The Sword of Jupiter - Cover

The Sword of Jupiter

Copyright© 2021 by Lumpy

Chapter 30

Ky’s guards said nothing as they accompanied him the rest of the way to his quarters or as they stood watch outside his room. Had Ky not been so distracted himself, he might have noticed the looks that passed between them or realized how public the display had been, but he was preoccupied with thoughts of Lucilla for the rest of the night.

While he’d thought well of Sara and had even hoped for some kind of pairing with her, thoughts of her had never distracted him from his duty. Worse, he didn’t even consider not thinking about Lucilla, standing by the window, staring into the night lit up by his optical enhancements, watching the city sleep.

He was still standing there when daylight came, his thoughts a jumble, when a chime sounded in his ear. The sound was alien enough after so long not hearing any communication in his head aside from the AI and his own thoughts, that it pulled him completely out of his ruminations of their kiss the night before.

“Yes, Lucilla?” Ky asked.

Considering she was the only person on the planet able to send him a comm signal, he had no doubt who was contacting him.

“This is strange,” her voice came to him. “Your voice is echoing in my mind and yet there’s no one in the room. I know you’ll only tell me it’s no different than a wagon wheel, but it’s hard to hear your voice float to me from so far away and not see it as magic.”

“I know, but I think you’ll be surprised by how quickly you adapt to it and see it as normal. What can I do for you this morning?”

“I am about to leave and meet the guards Father assigned me for the trip, but I wanted to make sure this worked before I did. It isn’t that I didn’t believe you, it’s just...”

“It’s hard to believe until you start using it. It’s completely understandable. Now that you’ve used it and confirmed it works, it should not be a problem to contact me any time you want to, no matter how far away you are. Although it’s best you do it in privacy where others can’t hear you, since to them you’ll be just speaking into the air. If you think it’s hard for you to believe using it, imagine how difficult someone you tried to explain the comms unit to would find it.”

“Yes, I could definitely guess where that would end. I am speaking in barely a whisper and you can hear me though.”

“Unfortunately, that’s as good as it can be with the unit you have. The unit built into my skull allows me to speak without anyone around me hearing it, much like you hear your own thoughts. If only you had your own built-in unit, we could talk whenever we wanted without considering others.”

“The very thought of having a machine sewn into my head is terrifying.”

“Only because it seems so foreign to you. In my home, that type of surgery is normal. I was able to live normally a few hours after the surgery.”

That was true as far as it went, although Ky left out the part where he’d spent months learning to walk again.

“The servants should return any moment to help me finish preparing for my journey, so I should say goodbye.”

“Be careful,” Ky said.

“It will be fine. I’ll see you when I return. Umm ... how do I end this?”

“Tap it again with your finger, just like you did to activate it.”

“Very well. Bye,” she said again before the connection ended.

“Sellic,” Ky called out.

The door opened a moment later as his lictore entered.

“Who can I talk to about the guards going north with Lucilla? I’d like to make some quiet inquiries, but I don’t want to make anyone nervous or think I’m looking over their shoulder.”

“I know their commander a bit, but Ursinus served with him for several years before transferring to her guard detail. He’d be the best person to talk to.”

“Can you have him meet me at the palace?”

“I’ll send a man now,” Sellic said, slapping a salute and leaving.

Ky didn’t rush out right away, since it would take time. Since he was going to the palace anyway, he jotted down a few more notes that he’d meant to do the night before, but had ignored them while he stared out the window.

By the time he arrived at the palace, he found Ursinus waiting for him. Ky knew it hadn’t been a big inconvenience, since the new legate was still getting together the command staff for the reconstituted fifth legion. Their current plan was for the men transferring to that legion would report in two days to a campground currently being set up.

“I’m sorry to bother you, I know you’re busy,” Ky said, grasping forearms with the man.

“It’s never a bother to assist you, Consul. Pluto knows I wouldn’t be alive, let alone have my own legion now if it wasn’t for you, and considering how we first met.”

“I have a question about the men detailed to protect Lucilla on her journey north, now that most of those who accompanied us here have been reassigned.”

“They’re good men,” Ursinus said, reading between the lines of Ky’s question. “They’ll protect her with their lives.”

“I’d prefer if it didn’t come to that. If they die protecting her, then she will also die. I’d prefer they all lived.”

“I understand Consul, and I’m sure they would prefer the same. Until Rome returns to its glory, however, travel anywhere out of Devnum is dangerous, especially with the Carthaginians pressing us like they have been. She has a full complement of seasoned men and she will be within a few miles of the wall and the Legion still stationed there.”

“ ... who are so spread out they couldn’t muster more than a handful of men to come to her aid if it’s needed.”

“That is true. If you are that worried, perhaps you should talk to the Emperor. I protected her long enough to know neither of you could convince her not to do something she’d set her mind on, but if the Emperor forbids her journey, she’ll be forced to stay here. She’s stubborn, but she wouldn’t ignore a direct command from her father.”

“And I’d then have to face her wrath, since she’d know I’d be the one behind it. No, I can’t do that, especially since she’ll be moving away from the Carthaginians with enough men to protect her from normal bandits. I’m sure she’d tell me she’s going north, but that she’d be here if the Carthaginians decide to move against us before winter ends.”

“That does sound like her.”

“Well, thanks. It’s good to hear her guards are the best she could get at least, aside from you and Sellic, of course. I’ll have to take that as comfort for now.”

“As you say, Consul.”

“All right, I’m sure you’re busy and we have a council of war with the other commanders in a few hours that we both must prepare for.”

Ursinus slapped a salute and went deeper into the palace while Ky turned and returned to his rooms to prepare.

This would be the first full council of war since just before the battle of Devnum and, despite their anger and skepticism, the Emperor had commanded that both Eborius and Pius attend. They might be angry at everything that had happened but ignoring such a command would either end in their dismissal from service or their rising up in open civil war, something Ky didn’t think either man was ready for.

Now that they’d begun training new recruits, including freed prisoners and slaves, they were finally ready to begin preliminary preparations for how they were going to deal with the coming Carthaginian attack.

Ky was one of the last ones to arrive, again. He wasn’t purposefully making everyone wait, although the look Pius gave him suggested the legate didn’t believe that. There were a lot of details that needed to go into their planning. If it had been in his time, Ky would have just uploaded everything to the other commanders, but the need to write everything down and send it to clerks to copy and reproduce took time.

“It seems I keep having to apologize for being late,” Ky said as he and Strabo, who’d relieved Sellic by this point, handed out the documents he’d had produced.

“Consider it forgiven. We understand how much you have to deal with and prepare, Consul,” the Emperor said before turning to the assembled men. “Now that we’ve finally got the forces we’ll have available, it’s time we decide on our battle plan when the Carthaginians attack.”

“As much as I admired Globulus and his record of success,” Eborius said. “I believe he showed us that assaulting the Carthaginians would be foolhardy. The Consul proved to us that standing on the defensive and letting the Carthaginians come to us is the only chance we have at survival. Our forces will be a lot stronger than they were in the last battle, even considering the new inferior elements added to it.”

Ky had to wonder if Eborius had ever managed to charm anyone in his life. His ploy of praising Ky was immediately undercut by the last statement, not that Ky actually believed Eborius thought anything Ky had done was positive. Ky did find it interesting that he was pushing for a defensive posture. Looking over the man’s record, Ky would have predicted that he would have opted for the same strategy as Globulus, a head-on assault on the Carthaginians. Ky thought he might actually be impressed, if it wasn’t the wrong strategy.

“I’m afraid I don’t agree,” Ky said, interrupting Pius, who was probably going to support Eborius’s plan. “While that was the right strategy at the time, considering how close the Carthaginians were to Devnum when we deployed, here it would end in disaster. Remember that, even with the surprise rear attack and near encirclement we managed, they still devastated our forces. True, we will have a lot larger command now than we had then, but so will the Carthaginians. I’m sure you’ve seen Ramirus’s reports that suggest the force discrepancy will be worse for us than during the battle of Devnum, despite our larger forces.”

“Ramirus missed the last Carthaginian army until after they’d almost captured the Emperor’s daughter and were on our very doorsteps. I find little in his report credible. I’m sure their force will be larger, but I believe the force difference will be less, not more, and if properly set up, they will be at a greater disadvantage attacking us head-on. We’ll have your new weapons after all.”

Again with the weak attempt at flattery, although at least it wasn’t followed by a direct insult this time. Given the man’s arrogance and supreme confidence in himself, Ky doubted he’d even looked at the reports from Ramirus’s spies.

“They will help, but they will not be enough to counter the Carthaginians.”

“So are you suggesting we attack the Carthaginians?” Pius asked angrily. “If their forces are so much larger, they’ll crush any attack easily.”

“True, but I am not suggesting that either. In front of Devnum, we’ll have little to no room to maneuver, which will be the only thing that will help us survive the coming battle. We need to fight them away from the town, somewhere where we can draw them into a trap. While they might outnumber us, I believe if we play our advantages well, we can truly surround them and draw them into an actual encirclement.”

“Why is every commander’s plan to try and recreate Cannae?” Eborius said. “How many times has that been attempted, and how many times has it failed.”

“We would have achieved that at the battle of Devnum, if we had enough men. We have the same tools to repeat and even surpass our last attempt, although we’ll need the right terrain to pull it off. It will require courage and sacrifice from the holding force, but we...”

“Emperor, I thought this was a council of war. If our new Consul’s only strategic thinking is to repeat Cannae, we have truly lost.”

“Have you looked at this?” Velius asked, holding up one of the documents Ky had handed out. “The terrain the Consul has found makes it possible, as long as we get the bulk of their forces engaged in this area between these two lakes. If the bait is large enough...”

“Tricks. Ploys. Gambits. How many times have legates in the past tried to trick the Carthaginians in battle only to have the sheer numbers overwhelm them,” Eborius said. “They were so focused on being clever that they forgot how to lead men. The Roman legionary is the greatest fighter in the world ... or he was before you let this man dilute our forces with inferior men. Emperor, give me three legions of true Romans and I will stand before any horde the Carthaginians throw at us and I will defeat them.”

“Have you spent much time reading the records of past losses?” Ky said.

“I know our military history better than any outsider.”-

“I’m glad to hear that. Then you know about Cnaeus Consentius Decianus? Aulus Horatius Flavinus? Vel Vergilius Brutus?”

“I recognize the names but...”

“They were all Legate Primus in charge of Roman legions facing down Carthaginian hordes. Each claimed their soldiers were worth ten, thirty, a hundred foreign invaders and they would stand before the hordes and crush them once and for all. Decianus lost half of Rome’s legions in the plains of Italy, forcing the Emperor to abandon Rome. Flavinus lead an ill-advised assault to bring the fight to the Carthaginians, losing fifteen legions. Brutus you must remember, as he was the man who lost Londinium. All fought a stand-up fight against the Carthaginians and all lost, leading to the remaining Romans living huddled on this island between barbarians and Carthaginians.

“Do you know who did use tricks, ploys, and gambits? Cornelius Lucius Sulla who maneuvered the Carthaginian forces across the plains of Hispania, buying time for your ancestors to escape the continent for their new home. He had almost thirty legions, more than half of every able-bodied Roman facing a horde that turned the landscape black with their tight-packed masses, and he killed so many that it took a generation before the Carthaginians could mount an offensive again. Nearly every one of those men died in the end, but they really did take a dozen men for every one of them, and they did it by only fighting when they were in a tactical advantage.”

“Everyone knows of Sulla’s greatness, but there are some who think...”

“They are fools,” The Emperor said. “I have read the histories that Ky is describing to you and if anything, he is underplaying how crafty Sulla was. He was a once-in-a-generation commander who understood generalship wasn’t about measuring his testicles against those of the opposing commander.”

“I would give my life for Rome!” Eborius said, his face turned a beet red. “You are no longer Romans. I don’t know if this is some kind of spell he’s put you under or just cowardice, but I weep for our loss. I am returning to my legion and can only hope someone with sense keeps Rome from falling to ashes.”

Eborius, Pius, and their lieutenants stormed from the room. Several of the remaining legates stood to stop them until the Emperor gestured for them to return to their seats.

“Emperor, I mean no disrespect,” Auspex said. “But you cannot let them leave. They have disobeyed your direct command and declared themselves against you. It could lead to rebellion, which we can ill-afford right now.”

“I share your concerns, but they were already set to disobey my word and not come to this conference at all. While I managed to convince them to join us in hopes we could talk sense into them, they left safeguards behind. Thanks to men Ramirus has in their ranks, we know their men have orders to assault the city if they do not return. I would prefer the possibility of rebellion over its certainty. They understand they would lose the populace and are under-manned which means they could not prevail. I believe for now they will hold their positions, looking for a way out of the corner their anger has painted them in. For now, we negotiate.”

To read this story you need a Registration + Premier Membership
If you have an account, then please Log In or Register (Why register?)