Chapter Twenty Two - It’s good to be back
Territory of the Volcae – Late September 218BC
Manugas slid elegantly off his mount and thrust his spear pointquickly and efficiently into the throat of the wounded Gaul now at his feet.
He had been back with his general for a little under a month, and damn it, it had felt good to be back. No more pretending to be what he wasn’t, no more a Numidian gangster, but a scion of the house of Barca, a loyal servant to his general, a feared warrior, a leader of the finest light cavalry in Africa – Numidian of course.
Although a Carthaginian and a trained horseman and warrior of the Sacred Band of Astarte, Manugas could appreciate the Numidians for what they were, death upon horseback. No saddle or reins, just a stick to guide their beasts, tremendous horsemen all.
He could well remember the time his general, had asked him to leave the Scared Band and lead his mercenary horse for him. Manugas had been horrified; he had thought his general had meant to insult him. As time went by he had realised that his general had given him a gift, a gift that he deemed so precious that he could only trust it to a warrior of renown, and a man whose loyalty was beyond reproach, a man who spoke the language of the Numidians, and who could handle the tribesmen with a rod of iron.
His general had honoured him, his sponsor, the man who befriended him as a rough street urchin and made him gentleman enough to qualify for the Sacred Band. The man, no the great warrior who was more like an elder brother to him even though they were of a similar age, ‘Hannibal!’ yes he could shout the name out loud after months playing at spies. His voice roared out the name of his general as a challenge and a warning to their foes!
His men followed suit and bellowed the name of their General across the battlefield, the chant was picked up and carried on by the men scattered over the Volcae camp, nestled against the Rhone. All of the disparate army wielded as one deadly instrument of death by his general, Carthaginians, Libyans, Numidians, Gauls, Iberians and more, men divided by tongue, but united by a common thread, love for their general and hatred for Rome.
Even the elephants trumpeted their approval….the Volcae, these simple Gauls, had been nothing, soon Rome would be theirs.
Publius Cornelius Scipio had felt elated when his small reconnaissance force of Campanian cavalry had located Hannibal’s forces near the Rhone. The Carthaginians had crossed the river after defeating the local Gauls, though that defeat was of little account to the consul. He had however immediately marched his own legions towards the Carthaginians, even leaving behind his own personal baggage train on the fleet that had carried him from Pisa.
But now things had changed yet again. He was now in his marching tent, sat in his camp chair in the middle of the deserted Carthaginian camp. He had taken in the latest news, without any real surprise, the Carthaginian was like a shade, always moving before him; his scouts had just informed him that Hannibal’s men were at least three days march ahead of him heading along the eastern bank of the Rhone. His enemy had stolen a march on him yet again and where was he heading, he was heading for the Alps….the man must be insane!
He would not be able to catch him, so the consul would return to Italy, just in case the madman made it over the mountains, he couldn’t, could he? The consul would organize the northern defence just in case; maybe he could slap the Gauls down too, while he was at it.
Normally Manugas treated his men well, not out of love but of necessity, treat a man well and he will reward you with loyalty in most cases. But not this idiot! His stupidity had cost his general; the Numidian had been entrusted with leading a large patrol to scout the ground before Hannibal’s forces, but had run into a similar sized force of Romans and been routed.
If that was not shame enough, the same fool and his cowardly comrades had then led those same Romans back to the main camp. This had forced Hannibal to strike camp and force him to head towards the Alps. All for the sake of one cowardly warrior!
A Carthaginian officer had offered the use of an elephant for the occasion, but Manugas had had a better idea. First he had the man used as javelin practice by his cowardly comrades, Manugas had warned them not to miss, but to not kill him either, making it clear that if any man disobeyed him he would be joining the disgraced patrol leader.
He had plans for the death of the man, something that the others would remember, something to inspire them, but make them fear Manugas more than any Roman. For the present the man looked like a hedgehog, but he was still alive, Manugas ordered his men to cut him down from the stake he was tied to. ‘Bring him over here, are the stallions ready?’ Manugas had a determined look in his eye, he would make an impression here.
The Numidian warrior answered quickly, not wanting to offend the Carthaginian with a reputation for liking death,’ yes my lord. Everything is ready.’
Manugas was in a foul mood; the failure of this one unit of cavalry reflected badly upon an otherwise exemplary group of soldiers. What’s more it reflected badly on him, and his general had been so pleased with his exploits in Rome and in the battle against the Volcae. His foul mood worsened, ‘Good. Then do it man, don’t just stand there!’
The Numidian signalled to his two comrades to bring the two fine looking stallions they were riding forward, Manugas may have rejected the offer of an elephant from his brother officer, but he had asked for two mounts from the Scared Band herd instead. The patrol leader was tied to the mounts, one arm and leg either side, Manugas slowly raised his arm so that the man was stretched further and further into an obscenely grotesque form, the man’s screams of agony and torment meaning nothing to the Carthaginian officer. Manugas strode forward and looked at the man’s face; it was a picture of pain and raw anguish, Manugas fury was unleashed in an instant.
‘You cowardly scum! You let down your general, your comrades, yourself and me!’ Manugas stomped away to the horse on the left and signalled to the soldier on his right, ‘at my command; now!!’
Both powerful stallions were slapped hard on their respective rumps at the same moment by the soldier and Manugas, the horses drew away from each other at great speed, and the man simply flew into two halves, torn asunder by the tremendous force that his body had been subjected to. The men Manugas had forced to line up around the execution watched as their officer approached one half of their former patrol leader. They respected this Carthaginian, he was a fine warrior, and he even spoke their language, but now they were simply terrified of him, what more was this man capable of?
Manugas studied the half of the man near his feet with cold interest, he had always wanted to kill a miscreant in such a way. He had enjoyed it; it really was good to back. He studied the faces of the men around him, it had worked, these men would not scatter before the Roman dogs again.