The Sword of Jupiter - Cover

The Sword of Jupiter

Copyright© 2021 by Lumpy

Chapter 31

Ky pinged Lucilla again, but she never answered, although that might have been because they were busy and not because she chose to ignore him. Since he’d been up the entire night before, he had to sleep this time, although it was restless, his mind showing him nightmare scenarios of what could happen to her if the raiding parties found her group.

He woke up in a cold sweat, his heart racing, which was a strange sensation. Although no one knew for sure, most people agreed that the implants got rid of most nightmares, as they were exceedingly rare for anyone who had a full AI in their head. It was more commonplace for those with non-AI implants, but he hadn’t known any of his squadron members to ever wake up from a bad dream. Good dreams still happened, but for whatever reason, they just didn’t have nightmares.

Ky assumed he’d gotten one because his AI was changing. No other pilot in his lifetime had an AI that had gone this far towards sentience, so this probably wouldn’t be the first new sensation he’d have to confront, at least until the process got to whatever its equilibrium was.

Knowing that, however, didn’t make him feel any better about the sheer terror he’d experienced in those moments just before he woke up.

“Commander, your vitals have suddenly spiked,” the AI said helpfully.

“I know. It was a bad dream, that’s all.”

The AI didn’t reply and was probably doing the same calculations that Ky had just done. Although he tried to sound nonchalant, Ky was shaken enough by the experience that he decided now was a good time to get up anyway, although the sun had barely risen over the horizon and everyone else in the palace would still be asleep.

It was still too early to try Lucilla again, so he worked for a time going over reports from the foundries and blacksmiths. The foundries and forges were making excellent progress and would have the new forges up within the week and the tools to press the metal shortly after that. All this progress meant that higher quality metal would soon start being produced and would be able to be shaped for the crossbows.

Although they’d started producing a few to train with, using the new designs with Roman iron, they wouldn’t last long, and could possibly break before the Carthaginians ever arrived. The new design worked, but the iron wasn’t strong enough to stand up to the greater tension and would snap after a few weeks of use, sometimes with catastrophic results for the person using it.

While they’d decided to start using ones of lower quality, partly to work out the production process and partly to get units for training, Ky had told the commanders that they had to trade out the inferior quality ones as soon as the new steel parts started coming out, before distributing new models. Ky hoped they had time to produce enough to supply the legionaries with the weapons as well, which would be more effective than the short throwing spears the legionaries currently carried.

Ky finished up the notes he needed and headed towards the palace to review the updated training schedules with the legates. He was almost inside when Caesius rounded a corner. Ky slowed, hoping maybe Caesius would turn and go somewhere else, but the Emperors’ son noticed him, storming towards Ky. This wasn’t their first confrontation, and the rest had been halted by the Emperor or a friend of the young man before it came to blows. While Ky wasn’t in fear for his own safety, harming the Emperor’s son would make everything more complicated.

“Caesius, what can I do for you?” Ky said, trying to remain as neutral as possible.

“I’m happy to see you recovered from the attempt on your life. Poison is a nasty way to go.”

Ky doubted very much Caesius was at all pleased that Ky was still alive, but the man liked to play his little games.

“How did you know I was poisoned? I don’t believe you went out with me while I recovered and the Emperor told those present to keep what happened to themselves.”

“You can’t hide the truth, Consul,” he said, putting a sneer on the title. “Word spreads of everything, even those things my father commands to remain secret. I warned you that your determination to destroy our way of life would come back on you. This is the result.”

“I’m trying to save Rome.”

“Saving us by changing everything that makes us Roman isn’t saving us. Rome had survived for hundreds of years and conquered most of the world before you decided you needed to ‘fix’ us.”

“Rome now controls just a few hundred miles of an island and is on the verge of annihilation. Your way wasn’t working and would have only ended in your own death and the deaths of all of the citizens your family is responsible for. How you can stand there and tell me I am the problem as your empire shrunk hour by hour is beyond me.”

“You are a foreigner here and know nothing about Rome. You don’t know what will have happened and pretending you have some kind of gift from the gods that allow you to know the future is simple hubris. This is the second attempt on your life and I imagine it won’t be the last if you continue. I would suggest you leave now before that’s no longer an option.”

“Was that a threat,” Sellic said, getting closer.

Caesius looked at him like Sellic was something not even worth stepping on. Ignoring him, he took a step closer to Ky.

“I will do anything I have to do to defend my legacy,” he said in a whisper.

“You tried to poison me. You’ve had to try arrows. You’ve tried swords. None of your assassins have been successful. Do you think threatening me yourself is going to go any better? Do you remember what happened to your other assassins?”

“You’re mad,” Caesius said, stepping back. “I have no assassins and the idea I had any hand in trying to harm you is paranoid. I wish the people could see you how I see you now, then they’d know the truth.”

With that, Caesius turned and stormed away, his guards following behind him. Ky took a few deep breaths to calm himself down before clearing his head and continuing on with what he had to do for the rest of the day.

While there was no doubt in his mind that Caesius had played some hand in the attempts on his life, especially after his not-so-subtle comments, and that he would probably try again, he couldn’t let himself get lost in that. Caesius was going to do what he was going to do, and nothing Ky would say or do, beyond killing him, would stop it.

After a brief set of meetings, Ky continued with Auspex and Ursinus out to their camps, where the bulk of the new troops were training. Things were going about as expected, which was to say, too slowly. Ky spent a day at each legion’s camp, reviewing their progress, making suggestions, and watching the progress, the whole time continuing to try and reach Lucilla, who now seemed to be steadfastly ignoring him, since she knew what he was going to say.

He pushed the combination of worry and annoyance aside, focusing on the task at hand. After four days, he found the only real bright spot in the training, the Praetorians. The still much too small force had started to patrol the area around Devnum and work with the city guard to work out the division of responsibility for how to keep the peace.

This was new to the Romans and would take time to get the details worked out. Faenius had suggested, and Ky had agreed, that they use the time period where they were only strong enough to patrol the Devnum and a small region around it to work out the details of how the Praetorians would work in practice. That way, once they moved beyond Devnum, they’d have both a plan and some limited experience for working with other towns.

They had been more selective than the legions, which also meant they ended up taking the prime picks out of the new recruits. While Ky would have liked to see more soon-to-be ex-slaves in their ranks, he’d been convinced that the idea of ending slavery was already difficult for the populace and that putting them in a position of power so quickly would cause those difficulties to multiply.

The other Legates protested the Praetorians poaching the prime candidates, arguing that law enforcement wouldn’t matter if the Carthaginians stormed over them, but Ky stood his ground on that part. Dealing with the public and enforcing laws was a touchy job. He’d seen the video poorly trained riot control on Luna push a crowd of hungry citizens during the bread protests to the point of all-out riot, which eventually spilled over into a bloody and costly insurrection that cost more than a hundred thousand lives and the destruction of large sections of the colony.

Between the agitation over the new laws and the fear of the Carthaginian invasion everyone knew was coming, Rome was already a powder keg waiting to blow. He did not want to throw any more matches on it than were necessary.

Ky finished his review of the Praetorian classes where they were learning to be police instead of just soldiers, and returned to the tent he’d commandeered for his stay. While Ky missed many things from his previous life, the greatest thing he missed was how little bureaucracy he had to deal with as a simple test pilot. Since becoming Consul, there were always scrolls waiting for him with questions, requests, and demands.

He had just picked up the first one when his comms chimed. Ky dropped the scroll and answered, exasperated. He’d been pinging her for a day, trying to reach her with no answer. If this was going to work, she couldn’t just ignore him when she disagreed.

“It’s about time. I’ve been trying to...”

“Shut up, we don’t have a lot of time,” she said, terror in her voice, even though it was at a whisper.

“What’s happened?”

“The Picts are here. We were inside the shrine, making our offerings when they fell on us. The commander put some men in with us and sealed the doors. We heard fighting but ... the sounds have ended. I...”

She stopped as a bang loud enough to come through the comms could be heard, followed by another and then another.

Ky had already turned and dashed out of the tent, grabbing the nearest horse and throwing himself on it. Strabo, his current guard captain was yelling at his men to follow and asking what was happening simultaneously.

Ky left them to catch up, if they could as he spurred the horse on, riding towards the road north.

“They’re breaking in. We only have five guards, a few women, and a priest.”

“They’re there to take slaves. Have the men throw down their arms and armor. Everyone act meek, like religious travelers. Give up and they’ll see more value in taking you alive back north instead of killing you there.”

“Do you know what they do to slaves, and those who they take as slaves?”

“I do, and I’m so sorry, but the alternative is death. If you are alive, I can come for you. If you are dead, we will never see each other again.”

“Damn you,” she said, although he knew it wasn’t really directed at him.

He could hear the combination of fear and anger and regret in her voice. He knew her well enough to know that she would rather die fighting than be someone’s victim. She also knew she wasn’t the only one there. Her maids, her guards, and the priest would all end up dying if she decided death was preferable. That might have even been her choice if she thought she would end up a slave in the far north, since prisoners were rarely recovered, but this was different. She knew Ky could and would rescue her, but for that to happen, she had to be strong.

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