The Sword of Jupiter - Cover

The Sword of Jupiter

Copyright© 2021 by Lumpy

Chapter 36

Ky watched the centurions and Optio, who’d been sent to help work with the Picts, carry more wounded Romans who’d only volunteered to help train them. So far they had been at this all day, and very little progress had been made. For the Picts, fighting was a way of life and they went at it full tilt. Except for when they were young, the only training someone got was at the end of another man’s ax. If they survived the experience, they might learn from it and become better warriors. If not, then at least they wouldn’t be a burden to the tribe.

It had taken the bulk of the morning to just get most of them to understand that, in training, they didn’t need to actually kill their opponents. Already, several Romans had needed some level of medical treatment and their list of actual volunteers had begun to dwindle.

They did learn and, by the time the sun had started making its way down towards the horizon, they had figured out the basic idea of what training was. Ky tried to keep from getting frustrated, but at this rate, the Carthaginians would show up before they actually learned what coordinated action was.

Ky’s plan for the battle had some similarities to the plan that they’d used in the battle of Devnum, in that there would be a force whose job it was to stand their ground and a force whose job it was to hold and attack when the moment was right. Originally, he’d planned on putting the new Picts with the attacking force, since that seemed what they were most suited for, but the longer he watched them train, the less certain Ky was of that. Holding back in the face of the enemy wasn’t just discouraged in Pict culture, it was seen as a literal offense to the gods.

The problem was, the defending force needed to hold their ground also, and let the Carthaginians come to them. He’d picked his spot very carefully and it was vitally important that the Romans lure the Carthaginians onto that ground for the final battle. If the Picts were in the defending force and charged at the first sight of the enemy, the plan would fail and they would be annihilated piecemeal. If the Picts were in the attacking force and attacked before the Carthaginians were in position and locked in combat with the defending force, the plan would fail and they would be annihilated piecemeal.

One of the only reasons Ky thought this plan would work was the high level of professionalism the Roman legions displayed and their ability to be precise in the face of serious conflict. If they couldn’t get the Picts to follow the plan, then that would be five-thousand fighters that they couldn’t use until maybe the tail end of the battle, which was why it was imperative that they get them to see the reasoning behind the training.

Despite what some of the legionaries probably thought, it wasn’t that the Picts were dumb or incapable of understanding. They just lived under a very different culture where a warrior’s aggressiveness was tied up not only in their social beliefs, but also in their religious ones.

Ky watched another attempt by the trainers to hold and attack at a predetermined signal, only to have several hundred Picts rush forward at the charging Romans, followed by shouts and drums signaling them to stop, when a messenger rode up at a gallop.

“Consul, I was sent by the commander of the city guard. There is an issue with the...” The man paused, his eyes darting to the Pict leaders gathered nearby.

Ky could imagine the word that the messenger had planned on using before seeing those men turn their attention his way.

“ ... some of the men. They need you urgently.”

“What kind of issue,” Ky asked, preferring to know what he was getting into.

“A woman was attacked and her husband beaten. Witnesses reported several ... of our allies were involved. A crowd has already started to gather and the commander is worried that it will spill over.”

Ky cursed himself. This was exactly the sort of incident he feared when the Picts asked to be allowed to send men into town. His hands had been tied, but he’d warned both the city guard and the praetorians that were patrolling as part of their training to be extra vigilant.

“I will send some of my men with you,” Llassar, who had been listening, said.

“I appreciate the offer, but I think it might be best if only you came with us. You can make sure we treat your men fairly, but we should be careful until we have a better idea of what’s happening.”

Ky wanted to say that the last thing they needed was to add more Picts into an already riled-up situation, but he was trying to be diplomatic.

“Fine,” Llassar said, collecting himself and getting the horse he’d been assigned at the beginning of that day’s training.

“Ride ahead and tell the city guard to keep the people back and tell the Picts to just wait until Llassar and I get there. Hopefully, everyone will keep their cool until we sort this out,” Ky said to Carus as they began to ride out of camp.

“Consul, we should get together more men, just in case.”

“The last thing we need is more men involved, especially legionaries. If the people think we’re hiding something or treating our allies differently than we treat our citizens, the problem will worsen. The city guard will be there if things should get out of hand.”

“My understanding is that this happened on the outskirts of the city. There won’t be that many of the guards there.”

“You’re not going to let this go, are you,” Ky asked, giving Carus a level look.

“No, Consul.”

“Fine, since it’s on the outskirts, Faenius, station a squad of praetorians nearby, preferably outside the city. If things get out of hand, they can come in and retrieve us. Fair?”

“Of course, Consul. We follow your lead,” Carus said with a devious smile.

Ky just shook his head and put his game face on. When they arrived, he saw the messenger hadn’t been exaggerating. There were well over a hundred citizens pushing in tight against the front of a bar or drinking establishment of some kind, the city guard forming a half-circle around the entrance keeping them a few yards back. The crowd was loud and slowly pushing against the guardsman, their taunts and yells already fairly vocal about what they thought should happen.

For a moment, Ky worried that they might not move at the yells of his guards, which would mean forcing their way through. The last thing he needed was to harm any of the citizens, especially before they’d done anything actively hostile. Although he knew this moment was coming when the Picts and Romans would come to a head, now that it was here he had to thread a very fine needle to keep their new alliance from falling apart.

Thankfully, after a few beats, the crowd parted and let Ky, his lictores, and Llassar through. Once inside the circle, they dismounted and found two guardsmen in an intense stare-off with two Picts, the two groups glowering at each other but thankfully stopping there.

A roman with bruises on his face and blood dripping down the shoulder of his tunic sat on the ground a few feet away next to the body of another man, who wore a tunic the front of which was soaked through with blood. Sophus highlighted and identified a cut across the area of the tunic that covered the stomach as the most likely source of all of the blood.

Near the fallen Roman was the body of a Pict, his throat torn open and blood pooling under his body.

“Thank you for waiting peacefully. I’m going to listen to what the soldiers have to say and then I will hear your side,” Ky said in the proto-Celtic language used by the Picts before switching to Latin. “What happened?”

“A citizen alerted us to an altercation between these three and two shop keepers, who said the barbarians were violating their women. When we arrived, one of the men was dead and they had the other pinned to the ground. We separated them, but a mob had started to form and was getting violent, which made taking them to a holding area impractical. Instead, we waited and sent a man for backup. They arrived and our officer told us to hold until someone higher up could come and deal with the situation.”

Ky looked around again before saying, “I don’t see any women here. Where are they?”

“They had run off before we got here. They said the woman had run off before we arrived.”

“That’s unfortunate,” Ky said, deadpan, before turning to the Picts. “Tell me what happened.”

“We were looking through the stores. We’d been told about being paid soon, and we wanted to see if there was anything here other than food worth having when three women ran up to us. They were aggressive, offering themselves for coin. They were attractive and, had I had the coin, I might have taken their offer, but we were warned to keep our distance from Romans and to do nothing that might cause conflict, and we would be held responsible for anything that happened, even if we didn’t cause it. Bedwyr speaks the Romans’ language, and told them no.”

Ky looked to Llassar, surprised. He’d warned him to watch his men when Ky had given permission from small groups of Picts to go into town, but he hadn’t realized Llassar had given such a specific warning to them.

“The women went mad,” the man said, continuing. “One tore at the shoulder of her dress, and threw herself to the ground. They started yelling, and these men came upon us. Bedwyr tried to explain, but they attacked us with knives. Bedwyr had been closest, talking to them, and the dead man cut his throat before we could react. We came unarmed, but managed to get their weapons from them. We did kill the man and would have killed his friend before these men came.”

“I see,” Ky said, before turning to the man sitting on the ground. “What happened?”

“These animals were attacking three women. They walked right up to them and grabbed them. They tore at one of the women’s clothes, ripping pieces of it off, and threw her to the ground. Claudio leapt in to stop them and that animal stabbed him. I got a weapon away from them and managed to get one of them before the other two got me on the ground. I thought I was a dead man before the guard arrived.”

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