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blklizard

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Chapter 129 (Unification Expedition Fleet [part 1])

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The Roman territory north of the Persian Gulf was spared from the chaos that engulfed much of Rome. The local officials felt blessed that they were spared from the terrible ordeal. However, they knew that, should Rome remain in its state at the time, they would have to either form an independent nation or become integrated into another nation. Forming an independent nation required lots of resources and diplomatic relations which the local officials felt they lacked. As for being integrated, the only nation suitable for this requirement was the Langobards. Considering that Romans made up a large portion of the population in the area, they would rather remain a part of a collapsed Rome than to join the Langobards. In the end, the locals decided that they would still consider themselves as a part of Rome. With that consideration, another problem rose up. If they were cut off from the rest of Rome, they would be acting like a sovereign nation. In addition, the region, being cut off from the rest of the nation, couldn't possibly learn about the developments in the Italian peninsula. There were still many Romans that believed Rome could rise from the ashes one day and they eagerly awaited that very day.

On the topic of reestablishing contact with the Italian peninsula, the local officials organized a series of meetings to discuss their next steps. For all the meetings, many middle and lower class attended as well to let their voices be heard. The meetings took nearly a month to conclude with the officials coming down with an unanimous decision. They have decided to send out an expedition fleet to Africa. There was no chance the a fleet could reach the Italian peninsula from the Persian Gulf. Thus, the officials decided on an indirect route to Africa where the Romans controlled former Aksum territories. The goal of the fleet would be going along the Roman African coasts while making contacts with the locals. They hoped that some areas in Africa were also spared from the chaos and the locals could work with them in restoring the communication routes with the Italian peninsula. Even though the chances of meeting locals that would be helpful were slim, the local officials were still willing to give it a try. If the worst scenario was to happen, they would be forced to go through the Langobards diplomatic route. This option was less than ideal but it could get the results the Romans in the region hoped for.

When the officials announced their decision, they were overwhelmed by the response from the local population. At first, they feared that they couldn't recruit enough men for their cause. Instead, the local population completely supported the decision. Many young men eagerly applied to be a part of the fleet in hopes of obtaining both glory and a chance at adventure. Life in Asia wasn't as thrilling as one first believed and the young men wanted to escape their boring life. By the time the recruitment deadline came about, the officials were forced to select only two thousand young men out of tens of thousands applications for the expedition. While they would have preferred to send more, they were limited by the two transport ships that were at their disposal. Shipbuilding never became a booming business in the region as the Romans never had a huge demand for ships in the Langobards dominated region. The two ships that were available were once used to transport Romans to the area so they can settle down. The ships were damaged on their journey and were eventually repaired in the port of Hormuz. By the time the repairs were made, Rome was engulfed in a civil war and the captains of the ships never received orders to sail back to Africa.

As soon as the two thousand candidates were picked, the officials worked hard to fully supply their ships. The earlier the expedition began, the earlier they could see the results. Once the ships were fully supplied, the expedition would set out immediately. The expedition fleet would begin its journey in Hormuz, the capital city of the region. Many people arrived at the port to say their farewells to the expeditionary force. With so many people supporting them, the members of expedition felt that they had no choice other than succeeding. The two ships sailed steadily out of the port and the people on the ship waved back. They weren't sure when they will return from this expedition and they hoped to say their farewell. Many in the expeditionary force knew that there was a chance they might not survive the dangerous mission. Still, they chose to still move forward for the future of their nation. For the inhabitants that still waited at the port long after the ships were out of view, they all prayed to God hoping that he will give the two thousand men and the sailors a safe voyage.

With nothing but water behind them, the members of the expeditionary force turned their focus forward into the unknown. While Rome did have trade routes established in the area, the region was still controlled by the Langobards. The Romans had few exploration opportunities in the region as they feared pushing their luck would create a diplomatic incident. As a result, they lacked detail maps to help ships navigate the waters. Luckily, the Romans north of Persian Gulf have maintained good relations with the Langobards population in the region. While Rome and Langobards didn't always enjoy good relations, the Romans in Asia saw the need of befriending their neighbors. Being foreign to the lands, the Romans were still trying to adapt to the region. One problem that the Romans faced was that farming didn't always produce enough food. In addition, the Romans, being cut off from the rest of Rome for most of the year, had little contact with the Italian peninsula. By establishing trade with the Langobards, the locals not only made up for the food shortage but they also got their letters to and from their relatives in Europe. By maintaining good relations, the Romans in the region enjoyed flourishing trade as well.

Maintaining good relations with the Langobards, the Roman expedition also had a greater chance at success. The route from Hormuz to the Roman African coast would be long and perilous. There was no way the ships could remain on water the whole way without docking. In addition, the Romans lacked the maps to navigate the waters safely. Before the expedition was on its way, the Roman officials sent messengers to the Langobards ports in Saudi Arabia region to request access. As expected, all the ports granted access and the Roman expedition fleet could proceed forward without delay. The first stop of the expedition force would be Duqm off the Mascate coast. The captains would meet with the Langobards captains to ponder over their maps of the region. The Langobards have already made detail maps of the region so they could maintain naval dominance. The maps would help the Roman captains in determining the best route to Africa with the least amount of risk. The route was soon decided and the Langobards were kind enough to provide a copy of their map to the expedition force. However, it wasn't all good news in Duqm. From the rumors heard by the locals in Duqm, the situation in Rome looked very grim and it negatively affected the morale of the two thousand men. When the ships left Duqm, there were already some men developing doubts about their decision to join the expedition.

 

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Chapter 130 (Unification Expedition Fleet [part 2])

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The Roman expedition fleet continued its journey to Africa. The captain decided to set his next stop in Al Mukalla where he would restock the supplies for all his passengers and men. It took the fleet a week to arrive in Al Mukalla and, for some of the young men, the adventure wasn't as exciting as they first believed. In Al Mukalla, more bad news involving Roman African territory reached the expeditionary force. Langobards merchants said that many Roman coastal cities were abandoned and they stopped traveling along that coast altogether. The combination of bad news and unrealistic expectations for the journey resulted in desertion within the group. Two days after the fleet arrived, an estimation of fifty men left the expedition force. The whereabouts of those fifty men was unknown and the expedition leader, Servius Avitus, wasn't going to waste time and resources to chase them down. Instead, he wanted to boost the morale of those that remained so they could continue their journey forward. If the morale within the expeditionary force remained low, Servius knew that the expedition would end in failure. After some careful thinking, he decided to make a speech before his men. Hours before the ships set sail, Servius made his speech before all the men and crew at the port.

Hear me, citizens of Rome! I am Servius, the leader of your expedition. Many of you know me as the former mayor of Hormuz. Many of you may wonder why I chose to come along. Why I chose to abandon my comfortable post of a mayor and join the expedition where I could lose my life. I will tell you now. I have a dream. My dream may seem impossible to many. I, for one, don't believe that. Yes, I, like you, am a mere mortal. I live and die like many of those before us. Because I have a limited time on this world, I want to accomplish something with my life. I could live in Hormuz with comfort. Yet, how can I do that while my nation is in trouble? I am a Roman that migrated to the region on this very ship. Like many of you, I wanted to start a new life here. I was fortunate to have avoided the worst of the troubles that plagued our nation. Still, I cannot stand idly at the sidelines. I must do something for the nation that gave me birth. The nation that made me proud. This is the time I will give back. I might be one man but, as long as I breathe, I will continue to do my small part. You all have a chance to do so when you joined me on this expedition. Yes, the road ahead of us is difficult. The situation is worse than we first thought. Still, we will march forward! Let me tell you this. Nothing in life comes without a price. Sacrifices will be made by all of us. I cannot guarantee success at the end of the road. I can only guarantee that, by joining me, you will die without any regrets. You will be part of an expedition looking to restore Rome to its former glory. You are the sons of Rome! When Rome fall, you fall! When Rome rise, we all rise! Now, do you wish to join me on this seemingly impossible task? Will you play a part of restoring Rome to her glory? Will you be willing to sacrifice everything for the nation you love?

When Servius finished his speech, all the men began to chant the name: Rome. Servius did an incredible feat that day. He turned men that were uncertain of their future in the expedition into determined men willing to sacrifice everything for their nation. The men marched onto the ships with new confidence and determination. To further boost the confidence of the men, a Langobards galley fleet would be escorting the two Roman ships to their next destination. Since the collapse of Rome, pirates became a rampant problem in the Red Sea and the Langobards built a small fleet to deal with the new problem. As luck would have it, the galley fleet was heading in the same direction as the Romans and the Langobards captain volunteered to escort the Romans. The Roman ships were heading to Assab where they would part ways with the galley fleet. With the escort, the Roman captain didn't have to worry too much about navigation as his escort would guide his ships safely to their destination. The journey through the Gulf of Eden was smooth sailing with hardly any problems for the expedition fleet or the galley fleet. Another week passed before the port of Assab was in view of the expedition fleet.

When the port of Assab came into view, the Langobards galley fleet parted ways with the Roman expedition fleet. At first, Servius was surprised by the sudden departure of his new allies without a single goodbye. The captain, however, pointed out the pirate ships in the distance. The Langobards galleys weren't wasting any time in chasing down the pirates. Still, the Romans said their goodbyes to the Langobards and looked forward to landing in Assab. As the fleet closed in on the port, a few fishing boats were seen. The fishermen, seeing the arrival of the two ships, tried to escape by paddling away. It was obvious that the fishermen were scared for their life but Servius knew that he needed to talk with locals to decide on the next stop of his fleet. The Roman ships were very fast compared to the boats and the fishing boats were caught up in no time. The fishermen, realizing that they couldn't escape, raised their hands in the air and begged to have their lives spared. Servius, bold as always, decided to board one of the fishing boat. He approached the men and explained the purpose of his expedition. When the fishermen realized that the Romans meant them no harm, they became friendly and offered to guide the fleet to the port. Along the way, Servius chatted with the fishermen and learned more facts about the Roman African territories.

From what the fishermen told him, Servius realized that the expedition faced many challenges ahead of it. Nearly all coastal cities in the region were abandoned as the people moved to rural areas where agriculture was the only way of survival. For those that did remain in the coastal cities, they relied on fishing as a way of living. The booming trades that once took place in the region stopped overnight when the locals no longer had anything worthwhile to trade to merchants. However, not everyone was willing to live an honest life. Some chose piracy as their way of living. Without a Roman fleet patrolling the waters anyway, the pirates could dominate the area with impunity. The fishermen explained that many of them had encountered pirates in the past and few managed to live through the ordeal. When the fishermen were told of the Langobards galley fleet, they were thrilled to hear someone willing to help them. They vowed to thank the Langobards when given the chance. When Servius asked about Assab, the fishermen stated that this city, like many others, was abandoned. The fishermen and their families stayed at the port and never ventured in the city. The fishermen said the city was haunted with the souls of the dead still walking the streets. Servius wasn't able to ask any of the fishermen to act as his guide but he was determined to explore the city.

The expedition fleets docked at noon and the men were eager to step on land again. The fishermen led the men to their simple shacks where their family members could interact with the strangers. Servius ordered his men to unpack some of their food and celebrate their first day in Africa. Everyone had a great meal while Servius talked with the elders. After the meal, Servius, ignoring the pleading of the elders, picked a dozen men to go with him to the city. The city gates were wide open and the streets were empty. Nothing was left behind and the city appeared to be devoid of life. The small party made its way to the city centre when they suddenly heard voices. Servius never believed in ghosts but he couldn't explain the voices they heard. Servius ordered his men to slowly back up when one of the men screamed before collapsing onto the ground. The sudden collapse of one of the men struck panic into the men. Servius, trying hard to remain in control, ordered his men to run quickly. The party made its way to the city gates quickly and, when they arrived at the port, they all collapsed. The fishermen quickly got the men into their shacks and did what they could. Eventually, all the men, with the exception of the man that was left behind, lived through the ordeal. Servius vowed to never enter the city ever again and learned to heed the warnings of the local elders. This lesson would save this man's lives many times in the future.

 

AsdfeZxcas

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Wow. Are they going to have to go all the way around Africa just to contact Rome? :p
 

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Wow. Are they going to have to go all the way around Africa just to contact Rome? :p

Maybe. Maybe not. You will have to wait :p.

Chapter 131 (Unification Expedition Fleet [part 3])

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The expeditionary force was hesitant to leave Assab but they had a job to do. Saying farewell to the fishermen, the expeditionary force continued its journey northwards to the city of Hamata. From the fishermen, Servius learned that the coastal cities between Assab and Hamata were all abandoned and Hamata was the furthest they traveled to. While the elders had belief that Hamata was abandoned as well, they also had reasons to believe the pirates have turned the city into a temporary naval base. It could be a dangerous trip for Servius and his men in the pirate infested waters. Had he not encountered the Langobards galley fleet, Servius would be hesitant in ordering his ships forward. The galley fleet that escorted the Roman ship has sailed further into the Red Sea with not a trace of them. Still, Servius could, with the help of the captain, make out the new wrecks on the beaches. Seeing the hulls of the shipwrecks resembling Roman ships, the captain knows that the Langobards galley fleet is working quite efficiently. Ideally, the galley fleet could clear the way of pirates for the Roman expedition as they sailed further north.

A week passed and the expeditionary fleet was only a day distance from Hamata. The journey has been very smooth with no delays. The men were in good spirit with the nice weather as they dream about what they will find at the end of their journey. However, this tranquility would soon end as the day has come for them to meet up with pirates roughly half a day from Hamata. The pirates had two smaller vessels that were faster and more agile in the water. The men on one of the vessels was ordering the ships to surrender or pay the ultimate price. His men raised their weapons to show that they had the tools to back up their threats. What was unknown to these pirates was the the expeditionary force was well armed as well. The captain ordered his crew to arm themselves with javelins while Servius ordered his archers to prepare for battle. The men on the ships got ready as they waited in the shadows for the command to fire. The two vessels slowly closed the gap until they realized just how big the transport ships were. The pirate captain was laughing as he couldn't believe how lucky he was with his find. One of his men continued to send the message of surrender or death while the vessels closed in. When they were real close, the pirate captain realized that the men on the ships were armed. Before he could shout orders to his men, death rained from above.

One of the vessels got too close to the ships and the captain, seeing the opportunity, ordered his men to release their javelin. The first volley nearly took out nearly the entire crew and disabling the vessel. The pirate captain was among those that died in the first volley but the survivors weren't so fortunate as the men on the ships sent a second volley to be on the safe side. When the men on the other vessel realized what was happening, they tried to get away. By then, they were too close to the ships and Servius ordered his men to open fire. The archers were on excellent vantage point and they didn't miss from their position. The archers let loose a hail of missiles that left no survivors in the second vessel. Servius ordered his ships to stop while he and a few other brave souls board the pirate vessels. On the pirate vessel with no survivors, Servius looked around for maps or indication of who these people were. When he couldn't find anything worthwhile, he moved onto the second vessel. At first, he believed that no one on this vessel survived either. When one of the wounded pirates coughed, Servius realized that some men were still alive and took them aboard his ship. From these men, Servius knew he could learn more about these pirate infested waters.

Before the men on the expedition could celebrate their victory, the captain saw more vessels heading in their direction. Unlike the two vessels they met earlier, the incoming vessels, estimated to be three dozen boats, were in formation and appeared to be better organized (and likely better armed). When Servius got aboard his ship, the captain spoke with Servius and the two men decided that a direct engagement wouldn't be a good idea since their enemies know the waters better. The two transport ships began to change course for the east where they hoped to enter a Langobards port. The two ships were slowly making their way to the coast in the east but the pirates were closing the distance quickly. The men were ordered to prepare their weapons when a battle seemed inevitable. Sailors with javelins and men with bows and arrows positioned themselves at the stern of the ships readying their weapons. By then, the cries on the pirate vessels were heard and the Romans were shaking in fear. The cries they heard didn't appear to be of a human but, rather, a wild beast that hungered for blood. Servius, realized his men were shaken, head to the stern of his ships and took a javelin from one of his sailors. With careful aim, Servius was able to nail one of the pirate captains in the distance. The pirate captain fell overboard and his death restored the morale of the Romans. The battle on the sea has only just begun.

The pirates were unfazed by the loss of one of their captain and continued their chase. The Romans, with the boost in morale, were confident that they could defeat the pirates. When two of the pirate vessels were close enough to the ships, the Romans were ordered to let loose their first volley. Few of the pirates survived the first volley but several more vessels closed in on the ships. Before the Romans could set off another volley, two vessels were already beside one of the ships and its men were beginning to board the ship. Servius ordered his archers to focus on those trying to board the ship while the sailors maintained their focus on the other vessels. Despite their best efforts, some of the pirates still managed to board the ship. Little did they know, they would be faced off against a small but skilled Roman soldiers. These Roman soldiers got enough training and experience to put them on par with the Legionaries of Evocati Cohort that were the pride of Rome. Facing against veteran Roman soldiers, the pirates had no chance and were cut down instantly. Meanwhile, the archers and sailors continued to fire volley after volley into the midst of the enemy. When the pirates realized that they didn't stand a chance in taking on the two ships, they began to withdraw. Unfortunately for the pirates, their retreat came a little too late.

The Langobards galley fleet that escorted the Romans suddenly came up behind the pirate and effectively cut off their retreat. Unlike the Romans, the Langobards sailors were experienced veterans that wasted no time laying waste to their enemies. The galleys were positioned so the archers could all fire at the pirates. The volleys were all equally devastating and, before an hour has passed, all the pirates vessels were devoid of life. The Langobards sailors, hoping to make sure, boarded every ship to check for survivors before burning the vessels down. For the survivors, they would have their throats slit mercifully to end their suffering. The galley fleet then caught up with the Romans and offered to escort them Yanbu. Servius, once again thankful for the aid of his allies, gladly accepted the offer. On their way to Yanbu, Servius checked to see if his men suffered any casualties. Other than a few men slipping on deck and hurting themselves, the Romans suffered no injuries from the actual battle. Servius also had another problem in his hands. He had some captives aboard his ship and, considering that he saw the Langobards killing all pirates, he knew that his captives would die the moment he handed them over. Secretly, he discussed his problem with the captain who was apparently pondering the same problem. With half a day of journey before they arrive in Yanbu, the two men had awhile before they had to make a decision.

 

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Chapter 132 (Unification Expedition Fleet [part 4])


With a Langobards galley fleet escorting them, the Roman expedition fleet could sail steadily without fearing an attack from pirates. Servius, after talking with the captain, ordered the captives to be hidden below decks where they were given medical attention. The two men saw the value of the captives if they were alive. The captives could be guides for the Roman expedition through the pirate infested waters and possibly have information that may prove to be useful. There was little doubt that the Langobards would immediately kill the captives and the captain couldn't blame them. If some of the pirates lived, they may sail the waters again and disrupt the local trades. The galley fleet was meant to permanently eliminate the problem that plagued the region since the collapse of Rome and killing all the pirates would accomplish that. Still, the Romans must put their nation first and keeping the captives alive seemed like their best option. There were a few physicians on board who had a chance of keeping the badly injured captives alive. Servius hope they could succeed as his expedition fleet needed them to continue their journey smoothly.

The city of Yanbu was a major Langobards coastal city by the Red Sea. When Langobards colonists were just starting to settle in the region, many coastal cities were established in the region. While many coastal cities grew steadily, the city of Yanbu grew at a rapid pace. Its location made it an ideal pit stop for trading ships and trade caravans which, with the influx of wealth entering the city, turned the city into a metropolis. In addition to containing a massive marketplace, the city was also an ideal location for shipbuilding. The galley fleet that patrolled the waters of Red Sea was originally built in Yanbu before they were sent to patrol the waters elsewhere. The sudden unexpected collapse of Rome has resulted in pirates rising up quickly. Facing the threat of the pirates, the leaders of Yanbu requested aid from the galley fleet that was patrolling the Persian Gulf. Knowing the urgency of the situation, the galley fleet has sailed quickly along the Arabian Peninsula to begin pirate hunting in the Red Sea. It was purely coincidence that the Roman Expeditionary force managed to meet up with this fleet on its way to Africa.

When the two transport ships docked, Servius only ordered his most trusted men to leave the ships to acquire food and supplies. The remainder of his men were to stay on the ships where they would spent the rest of the night. The long travel over the Red Sea has nearly depleted the food supply on the ships and Servius needed food, along with water, to be restocked immediately. As for supplies, the expeditionary force needed more projectiles like javelins and arrows to replace the ones they used up in their engagements with the pirates. The path ahead was still dangerous and the men had better survivability if they were armed. Luckily, the city of Yanbu was well stocked with weapons of all kinds and the men had no problem acquiring what they needed. If they had more ducats on them, the Roman expeditionary force would probably also purchase another transport ship. A third ship not only can solve the overcrowdedness but also allow storage for greater amount of food and supplies. Not only would it make the men more happy but the ships also needed to restock less which meant greater distance traveled. With limited ducats, Servius couldn't afford to purchase another ship while still maintaining the balance for the expedition.

For the purchasing of food and supplies, Servius picked his most trusted men because he didn't want the information of his captives to leak to the Langobards. The people he trusted the most were the ones that knew the price they would pay if they leaked the information. The food and supplies arrived without any problems and Servius was happy that everything went as planned. Everything was loaded immediately onto the ships where they were neatly packed as the crews got ready to rest before heading out the next day. At night, Servius got a scare when he was informed that a Langobards Admiral wished to speak with him and his captain. Servius quickly put on a coat before getting back on deck where the Admiral and his guards waited. When the captain joined them, the Admiral asked to speak with them without his guards escorting him. Apparently, the Langobards were aware that the Romans had captives aboard their ship and their intention of keeping them a secret. Unknown to the captain and Servius, they had no intention of killing the captives if the captives could serve a purpose. The Admiral told the two men that they could keep their captives and that their action wouldn't antagonize the local Langobards government. In addition, both Romans were invited to a celebration at the city center. The Admiral emphasized that the two men should attend as a sign of good will.

When the Admiral left, the two Romans decided to attend fearing that their absence may hinder their expedition. When they arrived, they were welcomed with warmth by the locals and they joined the festivities. Apparently, the galley fleet was very efficient in its mission of eliminating pirates. Before the arrival of the Langobards galley fleet, many merchant ships built in Yanbu were refitted for military use. With careful coordination between the coastal cities in Langobards, these ships have eliminated the less organized pirates. As soon as the galley fleet arrived, all the ships in the area gathered together to strike at the pirate stronghold in Marsa Alam. The Langobards navy, under a skilled admiral, was able to defeat the pirate fleet stationed there and permanently eliminated the pirate presence in the region. The pirate fleet in Hamata was the last remnants of the pirates in the region and they were wiped out completely. Words of the Romans' engagement reached the locals and they were viewed as heroes as well. Seeing their contributions to the efforts of the Langobards navy, the local officials decided to forgive the Romans regarding the captive issue. At the end of the celebration, one of the local wealth merchant families offered to gift the Romans a fully stocked transport ships which Servius gladly accepted. Being in a cheerful mood, everyone headed to their beds knowing that the next day would definitely be better.

Servius and the captain, thrilled by the gift, decided to, instead of sleeping immediately, check out the ship that was given to them. The transport ship was very well built and could be argued to be in better shape than the two Roman transport ship. The supplies and food met the expectations of the two men and there was plenty of space for a crew. While the captain continued his inspection of the ship, Servius quickly returned to his ship where he woke up his men. When the men learned of the new ship, they all rushed to check it out. Next, Servius and the captain divided up all their men into three groups for the three ships. The men would then stay in their new ship where they stayed for the night. For the two men, they could almost head for bed. They visited the captives who were battered but still alive. The physicians said they needed rest and the two men left them alone. The Roman expedition has been going very smoothly since the desertion and things were looking up. The pirates were gone from the region and the expeditionary force got another ship at its disposal. Servius had a feeling his captives would be excellent guides but, little did he know at the time, they would eventually serve a much greater purpose in the expedition.

 

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Chapter 133 (Unification Expedition Fleet [part 5])


On the day following the celebration, Servius and the captain met with the captives. They were in better shape then but the physicians said they still needed plenty of rest before they fully recover. Luckily, they appeared to be strong enough to chat and Servius didn't want to waste anymore time waiting. His ships would be heading out that very day and he needed to know if he could have some reliable guides. Should the captives refuse to be guides, Servius may need to hire locals to act as his guides. The captives were given the options to either cooperate or die by the hands of the Langobards. The three captives, all men, decided to pick cooperation. The bigger of the three men was called Caius and he used to be the right hand man of one of the pirate captains. The other two men were Septimus and Nonus who were amongst the lowest ranks within the piracy organization. It was not known how these three men managed to survive the battle but it was obvious that God was looking over them. Servius, wanting to know these men better, asked them to share their stories. He not only believed that he could know these men better from their stories but there might be clues within the stories which could reveal what one may expect on one's road ahead. Caius, the bravest of the three men, decided to tell his story first.

Caius used to be a soldier that served the ruling family in the region. When rebels took over much of the city, he still tried desperately to protect the royal family despite the overwhelming odds. When his loved ones were killed off under the orders of the ruling family, Caius realized that he was protecting the wrong people and joined the rebels to fight against those that betrayed him. Many lives were lost but the ruling family was eventually captured alive. They would suffer the cruelest fate one could imagine as they had to pay for their crimes. The death of the members within the ruling family didn't bring an end to the suffering. It has only marked the beginning for those living in the region. Apparently, the ruling family, in their act of desperation, set much of the food in the granary on fire. The population in the region began to starve and Caius was amongst them. When it became obvious that not everyone can survive, Caius realized that he must fight for his survival. The rebels that joined together against the ruling family began to split up into smaller factions. The faction Caius joined has lost its fight in the city and its members were forced to escape by sea. With many vessels under their control, the faction leader realized that he had the resources to create a powerful pirate fleet. If he couldn't dominate the land, then he would happily dominate the seas. Caius became a part of the pirates because that was his only way of survival. He admitted that he was never proud of his achievements but he did what he could.

Few months later, Septimus met Caius as a new recruit. Septimus was a lower class man that has tried to avoid the conflict. His family tried to escape the cities where the fights were taking place. While moving to the rural areas, disease hit his group hard and hardly any people survived. Septimus was one of the luckiest to live through the disease but he had many obstacles ahead of him. The rebels, in their attempt to siege the cities, have scoured the countryside where they pillage the villages to acquire food. Many villages were burnt to the ground and Septimus realized that there was no way he could survive in the desolate landscape. Hoping to continue avoiding conflict while still moving on, Septimus chose to head to the sea where he believed fishing could keep him alive. Along the way, he met many of those that had similar ideas as him. They formed small groups in an attempt to survive. However, rebels, mistaking them for the enemy, attacked them nonetheless. Many men and women died and Septimus narrowly escaped with his life. When he realized he escaped with his life, he saw himself staring out at the Red Sea. He managed to get to the coast but he was all alone in unfamiliar land. Luckily for him, the pirates were recruiting men and he just happened to meet one of their vessels. He didn't hesitate in joining the pirates and he got assigned under Caius.

Nonus was a fisherman that lived a simple life in his small village. When the rebels were pillaging villages, his village wasn't spared and he lost everything. At the time, he was fishing by himself on the water and he saw his village burn down in flames. He had no choice but to sail further from the coast hoping that the rebels won't bother chasing him down. He was on his boat living off the little water aboard the boat and the fish he caught. Just as he was thinking of ending his life, a pirate vessel crossed his path. He, like Septimus, didn't hesitate since life as a pirate seemed like the better alternative to suffering and death. Septimus and Nonus became quick friends and they began to love the thrill of being a pirate. While they weren't too fond of killing innocent people for food, they knew that others wouldn't hesitate to do the same to them. In the several months as pirates, Nonus and Septimus were guaranteed at least two meals a day which was much better than many others. All that was to change when their vessel decided to attack the two Roman transport ships. At first, the two ships were believed to be lightly armed as they were assumed to be Roman merchant ships that entered the pirate infested waters by accident. When it became apparent that the passengers were very well armed, it was too late. Caius, Nonus and Septimus were the only three survivors and, had Servius refused to board the vessels, they probably would have died from infections or disease. For that, they were thankful of the Roman and vowed to work under him in what they considered as a more honest profession.

Servius asked the three men where they should head for next. Their stories have only confirmed the worst for Servius as the Roman African territories appear to be devastated by the rebellion. After some discussion, they decided upon the region surrounding Suez. While it has only been rumors, Caius heard that the area was relatively stable and the people there had plenty of food from their farms. The pirates failed to raid the area because the locals set up defensive parameters with Ballistas at the natural choke points to fend off pirate attacks. Many attempts were made by the pirates but the ballistas proved to be too accurate and powerful to breach by sea. Caius argued that, if Servius wants to make contact with the Italian Peninsula, Suez would be his best bet. There were many other coastal cities along the Red Sea but, based on scouting by the pirates, these cities were all abandoned with nothing to offer. With the pirate stronghold destroyed, the waters would also be much safer than before. In the end, Servius wasn't left with much choice but to head towards Suez where he hoped to meet Romans that had the same dream as him in unifying Rome once again.

As for how to get there, there were a few options available. The Roman fleet could travel across the Red Sea to reach the other side where they can travel along the Roman coast. There could be a chance that they might meet survivors along the way. Servius didn't see the rescue of survivors as a wise decision because his funds could feed his crew for only so long, let alone extra people. The other option was to travel through the Red Sea away from the coast. The winds were excellent there and the Roman fleet would make excellent progress without fearing dangers that the coast may offer. Lastly, the Roman fleet could travel along the Langobards coast until they reach Suez. They could constantly replenish their supplies at the coastal cities and, should the situation require it, they could dock at Suez for up to a month. In addition to the route, the Romans must also figure out how to deal with the Ballistas. They wanted to enter Suez without aggression shown towards them which meant they need to enter Suez without the use of force. Servius knew that he needed to convince the defenders that his three ships aren't pirate ships if he hoped to do so.

As it happened, there was a problem with the rudder on one of the ships and the crew was delayed a day. Servius and the captain decided to use this opportunity to meet with the Langobards Admiral. The Admiral, happy to see them, welcomed them into his humble home. When asked about their purpose of the visit, Servius stated that his group wanted to head for Suez but they feared the Roman Ballistas that guard the choke point. The Admiral has actually anticipated this and said he would send a few of his galleys to escort them. The government in Suez has, since the collapse of Rome, maintained close relations with the Langobards. While the locals did managed to produce lots of food, they did lack many raw materials needed to keep their cities moving forward. Trade agreements were made between the two sides and the people of Suez saw the Langobards as an ally rather than an enemy. With the Langobards galley ships escorting them, the Roman Expeditionary Fleet should have no problem getting to Suez where they could conduct their mission of unifying Rome. When the Admiral was asked why he was willing to help the Romans, he simply said: "If our nation suffered the same fate, I know that the Romans in the region would show the same kindness towards us as well. That's why we are willing to help you. Our wars are between our two governments. We have never hated each. We are all people wanting to live a long and happy life. If Rome is unified, order would be maintained. When that day comes, the bloodshed between us and your people could be avoided."

 

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Chapter 134 (Unification Expedition Fleet [part 6])
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The Roman Expedition Fleet, under the escort of a few Langobards galleys, made good progress through the Red Sea towards Suez. At the choke point leading into Suez, only a single Langobards galley approached the defensive parameter. After a short shouting contest, a Langobards representative got onto a smaller boat where he was shipped over to the shore to speak with the leader. The leader was a Roman named Cossus Lafrenius who was surprised to see Roman ships escorted by the Langobards. After speaking with the representative, Cossus agreed to give the Roman transport ships access if the Romans were willing to dock their ships at the choke point. The Romans would then get aboard one of the transports under Cossus' command and they would be transported to Suez that way. The Langobards representative passed the word on to Servius who agreed without hesitation. As soon as Servius picked out the men he wanted with him, the party got on a boat and sailed for the shore where Cossus was waiting. Cossus welcomed the party members with warmth and they made their way onto a transport ship that set sailed immediately.

Cossus was born in Alexandria and was raised in Suez. Since his youthful days, Cossus was viewed by many as a military genius. When the rebellion took place, the local ruling family granted Cossus immense power so he can put down the rebels. With deadly efficiency, the rebels were crushed and peace was restored quickly in the region. However, the instability from other regions forced migrants and rebels to move into the Suez region which posed major problems. First, the Suez region, while it did produce a reasonable amount of food, couldn't possibly support the tens of thousands refugees pouring into the region. Secondly, the rebels still saw the ruling class in Suez a threat and chose to use violence to eliminate the threat. The arrival of both groups meant that Suez was going to collapse but Cossus managed to set up many defensive parameters in the region to hold off both refugees and rebels. On land, small forts were built along major paths where people would venture if they hoped to survive their trek across the perilous land. On the coast, ballistas were established with the forts to turn away any ships foolish enough to enter Suez waters. Without mercy, refugees and rebels were slaughtered in massive numbers as the soldiers of Suez fought to keep their people safe.

Cossus was, however, not a cruel man. He didn't enjoy the killing of innocent lives that merely tried to find a safe place to call home. Rebels, pirates and all those that take up arm against innocent people, to Cossus, deserved to die. While tens of thousands die along the border that surrounded Suez, Cossus tried to find a solution. He was a Roman who wanted his nation to rise from the ashes. By the time the Roman Expedition Fleet arrived, things have calmed down in much of Rome. Millions have died from battles, disease and starvation while the survivors usually kept to themselves. It was a coincidence for Cossus to be available when the Roman fleet arrived. Since setting up the defenses in the area, Cossus saw no need to return until he heard the defeat of the pirates by the Langobards navy. Normally, he would simply send out a representative to confirm the reliability of the news. Yet, Cossus had a dream that explained he was needed at the defensive parameter. Cossus, being a very superstitious man, chose to go and arrived on that very day. When Cossus heard that the leader of the expedition fleet wanted to play a small part in reuniting Rome under one leader, Cossus was very thrilled and vowed to aid him however he can. The expedition leader and his hand picked men would then join Cossus in the trip to Suez.

Cossus and Servius chatted for the entire trip about what contributions they can make for Rome. The two men realized that they much in common in that they hoped to, before they die, see a unified Rome. Cossus explained that he had a lot of influence in the city and the Roman Expeditionary Force should have no problem getting the cooperation of the local ruling class. As soon as the transport ship docked in Suez, Cossus took Servius and his men directly to the ruling class in hopes of getting assistance immediately. The ruling class was having a meeting and, upon hearing Cossus requesting an audience, granted it immediately. Servius was the only foreigner allowed in the meeting hall and he was escorted by Cossus. Servius explained his purpose to the ruling class and, to his dismay, some of the members within the ruling class were ridiculing him for his beliefs. These men saw the task of unifying Rome an impossible one and Servius was merely wasting his time. Without the support of these men, there was no way Servius could get the locals to aid him. Cossus then rebuked the men and questioned their true loyalty. When it became obvious that the ruling class put themselves first and Rome second, Cossus was deeply disappointed and led Servius out of the meeting hall. Servius tried to comfort his new friend but Cossus merely stated that: "It's not over!"

Servius and his men would be staying at a local barracks while Cossus explained he had important business to attend to. Servius' party had their dinner and Servius discussed with his men that they couldn't seek any help in Suez and that they needed to find help elsewhere. The party went to bed early in the sleeping quarters of the barracks with the intention of heading out early next morning. When the members of the group got up the next morning, they found Cossus waiting for them. Cossus led them to the meeting hall to speak with the new ruling class. At first, Servius wasn't sure why his friend called the ruling class new. Entering the meeting hall, Servius realized that the men were different from the ones he saw the day before. Apparently, Cossus led his loyal soldiers to storm the villa of the ruling class to capture the former members of the government and their families. These people were then sent into exile for their betrayal of Rome. Cossus also reassured Servius when his friend feared that the locals may not take the news well. Since putting down the rebellion and protecting the locals from foreigners, Cossus was loved by all in the city. When he declared that a new ruling class was installed, the locals all cheered and prepared to celebrate the occasion because they have suffered enough under the former ruling class. The new ruling class consisted of men of all social classes which, to the local population, appeared to be fair.

For the new ruling class, its members were at work immediately. They, along with Cossus and Servius, discussed for hours in the meeting hall of their possible actions. When it was lunch time, lunch was served within the meeting hall before the discussion resumed. The group only called it a day by the time the celebrations were about to begin. The discussion was summarized as such:

"The people of Suez are loyal to Rome. Rome has collapsed under hard times but she still exists. On the map, she is still a nation despite being a shadow of its former self. We have avoided the worst of the problems and now lived in a stable region. Still, we aren't satisfied. We have many brothers and sisters that struggled to live through the days. Most of them struggle to find enough food to guarantee a meal a day. We cannot stand idle. We are Romans. The Langobards can show kindness towards us. Why can we not show the same to our own brethren? We are not the only ones to think this way. Brave men from the Persian Gulf came to us hoping to get aid for their quest of unifying Rome under a single leader. They proved that we are not alone. We have belief that there are many other groups with the same dream. The worst of the storm that swept through Rome is over. We can now take action. We won't make senseless goals. We will take our steps one at a time. We will begin in Egypt. Next, we will travel all of North Africa. Once we are confident, we will head to the Italian Peninsula and the Iberian Peninsula. Finally, we will head to the France region. We aren't sure what waits for us in our road ahead. Yet, we won't let that stop us. The future of our nation is on our shoulders. We will march forward together. Under the leadership of Cossus and Servius, we will form the expedition force that will travel on land. We will call this group the African Expeditionary Force."

A great celebration would take place that day in Suez and, to many, it was a festival celebrating the birth of the African Expeditionary Force. Many local men were eager to join the expedition to play a small role. Cossus organized a small committee to pick out members for the expedition. He and Servius knew that they need a large enough force to defend themselves while not being so vast that others saw them as an invading force. A month passed and the African Expeditionary Force was complete. In addition to the two thousand men that left Asia, an additional one thousand local men joined with several being excellent scouts. Servius would be leading this expeditionary force of three thousand men while Cossus stayed in Suez while ensuring that the supply lines and communication were maintained at all times. The main objective of this expeditionary force was heading north in hopes of finding a coastal city in the Mediterranean. A single coastal city, with a few ships, could provide valuable supply line to keep the expedition going. The African Expeditionary Force, with supplies packed and all preparations made two months after its birth, began its trek towards the north.
 

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Chapter 135 (African Expeditionary Force [part 1])
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The first destination for the African Expeditionary Force was Cairo. Cairo was once a metropolis in Egypt. The city had the a large population that was only second to Alexandria. Once a epicenter of Egypt, Cairo was along an important trade route. People from all over the region traveled to the city to see the magnificent city. Like many other metropolises, the city was abandoned by its people following the rebellion. Servius felt that he should explore the city before they move on. While the gates were in disrepair, the city walls still stood strong surrounding the city. Marching through the gate, the expeditionary force found nobody inside. The streets were empty and nothing was left. Many buildings were still standing but, at the city centre where the palace used to be at, evidence of a great fire could be seen. A large area was filled with burnt wood, collapsed walls and other debris. Looking through the debris, Servius and his men found nothing except ashes. Elsewhere, the situation was very much the same. Not a single inhabitant stayed behind in the great city and Servius knew it would be awhile before the city would recover. Without anything worthwhile in the city, Servius' expeditionary force began their march out of the city towards Alexandria.

Leaving Cairo, Servius, under the advice of the scouts sent by Cossus, ordered his expeditionary force to march along the Nile River. Not only did the river provide a water and food source but it would also serve as a map to guide them towards the coast and eventually Alexandria. Along the Nile River, Servius realized that there were many inhabitants that lived a similar lifestyle to their ancestors. These people planted their food on the nutrient rich soil and fished in the river. They lived in small village following a very political system. The leader, known as the elder for his age and wisdom, was the head of the villages. He would give advice to his people while being the judge in the situation of a dispute or conflict. These people no longer saw themselves as Romans or Egyptians but, rather, simple people living on the land. Most of these people shy away from Servius and his men but people of a few villages did show kindness by welcoming the outsiders. From the villagers, Servius learned that the people here were content with their lives. Living off the land as their ancestors did, they no longer had to deal with problems that were brought by the Romans and their ruling systems. When asked if they wanted the old Rome back, these people merely stated that, as long as they can live their simple lives in peace, they don't care how the outsiders rule other outsiders.

After speaking with the villagers, Servius was conflicted. He thought he was doing the right thing by unifying Rome but there were people who didn't agree with him. Caius approached Servius because he saw Servius was troubled by something. When Servius explained the source for his dilemma, Caius asked Servius to go with him over to a hill overlooking the river. Once there, Caius pointed to the fires in the distance. Caius explained that these people wanted a simple life which was fine for everyone. What they failed to see was that they were vulnerable. Standing on the hill, the two men could see clearly that the villages had no walls. If Rome stayed fractured, there will be wars within sooner or later. Gaius said he saw the destruction caused by the factions at his city. He explained that a larger scale would result in more destruction. Living a simple life won't make hardships and problems go away. A strong government that put its people first will. Caius stated that he joined because he wanted his children to not experience the same things as him. He wanted his children living in a unified nation that could defend its citizen. A powerful nation, with proper representation, would make the lives of everyone better. As for the villagers, Caius called them ignorant primitives that would eventually pay the ultimate price if Rome remained fractured. Servius thanked Gaius for reinserting confidence into him. The two would become best of friends from that day on.

Several weeks later, the African Expeditionary Force found itself standing before Alexandria, the largest metropolis in Egypt. Like Cairo, the walls stood strong while the gates were broken down. Entering the city, Servius and his men had their biggest worry confirmed. The city appeared to be abandoned as well. The streets were empty and only the sound of seagulls can be heard. Marching down the main street, the group saw the buildings in the city still in excellent condition. Just as Servius was going to order his men to head out of the city, he heard screams and laughter of children. Servius led a small group of men to investigate and they found a group of children playing in an open space. The children, realizing that they were being watched. quickly ran towards the port. Servius and his men gave chase until they found themselves confronted by a group of men in Legionary armor. These men surrounded Servius and prepared to kill these outsiders. At this crucial moment, Caius came with several dozen well armed men ready to attack the ambushers. Just as the two sides were about to engage in battle, a man, clearly the leader of the other group, ordered both sides to stop. He told men from both sides to sheath their weapon and talk like civilized people. The man asked Servius, who he saw as the leader of the other group, to join him for lunch. Servius agreed to the offer and the man led Servius to a simple hut where food was served.

After a simple but fulfilling lunch, the man introduced himself as Lucius. He claimed that he was part of the rebellion in Rome and took part in the collapse of the nation. When asked why he was in Egypt, Lucius stated that he wanted to make amends for his mistake. He wanted to reunite Rome under one leader. The people in the Italian Peninsula were too busy fighting amongst themselves for the limited food supplies there. Lucius said that he needed food in order to rally men to his cause. Northern Africa was one of Rome's primary food producing areas and heading to the place seemed like an excellent idea. With loyal men and eager civilians, Lucius made his trip across the Mediterranean into Alexandria where they have settled down. Lucius claimed that he had no idea how to proceed with his plans now that he saw much of Northern Africa empty. His scouting parties came back empty handed as their report all say major cities in Africa were abandoned. Just as he was giving up hope, he encountered Servius who seemed to have a goal of his own. To Lucius' surprise, Servius had the same goal in mind and it appeared as though God played a hand in making the two men meet under the most extraordinary circumstances.

Lucius had with him five thousand soldiers and three times as many civilians. The city of Alexandria was so large that the housing near the beach was enough for all the civilians and soldiers. Lucius asked Servius what his future plans were. Servius said he planned to keep exploring along the coast of Northern Africa and hoped he would meet with others with the same dream as them. He also asked Lucius if he can borrow a few of his ships to help speed up the exploration. Lucius gladly gave up four of his transport ships and a single galley. In addition, Lucius convinced Servius to take five hundred of his soldiers with him along the journey. Lucius saw the safety of the civilians that came with him first. Thus, he was willing to stay behind and rebuild Alexandria to its former glory. Apparently, there were many refugees riding on poorly made vessels sailing out of Europe heading south. These people hoped to find a new home to start a new life. Lucius felt that he needed to gather these refugees and bring them to Alexandria. Once Alexandria grew strong enough to be self-sustaining, Lucius said he would join Servius in his journey towards the Italian Peninsula. Servius promised to return to Alexandria once he finished exploring Northern Africa. The two men had a great feast for everyone that night to celebrate a new alliance and new friendships. Servius would be sailing the very next day so he could prepare for his journey to the heart of Rome.

 

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Chapter 136 (African Expeditionary Force [part 2])
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The African Expeditionary Force set sail into the Mediterranean Sea. The weather was perfect for sailing and the five ships were making excellent progress along the coast. Since sailing away from Alexandria, the coast looked empty devoid of all life. There were occasional small fishing villages that came into view. The fishermen, upon seeing the ships, quickly retreated to land where they hid in their huts. The scene made Servius sad as it made him realize how fortunate he was when the disaster struck Rome. The fishermen, while trying to fish to feed their families, must also pray that no harm would come their way. Against even lightly armed soldiers, these fishermen would be at their mercy. Servius knew that, by uniting Rome under a single ruler, order would be restored and the lives of those fishermen would be a lot peaceful. Caius then joined him above deck to discuss the destination of the fleet. Servius had a look at Lucius' maps before leaving Alexandria and decided upon Buqbuq. Buqbuq, being a medium sized town, was well fortified with its walls. The town was also surrounded by massive plots of farms. Knowing that people would gather around places with plenty of food, Servius had a feeling that Buqbuq may have a group of people he needed to meet.

A few days have passed for the Roman fleet since leaving Alexandria. The navigators on the ships firmly believe that Buqbuq should be within view an hour or so before sunrise. As expected, the town of Buqbuq was within view when the sun has yet to rise. What confused Servius and his men was the fires that burned brightly around the town. At first, Servius took the fires as a sign that there were many people living in the town. When the ships got closer, it became obvious that the fires were outside the town. Gaius was called by Servius to analyze the situation on the land while the ships were ordered to stop. A few minutes later, Gaius concluded that an army was laying siege on Buqbuq. The fires were meant to scare the enemy as the shadow resulting from the light could strike fear in the defenders. When asked if they should aid the defenders, Caius replied that they should proceed with caution. They don't know who is their ally and who is their enemy. Making a mistake while attacking the wrong side could result in worsening relations with local powers. If that were too happen, the quest to unify Rome would become that much harder. Servius knew that he must make his decision soon and, being on the cautious side, ordered his ships to avoid Buqbuq and continue sailing to the west.

Leaving Buqbuq, Servius organized a meeting with his officers aboard his ship. Servius want to decide on the new destination of his fleet and the scene at Buqbuq managed to be imprinted in his head. One suggestion was to dock at a nearby beach and travel on foot to Buqbuq. Representatives would be sent to the attacking side to open talks. Another suggestion was to retreat back to Alexandria and return with a larger force. With overwhelming numbers, Servius would act like a mediator to defuse the situation. The third suggestion was to continue traveling further west to Darna and hope that the fleet could encounter some friendly people there. The first suggestion wasn't the best option available to them. Servius still didn't know the two sides and marching in with a large force could create unnecessary conflict. As for the second option, it wasn't very viable. First, returning back to Alexandria would take a week or so which meant time were wasting. Once they do arrive in Alexandria, Lucius could only spare so many men that the whole trip would be wasteful. Thus, Servius was left with his third suggestion which was to proceed forward to Darna. Darna was a medium sized city at its prime and, like Buqbuq, it had many farms to provide the food needed across Rome. Servius felt confident that he could get answers there.

The journey to Darna was a short one. While the good weather held up, a small fleet of small vessels intercepted the Roman fleet a few miles away from Buqbuq. The leader of the small fleet, Drusus Festus, demanded the ships to surrender their arms or face the wrath of God. Servius knew a arrogant man when he saw one and shouted his orders, loud enough for the leader to hear, to fire at the vessels. Drusus, realizing that he made a mistake of underestimating Servius, quickly apologized and was willing to board one of the ships to negotiate with Servius. Servius, happy to get some information about the region, agreed and Drusus boarded the ship alone. Servius decided to hold his meeting above deck where the breeze was very refreshing. Drusus introduced himself as the leader of a scouting party for the bishop and had duties to keep the trading lanes open. Servius asked about the bishop Drusus spoke of and he learned the ruler of the region was a former bishop called Appius. The story was that Appius escaped the Italian Peninsula during the rebellion and his ship crashed near Sirt. The locals rescued the bishop who was grateful for their rescue. As a way of thanks, the bishop decided to stay behind and bless the local population. Following a few incredible feats that could only be considered miracles, the locals saw the bishop as their new savior. The bishop agreed to rule over the land with kindness while the people in the region recover from the disaster.

When asked about the siege at Buqbuq, Drusus admitted that he has indeed acquired accurate information. A group of men near Buqbuq formed their own army and decided to rebel against the people of Buqbuq. The bishop has, on many occasions, tried to defuse the situation. However, the leader of the rebels not only refused to listen to the bishop but he also sent the heads of the diplomats back to Darna. Drusus explained that, had there not been a war in Northern Africa, the bishop could easily have the men he needed to suppress the rebels. Servius was confused when he heard about a war in Northern Africa and he wanted Drusus to clarify. Before the conversation could continued, a relatively small fleet began to approach the Roman fleet. Servius joined his officers to see the ships that approached them. He feared that the ships would prepare to attack them and was just about to order his men to arm themselves. Suddenly, the other fleet stopped advancing and a small boat approached the Roman ships. On the boat, a man who clearly had authority in the region stood before Servius and showed, with his empty hands, that he wasn't armed. Drusus, sneaking a peak through the crowd, told Servius that the bishop was coming in peace. Servius, longing to encounter an authority figure in the region like the bishop, has finally got his wish. When the bishop boarded the ship, Servius suggested that they have their meeting in a comfortable room below deck. The bishop joined Servius without hesitation as they both entered the belly of the the transport ship.

Servius asked the bishop why he boarded the ship without any escorts. The bishop answered that God has given him a dream which said no harm would happen to him. The bishop said that he believed in his dream and this dream claimed that Servius would be a valuable ally to have. Servius asked the bishop to be seated so they can have their discussion. Before Servius could ask further questions, the bishop spoke first and requested aid from Servius. The bishop said that the rebels near Buqbuq were threatening the peace in his region and he lacked the men to suppress the rebels. Just as he was losing sleep over the issue, the dream from God came to him that explained Servius would be able to help him. The bishop stated that, in return for this favor, he would repay the debt as long as the request from Servius was within his powers. Servius suddenly realized that the bishop would become a very valuable ally. Not only were religious people well respected by most Romans at the time but, with the Bishop aiding him in his quest, the unification of Northern Africa may become a lot smoother. Servius gladly accepted and escorted the bishop back to his boat. As soon as the bishop's boat sailed off, Servius ordered his ships to turn around and set course to the surrounded town.

Servius ordered his men to prepare for battle and asked his navigators to find an ideal location to land. With the sun lighting up much of the region by then, the navigators quickly found the beach that would serve as the landing zone. As soon as the ships stopped on the beach, Gaius volunteered to lead the men and Servius decided to let him lead a thousand men. Gaius was to scout out the enemy positions and wait for reinforcements to arrive before engaging. However, Servius, as he was just getting ready to leave with a thousand men to head for the front line, heard battle cries in the distance and screams of the wounded. Fearing the worst, Servius led his men forward until they saw the battle that unfolded before them. Gaius was apparently chasing down the rebel leaders and killing them without mercy. The battle ended as quickly as it has started. Gaius returned and proudly claimed that his side didn't lose a single men. When Servius demanded an explanation, an officer below Gaius stated that they were attack first. The rebels hearing that a few ships arrived at a nearby beach, assumed that enemy reinforcements have arrived. They set up an ambush hoping to slaughter the reinforcements but Gaius, being experienced in battle, easily saw through the ambush and instead caught the rebels off guard. The rebels, losing their element of surprise, tried to regroup but the ferocity of the Romes made them routed completely. The rebels, exhausted from their siege, were all chased down and not a single men survived the onslaught. Servius, realizing that Gaius didn't disobey his orders, didn't give out any disciplinary actions.

When Servius' men marched towards the town, the town gate opened and the inhabitants exited to meet their heroes. The bishop has apparently, during the battle, send his fleet to the town port where he met with the local officials. The local officials, learning the true intent of the new force, welcomed their heroes to their humble town. The officials wanted to celebrate the occasion but Servius argued that he wanted to head to Darna as soon as possible. The bishop managed to persuade the officials to postpone the feast and, without any time wasted, headed to his ships where they would meet with Servius' ships. The two fleets joined together and made their way to Darna. Once in Darna, Servius would learn of the destruction in Northern Africa. He would learn that a new war has been tearing Northern Africa apart and many people lost their lives. The bishop hoped to put a stop to the war and Servius might be able to help in their struggle. Servius would learn that the outcome of the war would determine not only the future of Northern Africa but also the future of Rome herself. What Servius didn't know was that he would soon play a role in shaping the very outcome of the war. The role was a dangerous one and it could result in the death of Servius himself.



Here's a sneak peak of the next chapter :p.

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Chapter 137 (African Expeditionary Force [part 3])
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After he arrived in Darna, Servius learned the grim truth of Northern Africa from the bishop. Following the collapse of Rome, Northern Africa was split up into many tiny factions as everyone scrambled for power. A few months of infighting finally saw some order restored across the land. The many conflicts resulted in four main factions being formed and, until the day Servius met the bishop, the four factions still existed. At the far east, Bishop Profuterius ruled over relatively large territory that was rich with food. As mentioned earlier, the bishop escaped Italian Peninsula to escape the chaos and conflicts that plagued the region. The many incredible feats he did for the locals ended with him ruling over the land. The bishop never had the ambition of expansion and focused heavily in rebuilding within by restoring the order. The locals lived through a short, but peaceful, time under the bishop with plenty of food and protection. The people loved the bishop and were willing to die for him if necessary. Except for dealing with the rare rebellions here and there, the bishop had no real use for an actual army to defend his borders. Of course, there was little reason to build an army up. To the east, the lands appeared to be abandoned by all which posed no threat. To the west, the bishop has signed an alliance which promised no bloodshed between the two nations. With the ducats saved from building up an army, the bishop ordered new infrastructures to be built while a small navy was constructed to patrol the coast. On the topic of diplomacy in Northern Africa, the bishop chose to be friendly with the other factions and offered to provide aid, usually in the form of food, whenever it was necessary. The bishop showed that he wished for no conflict and many incidents proved that the bishop was willing to choose the path of peace.

The faction that formed an alliance with the bishop was under the leadership of General Lurio. General Lurio once commanded the Roman army in Iberia and had close associations with the ruling class there. When the rebellions broke out, the general was able to get the ruling class out of Iberia relatively unscathed. They were supposed to retreat to North Africa where they could regroup and mount a counterattack on the rebels. Things didn't go as planned when the ship carrying the ruling class sunk following collision with rocks. Many of his men abandoned him and the general arrived in Northern Africa with only a few thousand men. The fleet under Lurio's command first arrived in Oran but the locals saw them as a threat and used arms to deter the general from entering the city port. Lurio was forced to sail further east to seek a new home for himself and his men and they eventually arrived in Gabes. The locals in Gabes were suffering under the tyranny of a warlord who put himself before the people. The locals offered Lurio a deal: if Lurio could remove the warlord from power, he may become the new ruler over the region. Lurio, with nothing to lose, accepted the offer and defeated the warlord decisively. The victory over the warlord spread across the region and people began seeking out the general for protection. A few minor conquests expanded the general's lands considerably (the full extension of his land is shown in the map). Lurio treated his people with fairness and, with the aid of bishop, the region began to recover from the destruction it suffered earlier. However, the general was never able to maintain good relations with the faction to his west. Improving relations became impossible when the most western faction began its expansion that sought to plunge all of Northern Africa back into chaos.

The faction with its capital being Oran was under the leadership of Governor Turpilias. Turpilias was once a mayor of Oran and, with the ruling class wiped out, he looked to control the region in their place. Using intrigue and stolen wealth, Turillias was able to eliminate his competitions that stood in his way to controlling the region. Turpilias was an ambitious man who wanted to control all of Northern Africa. Thinking that the other regions were still divided and weak, Turpilias was foolish to antagonize the other factions. By the time Turpilias had complete control over his region, the other three factions were already formed and, when comparing the strengths of the factions, Turpilias' faction was only medium in strength. Still, Turpilias believed that he could be victorious against the other factions. Turpilias decided to first conquer westwards where he perceived to be the ideal location. The region no only provided a lot more food but its only other border was a narrow strait to Iberia Peninsula which was easy to defend. Once the west was under his control, Turpilias knew he could focus his men all on a single front which greatly increased his chance of successful. Unfortunately for this man, he made several miscalculations. First, there were several officers below him that would betray him at the first opportunity. Turpilias wasn't a very liked man and his ways to achieve power was well known. Secondly, refugees from Iberia Peninsula were pouring into the western region which put a huge strain on the farms in the region. There were cases of starvation as the farms couldn't keep up with the demand. Turpilias' men would soon discover this problem and that lowered their overall morale. Thirdly, the refugees, with the food shortages, were getting desperate and looked to migrate elsewhere for survival. After seeing the pitiful state Turpilias' men were in, these refugees believed that moving east would be an easy feat.

The final faction bordered the Atlantic Ocean. To say the faction was under the leadership of a single man was inaccurate. The groups in the area were merged into a faction because, despite the many differences, there were still similarities that link the groups together. First, these groups all inhabit a part of the region and struggled to survive. The migration of refugees has led to food shortages and the problem was only worsening. Secondly, the groups all used violence as their method to solve problems. It wasn't that rare to see groups fighting amongst themselves for resources without any diplomacy beforehand. To survive in the region, one need the kill others so one had more resources to oneself. This became the ideology the people in the region followed. Thirdly, the groups all feared a single man, Vel Axius Scato. Vel Axius Scato was the head of the most dangerous group in the region and all who heard his name feared him. Vel was a dangerous renegade that had history in the Roman military. Once a general, Vel became a rebel leader and his journey ended up in Northern Africa. No group dared to compete with Vel for resources because they feared his wrath. Instead, the groups stayed out of Vel's way unless he demanded a meeting with a group leader. Vel wasn't a stupid man either. He saw the deteriorating situation in the region and knew that even he and his men cannot survive on the land for too long. Turpilias pitiful attempt at an invasion gave Vel the information he needed to make his next move. Gathering all the groups, Vel was able to convince everyone that their survival relied on expansion eastwards where food was plenty. With desperation in everyone and fear towards Vel, nobody opposed the idea as the groups began to prepare for their invasion.

Turpilias' forces, with practically no morale, were defeated with ease. The refugees, forming armies that numbered in the thousands, began to pour across the "border" and pillaged the towns and villages for whatever food and valuables they can acquire. In addition to the groups making their way by land, some groups took to the sea and sailed to General Lurio's land. With overwhelming numbers and element of surprise by their side, the refugee forces made rapid advances and, within a few months, occupied much of Turpilias' territory and a fraction of Lurio's territory. For Turpilias, he was able to gather an impressive army of ten thousand to defend the capital city of Oran. Unlike the previous army he assembled, this new army had everything at stake and their morale wasn't that easily broken. In a battle against a refugee force that outnumbered them five to one, the defenders repelled the enemy with minimum losses which gave the people hiding within Oran hope that they could survive the onslaught. Despite the victory, there were still many problems plaguing these people. First, many farms were destroyed by the refugees and food supply was dangerously low. Secondly, the massive increase in population within the region resulted in many diseases spreading. The diseases not only killed the population within the city but also the refugees that laid siege to the city. Meanwhile, the tide of the battles in Lurio's territory was turning as well. General Lurio was able to gather his forces and begin to push back the refugees. The reinforcements sent by the bishop also helped halt the refugee forces' advances at crucial locations. The refugee forces were losing momentum in their attacks and diseases were starting to eat away at their numbers. The question was whether or not these refugee, still strong in numbers despite the diseases, could continue wrecking havoc across Northern Africa before their numbers finally dwindle down.

A small number of refugees got separated from everyone else and landed in Buqbuq where they laid siege. The bishop personally arrived at the area with a small number of troops. He was frustrated with his powerlessness in the situation when his men reported a fleet of four transport ships and a galley was heading his way. The bishop decided to speak with the newcomer in hopes that they could aid him in the fight to lift the siege. The newcomers not only helped eliminate the enemy forces but they were also willing to aid the bishop in the war against the refugees. In Darna, the bishop ordered his men to help restock the Roman ships so they can make their journey to Gabes where they can reinforce General Lurio. A few of bishop's ships would be escorting the Roman ships so that no casualty will take place from friendly fire. Two days since arriving in Darna, Servius and his men set sail for Gabes where they were much needed. The bishop personally said his goodbye as he wished the men luck in their fight to save Rome. The Roman fleet, with the bishop's vessels as escorts, made good progress through the Mediterranean Sea. With the winds in their favor, the fleet arrived in Gabes in a week and their arrival earned a warm welcome from the locals. General Lurio, having been wounded in a fight weeks before, was recovering in Gabes. When he heard news of reinforcements, he headed to the docks to meet his new allies. Servius introduced himself and his mission to Lurio when he was invited to the palace. Lurio was joyful to find more men with the same goal as him and that they were willing to make similar sacrifices. Servius volunteered to join the battle immediately but Lurio said his men weren't needed immediately and they would be more effective after a day of rest.

After a day of rest, Servius' men were ready to head for the front lines. To his surprise, Servius learned that the general has already liberated half of the occupied land in the north and his men were making good progress in pushing the enemy back. Lurio explained that Servius' men were needed to push west into Turpilias' territory. From the last time they communicated with each other, Lurio learned that Turpilias managed to gather a large army but they were surrounded in Oran with low food supply. A few months have passed since they last talked and Lurio didn't know whether or not Turpilias' forces still held the city. Either way, he needed Servius to start pushing the refugees back into their territory. The battles were bringing about another wave of diseases which threatened the safety of everyone in Northern Africa. Lurio told Servius that he needed to proceed with caution and retreat when necessary. Every fit men they lost would lower their chances of defeating the enemy. Servius took all the advices to heart and began leading his troops out of Gabes towards the western front. Servius was told that refugee forces managed to push quite deep in Lurio's territory and that their numbers were massive. With three thousand men under his command (the five hundred soldiers from Lucius were left with the Bishop to fight any straggling refugees), Servius made his way to the west with some experienced guides leading the way. Servius expected his men to engage the enemy in a weeks time and he told his men to be ready for a battle unlike any they faced before.

A week later, what greeted Servius was unlike anything he has imagined. Instead of facing a large force, Servius and his men saw what appeared to be the aftermath of a large battle. Corpses were everywhere and they were decaying rapidly under the heat. A few survivors were digging out mass graves to bury the bodies but there were simply too many. The survivors, seeing Servius' forces, approached him empty-handed and requested assistance in burying the dead. Servius knew the dangers of diseases if the bodies were left to rot out in the open. Servius ordered his men to quickly dig mass graves to bury the dead and, even with three thousand men, the progress was slow and a few weeks were needed. Some men became ill and Servius, fearing that others may follow suit, decided to retreat back to Gabes and wait until everyone recovered. Arriving in Gabes, Servius first made sure the sick were tended to before he met with Lurio. When Servius delivered his report, Lurio was shocked at the situation. The diseases appeared to be spreading more rapidly than he first expected. Fearing that the disease was more deadly as well, Lurio ordered his physicians to take precautions so they don't get sick themselves. The extra precautions appeared to be unnecessary as Servius' men recovered in a week or so and were ready to continue their journey with the main force. By this time, the refugee forces in the north were eliminated as well and their dead were burned instead. Lurio's territory was completely liberated but what waited across the border struck fear in everyone. Lurio, not taking any chances, ordered his men and Servius' men to wait in Gabes for a few months. He believed the disease may have run its course and the corpses may have become nothing but bones by then in the heat. Servius, still shocked by the scene at the border, agreed to stay in Gabes for the safety of his men.

Three months passed and Lurio decided it was time for them to move out. Lurio has recovered from his wound and was willing to lead an army of six thousand northwards and, upon reaching the coast, turn west towards Oran. Lurio's main goal was to reach Oran and check the situation there. If the defenders managed to hold out against both the refugees and diseases, Lurio could provide them with food and supplies. Otherwise, he would make his decision depending on what he observes when he get there. Servius would lead his three thousand men southwest past the mass graves and proceed to the southern half of Turpilias' territory. There may still be pockets of refugees in the area and Servius was ordered to force them back or, if needed, to kill them. Unlike the north, much of the southern half was made up of desert. The heat and lack of water could become a problem for a large force like the one Servius was leading. Lurio advised Servius that, if he wished to travel through the desert, he better find local guides and be ready to die. Servius replied that he had confidence in his men. When Servius' officers asked him why he volunteered to explore the south, Servius explained that it was a necessary step. Even those that lived in the desert were a part of Rome. If Rome were to be united, no one within Roman soil must be forgotten. If people survived in the desert while living there, then they know they could overcome the difficulty as well. The officers were so touched by their leader's determination that they were willing to sacrifice their lives to make sure this man lives on. The two armies went their separate ways after leaving Gabes and Lurio hoped that both armies will meet in Oran. Servius said he will try to make quick progress in the south so he can join with Lurio in the north before forcing back the refugees that survived the diseases and the battles.
 

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Chapter 138 (African Expeditionary Force [part 4])
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The African Expeditionary Force arrived at the edge of the desert in nine days. Passing through the mass grave wasn't a pleasant experience for the soldiers but they were content that the disease that killed so many didn't threaten them anymore. Servius, at the head of his men, looked out into the distance where the desert seemed to never end. Just as he was about to order his men to prepare marching into the desert, a great sandstorm swept across the land out of nowhere. The Romans couldn't even stand still with the sand swept past them and Servius ordered his men to retreat back to a location free of the sand. Taking the advice of his guides, Servius led his men around the desert until the sandstorm wore itself out. The Romans were simply glad that they don't have to walk into the sandy conditions. An hour passed and the sandstorm showed no evidence it was getting weaker. The Expeditionary Force continued moving along the border until they came across a group of people. These people had camels with them and, based on their state, looked as though they barely managed to get out of the sandstorm. The head of the group was the first to realize that they were being watched. When he looked up and saw the armed Romans, his face showed defeat as he waited for an inevitable fate. Everyone else in the group looked up and they, too, simply gave up. Servius, guessing from the clothes of these people, deducted that they were locals. He approached them with two of his officers while ordering everyone else to stay where they were.

Servius went straight to the leader of the group. The leader stated that he and everyone else in the group wished for a quick death and nothing else. Servius explained his situation of uniting the people of the desert and the leader realized he made a mistake. The leader introduced himself as Ramzi and he was transporting some important medicine to relatives within Langobards territory. They were making good progress until the sandstorm came out of nowhere. The sandstorm was much stronger than the ones they were used to and Ramzi decided that his group must get out of the storm if they hoped to survive. With determination and a little luck, Ramzi was able to get his group out of the storm to only meet Servius. Ramzi believed that they were going to die by the sword and, considering their exhausted state, decided to simply give up. When asked how well he knew the land, Ramzi claimed that he knew all the tribes living in the desert. Servius requested that Ramzi take him to all the tribes to spread his message of a unified Rome but Ramzi declined. Ramzi state that, instead, he would take him to the wisest men in the desert. He argued that, if Servius could convince these men, all the tribes would follow suit. Servius thanked Ramzi and ordered his officer to prepare supplies and food for him alone. While the officers did try to convince Servius that he was better if he had personal guards, Servius won't budge as he feared a small escort may be viewed as an act of aggression.

The group and the Expeditionary Force set up the camp in the area for a good night rest. Deep into the night, Servius and Ramzi still chatted about the local customs and other aspects of the desert tribes. The two were finally convinced to go to sleep and they both had a relatively short rest considering what they have faced the day before. On the very next day, Servius and the group would head across the desert while the Expeditionary Force would set up camp nearby waiting for Servius' return. The group made steady progress through the sand and Servius, with the luxury of riding one of the camels, didn't slow down the group. Half a day later, the medicine was given to another group and Ramzi set his next destination to the village the wise men were in. It was another week before the group arrived at the village. Servius was granted immediate audience with the wise men and he explained his goal. The wise men, seeing the determination of the man, agreed that, should Rome need them, the people of the desert would support them in the noble goal of unifying the nation. Servius thanked the wise men and, after declining staying for a meal, traveled with Ramzi to where he parted with his men. Another week passed and Servius was reunited with his men. After two weeks of separation, the officers feared that they won't ever see Servius again and they were just thrilled to see their leader. Servius, content with his accomplishments in the desert, led his men in the southwest direction to make sure no refugee forces were left behind.

The march in the southwest direction produced nothing worth mentioning and the African Expeditionary Force began its march northwards to Oran. Along the way, the men saw the aftermath of many battles, massacres and diseases. Skeleton littered the landscape and, despite feeling the urge, Servius ordered his men to ignored the bones thinking he was already late for the meeting with Lurio. A few weeks later, the Expeditionary Force found itself staring at Oran. Like everywhere else, skeletons littered the land and the place looked as though it was devoid of life. The city gates of Oran were open and no one appeared to be guarding the entrance. As they began to approach the city, Servius realized that there were a small number of men manning the walls. Those men, recognizing Servius' men, met with Servius at the city gate. These men were under Lurio's command and they were ordered to stay in Oran so they can meet up with Servius. When asked what happened to Oran, the men claimed that the city was already in ruins when they arrived. There were no signs that the refugees managed to break through the defenses but it would appear they didn't have to. Disease swept through the city swiftly and the inhabitants died a painful death. No survivors were in the city when Lurio arrived and the force that was sieging Oran left as well.

Servius questioned the men about the whereabouts of Lurio and he was told that Lurio was chasing after the refugee leader, Vel. Servius ordered his men to prepare for a march as he allowed the men that stayed behind to lead the way. He feared that Lurio might get himself into unfavorable situation chasing into enemy territory without reinforcements. Servius' men, hearing that they might finally get some action, were eager for the days they can fight the refugee forces and crush them once and for all. The African Expeditionary Force made good progress along the road and, along the way, they saw nothing but carnage resulting from battles between Lurio's forces and Vel's forces. There seemed to be more refugee casualties but Servius couldn't shake the feeling that Lurio was heading into a trap. Few days later, Servius' forces arrived atop a hill where they finally caught sight of Lurio's forces. Suddenly, Servius and his men heard the cries of tens of thousands of men as they suddenly came out of nowhere and encircled Lurio's men. Lurio, realizing he walked into an ambush, tried to reorganize his men when an arrow suddenly went through his chest. Lurio fell from his horse and was dead the minute he hit the ground. With Lurio dead, his men suddenly went into disarray.

Servius saw the severity of the situation and immediately ordered his men to attack. Lurio might have died but his men were still valuable to the unification of Rome. Servius knew losing these men would be a major setback to their goal. The three thousand men under Servius charged at the enemy with vengeance as they looked to destroy the enemy. Vel's men, while outnumbering Servius' men, had little discipline. When they saw an enemy force charging from the rear, the ranks of the refugee army began to falter. When a few men began to run for their lives, their action resulted in a mass rout as the refugee forces thought they were outnumbered and outclassed. What happened after was practically a massacre as Servius' men, along with Lurio's men, chased down the enemy and cut down enemy forces. Ranks after ranks of refugees were cut down as they tried to outrun their enemy. By the end of the day, the land became a dark red with the blood of the refugees spilling everywhere. This battle was meant to be a great victory for Servius and his men but they knew the cost of the victory was too high. Lurio died valiantly in battle and his leadership would be missed. Servius ordered his men and Lurio's men to set up camp for the night and head back to Gabes the very next day . When a few officers suggested that they should keep pushing forward, Servius asked them if they knew how many enemies were ambushing them. When he got no answer, Servius stated that he wished to not take unnecessary risks and lose valuable men needed their cause. No one else objected to his plans and a camp was set up.

Around midnight, Servius was told that a small number of refugee forces approached their camp from the front. Servius decided to check up on the situation personally and saw a small force, numbering around two hundred men, waiting outside the camp. Servius shouted to the other side what business they had with him and the leader of the opposition demanded an audience. Servius agreed and the leader approached Servius alone. The leader introduced himself as Carlos. Carlos originally lived in Iberia but the rebellion and food shortages forced him south into Northern Africa. When he arrived, he learned that all the men were gathering together to conquer the east where food was plentiful. Carlos joined the men and he soon rose through the ranks for his ability to lead men. At first, Carlos saw himself fighting to ensure everyone had at least a meal a day. However, he soon realized that Vel was a man that wanted blood over everything else. Even when bloodshed could have been avoided, Vel ordered innocent people massacred for his entertainment. Carlos was disgusted by the man and vowed the put an end to him. With the many victories across Northern Africa, Vel had lots of support and Carlos found it hard to kill Vel. When the diseases took their toll, the loyalty of the men towards Vel wavered and Carlos saw his opportunity to kill the bloodthirsty monster. When Servius' men entered the battle, Vel was forced to retreat and he got separated from his men. Carlos used the opportunity to kill him and he decided to meet with Servius.

Servius asked Carlos what his goal was. Carlos replied that he wish to see no more starvation amongst the people. His siblings all died from starvation and he claimed he wanted to stop it. He said that weak leaders brought about the disasters and people like Servius could change that. He stated that he wanted to be part of a great change to Rome. People like Vel were good at manipulating others but they lacked the ability or foresight to bring about actual change. Carlos wanted to be serving under Servius where he felt he would make a difference in Rome. Servius saw a fire burning in Carlos' eyes and accepted his offer. Carlos said he would gather men loyal to him and they would wait for Servius in Oran. Servius was confused what he meant by waiting for him until Carlos answered that he anticipated Servius would return to base and return another time. Servius knew then that he had a promising man joining his cause and felt comfortable leaving this region under this man's command. Servius suggested leaving food and water for Carlos but the man refused as he claimed that he could get those from the land around Oran. On the next day, Carlos began to travel the region to gather his own forces while Servius began his journey to Gabes. The two men agreed to meet in Oran in a month and they would be marching into the west where they would bring about order and stability to the region.

 

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Chapter 139 (African Expeditionary Force [part 5])
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When the African Expeditionary Force arrived in Gabes, the bishop was already there waiting for their arrival. Word has traveled fast across much of Northern Africa regarding the death of Lurio and many people were saddened by the death of such a great man. Lurio was viewed by many as a hero of Rome. His contributions and sacrifices were never forgotten. Many, like Servius, believed that Lurio would live to see a unified Rome because he was relatively young and nothing could stop him. Fate dealt a terrible hand to this hero but he, at the very least, died for what he believed in. Lurio has always joked that, if he must die, he would rather die on the battlefield than die in bed like an old man. Servius felt that the warrior got his wish but he still wished that the death of his friend could be delayed. Servius and his men tried their best to keep the corpse from rotting too badly while they carried the body back to Gabes. A hero like Lurio didn't deserve to be buried anywhere. He needed a proper burial where he would be remembered for the centuries to come. Burying Lurio in Gabes seemed like a fitting end to a hero whose story began in Gabes. A messenger, with a letter containing the arrangements, was sent to Sirt to inform the bishop. As expected, the bishop arrived in Gabes as quickly as he could so he could say his final farewell to his friend.

The bishop greeted Servius and walked over to the corpse of Lurio. He performed his blessings for the fallen hero before his corpse was moved to the burial grounds. After the blessings, the bishop could no long hold back his tears and his emotions seemed to affect everyone around him. Not a single person was spared from shedding tears for Lurio. People all over the region came to attend the funeral to say their final farewells to the hero that united the land and its people. While the bishop didn't say much, it was obvious that he was hurt the most. The bishop has lost a very close friend and ally at a time when part of the burden of unifying Rome was on his shoulders. The funeral was quick and the burial was equally swift. The corpse, under the heat, has been rotting to the point where they couldn't delay the burial any longer. Following the burial, people began leaving to return to their daily lives. Only the bishop and Servius, with the exception of a few guards, stayed long after the funeral where they pondered about the future of Northern Africa with the death of Lurio. Few hours after the funeral, it started raining and Servius managed to persuade the bishop to head indoors. The two of them said their final farewells to Lurio and made their way to the city palace where they would discuss the future of Northern Africa.

Servius tried to convince the bishop that they should discuss the matters of Northern Africa in a few days. However, the bishop refused to delay the discussion and Servius had no choice but to comply. The bishop picked Lurio's study for the meeting and many of the officials working for Lurio attended as well. In the room, they discussed about transferring control of the region over to the bishop. The bishop seemed to be the most ideal candidate with his administrative abilities and his popularity with the populace in both regions. The bishop tried to refuse at first but he finally caved in to the suggestion in the end. Servius, satisfied that Northwestern Africa would be in good hands, changed to the topic to the situation in the west. The death of Turpillias has thrown his region in chaos and people were still trying to recover from the destruction resulting from the recent war. Servius volunteered to return to the front lines to quickly establish proper control of the region. Everyone else in the room, including the bishop, saw Servius' suggestion was the best option they had at the moment. Once the three regions were stable, the most western region would only be a matter of time before it, too, comes under control of the bishop. If they waited too long, the refugees might regroup their forces and create more havoc that would really hurt the chance of Turpillia's region from fully recovering.

The bishop felt it was imperative that Servius, in addition to his three thousand men, should bring an additional four thousand five hundred men. With a force numbering seven thousand give hundred men, the bishop felt Servius should be able to defeat the remnants of Vel's forces and restore order and stability across Northern Africa. He also advised Servius to allow the men to take a week off so they would be well rested. The loss of Lurio would have a huge impact on his men and some rest could help them recover sooner from their loss. Servius agreed to the bishop's suggestions and had a meeting with military personnel moments after the first meeting. All the officers were alerted of the change and changes were made immediately. Out of the six thousand soldiers that were under Lurio's orders, nearly all of them were willing to be a part of the expedition to the west. The week of rest that was originally organized became the time needed to pick out the four thousand five men to join Servius' men. Lurio's men wanted to carry out their leader's dream and they knew they could only do so under Servius' command. The week quickly passed and Servius found himself leaving Gabes again. This time, Lurio wasn't joking with him as he rode out the city gates. He was alone with command over a massive Roman force. The bishop said his farewell and Servius, with the aid of Lurio's guides, took the safer northwestern route to Oran. Servius was going to meet with Carlos in Oran but, with no news from his new friend, he feared that worst.

The trip to Oran took a few weeks and not much happened along the way. The war has ended and the locals were trying to rebuild their homes. Servius left Gabes with a large supply of food because he knew the people in the Turpillia's region would need food desperately. As expected, the locals were jubilant when they realized the soldiers brought food instead of more destruction and death. Servius told the leaders of the villages and towns that they will reestablish stability and order in the region and the response from the locals were excellent. The people said that they would follow Servius as long as he could provide them protection and supplies necessary for survival. Servius immediately sent messengers back to Gabes to inform the bishop to send officials and soldiers to govern the villages and towns while he continued forward. When the African Expeditionary Force closed in on Oran, they were disturbed by the abandoned villages and towns. Unlike those they saw earlier, no sign of life was seen at these location. Had there not been absence of corpses, Servius would believe that another wave of disease has swept through the area. When Oran was finally in their view, Servius was surprised to see the farms outside the city walls were attended to. These people were working hard to get what little food they can salvage so they could begin planting new crops. It didn't take long before these farmers were informed of a massive army was nearby and they quickly ran back into the city. The city gates, repaired by the time Servius arrived, closed and soldiers quickly manned the city walls.

At first, Servius feared that conflict may arise between the two sides. However, the city gates suddenly opened and a man with a small force approached Servius. When they were close enough, Sevius recognized that the man was Carlos. He rode out to meet Carlos who welcomed him warmly and requested that he enter the city. The two men had a brief conversation before they headed inside the city. Servius learned that Carlos was able to gather many refugees scattered across the region and brought them to Oran. With careful planning, Carlos was able to gather enough food to feed the people under rations. Some of the locals, when they arrived at nearby towns and villages, were asked to move to the city where they could help rebuild the area. The devastation of the war was apparent but there were still farms left untouched. In addition, the few fisherman that joined Carlos were able to provide a steady supply of fish. While the people within Oran weren't eating three meals a day, they still had a meal and got the protection provided by Carlos and his men. Servius, learning of the hardships of the locals, immediately told Carlos of the food he brought with him. Carlos, delighted by the news, impatiently headed for the supply carts where he began ordering his men to properly distribute the food to the civilians inside the city. The locals, seeing food brought in by carts, were no longer fearful of the foreigners and, instead, welcomed them as heroes. Carlos excused himself as he got to work ensuring equal distribution of food to everyone while still maintain order in the city. Servius, led by Carlos' right hand man, waited in the palace where he was treated like a royalty. Carlos didn't return to the palace until suppertime and he was thanking and apologizing to Servius at the same time. Servius explained that he wished to get right down to business and Carlos immediately led him to his study where he apparently made all the necessary preparations for the discussion.

Maps and documents were all laid out on the desk in the room. Carlos began with the number of soldiers he could spare. With the men he gathered from the remnants of Vel's army in the region, Carlos had roughly five thousand soldiers. He argued that he could spare half as he needed the other half to maintain order in the region until proper garrisons can be assembled for all the towns and the city of Oran. Servius replied that the extra two thousand five hundred men would bolster his force to ten thousand which should be capable on dealing with the threats of the western region. Servius wanted to know the best route into the western region and the next target. Carlos answered that he should first head southwest to avoid the major fortifications the refugees set up in their region along the borders where they anticipate their enemies to travel through the safer route. The southwest route was harder to travel through but, with a well disciplined army, they could make it through relatively quickly. Once Servius' men arrive at the borders, they would head directly west towards the capital city of the region, Casablanca. The defenses in that area should be light which would make the progress to Casablanca a smooth one. After that, Servius would need to break through the city walls to capture the officers that were loyal to Vel. Carlos believed that, once the officers of Vel were eliminated, the people would agree to serve Servius. The refugees were people escaping hardship and would be loyal to whoever they felt could bring about order and stability. Vel appeared to be that person but his defeat left doubts in the people. Once his officers were gone as well, the people will realize that Servius was the only person capable of making their hopes and dreams come true. The challenge was to take as few lives as possible to get to the officers. Carlos believed that having the refugees alive would aid them greatly as he received some terrible news from Iberia.

Three majors factions rose up in the Iberian region and carved the peninsula up amongst themselves. The leaders of the three factions were all power thirsty men willing to do anything to make themselves the emperor of Iberia. There were rumors that these leaders might have their eyes on Northern Africa. There were a few things that would benefit Servius in halting their advances. First, the factions in Iberia don't have any sort of ships because, during the rebellion, all the ships were either burnt down or used as a way of escape. The Iberians have forgotten how to build ships and they have to arrive in Northern Africa by land. The only way that was possible was to cross the Strait of Gibraltar. On the topic of Gibraltar, that was the other good news. The garrisons of Gibraltar had vowed to hold off the Iberian factions to protect their brethren that migrated to North Africa. Rumors said they have two thousand men and they could hold out for awhile. Carlos told Servius that it was vital that he end the campaign in the west quickly so he could reinforce Gibraltar. If that city fell, there was a good chance the Iberian soldiers would pour into Northern Africa and more bloodshed would take place. Servius realized that he was racing against time and ordered his officers to prepare to march the very next day. Carlos and Servius talked some more on personal matters before they each headed to bed. Neither men could sleep with the Iberians threatening their home and the morning came mercifully quick.

Servius led his ten thousand African Expeditionary Force out the gates of Oran at first light. Carlos said his farewell at the gates and both knew the importance of speed in the campaign. Carlos spared a few of his best scouts to lead the way for Servius. They traveled southwest and the roads were difficult to traverse through. Still, these soldiers marched on because they had heard about the new enemy who will soon threaten their home. Many of the soldiers that were part of the army had families nearby and couldn't bear to think the consequences if the Iberians were allowed to get to them. Despite the road conditions, the Expeditionary Force made good progress through the terrain and managed to arrive at the border in a week. Just as Carlos anticipated, the defenses in the area was virtually non-existent. The few refugees that stood guard immediately surrendered when they saw themselves facing such an overwhelming force. Servius ordered these refugees to lead the way so his forces could avoid being ambushed. Along the way, Servius met with other refugees that surrendered as well. From these refugees, Servius learned the hardships these men were facing. The refugees, believing that Vel would bring them prosperity or, at the very least, food, were disappointed that they put so much fate on the man. The conquest to the east not only failed but so many succumbed to diseases. Many of the refugees were close to giving up on living until Servius came. Servius supply carts still had plenty of food and he did his best distributing the surplus to the refugees. Servius was touched when a boy, barely ten years old, gave up his portion to his three younger siblings. The scene brought tears to Servius and his officers while the refugees were so gratified for the generosity of Servius that they joined the Expeditionary Force in their march in Casablanca.

As the Expeditionary Force continued its march towards Casablanca, more refugees joined her ranks in a fight to liberate the region of the oppression of Vel's officers. It got to a point where the surplus Servius had was gone and his soldiers willingly rationed themselves so some refugees can be fed a small meal. The bond forming between these people was what Servius and the bishop hoped for. They were all Romans and should work together for a brighter future. The refugees, seeing Servius as their savior, began spreading word across the region and many more joined the ranks. By the time the Expeditionary Force arrived at the gates of Casablanca, her numbers jumped to nearly two hundred thousand. At the gates of Casablanca, Servius was puzzled when the city gates opened before them. Before long, a group of men were herding prisoners towards Servius. The prisoners were apparently the officers that were loyal to Vel and they were the men that Servius needed to remove from power. The men that did the herding told Servius that the officers were oppressive and cruel to the refugees. They kept food under lock so they can have proper meals everyday while the local populace starved. The refugees were tired of their rule and, when they heard the arrival of Servius, they knew that their savior was here. Servius, disgusted by the officers' selfishness and cruelness, ordered their execution in front of everyone. Everyone cheered when the last officer was executed and Servius' army made her way into the city.

The refugees lined up the streets to welcome their savior. Servius requested that he be brought to the warehouse where the food was locked in and one man chose to be the guide. The man was called Pueblo and he was part of the first wave of refugees entering Northern Africa. He was a kind man with a natural aura of leadership. Many refugees were willing to serve him because they know that Pueblo would think of them and he usually had the brains to make it possible. When the war was going on, Pueblo was able to convince Vel to allow him to take care of domestic affairs until he came back. When Vel's forces was defeated and his officers returned, the situation in Casablanca and its surrounding towns and villages worsened. The officers used force to accomplish what they wanted and they kept all the food for themselves. Pueblo tried to persuade them to change but they instead threatened to kill him. As soon as word arrived that Servius was coming, the officers actively sought out Pueblo so he could save their hide. Pueblo, like many others in Casablanca, had enough with these men. While he acted as though he wanted to help the officers, he secretly plotted with his friends to arrest the officers and lock them up until Servius arrived. Their plot worked perfectly and no one got hurt. Pueblo eagerly waited for the savior to arrive so his people can finally begin rebuilding their lives in Northern Africa.

Pueblo brought Servius to the warehouse and Servius ordered the warehouse doors to be opened. Entering inside, Servius was amazed by the amount of food stored inside. He estimated that, with the food stored, he could feed his army for nearly a year. He immediately ordered his officers to distribute the food to the civilians. He spoke with Pueblo and discussed the importance of rations until the food shortage can be solved. Pueblo, with great influence in the region, was able to organize food distributing stations so there won't be any chaos. With proper instructions, all the food in the warehouse was empty by the end of the day and everybody had a small meal which was more than what they usually had. Meanwhile, Pueblo sent messengers out to alert the border guards to return to Casablanca so management over food supplies would be easier. Servius also sent messengers to Gabes to request food from the bishop. When the messengers left, Servius asked to explore the farming lands to determine the next best set of actions. While on tour, Pueblo explained that, even at full production, there was no way these farms could provide enough food for everyone. Servius suggested that some refugees can migrate east to Oran. The area was still underpopulated and some farms were still untended. Pueblo immediately told a few men to gather roughly a hundred thousand people ready for migrations and bring them to the city gates. As promised, the one hundred thousand people arrived quickly and were ready to head out. Escaping home has resulted in no possessions amongst them, along with the eagerness to start a better life, explained how they could be ready so quickly. Servius, seeing that Pueblo could gather so many people in such a short time, ordered Gaius to lead two thousand men and escort these people to Oran so they could begin their new life. The soldiers and refugees headed out immediately and Servius remembered that he had another issue to attend to.

Servius asked Pueblo if he heard about an invasion by the Iberian factions. Pueblo admitted that he heard rumors and feared for the safety of his people. Servius asked if Pueblo could govern the region while he head to Gibraltar to aid the defenders in holding back the invaders. Pueblo answered that his life belonged to Servius and he would make sure that he did an excellent job. Servius left behind a few more officers and messengers so Pueblo could remain in contact with Gabes and ordered his men to prepare to march. The soldiers were exhausted by their force march to Casablanca but no one complained. Under the escort of a small refugee cavalry force, the African Expeditionary Force began its journey out of Casablanca. Many of the refugees volunteered to join them but Servius managed to convince Pueblo that these men were needed to rebuild the region. The refugees said their farewell to their savior and they had prayed to God so he can look over the men that were protecting the people of Northern Africa. Pueblo, seeing his allies far in the distance, immediately headed to work by getting the men to tend to the abandoned farms and start fishing fleets. Pueblo knew that the opportunity given to him was a rare one and too many people depended on his leadership. In addition, he felt that, by giving word to Servius, he must not fail because the Roman was heading to the front lines fighting for strangers he never met before. To serve such a selfless man was an honor in itself. Pueblo made his final prayer for his friend before organizing his people to work.

With the escort of the refugee cavalry force, the African Expeditionary Force made excellent progress with no conflicts with the locals. Traveling along the coast, Servius was amazed to see the Atlantic Ocean. This is the first time he saw a body of water so far from home and he suddenly became homesick. He knew he had a job to do and continued forward with his men. When they arrived at the Strait of Gibraltar, they saw a small force standing guard. These soldiers, seeing the large force approaching them, were terrified but they refused to back off. The refugee cavalry force approached the men first to explain that the large force was meant to reinforce them. The men didn't believe it and their leader wanted to speak with Servius. When the leader got close, Servius got off his horse and called out to the leader. The leader, Quintus, was a childhood friend of Servius. Quintus' family decided to move to Italy where they could start a new life near the Roman capital. When the rebellions broke out, Quintus' family was forced to escape and their ship arrived in Gibraltar. After a battle, Quintus proved to the mayor that he was a capable soldier and officer which resulted in him being promoted. Quintus, upon hearing battles taking place in the south, feared that trouble might be coming to Gibraltar. He volunteered to lead a small force to hold off any forces foolish enough to attack them. He wasn't expecting Servius to meet him in Northern Africa and he was definitely overjoyed. He quickly allowed Servius' forces access across the strait because, just minutes before, he received news that one of the Iberian factions has launched an attack on Gibraltar and the defenders need any reinforcements they could get.

 

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Chapter 140 (African Expeditionary Force [part 6])


Servius' eight thousand men crossed the Strait of Gibraltar in many waves due to the limited number of boats in the area. Quintus was eager to return to Gibraltar but he knew that he needed every men he could get to aid him in the fight against the Iberians. Once the African Expeditionary Force all arrived in Iberia, Quintus led the way so they could help reinforce the defenders of Gibraltar. Servius learned that there were only three thousand defenders but the enemy was estimated to be at least three times larger. Each passing minutes meant the defenders suffer more casualty and the chances of the city holding out was more unlikely. Despite the many rumors that spread across the lands, Quintus admitted that he didn't think the city could hold out for too long in a siege. Time was of the essence and Servius' army still needed to travel a few kilometers before they can reach the city. There was belief that the city was completely encircled and an engagement was need before they could reach the city gates. To prepare for a possible engagement, Servius ordered his men to be in formations before they marched out to Gibraltar. The eight thousand soldiers were formed into sixteen cohorts with Servius personally leading one of them. The cohorts would march in a straight line on the road and, should an engagement happen, the cohorts would spread out the best they can to prevent the enemy from flanking their ranks. Servius ordered forced march among his ranks to ensure that his forces can arrive at Gibraltar in time to fight back the enemy.

The African Expeditionary Force marched for three hours straight before they could hear the battle up ahead. The road ahead was narrower which made it an excellent choke point. A detachment of Iberian soldiers were guarding the choke point and, upon seeing the enemy, braced themselves for the engagement. The cohort leading the way charged at the enemy while the other cohorts waited patiently for the path to clear. The experience and discipline instilled in these cohorts made the Romans very dangerous. The Romans, while remaining in formation, cut down the Iberian soldiers at a rapid rate and they soon routed their enemy. Instead of giving chase, Servius ordered his men to continue march forward to a hill where he could analyze the situation of the siege. There were a few other Iberian detachments but they, too, routed after facing against the Romans. On the hill, Servius was relieved that the city gates were still holding and the defenders on the walls were fighting back the enemy scaling the walls. Servius noticed that his men were positioned at the southern side of Gibraltar. The few detachments they have routed were the only Iberians positioned at the area which meant that there were no more threat at the south. The battles at the other areas were more fierce and Servius knew he had little time to ponder on tactics. He needed to act and rely solely on his instincts.

Servius ordered his cohorts to split into two groups with each group focusing on the east or west side of Gibraltar. A small detachment of Romans would remain at the south to hold off any stray Iberian soldiers that may have routed in that direction. The two groups began their march towards the enemy and they were eventually noticed by the Iberian officers. The Iberian officers were taken by surprise at first by the large force they were facing. However, they soon recovered from the surprise and ordered their men to focus on the threat outside the city walls. The Iberian soldiers charged with frenzy at the Romans they viewed as easy prey. The Iberians were frustrated by the lack of progress in breaching the city and they were eager to cut through their enemies. Seeing the Roman soldiers marching towards them, they felt they finally got a chance to kill the enemy. The Roman soldiers held their position and withstood the charges with hardly any losses. With deadly efficiency, the lightly armored Iberian soldiers were cut down in large numbers. The battlefield was soon soaked in the blood of the Iberians but the Iberian officers refused to back down. They began sending their soldiers to flank the rear but the Romans countered it by forming a box with the cohorts covering each others rear. The bodies of Iberians began piling high and the Iberians realized that they couldn't hope to defeat the Romans. When some men began to run, their actions resulted in a mass rout that quickly spread to the northern side of Gibraltar as well. The Iberians, losing heart or confused by the routs, began a mass retreat back north. The Romans gave chase a bit but they didn't venture too far into enemy territory fearing possible ambushes.

The African Expeditionary Force, with Servius and Quintus leading the way, arrived before the main city gate. Quintus called to the defenders to open the gates to allow them entry. The defenders, seeing the Romans beating back the Iberian army, had little doubt the Romans were on their side and opened the gate without hesitation. As the Romans marched through the streets, the civilians lined up the streets to cheer for their heroes. Servius walked forward as he wondered how he ended up in Iberia. The crowds were too loud for him to chat with his friend, so he decided to keep quiet the whole time. Servius soon figured out that they were heading directly to the city palace to meet the city officials. Servius and Quintus would eventually stand at the palace gates where the city mayor and other city officials greeted them both. The mayor ordered his men to organize proper housing for the Roman soldiers while inviting Servius and his officers, along with Quintus, to the dining hall where they would celebrate the occasion. A grand feast took place in the dining hall and everyone had an excellent time. During the feast, no one spoke of the dire situation in Iberia and, instead, enjoyed the festivities while they can. Once the food were cleared, Servius was invited to the mayor's study where he, Quintus and the mayor began a more serious discussion about the future of Gibraltar.

The mayor was thrilled to see reinforcements aiding his city in the defense against the Iberians. He stated that, had another hour passed, the city walls would have fallen and the Iberian soldiers would begin pillaging the city and harming the civilians. Servius asked the mayor why he didn't have any allies and he replied that his allies either abandoned him and joined one of the Iberian factions or were destroyed. He explained that minor powers struggled to survive in the power struggle that gripped Iberia. Those who opposed one of the three major factions were crushed mercifully. Those that have allied with the mayor were crushed when they refused to bow down to the new leader in the region. The mayor thought that his day has come as well when he received word of the invaders. Prior to the siege, the mayor was given a chance to surrender but he still refused. Servius asked why the mayor was still willing to resist and the mayor answered that he must fight for what he believed was a just cause. His city was the last thing standing between the Iberia factions and Northern Africa. The mayor has family members that escaped to Northern Africa and he vowed to protect them at all cost. The people of Gibraltar shared the same vow and they would rather fight to the end than surrender to the enemy. The mayor then asked Servius who explained his journey since he left Hormuz. The mayor and Quintus were mystified by his adventures and promised to help him whenever and wherever they can.

With the moon up in the sky, the mayor decided that they should all rest. He firmly believed that the Iberians were going to return with another army. They won't stop until they control all of Iberia. Servius, after parting with the mayor, asked his friend to lead him to his men. They arrived at the barracks which was clearly overcrowded. The local soldiers were embarrassed that they lacked proper housing for their heroes but no Roman seemed affected. Servius met with his officers and discussed plans with them to post patrols along the walls to prevent surprise attacks from the Iberians. The officers took men with them and, with the escort of local soldiers, went to the city walls to patrol. Servius then followed Quintus to his home where he met with Quintus' family. It was quite a reunion as many of the elders still recognized Servius. They spoke nothing but old memories and stories of their past since they parted ways. Servius wished that he could enjoy the moment forever but he knew it wasn't possible. The fate of millions in Rome was in his hands and he couldn't rest until he accomplished his goal. At midnight, Servius and Quintus finally managed to get to bed. They slept in the same room on separate beds. Before they fell asleep, they discussed briefly about the next day but they quickly fell asleep from the exhaustion due to the earlier battles.

 

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Chapter 141 (Iberian Expeditionary Force [part 1])
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Servius and Quintus woke up early the next day. The sun hasn't risen yet and Servius questioned Quintus about the three factions that controlled nearly all of Iberia. Quintus led Servius to his studies where he present a map to him (as shown above). Quintus began with the warlord Vasco Amaral who controlled much of the eastern sector of Iberia. Little was known about Vasco's past but he was believed to have blood ties with the nation of Vascones situated in Northwest Iberia. Servius asked why Vascones didn't invade the region instead and Quintus explained that declaring war would be foolish for the small nation. Roman Iberia was in chaos and taking land meant a bad gamble. Possible rebellions and uprisings may hurt the nation more than the benefits it could gain from the extra land. In addition, their invasion may actually unify the Romans in Iberia so they can repel the invaders. Whatever the reason, placing a man like Vasco in power within the region would greatly benefit Vascones in the long run when the territory he controlled would break off from Rome and be part of Vascones one day. Ideally, Vasco would control all of Iberia before he joins with Vascones but, with the situation in Iberia, it didn't seem likely that would take place anytime soon.

Servius then asked about the warlord Alonso Carda. Alonso Carda had a similar goal as Vasco because his primary goal wasn't restoring Rome to its glory days. Instead of pledging allegiance to Vascones, the man was loyal to Barcelona. Barcelona was a small nation that couldn't hope to invade Rome with its limited resources and manpower. Instead, they sent an intelligent man into Iberia who appeared before the people as the savior. Alonso had to rely on his wits alone to win the support of the locals which was made possible by his charisma and easy going personality. Starting with hardly anything, Alonso was able to build up a strong faction from the base up that would eventually be feared by many. In addition, the man has proven himself as a capable general with his many key victories that saw territory under Vasco change hands. Quintus argued that he believed Alonso to be the most dangerous enemy they must face in Iberia. Being loved by his people and capable in battle, Alonso had a deadly combination that could achieve the unification of Iberia under his name. Servius wanted to discuss the current diplomacy situation between Alonso and Vasco but Quintus was determined to finish explaining the last faction before moving on.

The third and final faction was led by a warlord called Chavez Ruiz. Like Vasco, the past of Chavez was a mystery. No one knew where he came from or how he came into power. His faction just suddenly grew powerful enough to conquer nearby factions until the it reached the current size. There were rumors that suggested Chavez became warlord for his own selfish needs. The man sought power and would do whatever was necessary. Many generals were killed by Chavez when he suspected them, with no evidence, of planning a coup. Chavez literally ruled over his lands with fear. No one dared to oppose the man as they were afraid of the consequences. There was a rumor that said, after a madman called Chavez an idiot and threatened to usurp him, the village where the madman lived was burnt down with all of its citizens slaughtered mercilessly. Quintus believed that this faction would be the easiest to defeat. With an unstable foundation and the people hating their warlord, a few defeats could easily spark revolts from within. Quintus also explained that forces that were encircling Gibraltar belonged to Chavez as he was hoping to capture the city so he could being his conquest into Northern Africa where he believed easy prey awaited.

Before they continued the conversation, Quintus was able to convince Servius to have breakfast with him. The two had a quick breakfast in the dining hall and they returned the study right after. Apparently, the two factions, led by Vasco and Alonso, were at war at the very minute. Alonso won a few key victories but Vasco wanted the land he gave up in the previous war. With soldiers from Vascones acting as mercenaries, Vasco expected a victory and hopefully the end of the faction led by Alonso. Alonso was outnumbered by Vasco's forces but Quintus said that he placed his bets on Alonso. What Servius needed to worry about was the faction under Chavez. Chavez used the conflict between the other two factions as an opportunity to further his own agenda. Chavez wasn't an idiot in decision making. He knew that joining the war while the other two factions were still strong wasn't the ideal time to strike. Instead,he hoped to push southwards in North Africa where he could recruit more soldiers for his cause. As soon as the other two factions lost many men in their war, Chavez would swoop in for an easy victory. He would capture all of Roman Iberia with hardly any resistance. Chavez expected the road to North Africa to be smooth and easy but Servius has put an end to that expectation.

Servius knew that he needed to defeat Chavez if he hoped to get anywhere. Chavez wouldn't be satisfied until he captured Gibraltar and all of North Africa. With the wars that took place in North Africa, the people there needed some peace to rebuild their homes. Servius had confidence that the bishop and his new allies would restore North Africa to its former glory. He needed to find ways to defeat Chavez without their aid. He had eight thousand troops at his disposal and one city that he could use as a base. When asked about the food situation in Gibraltar, Quintus answered that, having anticipated the battles to come, food supplies were stored over many years and there was ample supply for the inhabitants and the soldiers led by Servius. With the food situation being very ideal, Servius asked his friend where he should strike first. All the territory north of Gibraltar belonged to Chavez and it wouldn't be a good idea to venture in without a plan. They didn't need an ambush to severely weaken their ability to defend against the Iberians. Quintus said he sent scouts to the north the night before following the victory over Chavez and that he needed them to return before he can make any decisions. At that point, it was lunch time and the two men headed to the dining room where Quintus' family was eating. The two men had their meals outdoors and left for the barracks soon after.

Servius, during lunch, explained that he wanted to meet with his officers. They were going to head into battle and he wanted to know the mindset of his men. Like himself, many of these men were very far from home. Servius wouldn't be surprised if some men had enough of the fighting and wanted to go home. He wouldn't stop them because he, too, thought about home more often now. Servius never had a chance to start a family in Hormuz and he was, after leaving Hormuz, content about his decision. He couldn't bear leaving his family for such a long time without knowing when he could meet them again. Of course, Servius still missed his home very much. He missed the streets he walked, the marketplace he passed everyday and its inhabitants he saw. Servius had his fill of adventure and got more than he bargained for. He saw the hardships faced by many, tens of thousands innocent lives lost in conflicts with little gain and loss of many close friends. At the barracks, Servius realized that his men, like him, knew one fact. Their home wasn't safe until they accomplished their goal of unifying Rome under a single leader. Returning home without accomplishing that goal was no different than returning as a coward and failure. Servius and his men were set out on a mission that must be accomplished for every Roman to have a place they can call home. To fail could result in one's own home destroyed in the near future. Failure was, to put it simply, not an option.
 

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Chapter 142 (Iberian Expeditionary Force [part 2])
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Few days later, the scouts sent out by Quintus returned with valuable intelligence on the enemy. The most important intel was the exact location of Chavez. Chavez, following his defeat, has retreated to Málaga where he was waiting for reinforcements to arrive. Chavez was definitely surprised by the Roman troops outside the city and, to be safe, he requested reinforcements so he could overwhelm his enemy. Málaga was a fairly well fortified city which would serve the purpose of holding out until reinforcements arrived. According to the scouts, the locals in Málaga weren't too content with Chavez occupying their city and taking what pleased him. The discontent amongst the local, to Servius, appeared to be an edge he needed to defeat the army at Chavez's disposal. Once the reinforcements arrived, the attempt of taking down Chavez would be a lot tougher. Servius and Quintus chatted about their best approached and they decided a direct assault from the front with men inciting revolts within the city was the best approach. While Servius went to the barrack to gather his men, Quintus sent a small group of men to begin their journey to Málaga immediately so they can infiltrate the city. It took many days before Servius and his men were ready for the journey. They not only needed to plan out supply routes but they also needed to be familiar with the terrain of the region. Once everything was set, Servius and his men began setting out for Málaga. Ideally, the battle at Málaga would result in the capture of Chavez. However, a victory would, nonetheless, be a huge blow to Chavez and possibly weaken his control over his land.

Servius' forces took a week to arrive at Málaga and Chavez was already notified of their presence the day before. Chavez didn't think his enemy was foolish enough to attack him but he welcomed the assault. He believed his walls were strong and his enemy would only suffer heavy casualties which benefited him greatly. In addition, Chavez felt that, as long as he held out until reinforcements arrived, his opposition to North Africa would soon be no more. On the gatehouse, Chavez taunted Servius and ordered his men to prepare for the battle to come. While the warlord's forces outnumber the Romans, the defeat at Gibraltar has lowered the confidence of the Iberian soldiers. Previous, the Iberian soldiers thought they were invincible with one victory after another. At Gibraltar, they believed victory was almost at hand until the Romans suddenly attacked and sent them packing. At first, they welcomed a challenge of facing a more formidable enemy. They soon learned that the Romans outclassed them and fighting them would only result in defeat. Therefore, Chavez and only a few of his men were confident they could hold out against the Romans. However, the Iberian soldiers still feared Chavez greatly and preferred to die in battle than to face his wrath if they were caught retreating or betraying him. When the news of Servius' forces were closing in, the Iberians chose to continue the fight against the Romans.

Servius ordered his men to encircle the city before launching an attack on the south wall. Málaga wasn't a metropolis but the size of the city was still quite large. The walls were well maintained and the Romans had no siege weapons except for ladders which they will use to scale the walls. Servius didn't order his men to charge immediately as he wanted to limit the losses on his side. He knew that Quintus' men were already inside the city but he didn't know the exact situation. Therefore, he ordered a complete encirclement around the city to prevent Chavez from escaping while he waited for someone from within to contact him. It took another two days but the wait was well worth it. One of Quintus' men managed to sneak out undetected and met with Servius. The locals were discontent enough to take up arms against Chavez but they lacked the numbers to do so. Upon hearing the arrival of Servius' forces, the locals quickly gathered men and arms to fight for their freedom. Quintus' men agreed that they will strike once Servius launched an attack. While the Romans were charging forward, the locals would cause disruption in the rear and distract the Iberian soldiers on the walls. That way, the Romans can scale the walls unopposed and the men under Chavez would be defeated.

Servius agreed to the plan and told the representative to return back inside the city. He then briefed his officers on the situation and ordered his men to prepare an assault on the south gate. Chavez was still taunting the Romans as he took the encirclement as indecisiveness. Early next morning, the Romans began their attack with Roman infantry charging at the walls with ladders. The defenders were preparing their bows and arrows which they hoped could halt the charge of the Romans. Just as the Romans were charging, fires began to spread inside the city behind the walls. Chavez ordered a few of his men to investigate the fire which, to him, appeared to be suspicious. His men returned with news that a few kids accidentally lit the huts on fire and locals were busy putting the fire out. Chavez was annoyed but he decided to focus on the charging Romans. A short while later, Chavez heard screams of his men on the walls. He turned his head to see armed men attacking his soldiers. The armed men were causing a disruption amongst his men and Chavez knew he needed to put a stop to them. He quickly gather his personal guard to deal with the rebels who appeared to be in small numbers. The rebels, seeing Chavez coming personally, retreated down the stairs and escaped into the city. Chavez ordered a small detachment to chase after the rebels but the rebels were the least of his problems.

While their enemies were distracted, the Romans used their makeshift ladders to quickly scale the wall. By the time the defenders reacted, it was already too late as the Romans were pouring in onto the walls. In the narrow space, the Roman formation made the Romans exceptionally dangerous. The Iberian soldiers tried to attack their enemy but they were cut down whenever they got too close. Chavez realized that his enemy was making their way to the gatehouse so the main Roman army could enter unopposed. The warlord immediately ordered his main force to guard the gatehouse at all costs. Iberian soldiers poured into the gatehouse where they fought the Romans like their life depended on it. However, the Romans continued scaling the walls with the ladders and they soon controlled the entire south wall by overwhelming the defenders. Chavez knew that it was over and decided to escape to save his own skin. With his closest officers, Chavez made his way to a church where a secret underground passage was dug out for this very situation. They made it out of the city and made their way to meet with the reinforcements. Chavez saw the Romans as a thorn by his side and vowed to destroy them once he gathered his forces for a final assault. Until then, he knew he needed to be careful or the Romans just might get him first.

The Iberian soldiers eventually routed and the Romans had control of the walls. All the city gates were opened and more Romans began pouring in. The locals acted as guides as they led the Roman soldiers down the streets towards the palace at the center of the city. Little did the locals and Romans know, Chavez has already escaped with a few of his officers through an underground passageway. Luckily, the rest of Chavez's men were either killed or captured. Servius gave his captives an option to join him, be ordinary citizens or die. All of the captives had enough of Chavez who abandoned them when he was needed the most. They saw the chance to fight under Servius was the opportunity they needed to save their homes from Chavez's tyranny. By the end of that day, Servius' army tripled with the Iberian captives and locals all joining his cause. While the victory was decisive, Servius knew that, as long Chavez was still alive, he would continue posing a huge problem. There was little doubt he would meet with his reinforcements and they would march to Málaga to retake the city. Knowing the enemy would need time before they can prepare their siege, Servius made sure to make the proper preparations for the upcoming siege. Meanwhile, a messenger was sent to Gibraltar to update Quintus on the situation of the attack and future plans. Servius ordered his men to rest early following the victory as they had a lot of work to do. The new recruits needed training and, with a upcoming battle approaching so quickly, they needed all the training they can get.

 

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Chapter 143 (Iberian Expeditionary Force [part 3])


Servius and his officers had a lot of work ahead of them. The sixteen thousand new recruits that joined the Romans were eager to do battle and, with Chavez's reinforcements in the vicinity, they were needed to hold the city. First, Servius must build up an infantry core with his new recruits. Servius knew the army he brought with him to Iberia had its weakness with its lack of skirmishers. In order to take on the enemy, his men must get into melee range which could result in relatively high casualties. To fight against enemy skirmishers, the Romans would need their own skirmishers. Thus, Servius wanted to first build up a few missile infantry units. Bows and slings were acquired and many of the new recruits were already familiar with those weapons. Because the defenders were defeated so quickly, arrows were in abundance and each archer were given a generous batch of ammunition. As for slingers, the local terrain provided an ample supply of rocks for them to use as ammunition. In addition to the rocks, Servius learned that there were plenty of resources available nearby that could be made into javelins. Recruits that wanted to be skirmishers but weren't given a bow or sling were to learn how to make their own javelins and use the javelins in actual battle.

With the missile infantry assembled, the remainder recruits, making up the bulk of the total recruits, would serve on the front lines. Servius' army lacked the weapons and armors needed to turn the recruits into heavy infantry like those that have been serving Servius. Instead, the Romans must make do with what was available to them. Many swords and spears were acquired from looting the dead and each recruit were given one of the two weapons. To Servius' surprise, most of the swords and spears that were acquired were in terrible condition. Some of the swords were so dull that they served more like a mace than a cutting weapon. As for the spears, there were many instances where the points simply fall off when the person tries to thrust it forward. Luckily for the Romans, there were a few soldiers with precious blacksmithing or poleturning experience. Servius immediately ordered those men to repair whatever weapon they could and, with the resources available to them, make new ones so every new recruit had one reliable weapon. For those who were fortunate, they got a shield as well. The round shields were made of wood and provided some protection to its user. While these shields were pitiful compared to the shields carried by the Romans, anyone who had one was more than content with his lucky find. On the topic of armor, there were hardly any available. With the iron used to make weapons, there weren't enough to make armor which meant the soldiers often entered battle with only clothes on their back. The lack of armor, however, did have an advantage for the new recruits. The armor Romans wore slowed them down and reduced their maneuverability. The Iberian soldiers would serve an important purpose in battle if their flexibility and speed can be fully utilized.

There were, however, some problems that plagued the expanded army. First, many of the new recruits, including those that surrendered, lacked proper training and were ineffective in actual battle. Instilling discipline and training into these men took time which Servius didn't have the luxury of. Servius has seen, first hand, how quickly the Iberian soldiers routed in their engagement outside Gibraltar. Servius wanted the Iberian soldiers to cover the flank of his men but, if they simply collapsed soon after the fight began, his men would be in a perilous position. Secondly, there weren't enough skirmishers under Servius' command to join the main army in its march. Skirmishers only made up a fraction of all the men that joined because the Romans lacked the weapons. The skirmishers were only large enough in numbers to defend the city and taking any away meant the city would be more vulnerable to a counterattack. While the safety of the city was ensured, Servius still haven't solved the problem of lacking skirmishers in his ranks. The third problem was the most troublesome to deal with. When Chavez ran away, he left behind many horses. The horses were numerous enough for Servius to create a couple of cavalry units. The problem was that hardly any Iberian men could ride a horse and, for those that could, even they struggled to stay on. Many soldiers that left North Africa with Servius didn't even have prior exposure to horses which only made the situation worse. Servius immediately ordered his officers to put notice up all over the city in hopes of finding someone who can train up an few adequate cavalry units that could prove vital in upcoming battles.

A month since the victory in Málaga, Servius learned an enemy force was bearing down on their city. The scouts reported that the men had flags that stated they serve Chavez. Servius knew that Chavez would return soon but he was surprised at how quickly he managed to gather his men. He ordered his new recruits to man the walls while he, with his officers, waited atop the gatehouse for the arrival of their enemy. The other army marched towards the city in formation which scared Servius slightly. He didn't know that there was such a disciplined army in Iberia and, had the enemy infantry been heavily armored, he would have believed they were Roman soldiers armed similarly as his own men. The army suddenly halted and Servius saw a messenger riding towards them with a roundish object in his hands. When the messenger got closer, Servius realized that the messenger was holding a head and wondered who it was. When the messenger got within shouting distance, he held up the head and claimed that he has the head of Chavez. He stated that his general wished to meet the general from North Africa and to strike a deal. Servius ordered a few locals to exit the city to confirm the identity of the head and they returned bearing good news. Servius sent an invitation to the general to join him in the city and, to his surprise, the general only brought a dozen or so men with him into the city while his main army waited outside. Servius knew, from that moment on, the general was going to be a valuable ally.

The general followed Servius to the barracks where they sat down in a large comfortable room. The general introduced himself as Casta Posadas who came from central Iberia. Casta's father once fought in the Roman legion and was respected by many. Since a very young age, Casta was trained by officers serving his father and mastered his lessons quickly. When the rebellions took place, Casta's father stayed behind to hold off the rebels while the royal family in Iberia fled the peninsula for their safety. Servius asked Casta if he knew a man called Agrippa Silius Lurio and Casta was shocked that someone knew Lurio. He asked Servius what has happened to Lurio and Casta listened intently as Servius explained his journey in North Africa with Lurio and his friend's death. Casta took an opportunity to mourn for someone he considered as his idol before he continued talking about his past. Casta's father was betrayed by a few of his officers who foolishly believed that, by killing the man, they would be spared by the rebels. They were cut down mercilessly and Casta was forced to flee with a few of his friends. It was fate that brought Casta to Chavez and Casta believed the man had the potential to unify Iberia and bring back stability to the region. At first, Chavez appeared to be doing just that. He was well liked and Casta, with many key victories under his belt, was quickly promoted to general. However, the many victories soon revealed the greed and ambitions of Chavez who began to develop a cruel reputation in Iberia. Casta hated himself for aiding such a monster but he had no idea how to make up for his mistakes.

The opportunity came when the news of Chavez's defeat reached Casta. Chavez requested reinforcements and Casta chose to answer the call hoping to see the new faction that defended Gibraltar. Merely two week since departing from his city, Casta learned that Chavez has lost Málaga but he managed to escape in one piece. The swiftness at which the new faction defeated Chavez was astonishing and Casta believed he finally met his equal. On his way to Málaga, Casta met with a few people that have just left Málaga. When he asked them why they left the city, they claimed that they wanted to spread the news of a man called Servius. Since the capture of Málaga, not a single civilian was harmed and order was restored in the city. Many young men were eager to join Servius in his goal of unifying Iberia because they saw him defeating someone like Chavez. Casta was thrilled to learn Servius was a just man with a vision and he was given a chance to make up for his mistake. It would appear that God gave him another chance at redemption by crossing his path with Chavez. Chavez has been escaping for awhile and he was relieved to see Casta's army. He and his officers ordered Casta to escort them to the nearest city before marching to Málaga to retake the city. Casta knew that he couldn't have a better chance and he decisively used the opportunity to cut down Chavez and his officers. He knew the head of Chavez would serve as an excellent gift to Servius once they met.
 

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Chapter 144 (Iberian Expeditionary Force [part 4])
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Casta rested in Málaga for a single day before he parted the city. The two men discussed through the night and many of Servius' officers participated as well. They knew that time was racing against them and Casta needed to move quickly. They have agreed upon letting Casta head to Granada where some powerful men were still loyal to him. He hoped to convince them to swear their loyalty to Servius which would open the path to other cities within Chavez's former territory. There were still some distrust between the Iberian people and the soldiers from North Africa. To the Iberian people, Servius and his men appear as invaders and their presence weren't welcomed with all the lies fed by Chavez. Casta had the difficult task in bridging the two sides so that bloodshed can be avoided most of the time. Casta knew that he needed to work fast in gathering the support of the people. The news of Chavez's death would travel fast and there were many ambitious people anxious in filling in the vacuum and announce themselves as the new warlord. Casta must move swiftly so he can unify most, if not all, of Chavez's territories under Servius' name before trouble begin to arise. The powerful men in Granada may just be the men he needed by his side as their influence spread across much of Chavez's territory. These men, unlike Chavez, were willing to put the people first and Casta felt that they would agree to aid him and Servius once he spoke with them. Servius saw Casta's departure personally and they vowed to meet each other again once all of Chavez's territory was pacified. Casta led his troops in the northeast direction straight for Granada.

Servius wasn't idle in Málaga either. He and his officers worked quickly to train the new recruits so they could be sure the city was in safe hands. However, Servius also knew that he must take action quickly as well. From his discussion with Casta, he learned a troublesome situation directly east of his city. The city of Almería was viewed by many as a city under Chavez's control. From the intelligence gathered by Casta's men, the ruling class of the city were actually self-governed and, to get on the good side of Chavez, they bribed him. Casta worried that the ruling class in Almería might, after receiving the news of Chavez's death, decide to grab power for themselves. These men had to be wealthy if they could satisfy the appetite of Chavez and they were one of the few Iberian factions to have enough ships to form a small navy. If they were allowed to do as they pleased, Casta feared that they may just gain control of many coastal cities and be a naval power in the region. Without a strong navy of their own, it was unlikely that this group could be uprooted. When asked how to deal with them, Casta advised Servius to use military force. The ruling class of Almería was rumored to be cruel men that used fear and mercenaries to keep their citizens in check. The world would be a better place without them. However, the battle against them wouldn't be easy. Many mercenaries were willing to fight for them because they paid so well compared to other factions. Defeating the ruling class in Almería would definitely be a tough task.

While training the recruits, Servius and his officers had many meeting discussing about how they would approach the problem in Almería. The ruling class in Almería cannot be left alone and victory could really aid Servius' cause. If the intelligence gathered were true, the ducats that could be acquired from the victory could help fund many projects that would help rebuild Iberia. In addition, mercenaries could be hired to further bolster the strength of the Romans. When comparing the pros and cons, it was becoming obvious that attacking the enemy would be a wise thing to do. The question was what approach they would take. They could try to sneak some men into the city to create uprising but they feared the ruling class in Almería would be too cautious to allow that to happen when they learned about Chavez's death. Attacking from the front could result in heavy casualties and the Romans lacked the ships to launch an attack from both sides. There were no options except for a direct assault from the front and Servius was willing to accept losses if the bloodshed could cut down deaths in the future. He planned out the assault in two days and, two weeks after Casta left the city, Servius led an eight thousand army towards Almería. Five thousand men consisted of the soldiers from North Africa while the other three thousands were the new recruits that proved themselves to be ready for battle. A few officers were left behind to continue training the recruits and Servius made sure that the defenses were strong enough to hold against any enemy daring to assault the city. Once the preparations were all made, Servius was ready to move forward towards Almería where a powerful enemy was most likely awaiting his arrival.

The trip towards Almería was smooth due to the good weather and relatively well maintained roads. Along the way, Servius was greeted by the local inhabitants who have apparently heard of the accomplishments of Servius. Many young men were eager to join the Romans in their march to Almería but Servius managed to convince them to head to Málaga where they can be training with the other recruits. The Romans pressed on and they made quick progress. There hadn't been any enemies along the way and Servius concluded that the ruling class in Almería decided to keep the engagement outside their city where they had the advantage of defending. When the Romans were a day from Almería, Servius encountered a army standing in their path. With a quick estimation, he believed that the enemy must have at least five thousand men. These men seemed like mercenaries and he ordered his men to prepare for battle. Oddly enough, an emissary was sent by the mercenary army and he said the leader of the mercenaries wished to speak with Servius. Servius granted him audience and the leader of the mercenary army entered the Roman camp alone. The mercenary leader entered Servius' tent and introduced himself as Jose. He stated that he wished to form an alliance with Servius. When asked why he wanted an alliance, he admitted that he wanted alliance partly for revenge. Servius told Jose to be seated so he can tell his story in his goal as an avenger.

Jose had a simple life as a farmer. He lived in a nice village and has a wonderful family. When the rebellions took place, the peace within the village was shattered and many people died. Amongst the dead were Jose's wife and his children. Jose hated himself for his weakness when it came to defending his family. On one occasion, a mercenary army was passing through and the mercenary leader offered him a chance to join him. Jose didn't have a clue of what he was going to do next and the mercenary leader offered him a chance to make something out of his life. He accepted without any hesitance and he soon got the chance to see rest of Iberia. The adventure wasn't as great as he first thought it would be. There were many destroyed cities and towns with corpses everywhere. Despite the gloomy atmosphere, the mercenary leader was able to give him strength as he treated Jose as a son. A bond was formed between them with each passing day and, with many achievements in battle, Jose also earned the respects of the other officers. Their adventure across Iberia soon earned them a reputation of the most powerful mercenary army in Iberia. They soon received an offer from the ruling class in Almería and, given how generous the offer was, the offer was accepted. At first, the mercenary army felt that Almería was a nice place to settle down. Soon, they discovered the terrible secrets in the city and the mercenary leader tried to cancel the contract so they can leave the terrible place. The ruling class appeared to be understanding and offered to arrange a farewell banquet for the mercenary leader. Jose was ill that day so he didn't go. He later learned that the mercenary leader, along with his two trusted officers, were all brutally slaughtered. Jose vowed to avenge the man who was like a father to him. He managed to get the gates open long enough to get his men out. He then sought out the man rumored to be the Roman General.

Jose admitted to Servius that he wanted payback partly for revenge. He also explained that he had the dream of a unified Iberia. His family was living a wonderful life when there was order. When the order was shattered, their simple lives were thrown in chaos. Jose knew that he wasn't the only one to have suffered from the rebellions. During his adventures across Iberia, Jose saw many families destroyed or separated. The mercenary leader spoke to Jose about working for a just leader who is capable of reunifying all of Rome. He explained that a unified Iberia isn't enough if other parts of Rome were still in tatters. If Rome remained weak, other nations would see the opportunity to strike and the pains and sufferings would return. The Langobards might not have any ambitious at the moment but a change of leadership may just change that. He believed that Rome will rise from the ashes one day and he wished to be a part of it. Jose was saddened by the old man's death but he felt he could at least make the man's last wish come true. Jose was trained by the mercenary leader and, if he played a part in restoring Rome to its former glory, the old man also has credit. Servius saw the fire in Jose's eyes and told him to lead the way. The mercenary army, along with the Romans, would capture Almería and eliminate the ruling class that has brought about pain and suffering to the region. They would then proceed to liberating the rest of Iberia from cruel oppression until the people were free to prosper in the place they called home.
 

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Chapter 145 (Iberian Expeditionary Force [part 5])

Jose's mercenary army led the way as both armies approached the city of Almería where the other mercenaries hired by the city officials stood atop the city walls. From Jose's best estimates, there were at least fifty thousand mercenaries within the city and many of them were indeed the best mercenaries around. However, Jose felt the absence of a unified army was the greatest weakness of the city defenses. While the defenders were many, they were under different leadership which made a coordinated defense almost impossible. A poorly coordinate effort by the defenders makes it possible for the attackers to concentrate their attacks while the defenders struggle to react. Jose felt that, with a few probing, they could find a weak spot where they can concentrate all their men in creating a breach. With a breach created, the mercenaries would be forced to rush to plug up the bleach. With all the defenders forced through a narrow choke point, their number advantage would be greatly diminished. In addition, the Romans, with their tight formations and discipline, meant they can excel in that type of fighting. Servius agreed to let Jose lead the charge so that the Romans suffer minimum casualties before arriving at the breach. The Romans would then lead the spearhead against the hordes of mercenaries until they could break through the enemy defenses. As soon as an opening was created, the mercenary army under Jose would charge through the streets and aim to capture the city officials before they can rally more of their men. The success for the attackers relied heavily on their speed and a little luck.

Servius and Jose didn't go in detail about their plan because they felt it was unnecessary. Once the battles take place, they will need to react to unexpected situations. While the Romans were marching towards the city, Jose already sent many scouting parties around the city to find a weak spot in the defenses. As soon as the Romans were ready, Jose's army marched out to the southern wall before they charged at the defenders. The mercenary cavalry led the way and they let loose many volleys of arrows that found their mark on the defenders. Many of the enemy skirmishers were killed in the many volleys and those that survived were hesitant to move to the open where they can shoot back. The mercenary infantry used the opportunity to close the distance and arrived beneath the walls with several makeshift ladders. The ladders were secured to the walls and the mercenary infantry began their ascent to the top. The few skirmishers that dared to shoot at the scaling men were quickly forced back by Jose's horse skirmishers. However, the tough battle has only just begun when the mercenary infantry scaled the walls. Faced with seemingly endless waves of defenders, they were forced fight for every inch of the walls so more of their men can scale the walls. The mercenary infantry was making slow but steady progress and Jose signaled to Servius to begin their march for the ladders. The mercenary infantry can hold for awhile but the Romans were needed to successfully capture the southern wall and gatehouse. To cover the distance quickly, Servius ordered his men to jog their way to the wall. Despite making his men more tired, Servius felt that they needed to capture their objective which would make their lives easier. Halfway across the field to the wall, the Romans suddenly found themselves in trouble with a large enemy force were bearing down on them. Servius realized that the defenders were waiting for his men to get into the open and ordered his men to form a tight box. A battle to decide the outcome would be taking place outside the wall and Servius intended on winning it.

Eight legions formed the outer box while the remaining two legions and Iberian soldiers stayed in the center. The Iberian soldiers were given some skirmishing training and their goal was to use slings or javelins to weaken the enemy ranks whenever it was possible. The eight legions were positioned so there wasn't a single opening between them. If the enemy hoped to get to the center, they would have to fight their way through the entire legion. The enemy approached with their skirmishers leading the way. Knowing that the Romans wouldn't charge out and overextend themselves, the skirmishers were able to open fire with the belief they had impunity. To their surprise, they was fired upon by men in the center of the Roman box and the less disciplined mercenaries routed. For those that stayed and focused on the heavy Roman infantry, their projectiles were very pitiful as few, if any, managed to make a dent on the Roman armor. An hour of skirmishing has resulted with many mercenary skirmishers dead and a couple of injured Romans. The mercenary armies were disappointed to see their skirmishers not making a single dent on their enemy but they still prepared to charge at their enemy. The first wave of infantry was sent out against the Romans and, despite having a strong charge, they barely managed to push back the Romans. Against the lightly armored infantry, the Roman infantry was hacking down their enemy with ease. It didn't take long before the first wave was cleared but, with numbers on their side, the mercenary armies sent waves after waves of infantry hoping to eventually break down the Romans through exhaustion.

Before launching the attack, Servius discussed with his officers about the many challenges they face in Iberia. One topic of discussion was about facing an overwhelming but lightly armored armies. If the Romans were exhausted from fighting, they would eventually be ineffective in battle and that would result in many casualties. It wouldn't be a surprise if the enemy can field a much large army and sending waves after waves of infantry to wear down the Romans. To counter that, the Romans must devise a plan to keep their men as fresh as possible for as long as possible. Thus, each legion was organized so the first few ranks of men were to engage first while the last few ranks stayed in a passive stance to preserve their energy. Once the first few ranks were approaching their exhaustive state, they would move back in orderly fashion while the rested ranks moved forward to engage the enemy. While the men could never be as fresh as they were at the start of the battle, they would at least have a breather and, with the rest, can fight for an extended period of time. The idea was discussed and training has taken place. The battle against the mercenary armies would be the first battlefield where the tactic would take place. The first few ranks of Romans were slowly getting fatigued and, upon the order of Servius, they moved back while maintaining a rough formation while the Romans behind them took their place. The change took no longer than ten seconds and the Romans were ready for more waves of enemy. The mercenary infantry waves still kept coming but the eight Roman legions have yet to collapse under pressure. The bodies of the Iberian soldiers were piling up while the Romans only suffered a few casualties.

The hours passed by and many waves of mercenary soldiers were sent to their death. To the surprise of the mercenary leaders, the Roman box remained strong while Jose's army has captured all of the south wall along with the gatehouse. Jose was debating whether to aid his ally but his officers were able to convince him to go after the city officials. By capturing the head, the rest will be defeated. Jose prayed for the Romans before directing his men to march towards the city center where the city officials were housed. Meanwhile, the Roman strategy of changing ranks was working very well as the men still had the strength to continue resisting. Despite many urges from Servius, the officers of the eight legions refused to allow the remaining two legions take part of battle. The argument was that the two regions and Iberia soldiers were needed if the other eight legions fall under pressure. The waves of mercenary soldiers continued coming at the Romans but the Romans began to realize that the waves were smaller now. It soon became obvious that the waves were taking a toll and, with the huge casualties, each mercenary armies were less reluctant to send in more men. Still, the Romans still fought with their ferocity and the mercenary soldiers still couldn't break through the box. Surprisingly, some of the mercenary armies were leaving the battlefield as waves were sent towards the Romans. Those armies, vastly depleted of their men and will to fight, began to abandon the battlefield to head elsewhere. It didn't take long before all the mercenary armies abandoned the battlefield all together. The Romans, being so focused after so many hours of fighting, didn't realize that their enemy was gone until much later. The Romans made their stand and they have become victorious.

Jose's army also found victory within the city. They captured the city officials who thought they would be safe from the attack with their mercenary armies. These officials were brought before Servius and, along the way, the citizens of Almería came out onto the streets and threw rocks at the city officials. By the time the prisoners were brought before Servius, a few of them were bleeding from getting hit by rocks. Servius, seeing the citizens of Almería having such hatred for these men, ordered their execution outside the city. The citizens, waiting atop the city walls, cheered while the execution was taking place. They then waited along the main street celebrating the arrival of their liberators. Jose and Servius both entered the city together and they were quickly overwhelmed by the locals who have suffered so much under the previous governing body. A feast was ordered that day in the city and nearly everyone was invited. Only Servius and the two legions that didn't participate in the battle stood on the walls defending against possible attacks. The attack from those armies never came but Servius ordered his men to be vigilant. While waiting atop a gatehouse, Servius wondered about the progress of Casta who should have arrived in Granada already. Servius wanted to make all the necessary preparations in Almería before he leads his Roman soldiers to Granada to meet up with Casta. At Granada, they would plan their next step in the unification of Iberia.
 

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Chapter 146 (Iberian Expeditionary Force [part 6])
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While restoring the order within the city, Servius was busy going through the vaults formerly owned by the city officials. The vaults were hidden underground and, had the servants not leak the whereabouts, Servius and Jose probably wouldn't even know the vaults existed. Never have Servius seen so much wealth and food in a single location. The city officials had enough food to feed the city population very well for at least a few years. Their wealth was enough to hire a few thousand mercenary armies which would make the city officials very dangerous. It was quite puzzling for Servius that the city officials, with so much wealth, didn't use it to to take control of Iberia. There were few, if any, factions that can stand against such a force. Jose argued that controlling a region was a difficult task which these city officials were wise not to take on. With so many mercenary armies under their command, there was little to no chance they could be used effectively in battle. The city officials had enough ducats to hold off many sieges and they have done that until they met Servius in battle. After some discussion, Servius decided to divide a good portion of the wealth to benefit the local inhabitants. First, the civilians were each given a generous sum of ducats so they can rebuilt their lives under new leadership. There were good reasons to believe that majority of the wealth was acquired by unfair taxes of the civilians. Secondly, ducats were dedicated in rebuilding schools and infrastructure that were abandoned during the reign of the former city officials. To ensure a better future for Rome, Servius knew they needed educated people for administration across the nation. The infrastructure would encourage trade that once flourished in Iberia. The trade routes would bring in wealth that would improve the lives of the locals while, with better roads, soldiers can move easier in the event of an emergency.

With the remainder of the wealth which was still very abundant, Servius began the series of major constructions to strengthen his position in Southern Iberia. First, the Romans needed construction of a relatively large navy at the port. There were already a couple of galleys built previously by the city officials and, luckily for the Romans, those ships were unscathed by the attack. The guards watching the ships were long gone and the Romans got a couple of well built ships for free. Servius knew that his men needed a navy large enough to move men and supplies quickly across the Mediterranean Sea. To better coordinate the many parties surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, quick transports would be needed to get messengers around swiftly to ensure news travel quickly. It has been awhile since he last spoke with the bishop and the abundant supply of food grown in Northern Africa was in high demands in southern Iberia following so many battles. Servius needed food to not only feed the civilians but he needed enough to ensure that his expansion northwards wouldn't grind to a halt due to food shortages. Therefore, the navy would not only serve to build a communication network but also transport the necessary goods to improve oversea trades. Construction of a navy took time and Servius decided on a few other sets of projects. One project was to build a militia in all the cities he liberated from tyrants. To unify Iberia required massive manpower and a militia could free up the manpower needed to accomplish the task. The other projects involved rebuilding towns and infrastructure across the coast to ensure a strong backbone for the Romans who would no doubt meet heavy resistance in the north. If their rear was safe, they could focus solely on fighting the enemies in front of them.

A few weeks following the victory at Almería, Servius received word from Casta. He was thrilled to learn that his friend's journey to Granada was a complete success. The powerful people Casta spoke of listened to his arguments and were willing to back Servius in reunifying Iberia under Rome. There were some resistance and bloodshed, unfortunately, did take place within the city. The conflict lasted a few days and, once the conflict was over, all resistance were removed and Casta's friends were in complete control of Granada. The people of Granada have suffered under Chavez's rule and these men hoped that Servius could treat them with fairness and respect. Meanwhile, these men, as the new leaders, finally had the power to distribute more food among the locals who were starving. Like many other cities and towns under Chavez's control, a large portion of food was locked away so they can be used by the Chavez's army should it be necessary. The civilians were forced to ration if they hope to not run out of food and, as a result, many died from starvation. Despite the stored food, the massive population of Granada has stretched the food supplies thin. The new leaders requested that Servius send them supplies of food to feed the civilians. They warned that, should the food not arrive, there was a good chance of riots and they might lose control of the situation. Servius saw the urgency of the situation and decided that he desperately needed to get some food from North Africa. With the few ships at his disposal, Servius left with half of his Roman soldiers for North Africa while he left the remainder with Jose taking care of business in Almería.

Servius learned more about Casta's success on the ship. Apparently, Casta made a lot of friends when he traveled with Chavez and those friends became powerful men with influences of cities. One of the cities was Seville and Casta, as soon as he finished his business in Granada, received a message from his friends there. The city of Seville was an important city due to its strategic importance in serving as a buffer against territory controlled by Vasco. When Chavez died, there was a good chance that the city officials would swear their loyalties to Vasco in return for protection had Casta's friends didn't intervene. Luckily, Casta's friends weren't too fond of Vasco and, upon hearing the rumors about a Roman general and his association with Casta, immediately acted on opening a diplomatic route in hopes to negotiating something. Unlike Granada, the city was well supplied and doesn't need supplies or men anytime soon. Casta wrote that Servius could trust the city to his friends and that he should focus on getting supplies to Granada. Should Granada collapse, Seville would be in a very dangerous situation with nearly all of its sides exposed to possible attacks. There were already rumors about an army sent by Vasco to capture Seville which he considered to be defended by a low discipline and disorganized army. Casta knew his friends will need help eventually which explained why Servius was racing against time. However, Granada and Seville weren't the only cities that would be a challenge for Servius when he learned of another development in a city north of Málaga.

The city of Córboda, a relatively small city at the time, also joined Servius' cause in the fight to reunify Iberia. There were a few problems with the city that needed Casta's immediate attention. First, the locals had to fend off many mercenary armies that were passing by. These mercenary armies once served Chavez but, without someone paying them, decided to venture about and pillage to get supplies and ducats. The mercenary armies could be a threat but, when they started suffering some casualties, usually abandoned their attack. The biggest threat the people of Córboda faced were some of Chavez's former officers. These men built up their own army and hoped to reunify Chavez's territory. Some of these officers were encountering many successes and they were converging on the city of Córboda. The locals knew that they stood no chance against a determined attacker and requested aid from Casta. Out of all the factions, the locals felt Servius was the most trustworthy despite him being a foreigner of Iberia. In the letter, Casta told Servius that he was leading his forces to reinforce Córboda. They have a good chance of defending the city but, should Servius or his allies be nearby, any help would be welcomed. Servius, while longing to join his friend, restrained himself by choosing the action that served a bigger purpose. With enough supplies, his army and his allies can move easier while maintaining order over land under their control. In addition, Servius wondered about how the bishop was doing and how the people of North Africa were doing in rebuilding their homes and lives.

The small fleet carrying Servius and his men made good progress over the sea with the winds blowing in their direction. It didn't take long before Servius encountered some ships under the bishop's control. The representatives from both sides met and an explanation was given to the bishop's men. Due to extra caution, the bishop's men only allowed Servius and his ship to enter the port while the rest were expected to stay put. Servius agreed with the request and took a small detachment with him to the port. At the port, the bishop was waiting patiently and was surprised to see Servius exit the ship. He immediately ordered his people to prepare a feast while he tried to direct Servius to his studies where they can chat. Servius reluctantly declined the kind offer and quickly informed the bishop of the food situation in Iberia. The bishop listened intently and immediately ordered his men to start packing food and supplies before delivering them to the port. The bishop stated that they had a couple of huge harvests and the food surplus may just come in useful. After much arguing, the bishop managed to persuade Servius to join him for lunch while the supplies were loaded onto the ships. The two old friends discussed many topics and time flew by quickly. When the bishop's men reported that the loading was complete, the two friends bid farewell as they were separated once again to tackle the challenges ahead of them.
 

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Chapter 147 (Iberian Expeditionary Force [part 7])
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Servius set sailed for Almería and his ships reached the city with urgency. Jose has returned order to the city and Servius could lead all his forces out towards Granada while Jose was to govern the city. With ample of food and ducats in Almería, there was no need for Servius to leave any food for Jose. Instead, he packed all the food on horse carts and his army made its way towards Granada. With the food supplies, the Roman army was slowed down dramatically and it took the army triple the amount of time originally needed to reach Granada. When they arrived at Granada, the city officials welcomed them with open arms. A good portion of the food brought from North Africa was distributed in the city and, as a result, the civilians came to love this outsider. Some even went as far as calling Servius the new Roman Emperor. Unfortunately, it wasn't all good news when the Romans arrived in Granada. At Córboda, the battle has concluded with victory for the forces under Casta but the price for victory was high. Not only did many good men lose their lives in the final battle against Chavez's remnant forces but Casta has also fallen in battle. Servius was devastated by his friend's death and the people of Almería, touched by the Roman's feelings for an Iberian hero, saw Servius as the true hero to pull Iberia out of chaos and into the light. The civilians of the city spent an entire day remembering the brave men that wiped out Chavez's remaining forces and liberating the region.

The victory in Córboda had a much greater impact on the Romans than one first believed. With Chavez's officers dead or unaccounted for, the remainder of Chavez's former territory was without its leaders. The people stood up for themselves and set up temporary governments to restore order. The many rumors of Servius reached those people living in the north and the new leaders all sent their fastest horses to declare their loyalty to the Romans. The messages were pouring into Granada and Servius was severely touched by all of this. He wished that Casta could live to see the huge difference he made for Rome's future. Not only did he first liberated three cities and convinced the people to join Servius but his victory also brought the rest of Chavez's territory under Servius' control. Had the Iberian hero survived the battle, there would no doubt be a great celebration in Granada. After learning about his friend's death, Servius planned out a trip that would see him visit his friend's grave. However, that plan was cancelled following disturbing news from the west. A new enemy has arrived onto the scene and Servius was needed to push them back. While the conflict wasn't planned out the way he liked it, Servius knew a conflict between him and Vasco would happen eventually. With Chavez's territory soon to be under his control, Servius needed another great victory to convince more Iberian people that he would liberate them from the pains and suffering result from the collapse of Rome.

One of Vasco's generals was leading a large force towards Seville expect a decisive victory. Thinking that southern Iberia was in turmoil since the death of Chavez, Vasco felt that his opportunity to expand in the south has arrived. While he has never admitted openly, he always worried that Chavez would find an opportunity to backstab him. The war with Alonso has entered into stalemate with neither sides making any gains. The ruler of Vascone has been putting pressure on Vasco as well as they wanted a larger chunk of Iberia now that they realized that there was little hope of gaining all of Iberia. Vasco, feeling the pressure from above, wanted a quick, easy victory to raise the morale of his men while striking fear in his enemies. Thus, he came up with a plan to attack Seville. Capturing the city would open up many routes which Vasco's forces would utilize in further expansions in the south. The expansion would strengthen his forces while giving him a necessary edge in the stalemate in the north. Servius saw the potential problem of Vasco forces getting Seville and having open reign in the region. Southern Iberia has recently recovered from chaos and a few battles could disrupt the peace the locals needed desperately to rebuild their homes. Seville had multiple roads to Southern Iberian towns and cities which made it very valuable in its strategic value. Therefore, Servius felt that Seville cannot fall or all the hard work of him and his allies would be wasted. Willing to delay his visit to Casta's grave, the Roman general led his veteran forces towards Seville in response to the first conflict between the two factions.

Saying farewell to the people of Granada, the Roman forces approached Seville with forced march. It was important that the Romans arrived in Seville before the enemy or, at the very least, in time to reinforce the defenders. The problem was that there weren't any recent reports regarding the whereabouts of the enemy. For all he knew, the forces under Vasco might have already began their siege of Seville and the defenders were barely holding back the attacks. With experienced guides among them, the Romans made quick progress and Seville was soon within their sight. At first, Servius mistaken the fires within the city for evidence of the city being taken already. However, his scout later reported a more positive report. The city of Seville has been holding out against the enemy for two weeks and the defenders weren't giving in yet. Vasco's forces have resorted to using flaming projectiles to create fire within the city. They hoped the fire would strike fear in the defenders and force them to surrender. Servius was surprised that Vasco's forces didn't post any scouts nearby and their presence was still unknown to the enemy. Servius ordered his men to give a wide berth to the enemy while his scouts gathered more information. He wanted his men to split into a few groups and strike the enemy from the rear. If they succeed, they would suffer minimal losses while lifting the siege. Vasco's forces would be forced back and the city of Seville would be further reinforced. An important battle would take place and Servius wanted his tactic to be performed flawlessly.

The scouts soon returned with valuable information and the Roman army was split into four groups for each of the four main directions of the city. All four groups would remain in hiding until the signal was given. The groups would then charge and, with the enemy still surprised, hit them hard from the rear. The groups, with their own officers, were assigned and moved into position with swiftness. Vasco's men, too busy to realize that they were being encircled, weren't ready to see men charging at them, let alone men that were heavily armored. Most were stunned by the sight of heavily armed men in formation charging forward while shouting their battle cries. The attackers were losing men quickly and the confusion was soon spreading among the Iberian soldiers. Chaos would ensure as the Iberian soldiers no longer knew who was the ally and who was the enemy. While the Romans were cutting down their enemy, there were many internal fights among the Vasco's men and the casualties for the attacker was rising dramatically. Vasco's general, seeing the chaos in the ranks of his men, became a coward and ran with his most trusted officers. The departure of their leader has convinced the Iberian soldiers that the siege was lost. Those that could rout routed while those that could not chose to surrender instead. Like the attackers, the defenders were confused by the chaotic scene outside their walls. When they saw the heavily armed Romans known only in rumors, they cheered and opened the gates to welcome their heroes.

The Roman army entered Seville as heroes but Servius ordered his officers to be vigilant. They still had much work to do following the start of a new conflict with the faction under Vasco. The city walls, briefly observed by Servius on his way into the city, were damaged in the siege. The walls needed repairs and more men were needed on the walls for possible attacks. Scouts were sent out to check on the location of Vasco's forces while checking for sneak attack from other hidden enemies. The Roman general knew that he didn't have much time to work with and immediately sent out a medium sized force to return to Granada where they would deliver the food supplies to Seville. Entering the city had the Romans realize that the people of Seville were brave souls that struggled to fill their stomach. The siege has cost lives and the locals were trying their best to rebuild. Knowing that Vasco's forces may strike soon and more losses will ensue, Servius made a large gamble that shocked his officers. Instead of waiting in Seville until they get reinforced, Servius decided to take the battle to Vasco's men. Their first task would be tracking down the Vasco general and get information from him. They would then advance and begin their expansion into Vasco's territory. Vasco will unlikely see the attack coming and his reinforcements would arrive at the front lines too little too late.