The Sword of Jupiter - Cover

The Sword of Jupiter

Copyright© 2021 by Lumpy

Chapter 27

A banging on his door woke Ky just as the sun came up. They’d worked late into the night again, sending out recruiters into both the prison camp outside the walls and to across the city and its outskirts, looking for slaves to sign up for the legion.

They’d all agreed that the sooner they got these new men into training, the better. It took time to make a legionnaire and they had only four months at the most before the Carthaginians began their march on Devnum. Ky knew they’d continue to get men from further out regions as word of the new laws passed, but they didn’t have time to get everyone together before they started training.

It wasn’t as difficult as Ky had first worried. The Emperor had already started planning for this as soon as Ky started rallying support. Money to pay the first groups of slaves had been set aside and word to the owners had already been sent out. As soon as the vote happened, the entire Seventh Legion was broken into squads, and sent throughout Devnum and the surrounding region, signing up slaves and escorting them to the training grounds.

They’d worked through the night and Ky was hopeful they’d manage to bring in two to three thousand slaves, ready for training, with perhaps another thousand prisoners who’d decided they didn’t want to return to Carthage.

As Ky rode over the ridge and got his first glimpse of the camps, he realized he’d been wrong. Massively wrong. The camp he’d seen, with its lines of empty tents and training fields had been expanded in all directions, and every bit of it filled.

“How many?” Ky asked, a sense of awe in his voice.

“Eight thousand, Consul,” Velius said.

“Eight thousand, seven hundred and thirty, plus or minus a hundred, Commander.”

“How did you manage this?”

“The Emperor prepared them well and your senators were persuasive about the need for them, but honestly, it was mostly the calendar.”

“The calendar?”

“Yes. Winter harvests are smaller than the summer harvests. The farmers tend to lose money through the winter months and most sold off slaves, waiting to buy new ones until the planting season started in the spring. Slaves may be unpaid labor, Consul, but they aren’t free labor. The farmers still pay to feed and house them, at least to the levels where they won’t die, which costs money. Worse, since most farmers were under the same pressure, if they did sell slaves, they’d do it for less than they bought them for, hoping to make up the difference in productivity from the spring through the fall.”

“Now the Emperor is offering to pay them full value for their slaves and take them off the farmer’s hands, with a promise of lower taxes after the next planting season and guaranteed purchases of the planters stocks through the winter and into next year to feed those slaves they would have had to feed on their own. So, they make money on the slaves and on the food they would have had to feed those slaves. It’s a good deal.”

“They all signed up on their own though, right? I’d made it clear to the Emperor we didn’t want to draft unwilling men.”

“Yes. We instructed the centurions in charge of the squads to question each petitioner before signing them up. Do you blame them? As things stood, they had no chance of freedom, ever. Now, they know if they can survive, they will not only be free, but citizens with a payment they can use to start their new life. Honestly, we could have gotten more if more farmers would have been ready to agree.”

“We’ll get more once the new tools start getting sold. We’ve made all of the merchants agree that the new plows and other farming instruments being introduced can only go to farms that have sold off their slaves. Once the farmers who didn’t see the difference in productivity, they’ll sell.”

“Can you handle this many men?” Ky asked.

“Maybe. We’ll have to expand and use men from the Third Legion to supplement the ones taken from the Seventh as a training cadre.”

“What about the Ninth?”

“It’s what you see ringing the camp. Most of these men are going to take the opportunity for what it is and will fight, some might even make good soldiers. There’ll be a fair number of them, though, that agreed just to get away from their masters, and are thinking about running, or taking up arms and freeing themselves here and now.”

“Surely you haven’t handed out arms?”

“No, and any they’re given for training will be taken back when the session is done, but the trouble makers will be looking for a way to start something. Once they’re not altogether like this, and mixed in with the regulars, the men in their units will keep them under control until they integrate or are gotten rid of. Until that happens though, we want to keep enough of a force around them to maintain control. With this many men, things could get out of hand, fast.”

“Makes sense. What are those camps over there?”

“It isn’t just camps. It’s mostly training grounds. We’re rotating through men who’ve started signing up to join the guard and citizens who’ll make up the conscript archers and putting both through training.”

“We have enough arcuballistæ for that?”

“We’re starting with the ones we have, with minor modifications, we can make them close enough to your design to allow the men to get a feel for the function, if not the range. They might not be able to work on accuracy, but we’ve started drilling on synchronized loading and firing, as you suggested.”

“Good, Good. Talk to Hortensius about getting the first prototypes in their hands. We don’t have a lot of time to run them through training multiple times, and we have a lot of men to train.”

“I’ve already spoken with him. The first shipments of the new material should leave the northern forges next week and be here the week after. By his count, we should have the first prototypes in maybe three weeks.”

“That knocks off almost a third of our training time.”

“I know, but it’s the best we can manage.”

“Well, do what you can. How’s the guard coming?”

“Slowly, but as expected. We’ve set the bar high for what we’re looking for. As you said, it’s not intended to be a military force, so we’re trying to find men with more than just skill at arms.”

“Level-headed, that’s the key. They need to be able to stop trouble, but they also need to know how to keep it from starting. We can’t waste men getting slaughtered for brawling or simple disagreements.”

“They know what they’re looking for.”

“Good, good. Well, let’s get to work training these people. Hopefully, there will be more coming behind them.”

The Legates slapped fists to chests and turned their horses away, until Ky called out.

“Velius, Aelius, please stay back. You can send the rest of your men on and catch up with them.”

The men looked confused, but obeyed, returning their mounts back in front of Ky.

“I haven’t been to the First or Second Legion’s camps yet. Are they interacting with your men at all, or staying separated?”

“They moved to the other side of the city, Consul,” Velius said. “They have made it clear we are not welcome either, but the men have been traveling back and forth, as units do when in proximity.”

“Doing what?”

“Trading supplies, trophies, war stories, drinking. Men who served in other legions and moved, visiting old friends, that sort of thing. You must remember, most of these men spend all their time with their comrades and, umm, avail themselves of the same camp followers, for years. Sometimes, they just want a change of scenery.”

“Do you know what they’re up to when they visit? Do Eborius or Pius know what your men are up to?”

“No, at least we don’t. While I can’t speak for either of the other legates, it seems unlikely. They have several thousand men under arms, tracking a handful of visiting legionaries would be a poor use of their time.”

“How are the improvements to your camps coming?”

The men looked at each other, unsure of where this was going.

“Well. We’ve moved the latrines away, as you said, and keep the water separate and drinking water is boiled. We’ve improved the meat and bread, looking for the signs you described. The cost of provisioning the men has risen as we predicted.”

“The sick?”

“As instructed. Those with fever or sweats are separated from their fellows and any who treat them stay separate from the rest of the legion.”

“How’s the men’s health?”

“Improving. Cases of the grip have decreased noticeably.”

“Good. I want you to talk to some of the men you know well. Men you know can be discreet or wily. Have them invite any of the men they know from the First or Second Legions to come visit. Give them tours; point out the better conditions of food and the decreased instances of disease.”

“You want them to sell the men of the other legions on how much camp life has changed, Consul?” Aelius asked, understanding what Ky was thinking. “Are they doing anything else? You understand that it is considered an insult to ask men to switch from one legion to another. It will increase tensions.”

“Don’t have them offer anything. I just want as many of the men from their legions to see the improved conditions as possible. That’s it.”

“I don’t understand, Consul,” Velius said.

“That’s fine. I promise you I’m not asking either of you to do anything dishonorable. I just want the word to spread of how much better the conditions in your camps are.”

“I’ve heard there is an outbreak of the grip in the First, Consul. The men will notice, and it will cause unrest in those legions.”

“Will it?” Ky said, turning his horse away from the two men. “I think I will ride through the camps and see them for myself, perhaps talk to some of the men. I will speak to both of you later.”

Ky spent several hours with the legionnaires of the three legions still open to him, as well as talking to the men trying out for the guard. For men in camp, he found the majority of them in good spirits. Word of the change in pay had spread and the men had seen the benefits instantly.

Booty was good, but it only came after victories, which had been few and far between over the past several years. What victories they’d had had been mostly against the north men, whose homes were little more than hovels and who considered owning a single goat as having great wealth.

When they were in camp, which usually meant the entire winter, they got little more than food as payment. Within the month they would start seeing monthly payments. They also wouldn’t be responsible for the cost of their equipment, which meant some men whose current armor was far from satisfactory could get it replaced or repaired without wondering how they would pay for it.

They’d also heard from where the new rules that had clearly led to less sickness in camp had come as well as the improved quality of the rations. Several groups cheered him as he rode along.

He’d also witnessed the training, both of the conscript crossbowmen and the ex-slaves. Overall, it was well done, but there were areas he saw for improvement. The biggest one was how the trainers were treating the ex-slaves and rehabilitated prisoners. The best were belligerent and looked down on them, the worst resorted to open beatings when the men didn’t respond well enough.

Ky had words with the Legates about it, but he wanted to make sure the behavior would stop before he went back to the city and left them to the training. Poor treatment was sure to make the men feel more like the janissaries of Carthage instead of true members of the legions, the slaves especially. They’d been told they were freed from service. That was an easy thing to hear, but much harder for many of them to believe. Beatings made that even harder, and if they felt like slaves still when the legions marched, they would cause problems. Ky needed them fighting for Rome, believing that their full effort was in their best interest, not fighting to avoid the master’s whip.

He was just going to camp with the Seventh, until Auspex made a good suggestion. All of the men had pride in their units, and wanted to think that theirs was the best legion in the Empire. Constantly showing favoritism to one legion was picking a winner, which helped the Seventh, but harmed the morale of the other two. Auspex suggested that Ky always stay with a different legion, rotating through, which was good, but not as good as his second suggestion.

“Consul, the men spend a lot of their day just counting time. We give them training and duties, but camp life can still get boring. Instead of just picking either the Third or the Ninth to camp with, why not have them compete for it.”

“Like what?”

“They already hold wrestling competitions, as well as spear throwing, strength competitions, and the like. We can pick, say, five competitions and have each legion nominate a champion for that. The legion with the most wins gets the honor of hosting you at their camp for the evening. It will be good for the men’s morale.”

“We can do that. Do we know where it will be?”

“We’ll set up in the field over there, between the Seventh and the Third Legions. Neutral ground. Give us an hour to spread the word and set it up. I’m sure the men not on duty will want to attend.”

“Just make sure that the men on guard around the training camps don’t get distracted. This law has only just been passed; we don’t need our enemies to start having reasons to say they were right.”

“I’ll make sure the men know what’s at stake,” Auspex said.

Ky took the time to continue riding through the lines, talking to soldiers. In a way, this felt more comfortable than anything else he’d done since crashing on this version of Earth. They might be using swords and spears instead of auto-cannons and plasma mounts, but soldiers in camp were still soldiers in camp, and it reminded him of his time in the barracks, with his squadmates.

By the time a runner caught up with retrieving him, Ky was the most relaxed he’d felt in weeks. He realized he should be doing this more, getting out of the palace and its stuffy rooms and out here, with the soldiers.

Ky was almost smiling as he reached the small field set out by the legions, with tents and seats in the center of one side, clearly meant for him. Ky was surprised, however, to see they were already occupied. Lucilla was already in the tent, having had a second stool added next to the one set up for Ky to observe the contest.

“My lady, I’m surprised to see you here,” he said, dismounting his horse and handing the reins to one of his men.

“I heard you were out staying here tonight to be with the men and I thought I’d come and visit for a bit, only to realize you’d arranged for some entertainment.”

“The Legates made an argument that the legionaries could use some fun and that they all wanted to fight for the ‘honor’ of my staying with them for the evening. It’s ridiculous of course, but I understand the need for soldiers to blow off steam.”

“It’s not ridiculous at all. These men, well, many of them, fought with you outside the city gates. Under your command, they had the greatest victory since Cannae. They worship you, Consul.”

“That, I don’t want.”

Lucilla rolled her eyes, “I did not mean it that way. I just meant that they hold you in the highest esteem, and want to feel that you favor them.”

“Well, I’m just happy to be here. They’re all good men and I’ve truly enjoyed spending the day with them.”

“I saw your new recruits have started training. How is that going?”

“It’s too early to tell.”

“I guess that’s true. Be careful though, I wouldn’t put it past Silo to have his own men slip in and foment revolt.”

“We’ve thought of that and the training cadre and camp guards are on alert.”

“Good, it seems like you have everything under control here, unlike some of the other camps.”

“You mean the First and Second Legions?”

“Yes. I rode out there this morning, ostensibly to visit the legates and offer them my welcome, since I did not see them before they stormed out. Father thought it might help breed a little goodwill.”

“I somehow doubt it. They are set against change as it was, but Silo has been whispering in their ears.”

“Yes, they were not all that pleased to see me. That, however, wasn’t the notable part. It seems disease has struck their camps. The healer’s tents were full when I rode past.”

“Velius mentioned that earlier, apparently there is a case of dysentery going through them.”


“I think you call it the grips. I asked them to start having their men bring friends from those legions over to visit.”

“To show them what they could have?”


Ky had been concerned at first that this competition would be like those he’d seen at the arena. Bloody, wasteful events that Ky would prefer to never have to see again. It reminded him too much how little the people of this time valued life, throwing it away for entertainment.

This, however, was pure enjoyment. It was still violent, as the men who competed did so seriously, but everyone understood it was in fun. There was some blood, but only superficially with no death and no maiming. The men wrestled, threw spears, and fired bows. The crowds booed and cheered at the victors and, in one particularly close wrestling match, gasped en masse when the much smaller man suddenly reversed his opponent, climbed him like a tree snake, and choked him until the larger man tapped out.

By the end, everyone’s mood was uplifted, even those men from the legions that ultimately lost. Ky made sure to go out and congratulate both the victors and the losers in every competition, saying a few words about their strength or bravery or skill at arms. It was well into the evening by the time they finished, the last competitions happening under torchlight, but Ky wasn’t even tired. Lately, he’d barely been able to drag himself back from whichever meeting he’d been locked in to write more notes before passing out, but tonight, he still felt awake and buoyant.

“They rushed off to set up my tent and show everyone their victory.”

“Grown warriors are running around like excited children. It does the heart good.”

“If we walk slowly, I bet they will have it set up by the time we arrive. Did you want to accompany me, maybe have a glass of wine for a bit before you return to the palace?”

One of her attendants made a small gasp behind Ky, confusing him. The sudden silence of the attendants and soldiers around them told him he’d misstepped, but he wasn’t sure how.

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