It's looking good.
Chapter Twenty Six
Chapter Twenty Six - Heaven is a place to rest your feet
On the March, Northern Italia – December 218BC
It had been a hellish week and a half, the weather had been atrocious, there had been frozen streams to cross, hard solid ground to march upon without any give in which would ease a mans walk, harsh winter winds biting into the exposed flesh of the hands, face and legs, fore winter had never been a marching season.They had had no effective shelter, no tents to pitch, no rations to ease their hunger of any real substance, no hot food to line their bellies and heat their chilled bodied, they had scavenged from fields and abandoned homes, the men had found something to eat no matter how unpleasant or unpalatable wherever they could. Marcianus had seen that no man was starving but everybody was hungry.There were other torments that counted more than a grumbling stomach during the march, they had been plagued by Gauls, light cavalry had harassed their flanks incessantly, bowmen and slingers looked for an angle for an easy kill seeking out a dropped shield or a gap in the ranks that might present them with an easy target. After the first four days the Gauls had left, off to pursue easier targets when the men had learned to cover each other with their scuta to great affect.
A march that should have taken them at most three days, had taken them ten, they had passed the homes and farms of Roman colonists that had been burnt and ransacked, seen the bodies of men, women and children mutilated beyond the comprehension of even the hard men of the legions.Lucius recalled the last and most eventful day of the march well, an image of Andronicus in a small settlement, to small to even be named, an image that would forever by seared into his memory. His friend had emerged from remained of a small charred family home, he was cradling the limp body of a baby, the big man’s shoulders had heaved with a mixture of fury and devastation, his huge shovel like hands had carried the baby with infinite care, as he passed Lucius and the rest of the men his eyes burned with a fury that Lucius have never see before from the big man, not even after the death of Quintus.
Andronicus had stalked off to bury the infant under a pile of rocks to prevent carrion birds or vermin from ravaging the corpse.He had let nobody help him, not even Lucius; a fierce warning glare had driven everybody way even the most foolish of the man knew better than to approach the Greek as he gently laid the body to rest of a baby girl that had had her throat cut…
When he had finished, he had picked up his shield and had followed the trail of the men who had committed the atrocity, he was heading completely in the wrong direction, and was heading away from safety. Without a single word or a command the whole century then rose and followed after their comrade. Neither Marcianus nor Lucius tried to stop the men of the century; they too followed their comrade into the distance.
They had been shocked when they had caught up with the men who had carried out the attack…. they had been Roman….deserter scum. The century had been deathly silent as they had approached the men; they consisted of a group of around fifty men, almost exclusively the light infantryman of their Italic allies.The century had hit them hard and fast, Andronicus had stormed out in front of the men, dropping his shield to the ground and raging after the enemy like a crazed Gallic berserker. Any resemblance to the famed orderly formation and discipline of the legions had been lost as the century had smashed into the enemy with such ferocity that the fight was almost over before it had even begun.
Lucius had always known that the big Greek was powerful, probably the strongest men he had ever known, but when he had run a man through with his gladius straight through his sternum and had then lifted him off of the ground and held him there suspended in mid air; so that he could then ram his left thumb in the man’s right eye to destroy it in a bloody gory mess he had been truly amazed.Andronicus had held the man in the air wriggling like a salmon on a fishing spear and had then dropped him on the ground stomping on his head with his metal studded sandaled feet, until all that was left a gory mess of blood and bone.
After that Lucius had fought on in a blur, a rage had burned inside of him ignited by the savagery of his big Greek friend they fought side by side, Lucius and Andronicus were almost thunder and lightning in action, no man could stand before them, the pure hatred that fired the Greek and the cool way that Lucius despatched their foes was a work of cruel and wicked efficiency.Lucius had spun and danced his way through the enemy, even now as he recollected the actions of the skirmish, he remembered the look of fear on one man’s face as he had ran him through with his gladius, and had then pushed the man to the ground and slammed the bottom edge of his shield on the man’s larynx with an audible crunch. He had then turned to catch a man in the process of running away by dropping his gladius on the ground and picking up a discarded spear, he had thrown the spear with such force that it had entered the back of the man’s right thigh and had brought him down in a tangle of limbs.
Lucius had looked down at the man as he had begged for mercy, and with a look of distaste at the vermin beneath him he had cut his throat…he now sat in a warm tent with Andronicus and the rest of his contubernia, his feet soaking in a shallow wooden bowl.
A cup of wine rested in his hand and he had the comfort of a full stomach for the first time in days. His big friend lay on a bead next to him giving off gargantuan snores as he lay sleeping off about a week’s worth of rations eaten at one sitting. The big man’s legendary appetite had re-established itself; Lucius smiled at the big form of his sleeping friend and chuckled.
They had finally reached the camp of Consul Longus the day before; even now Lucius could hardly believe that Marcianus had brought them through safely.
Maybe now they could rest, just for a little while….
The following chapter is very graphic, do not read if you are of a nervous disposition
Chapter Twenty Seven - Cold blue eyes
On the board the Moon Star, Southern Italia – December 218BC
Normally Demetrious would not even have contemplated sailing in the winter season, but this had been different. Two days before a nameless man had approached him in the port of Syracuse with the news that Manugas had been slain in battle, at the bloody hands of the Verres men that the Carthaginian officer had so detested.
The man had explained that the news had reached him so swiftly thanks to his connections and had said no more. He had then asked if the Moon Star would take him along the coast, normally the fierce Cretan would not have even answered the man, but would have had him thrown off his ship instead and into the stinking mess of the dockside at Syracuse. But something has stayed his hand….the man’s eyes. The eyes had reminded him of Manugas, that same cold deadly unflinching gaze, eyes that when you looked at them took you down to the deepest depths of Hades and made you realise that the man could end your life without a single flicker of compassion or emotion, he was looking into the eyes of a natural born killer, the most rare and most deadly of men.
In every other way the man could not have been more different from Manugas, although he hailed from Syracuse, he could easily have been a Thracian with his dark hair, but icy blue eyes. His stature was that of a normal man, no hulking great muscles that would have belonged to a bodyguard or gladiator, he stood only of average height, there was nothing at all remarkable about him whatsoever, except those eyes.
So Demetrious has agreed to take the man on board, the man had given him what passed for a smile and had handed a leather purse over that contained a great deal of silver. The captain had weighed the purse in hand and smiled inwardly, perhaps the passenger would not be so bad after all? The passenger had then asked the Cretan to set sail and to head up the coast along Campania until he told him to drop anchor. Demetrious had inclined his head and the man had walked off to find a space on the deck and apart from eating, drinking, and going to the toilet had not moved from the spot since. He had sat cross legged, those eyes locked somewhere in the distance as if he could see into the future, even the crew had given him a wide berth and had gone out of their way to work around him and not indulge their normal and natural curiosity to ask questions.
On the evening of the second day they had a reached a point deep along the coastline, where the captain planned to lay anchor and rest for the night, sheltering his ship from the harshest of winter winds and any chance of being spotted by a nosey roman vessel. The ship now rested at anchor in the lee of a small natural harbour; all of a sudden the passenger had sprung to his feet and walked over to the captain of the Moon Star. ‘I need to talk to you captain, in your cabin if you will.’ The man made it clear by the tone of his voice, that it was more an order than a request.
‘Of course, please follow me’, Demetrious was almost glad the man had spoken, he had not had a single word out of him in two days. They walked over to the small cabin that was at the stern of the vessel, and the man closed the door quietly behind him after the captain had entered.
‘As you may have gathered, I knew our mutual friend very well; I did not think I would see the day when a mere humble soldier would be able to best him. He told me that if I ever had need of a good sailor, then I should approach you. He was right; I have been watching you handle your craft well.’ The man had spoken at length for the first time, and Demetrious felt himself disarmed by his easy charm. ‘He also said that if I was to say to you, ‘the night has fallen in time for Rome’, you would know what to do.’
The man had delivered the line without fault or hesitation.
Demetrious blanched, he knew that line, it was the line that was given between the foremost agents of Hannibal. Whatever this man was about to request would have to be done without hesitation or there would be an evil reckoning.
‘I would like to sow a little discord amongst the peoples of the south, who no doubt feel themselves safe and sound away from the torments and deprivations of the war in the north. I would like to bring the war home to them, in fact to their very doorsteps, starting this very night.’ The passenger stared at him waiting for a response.
When Demetrious did not answer, the passenger took his silence for acquiescence, which in effect it was. ‘Good. I want you to give me thirty of your best and most reliable men, there is a small settlement not far from here that I intend to erase from the maps. It also has a temple to Jupiter that I wish to visit to pay ‘homage’ too.’
Demetrious nodded ‘I will give the orders straight away, the men can be onshore in half an hour, we will need to be away in two hours for high tide, and to avoid the patrols of the Roman fleet.’
‘I will need no more than an hour onshore with the men, there should be no resistance to speak off, just a few priests and slaves. Please give your orders.’ The man motioned to the door. Demetrious had been dismissed from the cabin of his own ship.
The man with the cold blue eyes looked at the priest begging for his life.
‘Why do you beg priest? Do you not believe in the afterlife?! Surely you realise that the pain of death is but a passing moment before you pass into the everlasting glory of Jupiter’s realm?’ He placed his dagger deeper into the man’s ear and rammed it home viciously, twisting and turning the blade, the grim satisfied smile on his face showing both amusement and pleasure as the priest thrashed wildly to escape as blood and gore poured over his ceremonial robes. With a dismissive gesture the man let the priest slump to the floor in a heap, his body jerking and twitching and then suddenly motionless. The man stirred it with his right foot, the priest’s demise now viewed with evident disinterest. The man spoke in a steely undertone ‘I do so loath priests. Inventing fictional figures in the sky and tricking the gullible into handing over their meagre possessions! Have your men finished their fun with the women yet?’ the man was addressing the 1st mate of the Moon Star, a dour looking individual from Carthage itself.
‘Yes lord, they have had great sport thanks to your generosity!’ The Carthaginian was enjoying the pain being inflicted on his homeland’s enemies.
The passenger was not particularly interested in the men’s depravities, he only let them have their spoils to win their favour, ‘tell them to slit their throats and throw them down the well, and hurry up about it! I want your men to witness some entertainment of a different kind.’
‘But lord the men were hoping to keep one or two of the most enthusiastic women, you naaa….’ the man silenced the words of the 1st Mate with a stare that would have melted ice. ‘I will do as you say my lord!’
‘Good see that you do.’ The passenger stalked away to where a huddle of citizens, mostly men and boys sat terrified awaiting their fate, guarded by two depressed crewman who had missed the ‘fun with the women.’
‘Don’t look so sad boys; most Roman women are poxed anyway! Get these dogs on their feet. When the rest of the men are back you can have the old woman over there, the fat merchant’s wife.’ The woman in question shrieked in fear as the two men’s faces lit up with the evil deeds to come. The men arrived back in the centre of the small settlement very quickly, the centre itself only constituted a small forum, the men no doubt warned by the 1st Mate that the passenger and now leader of the raid was not to be argued with if they valued their skins. They formed a loose circle around the citizens who were scared witless. Pointing at the two guards the man dismissed them, ‘You two, have fun with the woman, you have ten minutes’ he turned back to address the waiting crewmen and the remaining Romans, whilst the terrified woman was dragged kicking and screaming away into the night.
‘Right, the first ten of you fire all the buildings, defecate in the temple, smash everything in sight and tear the statue of Jupiter down. The rest of you bring these dogs to me one by one!’ The crewmen took it in turns to drag the struggling people to the man with the blue eyes; he made the sailors hold the victims heads still why he removed their ears, noses and eyes. Man, woman or child, he cared not.
When the last was brought to him, an old man, he smiled and patted the old man on his bald head and handed him a sack….a sack full of ears, eyes and noses.
‘Tell your leaders, soldiers and people that Hannibal’s reach is long, any and all that stand against him are not safe. It matters not where you live, North, South, East or West. Now go and take these ‘people’ with you!’
A brilliant update mate, and the description was top-notch. But just who is this man?
It'll be interesting to see Rome's reaction.
The following chapter is very graphic, do not read if you are of a nervous disposition
Chapter Twenty Eight - The man with no name….names himself
On the board the Moon Star, Southern Italia – December 218BC
Demetrious sat at the table in his cabin eating a meal in what passed as companionable silence, or something close to it with the man from Syracuse, or wherever he was from? It had been a week since they had raided and destroyed the small settlement and its temple of Jupiter.The former pirate captain shuddered; as a man who had made his money robbing fat merchants and taking on weaker prey then himself, he had in the past taken merchant vessels, raided small settlements to gather slaves, smuggled the odd bit of weaponry here or there, he had even had ‘fun’ at the expense of innocent women…but to desecrate a temple of Jupiter!
As a man of the sea Demetrious had always had the greatest respect for the gods, it did not do to cross them, you never knew when they would send rough seas, a squall, or the Gods forbid, a tempestuous storm your way.His 1st Mate had told the Greek that the man from Syracuse had not even flinched when he had ordered all the ravaged women killed and thrown down the settlement well to poison it. And the man had positively beamed as he had sliced off the facial features of the rest of the people in the village. Demetrious knew that he himself was a hard man, but he wasn’t a savage, the more he thought about it, the man opposite him had the barbaric appetite and leanings of a Thracian, rather than that of a civilised Greek of the city of Syracuse. He struggled to chew the lump of stringy goat meat stew stuck in his throat, the man made him want to gag; he fought the urge to vomit and finally managed he managed to swallow his mouthful.
The man looked at Demetrious and gave him what passed for a smile. ‘I’ve been thinking that it’s about time we did something to stir up trouble again. I was thinking perhaps we could take a merchant vessel. When I boarded at Syracuse I noted a conversation I overheard between two wharf rats; that a vessel would be heading our way soon, their course was plotted to meet our very own. We should sight them this morning, if my calculations are correct.’
Demetrious had noted that since the man’s bloodbath of a week ago, that he had been more forthcoming, perhaps he was the type of man that was only truly happy when he heaped misery on others. ‘So that’s why you’ve had us sitting still for two days. What’s on the ship?’
An evil look came into the man’s eyes as he leaned closer to Demetrious. ‘The usual, olives, wine and grain from Sicily, but the really interesting piece of cargo is the ship itself, it’s owned by Aulus Verres. I plan on making that man’s life a misery; he has quite an extensive shipping fleet that I intend to destroy bit by bit. Then I will kill his brother, his nephew and finally the man himself.’ The man continued to vent his spleen, ‘that fat Roman merchant owes me. He ran Manugas out of Rome, and in the end that single act took his life, I had trained Manugas from a boy, Hannibal had insisted, I poured a lifetime’s skill into that young man and now he is dead.’ With that the man sat back in his chair and resumed eating.
Demetrious took that as a cue that the man had opened up enough, he had learned that the man from Syracuse valued a man of discretion and a good listener. The Greek prided himself that he was both, you didn’t live long in his chosen career if you had loose lips. He decided to change the subject.
He leaned towards the man from Syracuse, ‘I feel that perhaps you trust me a little my friend, which is in no doubt due to good words whispered in your ear by our dear departed Manugas. Perhaps you would share your name with me?’ The man stared at the Greek long and hard, as if weighing up if he could trust him, Demetrious gulped, although the man was in his early fifty’s and otherwise unremarkable, the captain instinctively knew from the way that the man moved that he was not unused to sudden and efficient unarmed violence.
Suddenly he spoke, a most enigmatic smile encompassing his features, ‘Well my dear Demetrious, you have been the most gallant and welcoming host, and I do fear that I have been rather remiss in not giving you a name earlier. My name is Jason, and you and your crew are my dearest Argonauts.’ Demetrious would have laughed at any other man who had said such an absurd sentence. But there was a kernel of truth in that sentence. He had heard the name Jason before, a name of the man who struck from the shadows, who had slain men twice his size, who had assassinated the most difficult to reach targets, and a man who revelled in pain and destruction.
He had thought him a myth, like his illustrious namesake and his search for the mysterious Golden Fleece. The captain rose from the table, ‘I thank you for your name sir, if it’s all the same I will keep it from the men….it may cause some…apprehension amongst them. I will tell the men to keep a sharp watch and have a boarding crew prepared.’
Jason watched the men scurry about the deck of the captured merchant ship, it was a well appointed little bireme, converted from a warship to a merchant vessel once it was clear the days of the bireme were over as fighting ship. He had been impressed with the Greek and his boarding party, the captain had eased his vessel alongside as if to inquire about the usual maritime nonsense, and had then had his men grapple the ship and board and take it with minimal resistance and with an easy confidence. Even now the Greek had had the few sailors and their captain that were slain in the skirmish thrown overboard, once any valuables and weapons had been stripped from them of course. Jason watched as the rest of the crew were herded into a huddle on one side of the deck; he mused on what he had planned for them, a small smile spreading on his lips.
He supposed he should not be surprised at the Greek’s professionalism, after all the man was a former pirate, and everything he had seen about him had shown the man highly competent, that’s why Manugas, his now deceased apprentice had thought so highly of him, especially the way the man had calmly sailed into Ostia passing his vessel off a merchant ship, and had then spirited the Carthaginian spy away to safety. He still found the Cretan annoying though, he asked too many questions.
He thought of him everyday, the one chink in his impenetrable armour.
When Hannibal had sent the youngster to him, he had so reminded Jason of himself. Manugas a young man; angry at the world for his own poverty and the perceived injustices’ that seemed to be ranged against him. He had had talent too; Jason had nurtured it and in time found himself viewing the Carthaginian as he would have a son, a son that had now been taken from him! He could still recall the pride he felt when he had seen the young man’s first kill, and when Hannibal had taken him to be trained as a member of the Sacred Band of Astarte, his heart had swelled with a bursting pride, but also regret, as he had lost not only the daily contact with his would-be son, but also the best agent and assassin he had ever trained, he had known deep inside that Manugas was destined to be a solider though.
Jason shook his head, he needed to think clearly, he had no time for painful reminiscences he called out to Demetrious, ‘Captain, can you spare me some of your boarding party and your ship’s carpenter and his tools. I also need some supplies, pitch, ropes, good lengths of timber and some of the captured wine; can you have them stacked on deck please?’
‘Of course my lord, would you require anything else?’ Demetrious referred to Jason as ‘my Lord’, it made things easier, and the crew would still respect their captain, as they knew he was acting under orders from one of Hannibal’s very own.
Jason studied the captured men with interest and then replied to the Cretan, ‘I would double the guard on the captured crew; with what I have in mind they may raise some objections. In fact, tie their hands for good measure. Oh and bring me a ship’s lantern, lit if you please.’
Demetrious walked off, issuing orders left and right before resuming the unloading of the last of the precious stolen cargo. The Cretan would be happy; today his men would make money from the merchant ship’s hold. Jason knew that it would have to make up for what Jason planned for the crew and their vessel. Jason walked over to the captured crew and walked up and down studying the men closely, most were cowed into obedience, but two showed some fighting spirit and stared back at him belligerently, one was a man that had been taken from the ship’s small punishment cell, naked from the waist up, the man’s back was latticed with whip scars, a trouble maker no doubt, probably an ex-slave, there were many at sea, when hands were short a captain would take anybody on. The second was somewhat surprising, it was the cabin boy.
The small lad looked up Jason, tears streaming down his face, but a defiant look stamped upon his young features. Jason did a double take! Of course, the boy resembled the slain captain of the ship, no doubt his son. As Jason pondered his next move, men came amongst the crew and tied their hands together; the man with the scarred back fought furiously to remain untied until a spear was pointed at his throat and drew a shallow pool of blood.
Jason barked out an order to the nearest of Demetrious men, ‘Bring the boy to me, untied.’ A sailor rushed over to obey, yanking the boy by the arm and then slapping the side of his head when he tried to drag his feet to resist. The boy stopped his struggles but did not cry. He looked fiercely up at the sailor and spat at him.
The sailor pulled back his left arm as if to launch a roundhouse punch at the small framed boy, ‘Why you little s…’
Jason roared in a voice that would shatter glass, ‘enough bring him here now!’
The sailor shot the boy an evil look, but brought him over without landing the blow. The sailor then stood behind the boy holding his small skinny arms pinioned behind the lad’s back trying to inflict a modicum of revenge.
Jason looked down at the lad, the boy was maybe ten or eleven, ‘Your Father was the Captain, correct?’
The boy nodded, his eyes boring into Jason, Jason was impressed. He had known grown men not able to hold his stare. He decided on an impulse to let the boy live. Jason locked eyes with the boy, ‘Well boy, today is your lucky day. Today you will live and today you will receive an education. I will be letting you go, no slavery for you my lad, but first you will have your class, don’t worry, nothing dull, like maths or geography or even philosophy, no a class in terror my boy, the only education that you really ever need in life. After that I want you to take a message back to Aulus Verres for me, can you do that?’
The boy looked back up, eyes locked on the strange man and his icy blue eyes, he might be strange, but he had stopped the sailor from hitting him, and he had not killed his father. That had been one of the Greek Captain’s men. Perhaps if he knew Master Verres maybe this was about a shipping contract gone wrong? His father had told him that Master Verres did know some shady characters. The boy decided to answer, ‘I will take the message, but do I have to take the lesson?’ the boy had always hated the lessons that his father had made him take from time to time.
Jason smiled grimly, ‘yes you must, if you grow up uneducated people take advantage, men like these pirates, and the educated or no better, your lesson will give you the edge on them. Now go and sit over there and prepare to learn!’ Jason motioned the sailor holding the boy to let him go and then pointed to a spot on the deck where the boy should sit. Jason noticed that Demetrious had returned with all the supplies, the ships carpenter and a bunch of sturdy looking men. ‘Ah, captain you have returned, I plan to fire the ship and crucify the captured crewmen by the way. Don’t worry your men will have made enough not to mutiny, I will make up any ‘supposed’ shortfall myself.’
Demetrious mutely nodded what more could he do?
At the word crucify, the captured seamen wailed, screamed, and struggled to release themselves from their bonds….all except the man with the scared back.
Jason mused on this and then gave a command ‘Cut him free of his bonds and bring him to me.’ The man was brought before him by two sailors, each holding a brawny arm. ‘You are a runaway slave, and my guess is that you were disliked by your crewmates is that correct? And you’re a German, and you would happily kill any Roman that stood before you, and why do you not wail like the rest of these pigs?’
The man answered in a guttural accent, ‘Yes I was a slave, and yes the crew did not like me, because I am a warrior not a craven fool, they thought I show bow and scrap, but I was enslaved after battle, I was not made to serve! They disliked me, but I cared not. I will happily kill them all and I don’t wail because tears will not save me. I may as well die a man! You are very perceptive for a Greek or Thracian or Illyrian or whatever doglike breed you spring from!’
Jason admired the man’s spirit, even if his Greek was atrocious, ‘Just how did a German come to be captured. Your race is far to the north? Ah, never mind, I have a more important question, can you swim?’
The man nodded.
Jason leaned closely towards the man, ‘If I ask you to kill the remaining crewman you say you will do it?’
The man nodded emphatically not flinching in the slightest.
‘Good, I may have a use for you after all, sit next to the boy.’ Jason turned to the newly arrived carpenter and crewman, ‘I want you to bring them to me one at a time, carpenter knock me up some rudimentary crucifixes and give me your stoutest hammer and longest nails.’
All the men rushed to obey his orders, the struggling of the captured crewman intensified, but blows from hands, feet and blunted weapons cowed the men once more. Once the first crucifix was ready the first man was brought before him and placed on top of the newly made cross, the man struggled, but once more blows were landed, and Jason was able to drive home the first nails. Seventeen crosses later, and all the man were laid out upon the deck like some cruel mockery of an offering to the Gods or a grotesque parody of an ornamental flower garden. Jason took in the sight and was mightily pleased with himself, the groans, screams and cries of the crew echoed in his ears like the very best music played by the lightest of hands upon a golden harp.
Jason turned his head towards the two unharmed survivors of the crew. He looked at the boy, vomit stained the front of his tunic, and tears once more flowed down his face, Jason’s gaze shifted to the German, who sat transfixed, his eyes ablaze and locked on the scene in enraptured silence. Jason stood up and stretched his back, it had been hard work all that hammering and stooping over these wretches. He inspected himself, he was covered in the blood and gore of his victims and he stank of his own sweat, he would need to bathe and change clothes.
But first, the finishing touches.
He looked at Demetrious and barked an order, ‘prepare a boat and row the boy off the ship, when the ship is aflame take him ashore, boy come here’, he pointed to the spot on the deck before him.
The boy walked over, more unsteady on his legs this time, in terrified awe of what the madman would do next.
Jason peered down at him, ‘Do you understand your lesson for the day?’
The boy barely whispered his reply, ‘Yes Master, I understand.’
Jason eyes bored into the small boy’s now shifting uncertain gaze. ‘Good. Then here is your message for Aulus Verres, tell him ‘the Father of Manugas has come for his due!’ Do you understand and can you remember?’
‘Yes I can remember’, the boy wanted to be off the ship so much, the words were burned into his memory, alongside the sights he had seen.
Jason issued the order, ‘Take him off the ship.’ Waiting sailors came and took the boy away; the boy flung one last terrified look over his shoulder at Jason as he was dropped in the ship’s small rowboat. He then turned to issue more orders, ‘right Master Carpenter, take your men and tie ropes to each cross, then lower the crosses over the side, so they are arrayed like barbarian shields along both Port and Starboard sides of the vessel, then stack all the flammable pitch and wine in the centre of the ship ready to be fired and pass me the lantern. Captain a word if you please?’
Demetrious crossed over the deck to talk to Jason ‘Of course my lord.’
Jason posed a question, ‘How far are we from the town we passed this morning?’
Demetrious replied ‘Very close my lord, it is around the next headland. We could sail there in five minutes, the port has no military vessels though, it’s mostly a place for the wealthy of Rome to have their holiday villas in. Are you thinking of raiding it?’
Jason shook his head, ‘No. If you lashed the rudder of this ship and it was aflame, could it reach there before it sank?’
The Captain nodded, ’Easily my lord, but you would need a man to make sure it stayed on course while it burned, where would you find a man insane enough to….of course that’s why you have kept the German.’
Jason responded, ‘Very astute captain, lash the rudder then, I will tell the German his part in this.’ The German stood up and bowed as Jason crossed to the deck towards him lantern in hand, he bowed before him ‘My lord, I have seen some sights in battle, but I admire your thirst for blood and your stamina, to crucify seventeen men in one go is incredible.’
Jason had judged the men correctly, a man whose taste for blood almost matched his own; he would make a worthy apprentice if he could do what was asked of him next. ‘If you admire my handiwork so, then perhaps you would do me the small service of steering a burning ship into a harbour and then diving off at my command?’
‘It would be an honour’ the man did not even hesitate, Jason had judged him correctly.
In his fine villa that sat overlooking the small costal town below, the fat senator luxuriated in his marble pool, the nubile young slave girl caressing the rolls of fat on his stomach, a goblet of wine in one hand, her firm body in the other. Life was good. Normally he would not have been at his villa home in the depths of winter, but it was a way to escape his nagging crone of a wife and enjoy the pleasures of the flesh.
He let out a sigh of blissful contentment.
Suddenly he could hear shouting and screaming from the town below, he exclaimed at the slave girl, ‘By all the Gods can a man not even have peace and quiet in his own home. Can you see what all the commotion is about my beauty?’
The girl nodded, smiled and purred a reply, ‘Of course my Master’, secretly she was glad to be away from the clutches of the repulsive old man.
Until she got out of the pool, and then looked out of the un-shuttered window over the bay.
She saw a ship burning as it sailed serenely into the bay….but the worst of it, was no…it couldn’t be…..but it was, men were crucified along both sides of the ship, they were still alive, screaming from theirs wounds, but also from the intense heat that was torturing their bodies; men began to catch light as the heat radiated into their bodies.
A ship was shadowing the vessel, why didn’t they help? Because they were pirates, that was why! She could hear them cheer as the men screamed on the burning ship from Hades. She saw light catch on a metal surface from the pirate ship, and in response a man jumped from the burning ship and swam to the pirate vessel….
A great update, as per. The feelings you got across were brilliant, and I'll look forward to seeing what 'Jason' has planned for his new two friends. That German is an interesting fella'.
except?All accept the man with the scared back.
+rep When I can, and I'll look forward to the next update.
Great story you have here (though the last two were a bit gruesome for me but well written ) Can't wait to read more! + rep
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Chapter Twenty Nine - Roman arrogance….pah!
Hannibal’s Command Tent, Northern Italia – December 218BC
The Carthaginian commander sat on his folding stool, half a mind on the beautifully crafted vellum map laid out on the desk before him, its small delicately drawn markers showing the dispositions of both sides’ forces, the other half of his thoughts musing over the events of the last few weeks.
That journey over the Alps still scarred him, when he had set out to cross the vast range of ice covered mountains he had no idea that he would lose so many of his men, more and more he would have to rely on filling his ranks with wild and unreliable Gauls and the subject Italian peoples of the Romans with their dubious double-sided loyalties, he had come to realise this even at this very stage of this epic campaign. His minor victory over the Romans at Ticinus had been a bonus, a mere sideshow, nothing more in all reality. But it had had a series of serious repercussions for both sides in the conflict; firstly it had shown that the Romans could be beaten on their own soil, a feat not many had accomplished, even less so in recent years , even if he had not been able to engage their much vaunted heavy infantry due to the reluctance of his enemies.
But the scent of victory that had come sweetly to Carthaginian nostrils had not been won as cheaply as he would have wished or envisioned. He had lost Manugas, the fearsome warrior had been a man that he had come to deeply rely on, the man had come from nowhere from the very lowliest and shady of backgrounds, from the dirty and criminal streets of Carthage, unlike his other commanders the man had not been afraid to get low and filthy in the mire and never shirked from sowing terror wherever he could to whomever his general wished, an inheritance of ‘Jason’s’ training the general supposed. He still could not fathom why Manugas had attacked the lone century that had refused to surrender at the bridge over the Po. It was so unlike him to disobey a direct order not to engage, to not listen to the heartfelt wished of his commander, Manugas had cost Hannibal dearly, not only had he lost a valuable officer, agent and terrifying enemy of Rome, but the Numidian cavalry simply could not be replaced, there was no chance of reinforcements from home when the Suffets controlled the purse strings in the council.
Still the Gaul Erastus had proven handy in fact perhaps the man could be very useful even if he was the rather old. Not only had the man convinced many Gallic warriors to join the Carthaginian side, but he had also personally turned up in the middle of night a few days earlier with over two thousand former Roman allies, whom he had convinced to attack their former masters, they had brought the Romans heads to him as trophies, and although he didn’t altogether approve of their gift he accepted the meaning behind it in good faith. The Gallic cavalry would no doubt come in handy, heavier than their Numidian colleagues, and still more numerous than his Iberian and Carthaginian heavy horse, they would most definitely be needed for the battle he planned ahead. In fact the Gauls apart from a treacherous few which he had mercilessly dealt with, and some who he had had well founded suspicions of playing both sides and who had lands between the Trebia and the Po, had proven to be quite amenable to turning on their Roman overlords. Still he had not wished to press on their good will too far, so he had been searching for an alternative way to replenish his food and animal feed stocks and had grasped an opportunity to bribe a Bruttian who held command of a grain depot at Clastidium.
The Bruttian had willingly handed over his supplies under the condition that he and his men would not be mistreated. That initial bribe and the willingness of Rome’s allies to abandon them at this very early stage of his campaign, had convinced the general that the whole rotten edifice of the Republic’s method of government and the disparaging way it treated its allies would come tumbling down if he pushed hard enough. He looked back at the vellum map and studied the drawings upon it and the relative disposition of both forces this time giving it his full attention. The Scipio’s managing to avoid his chasing army might actually work to his advantage; the elder Scipio it said was still recovering from his wound and was now ensconced in a separate camp from his fellow consul Longus, it seemed that the men could not get along in the same encampment, a piece of priceless information that could yet play in his favour. Hannibal still could not believe that the Romans had not combined forces and attacked him, it seemed the most obvious thing to do in his mind. But then that was the perils of a dual command, both of the man would want to win, yes that was a given, they would both share that desire, but more importantly they would wish to be seen as the sole victor, each would wish to be garlanded as the only vanquisher of the invaders…and that would work in his favour.
His plan for dealing with the Romans had almost happened by accident rather than design; he had grown increasingly incensed by the double dealing of the local Gauls and had dispatched a force of five thousand infantry and a thousand cavalry to devastate the region that made up their homeland. In response the Gauls went moaning to their Roman masters for help, and the Romans had caught the Carthaginians in the middle of ransacking the closest village to the Carthaginian camp. Hannibal had reacted quickly and had sent reinforcements but had gradually pulled all his men back rather than press a counter attack, he had not wanted to attack, he had concluded that the ground, weather conditions and odds were not in his favour. He did not want a spontaneous organic attack that may have cost him dearly in manpower; he would plan his attack meticulously. When he saw the Romans howling in derision at the backs of his retreating men, a seed of a plan then germinated in his psyche. The Roman sortie had done one thing, it had given Longus a ‘victory’, and this played straight into Hannibal’s hands, the Roman would now be convinced that he had defeated Hannibal’s principal arm, Hannibal’s cavalry, and thus beaten the Carthaginian himself, the very man that had wounded and defeated Scipio. This would mean that Longus would be convinced that he was the superior Roman commander and that he could defeat Hannibal alone.
This was exactly what the Carthaginian general wanted him to think. He was counting on Roman arrogance and their in-built superiority complex over all things ‘barbarian’. He would provoke Longus into attacking, before Scipio could fully recover and take command with his more cautionary approach, Longus’s own rashness and bravado would work against him. He smiled to himself and stood up from the stool, ‘Guard!’
A young soldier came into the tent and snapped smartly to attention, ‘Yes my general.’
‘I want you to pass Bostar a message for me, tell him to assemble all the principle commanders in my tent in one hour, dismissed.’
‘Yes General.’ The young soldier saluted, spun neatly on his heel and left.
Bostar was his right hand man, a man with a head for logistics, administration and primarily espionage, no Manugas for sure, but a man who kept him informed of his agents activities. Only yesterday he had told him of ‘Jason’s’ latest escapade, the general smiled to himself; like father like son! He could almost pity the men who Jason held responsible for Manugas’s death, he was sure that the agent had something truly very special planned for them….
I hadn't intended to take an overarching strategic view with Hannibal, but I couldn't resist, it helps set the scene for the battle of Trebia and also describes what Hannibal (I assume) had in mind when he attacked Longus.
Another good chapter. I recently read a book that talked briefly on the 2nd Punic War. Our heroes are going to have have their hands full if they end up in a offensive against Hannibal! + rep
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Well our friend Jason does view the late departed Manugas as his son, Hannibal is more than aware of their relationship as he first placed Manugas under Jason's guidance.
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