The Sword of Jupiter - Cover

The Sword of Jupiter

Copyright© 2021 by Lumpy

Chapter 18

The next morning Ky was in a foul mood, something his lictores picked up on quickly. Partly it was because he’d started to push himself too hard. While it was true, he could operate on significantly less sleep than non-augmented humans, he had pushed this ability too far. Even with the changes to his system, Ky couldn’t go with only a few hours of sleep a night indefinitely. While the meeting had run late, once it was over Ky still had hours of work left to do.

There were mounds of technical documents in the AIs databases that needed to be transcribed onto scrolls for the Romans who didn’t have the benefit of an advanced computer system in their head. Since they were millennia away from data ports and communication relays, the only person who could get those documents onto paper was Ky.

He’d planned for his meeting the previous afternoon to be just that, in the afternoon. Instead, it had been after midnight when he finally returned to his quarters. All of which left Ky with only an hour’s sleep.

His exhaustion was only part of his ill mood, however. Today’s task was one he’d needed to make, but he didn’t relish. Today they were heading to the camp he’d convinced the legions to set up for the thousands of prisoners taken during the battle.

If left to their own devices, the Romans would have slaughtered many of these people and sold the rest into slavery. Ky knew most of the military commanders weren’t happy with the decision since the money made from selling the vanquished in battle was partly paid to the legions, who didn’t appreciate the loss.

Ky also knew it was going to get worse. Eventually, some senators would realize the Empire was spending money to feed, treat, and guard the Carthaginian soldiers and their various camp followers. He didn’t know specifics, but Ky was certain it would end up being a significant amount of money, and that the Roman politicians would not be happy about its expenditure.

His lictores left Ky to his own thoughts, riding slightly behind him, alert but respectful. Ky made a mental note to apologize for his attitude and thank them for their patience ... once he was able to do it without making things worse, of course.

Their first stop was the Seventh Legion since Velius’s men had been given responsibility over the prison camp.

The legate, most likely notified by one of the patrols they’d passed as they neared the camped legion, rode out to greet them. Velius began to greet Ky in the friendly manner he’d taken to, extended a hand in greeting when he stopped short. Ky assumed the legate had read Ky and his lictores’ expressions and realized the mood of his visitors needed a different tack. Ky was actually impressed with the legate’s ability to so easily read and adapt to a situation, but it seemed unlikely someone would rise to the position of leading thousands of men without learning something of politics.

“Consul, I hope you are well. We’ve set up breakfast for you and your men before we begin today’s task.”

“Thank you, Velius, but if it’s all the same to you, I’d prefer if we got to it right away.”

“As you say, Consul.”

Velius, a handful of his officers, and several dozen legionaries joined Ky’s small group as they left the Legionary camp and traveled the quarter of a mile to the camp that had been set up for prisoners. Ky had already seen the ramshackle prison camp through his drones cameras, but that didn’t quite prepare him for how bad the conditions here were.

Their tents were sticks with bits of cloth strung between them. A stream ran across one side of the camp with no latrines set up. The prisoners were literally defecating in their drinking water. What was worse was all the women being housed with the soldiers. Even though everyone was from the same army that had traveled together from Londinium, now that they were prisoners instead of soldiers, many of the soldiers had taken to raping any of the women they could get their hands on.

The women had banded together for defense in once corner of the prison camp, viciously attacking any man that came close. Unfortunately, they were not near the water source, and several women got picked off and abused when they went to collect water.

“Legate, this camp is an outrage and a stain on your entire legion.”

Velius had the sense to look properly chastised, but several of his officers looked more upset by Ky’s statement than they did at the scene they saw in front of them.

“Consul, why should it matter? They’re little better than slaves.”

“Besides the fact that these are human beings who deserve to be treated as such, it matters because how you treat your enemies will be what decides if Rome stands or falls. Rome cannot conquer the world and force everyone to submit to its will. Look at the Carthaginians and how they rule their empire with a bloody fist.”

“It seems to be working for them,” the same officer said, ignoring the looks from his fellow soldiers imploring him to be silent.

“Does it? Carthage rules more land than any nation before it, from Britannia to the far edges of the former Persian Empire. How many troops did Carthage commit to destroying Rome? While it was four times the legions it faced, that was only because of good timing on its generals part, since the bulk of your forces were in the north. Had they been here, you would have had the edge in men. They could have brought enough soldiers to stand shoulder to shoulder across the width of this island and twenty men deep. Why would they send so few soldiers?”

“Because they are busy putting down revolts,” Velius answered.

“Exactly. Carthage must maintain full garrisons in every city and an army in every region to maintain order, and even then, they lose thousands of soldiers to revolutionaries and revolts. That is the path an Empire that rules through fear must follow.”

“Rome is not big enough to rule that way and, if it were, it would not be able to do so forever. If Rome ruled the world that Carthage now does, it would be able to hold on for a few centuries, until outside forces weakened Rome’s stranglehold just enough to let the people rise up and overthrow them. That is the end result of an empire ruled by an iron fist.”

The soldiers may not have realized Ky was referencing their historical path, or at least the one his historical Rome took, but they at least recognized that there was something to his words.

“While Rome must stand for what’s morally right in the way it treats prisoners, we’re also squandering an opportunity. Rome needs soldiers. Badly. My understanding of how the Carthaginian army works is that many of its armies, especially those operating on the fringes of their empire, are made up of either slaves or unwilling conscripts from recently conquered lands, all controlled by officers loyal to Carthage. These are people who not only didn’t want to fight for Carthage but have a reason to actively dislike the Carthaginians.”

“How would we know we aren’t putting possible spies and saboteurs in our own forces if we recruited from this?”

“First, we need to skip any officers. They are the most likely to be loyal to Carthage. We have a team of officers go through and interview all of the regular soldiers, find out who’s from which tribe, and piece together those conscripted against their will. I’ll talk with Ramirus and see if he has any people who could help you with that. He knows more about the various factions inside the Carthaginians and outside populations to have at least some clue if people are telling the truth. We can then give those soldiers a choice, stay in confinement until hostilities with Carthage are at an end or join the Roman legions, offering to let them return to their homes once everything is over or become Roman citizens after a set time in the legions.”

“We don’t have the authority to make them citizens!” Velius said, almost scandalized.

“I’ll worry about that part. We need a reason for them to not just fight for Rome because it’s the best of bad choices, but to do so because it’s good for them in the long run. We take those new recruits and spread them across the legions, trying to not put more than a handful in any century just in case we missed any troublemakers.”

“We can try that,” Velius said, unconvinced.

Ky decided as long as they were willing to go along with him, that’s all he could ask for. What he was offering was a fairly extreme change from how armies would have treated prisoners, and it would be too much to ask for even someone as mentally flexible as Velius to buy into enthusiastically.

“First, though, we need to convince them that we aren’t the same as the Carthaginians, and that starts with how they’re treated. This war with Carthage is going to last a while, so we need to come up with a better way of housing prisoners. We need workable living conditions, latrines separate from their drinking water, and edible rations. The women need to be housed separately from the men and stiff penalties put in place if any of our soldiers take advantage of them.”

“Who will pay for that?” one of Velius’s aids asked, honestly this time as opposed to derision disguised as a question.

“For now, I’ll talk to the Emperor about funding the setting up of a semi-permanent prisoner camp. You’re right in thinking that won’t work in the long run, but there are ways around that. We can talk to some of the merchant houses and see about loaning out prisoners as a workforce, along with guards to watch them, and using that money to maintain their incarceration. We’ll have to ensure they aren’t ill-treated, but in the long run, that will help out also since it will free our workforce from doing important but dangerous jobs like mining. Those freed up workers could then work in the new businesses that will be starting up or, more importantly, join the legion. Against a different enemy, we might even be able to convince our enemies to exchange our captured soldiers for theirs, but that doesn’t seem to be an option with the Carthaginians. Instead, we’ll have to settle with imprisoning those loyal enough to Carthage to not switch sides until hostilities are over when we can just release them back into the care of the Carthaginians.”

“I’ll have some of our surveyors look for a location for a semi-permanent prison camp that meets your requirements,” Velius said, still unenthused but willing to be a good soldier.

“For now, put some more men on guarding them, including a guard around the area the women have separated for themselves, and ensure they have access to enough food to not drop dead from starvation. That I want done right away.”

“As you say, Consul.”

Ky felt better about the situation as he rode away from the camp. He couldn’t fault Velius that much for the state of the place, since the very idea of interning prisoners instead of killing or enslaving them was, in itself, such a foreign idea to anyone of this time. Beyond setting a new goal post for the Romans, it served as a reminder for Ky that these things would have to be done in stages since he didn’t only have to introduce new ways of doing things, but also had to change the basic Roman beliefs of ‘the right way to do things.’

After pointing out a few more changes that needed to be made to the prison camp, Ky returned to the Seventh Legion’s camp with Velius. While he still had a lot left to do, Ky took the remainder of the morning touring the Seventh Legion camp and talking to the soldiers. He was going to ask a lot from these men very soon, both in fighting once winter passed and in heavy training leading up to that, which made spending some time with the rank and file worth doing, regardless of his busy schedule.

Ky only stopped his tour when Strabo and his men showed up to take over from Sellic, carrying the news that he was needed back at the imperial complex. Ramirus and the Emperor had come through with their promise to get some of the senators together to sit down with him, and they wanted to do it today.

Ky had already come to the conclusion that the single hardest group to convince of everything he had planned would be the senators. They had a lot invested in the way things were currently going, both in their land-based wealth and the power, that they aggressively protected from further weakening by the Emperor. Starting with the Emperor’s great-grandfather’s elevation from Consul to Emperor, each generation of the Germanicus line had increased the power of the Emperor at the expense of the Senate. Their appropriation of senatorial prerogatives had always been to deal with an emergency, but they had never returned that power when the emergency passed.

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