded by a thick log of timber, raised by a pulley chain. Cale stumbled inside stripped to the waist, left with only his sandals and half a tunic.
He pressed through the crowd that had assembled near the gate when it opened, many begging to be let free. Resigning himself, the Etruscan leaned against the wall of the pit and slumped down to rest his weary limbs, just for a moment. He looked up when a shadow crossed his eyes, and instantly recognized the haggard figure standing before him.
"Ambraxis," he hissed.