The Sword of Jupiter - Cover

The Sword of Jupiter

Copyright© 2021 by Lumpy

Chapter 9

“Why are you fighting me?” Ky asked the AI as he walked back to the Roman lines.

“Query not understood. Please restate.”

“I have to work harder to get my muscles to do what I need them to do. I didn’t notice it before, but you are giving small countermanding decisions.”

“No unauthorized motor function commands have been issued by this unit, Commander. Suggest a diagnostic system scan at the earliest convenience.”

Ky was certain any diagnostics scan would end up the same. If the AI couldn’t detect what it was doing, there seemed little chance that an internal diagnostics would come up with anything. A full medscan would have probably found the problem, but Ky already had a good guess what they’d find. He’d been warned the AI was on the way to self-awareness and who knew what affect the bridge transition had on it.

“Begin a log of all actions, commands, and processes starting now.”

“Logging process begun, Commander.”

Ky crossed over the top of the rise south of Devnum, looking down on the assembling Roman forces. The Roman front line was just over a mile away, and Ky wanted to refrain from using any abilities that might set off the Romans more than he’d already shown, so he was happy to see someone had sent forward a rider with a spare horse to bring him back to the assembling soldiers.

“How are we looking, Legate?” Ky said as he rode up to Aelius and his aides.

“The Ninth has formed up and we’ve got the Levy collected if a little disorganized. Lartius has assigned some of his men to ride behind them and push stragglers forward. We should be ready to move by the eighth hour. I’ve dispatched our scouts to push away any Carthaginian scouts as best we can. If we can keep them past the tree line they shouldn’t be able to give away our position.”

Aelius paused for a moment before continuing, casting a worried glance at Ky, “I know you said you would clear out the Carthaginians, but I felt it would be ... ahh ... prudent to check again.”

“Don’t worry, Legate, I won’t take good generalship as an insult. I’d want to double-check if I was in your position. I can, however, promise that all of the Carthaginian scouts have been taken care of.”

“Of course, Dominous. Thank you for understanding my presumption.”

“We don’t have a lot of time, let’s get them on the move.”

Carthaginian Army, Forest Road South of Devnum

Zaracas leaned heavily on his saddle, his head throbbing from all the wine he’d drunk the night before. He smiled to himself, remembering the girl. She’d been fun, enough so that it was a pity she wouldn’t be healed enough to be available for his post-battle celebration. Of course, by the evening he expected some new Roman slaves to be available. He’d take consolation in breaking in some of the new ones.

He sat up as he crossed the tree line, his soldiers fanning out into deep phalanxes, pushing forward as new rows moved into position. He had to admit it was an impressive sight and showed their immense power. As powerful as this army was, he’d seen the real Carthaginian host. This would be just one wing of a vanguard unit of the great host. Still, this was the thing most Carthaginian generals rarely got, independent command.

“Sub-Commander,” he said, waving over his cavalry commander. “Array your forces close to the tree line. I do not want any of the Romans to get in behind us.”

“Yes, my lord. Should I also send scouts into the forest?”

“For what? We are on the Roman’s doorstep. We have more soldiers in this army than the Romans have in their entire empire. They have no choice but to put out everything available to stop us. Now is the time for real warriors to show their mettle Sub-Commander.”

The Calvary commander made a face, but otherwise didn’t comment; which, given the ruthlessness of the men who survived long enough to become generals, was very wise. Instead, he saluted and turned to carry out his leader’s orders.

Zaracas watched the man ride away and made a mental note to have him observed for possible elimination. He had no time for men who didn’t have the stomach for victory. His attention towards the cavalry commander was forgotten as unusual sounds began to carry to him. It wasn’t loud, at first, but the rhythmic nature of was unusual, almost unnatural.

Two sharp metallic sounds followed by a deeper sound. Bang. Bang. Thud ... Bang. Bang. Thud. It continued, the sounds rolling over the rolling hill that separated the Romans from the Carthaginian army.

“What is that noise?” Zaracas demanded, grabbing a nearby runner.

“I ... I don’t know, my lord.”

“Go find out,” he said, pushing the younger man towards the front line.

The sound grated on Zaracas. He knew the Romans were taunting him, calling out to him to start the battle. Maybe their plan was to force him into a reckless attack, hoping he’d make some kind of mistake. Zaracas snorted at the thought. The Romans position must be truly weak if they had to resort to tricks.

Roman Seventh Legion

Velius watched his soldiers as they banged on their shields and stomped their feet. It might not be much when a few men do it, but five thousand men banging their shields and stomping in unison made a near-deafening amount of noise. He could feel the vibrations through the ground with each stomp.

While the Sword had given them several unusual tasks as part of his battle plan, this one seemed the most pointless. He was all for intimidating an opponent, but the Carthaginians already knew they vastly outnumbered the Romans. No amount of noise was going to intimidate them. He couldn’t imagine any reason for this, but he also didn’t ask the Sword about it. If the man felt this needed to be part of his strategy, Velius wasn’t going to argue with him.

Sitting on his horse, the Legate looked over his first cohort, who was placed on the far right of his line, next to the first cohort of the Fifth Legion. The two together were to be the center of the Roman line, and the rock that the rest of the Roman forces would form off. Carthaginians still held to the old Greek ideas of the phalanx, whose job was to push a line with a wall of spears until the enemy line broke, letting the rear echelons of their line, mostly made up of light infantry, exploit the break and turn both opposing flanks from the middle.

It wasn’t a bad strategy and had served first the Greeks and then the Carthaginians for centuries. Velius was a firm believer in the Roman system of heavy infantry that was able to form both an effective wall and able to take advantage of its own exploits. Since the entire Roman line was equally trained and equipped infantry, it could pivot and switch direction with a single signal. It wasn’t unheard of for a Roman legion to fight in four directions at once or turn to face a surprise attack on their rear with a single signal from the cornicen.

Of course, none of that mattered when the phalanxes pushing against a legion outnumbered them ten to one, which is what the Romans had faced over the last several hundred years.

Velius was about to turn and check on his flanks, making sure his forces were steady and ready to stand up to what was about to come over the hill in front of them, when Globulus and his aides came riding up.

“Velius, prepare your legion to march forward. We will be taking the attack to the Carthaginians within the half-hour.”

Velius was floored. He’d always thought of Globulus as a pompous blowhard who exhibited every bad trait from Romans older traditions, more concerned with his own position and power than even the existence of Rome as a people.

Globulus was, however, a political animal before anything, and this move seemed to go against every instinct Velius imagined the older man had. The Emperor had made it clear he did not support a frontal attack and that he’d given the Sword reign over the Roman strategy.

There was no way Globulus could go so blatantly against the Emperor and survive, politically. Unless, of course, he managed to defeat the Carthaginians, which seemed ludicrous. Even the Sword’s plans seemed a long shot at best. Globulus’s thick-headed charge into the teeth of the Carthaginian phalanx was tantamount to suicide.

“Legate, the Emperor decreed that...”

“I don’t care. I’m not going to let my people die because the Emperor has been taken in by a charlatan. I am giving you a direct order. You will have your legion form up with mine and be prepared to march. Now.”

“No. You are not in command here, Globulus. The Emperor gave overall command to the Sword.”

Globulus spat on the ground at Velius’s feet.

“After I crush the Carthaginians, the true Romans in the Senate will see you, and your friend hang.”

“Legate, don’t do this. Their line is too large. They’ll wipe out your legion to a man. We need your forces to hold the Carthaginian forces. You’re putting all of Rome at risk.”

“No! I’m saving Rome and showing you all what a real leader can do. You can rot here, coward,” the older Legate said and turned his back, riding towards his already marching men.

Velius spared the man one last glare as he all but assured the Roman destruction before turning to his subordinate.

“Gordianus, have your cohort hold here. Runners!”

The last word was shouted at the line of young men on horseback following Velius at a short distance that worked as messengers to allow him to communicate with the various parts of his legion.

“Notify the Fifth Cohort to deploy on the far left, anchoring on the Fourth Cohort. Make sure Viridius knows he is on the far end of the line. If he has to pivot to keep from having his flank turned, he is to do it on his own initiative. You five, notify the Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth Cohorts to form on Gordianus’s right, in reverse order, with the Tenth formed next to Gordianus and the Sixth on the extreme right. Dexippus is also authorized to pivot, as needed, on his authority. Inform all Cohorts that the second and third lines of reserves are gone. If any fall back our line will break, and the way will be clear to Devnum. We must hold until the Ninth Legion can engage.”

“Should we try and get word to the Sword and let him know what’s happened?” Gordianus asked.

“The Carthaginians should be forming up by now. Any messenger getting caught would risk tipping our hand. Besides, the Sword seems to have ways of knowing what’s happening.”

Roman Ninth Legion

“What the hell is he doing,” Ky said out loud as he watched the feed from the drone.

“Dominous?” Aelius asked at the seemingly unprompted statement.

“Globulus is moving his legion forward towards the Carthaginians. Velius is holding position, deploying all of his legions in a single line to try and cover the entire front by himself.”

“The Carthaginians are seven deep,” Aelius said in surprise. “If they see Velius is spread so thin, they can extend out and wrap around his entire legion. Should we begin the attack early and come to their aide.”

“No. They haven’t deployed over the ridge yet. If we move now, they will totally smash us.”

“So, we just wait as the fat idiot gets all his men killed?”

“Throwing your legion at a larger force with no hope of victory, won’t keep his men from being killed. It would just ensure yours, and then Velius’s, get wiped out alongside him.”

Aelius fell silent. He was not able to refute Ky’s words, yet did not want to agree with them.

Ky watched as the Fifth Legion crested a rise, marching with practiced precision towards the Carthaginian line. The AI put up estimates for the Carthaginian army at just over forty thousand soldiers while Globulus had just over five thousand. There was no way he could possibly expect to win against those odds, especially not with a straight frontal assault.

The only thing Globulus’s plan had going for it was the Carthaginians clearly didn’t expect the Romans to go on the offensive, not when they were outnumbered so badly. Their archers’ phalanxes had started to deploy for battle, but they didn’t have time to get everyone in line. Worse, they were deploying by layering in their units from their right-wing towards their left, filling all the reserve units in place before they began their next block of units to the left. Globulus had been on the Roman far right, which mean he was coming against units still moving into position.

Worse for the Carthaginians, their left-wing was just moving into position when Globulus started his attack. While it took some time for the Romans to cross the plains and crest the hill that separated the two forces, the Carthaginian units with their long spears and need for tightly packed, and well-controlled soldiers meant they moved even slower. Anything short of a mad rush towards the rear would have left Carthaginian units exposed and vulnerable to attack, and while their already formed units in the center did have time to pivot and reform for a counter-assault, they couldn’t do so without getting tangled up in their own men.

What that meant for the Carthaginians, was their phalanxes were going to be hit right as they formed up, their units still loose and missing several ranks. For a phalanx, this was very bad, especially when fighting a Roman legion with their heavy infantry and large shields.

Not that Ky thought Globulus’s good luck would save him in the end.

As expected, the initial assault went well for the Romans. They smashed into the poorly formed Carthaginian units who all but fell apart at first contact. New units began streaming in to reinforce them, but the piecemeal nature of it made them just more grist for the mill. They were, however, enough to slow the Fifth Legion’s advance. Ky hadn’t built a lot of respect for the Roman Legate over their few meetings, but he’d assumed the man had built up some tactical ability as one of Rome’s leading generals.

Watching as the battle unfolded, Ky was soon disabused of that notion.

Globulus kept pushing forward, heedless of any danger as he seemed fully focused on wiping out the Carthaginians in front of him, who were already stiffening resistance and had managed to stop falling back from the assaulting Romans.

The elder General tried to push out additional cohorts to surround the Carthaginian phalanx and turn in on the Carthaginians, Ky thought that the General hoped to form up against the tree line and draw out a sizable portion of the Carthaginian units to allow the Seventh and Ninth Legions to attack what units remained from both sides, effectively splitting the Carthaginian army and destroying it in detail.

If this had been his plan, it was doomed from the start. The Carthaginians reacted too fast for Globulus to be able to turn and position himself properly. Instead, as he sent reserve units around the right of the phalanx in front of him, a second Carthaginian phalanx slammed into his Legion’s side.

To his men’s credit, the legionnaires turned to meet this new threat, but it was too late. Globulus’s left began to close in on itself. It began slowly, with one or two men from each century, and then a handful, and finally, dozens at a time turned and ran, only to find a third phalanx sweeping around the right of the unit that had hit it on its side. Right as Globulus began to deploy his remaining cohorts to his rear, his front line collapsed. The sight of Carthaginian phalanxes closing in from the front and the sides coupled with their fellow legionnaires dropping their weapons as they ran turned the retreat into a full-on rout. The units that kept their men in line paid the price for their bravery, dying where they stood. The men who’d tried to save themselves by running found their situation no better. Most were caught by the phalanx closing in on their rear, that’d been ordered to give no quarter.

Ky watched as Globulus went down, trying to rally his men, knocked down by terrified soldiers. Ky watched the Legate go down, crushed by legionnaires tripping over him or stepping on him in their mad dash to escape, followed by Carthaginians chasing the running Romans.

Perhaps a few hundred of the five thousand legionnaires that crossed over the ridge with Globulus managed to escape back to the Roman lines. Most of those didn’t even bother trying to reform with the Seventh Legion. They just kept running, and probably wouldn’t stop until they hit the walls of Devnum.

Thankfully, Velius managed to maintain order in his men and kept any of them from being swept up in the retreating legionnaires’ panic.

Ky could only watch as the Carthaginians began to reform their lines.

Roman Seventh Legion

Velius’s stomach knotted as the Carthaginian army crested the ridge. Row after row of spear-carrying men followed one after another. It felt to him, standing in front of his thinned out legion, that the wave of soldiers would never end.

Silently he cursed Globulus again. He’d heard enough from the running legionnaires to know that the general was almost certainly dead, having taken almost half of the Roman forces with him. Their task had been all but impossible with the Fifth Legion, and now they had to make do with just one legion of five thousand men to stop nearly thirty-five thousand remaining Carthaginians. Even the Sword’s clever plans didn’t seem to have a chance to stop them.

Velius smiled as he realized that at least he wouldn’t be alive to see the end of Rome. Like generations of warriors before him, Velius had developed a soldier’s graveside humor.

“First line, stand ready,” Velius said to the cornicen standing near him.

The man lifted the large, curled trumpet and blew a string of notes, which were picked up by the cornicen attached to each Century and repeated, passing the message down the line. Velius could almost see a ripple as the Romans, who’d up to this point held their shields at rest against the ground, lifted them in preparation for combat. The noise his legion had been creating as they banged their swords against their shields and stomped their feet in unison to taunt the Carthaginians stopped, each now preparing for combat. The sudden silence, at least in comparison to the racket his legion had been making, was startling.

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