When in Rome - Cover

When in Rome

Copyright© 2023 by FantasyLover

Chapter 12

Day 295

I gave the troops the day off today. We’d been going nonstop for four weeks, and they needed it. Despite having the day off, many continued searching through the city and palace, looking for more valuables. Since the troops received a cut of what we sent home, they were on a personal treasure hunt, looking not only for expensive goods, but also for less expensive things to take as gifts for their family, spouses, or prospective spouses.

Day 296

Everything and everyone from Pella were finally loaded aboard the ships. Every citizen of Pella stopped for one final, longing look back at their city before boarding. Late in the afternoon, our warships led the procession of ships as we set sail. Well before dark, we entered the Thermaic Gulf, ready to defend against enemy ships if necessary. Finding none, the convoy of eighty-eight captured Macedonian ships sailed for Puteoli carrying the people of Pella and their belongings to their new lives. We hadn’t completely emptied the city. That would have required at least fifty more ships.

Day 297

Evidently, the lesson the scouts took home from Pella was both heard and clearly understood. Upon our dawn arrival outside of Pydna, the gates opened, and the city’s troops exited the city, unarmed.

Day 301

Our arrival and reception at Dion were nearly identical.

Day 305

From Dion, we set sail for the Chalkidiki Peninsula and then the Thracian Sea, turning north after passing Mount Athos. Ships visiting the port of Thessalonike after our departure had also spread a warning about us, as well as the message I’d given the scouts from Pydna.

The port city of Eion at the mouth of the River Strymonas gave us no problems, even though it appeared that they thought we would bypass them. There were numerous ships in the port when we arrived, several of which had immediately left ports in the Gulf of Thermae without unloading after learning that we were in the area. We used any that weren’t already filled to help carry what we usually took, as well as seizing any already-filled ships.

Day 308

Three miles upriver, Amphipolis felt that the hill they were built upon would protect them. It didn’t. We had to set fire to part of the city to disabuse them of that notion, however. The uphill approaches to the city and the wind direction made it impossible for us to use the quicklime since the wind would have blown it back at us.

Day 317

Amphipolis was the city protecting the southern end of the route to the gold and silver mines of the Pangaion hills, the gold mines of Asyla, and the thick forests used by Macedon to build their fleets of ships. With it captured, all those resources now belonged to Rome.

The city took longer to empty than Pella because we had to send ships upriver from to the port of Eion before loading them. One thing that helped was that the captured deceres we had used to transport the enslaved Macedonian troops from Abydos, as well as the loot and slaves we took from Sestus, Madytos, and Elaeus began showing up for another load. They had dropped Roman troops off at the first three captured cities and had begun searching for us where I’d told Theodocio that I planned to attack. My note had even given him the order in which I planned to attack the cities.

When the first group of ships carrying the people and wealth of Amphipolis sailed for Puteoli, I sent a suggestion that Rome send unemployed farmers to Amphipolis and Pella to repopulate the cities, giving them generous tracts of land to farm, and not collecting taxes from those farmers for five years. It would be a waste to allow two productive and prosperous cities to sit, unoccupied.

Day 318

The port city of Neapolis (yes, yet another city named Neapolis although the modern name is Kavala), surrendered to us peacefully. Their harbor was empty, and I wondered how far away all the ships and fishing boats had fled, although we left fishing boats alone since the residents needed them to prevent starvation. We’d even left behind the fishing boats in Pella and Amphipolis, having no desire to shepherd them all the way to Puteoli. That would have slowed the already slow progress of our convoys.

Day 322

As Amphipolis guarded the south end of the route to the gold and silver mines of the Pangaion hills, the city of Philippi controlled the northeast end. They also surrendered without fighting. The bad news was that Philippi was inland, so we had to transport the slaves and loot we took from the city overland about ten miles to Neapolis and our waiting ships.

I claimed the mines and forested hills for myself, leaving orders that they were to send all the gold, silver, and lumber they produced to Puteoli. The miners and the men cutting timber and sawing it into boards were left undisturbed, as were their families.

Day 332

Abdera was the final city I planned to attack before heading for Sparta. Abdera, too, capitulated without a fight.

Evidently, word of our campaign had reached the Achaean League. They had hurriedly abandoned their invasion and attempted subjugation of Sparta and rushed their troops and navy home to protect their own lands.

Even though we didn’t directly help Sparta, and they had declined our assistance now that the Achaean League had fled, Sparta sent an ambassador to Rome to make sure they were considered an ally of Rome.

Day 334

Since we didn’t need to help Sparta further, we headed home. I was relieved, tired of being away from home, even though I’d been deployed overseas for far longer periods in my first life. Knowing that Antia had been due to deliver two months ago had been on my mind constantly since we left Puteoli. I hadn’t had to deal with that in my first life.

Day 343

Today was like a dozen Christmas mornings all rolled into one. After an absence of more than two months, we’d be home in a couple of hours. It seemed like the oarsmen were rowing even harder than usual.

Knowing how many captured ships we had already sent to Puteoli, less the ones that had returned to help us or that were currently transporting Roman troops to occupy the cities we had captured, I had expected the harbors around Puteoli to be more packed than they were. Instead, mere dozens of ships lay at anchor off Misenum, Baiae, and Neapolis. I learned later that more were anchored at all the cities along the eastern and southern coast of the Bay of Naples, as well as at Cumae.

I had to laugh when we saw the area where Aelius had been building new docks. There were at least four times as many men working there now, and the area along the shore where they were working was now triple what it had been when we left.

My cornicen had been blowing their horns for several minutes now to let people ashore know that we had returned, and that our armada wasn’t just more ships filled with slaves and loot. As we sailed past Misenum, it seemed as if everyone in town had turned out along the shore to cheer and wave. In fact, most of the shoreline from Misenum all the way beyond Puteoli quickly filled with cheering crowds.

My flagship docked first, quickly joined by ten troop transports. Once the troop transports were unloaded, ships carrying our horses would be next. My four dogs debarked with me, immediately christening everything they could find that looked inviting, and sniffing everyone within ten feet of me.

Aelius hurried over to congratulate me. “See how much more work you’ve made for me!” he teased, motioning towards the expanded area where his men were working.

Well before all the troops were ashore, four of the exquisitely decorated carriages that we had taken from the palace in Pella, as well as four slightly less ornate carriages that we looted from other cities, pulled up near the docks. They were led by horses carrying Celsus, Theodocio, and a dozen men that I recognized as Senators. The men were guarded by troops who appeared to have been trained in the same manner as my men. Each of the guards carried the same weapons that my troops carried and looked comfortable on their horses and with the weapons.

The first carriage carried Vibiana, Cassia, and Demetria. Cassia and Demetria were obviously pregnant, and Vibiana carried her infant son. That carriage also carried three additional gorgeous young women, probably Celsus’s slaves. All six women wore silk stolas.

The other seven carriages carried the women in my life, everyone from Antia to Kyriaki, a young woman I had picked in Amphipolis. My heart swelled seeing Antia carrying a small bundle in her arms. Tacita looked like she would deliver any day, and I knew that twelve other women were in varying stages of pregnancy, some of them very obviously so. My women were also wearing silk stolas.

Aside from Celsus, the men wisely stayed back while the women mobbed me. When the ladies finally felt that I had been properly greeted, Cassia, Demetria, and then Vibiana stepped forward to greet me. I was surprised that Vibiana kissed me in public, as it could start all kinds of vicious rumors.

“Thank you for everything you have done for my husband,” she said loud enough for people to hear her several feet away. On the surface, it sounded as if she were thanking me for the sudden meteoric rise in popularity Celsus was enjoying among the Roman masses. To anyone who could see her eyes, the message had nothing to do with Celsus’s public popularity and more to do with his personal popularity in their bedroom.

Fortunately, Celsus was directly behind her and couldn’t miss the kiss, so there would be no rumors, especially when he hugged me. “It is good to see you again, Quintus,” he said loudly.

Turning to face the crowd, at least the half on the side he faced, he shouted, “I give you Rome’s newest hero, the man who captured all of Macedon in less than three months, Quintus!” The roar from the crowd was deafening as he raised my hand victoriously.

“I could not have done it without the trust of the men who rode with me, as well as Celsus, Theodocio, and the Senate for having faith in my ideas and making sure that I had what I needed to accomplish so much. I give you the men who made it possible,” I shouted, motioning to the Senators, who were still astride their horses and raising Celsus’s and Theodocio’s hands in the air. We received another roar of approval.

After that, most of the crowd went back to what they had been doing before, although many of them stayed to watch or to help us unload the ships. After meeting my son, I followed Antia to the carriage in which she had arrived. Each of the women grabbed one of the heavy bags from the carriage and followed me. We handed out silver honor coins to each of the troops who went with me.

The coins were half the size of a denarius both in thickness and diameter. The front had the number “I” centered on it with the word Macedon emblazoned in a crescent around most of the edge. The back had a depiction of the Goddess on it. I had sketched the design before we left and found someone to make the coins for me. Antia took silver from the loot and had the coins minted.

I had three thousand coins struck, one for each of my men, one for each of the Senators, and one for Celsus, with plenty of extras.

I had the same coins struck from bronze for each of the thousands of slave oarsmen aboard our ships. I told each of the captains before we left for Abydos that, when we finally made it back to Puteoli, I wanted them to identify the ten best oarsmen aboard their ship. They could suggest up to fifteen men if it was too close to call, or as few as they felt deserved mention. I intended to maintain three full crews of the best men. I made sure that each of the thousands of slave oarsmen who began the campaign with us received a bonus of ten silver denarii because they wouldn’t receive a share of the loot.

It was nearly dinnertime before the troops and our horses were all ashore. I left the remaining bronze honor coins with two of my officers to distribute to the oarsmen who were still aboard their ships.

Celsus suggested that we go to my villa for dinner since it was closer. Antia had already sent a messenger to tell the staff at the villa to expect us for dinner. As we rode through town, I said something about going the wrong way to Lucius’s old villa. “We’re going to your villa,” Celsus said with a smirk.

“It’s done already?” I gasped.

“The villa is done, but the rest of the villa’s buildings haven’t been started yet. All five villae rustica are done. The huge library and scriptorium you sent the message about is under construction, as well as a villa rustica for the scribes who will be working there. Antia had Valerius start a third villa rustica for the workers at the pozzolana quarry and two more between the potash mine and the gypsum quarry for the men working there.

You will soon have places for everyone working at the pozzolana and gypsum quarries, and the potash mine. One of the villae rustica near the two mines will house the people working on catapult ammunition. The Senate has sent requests to every major city to locate any caves in their area and check them for both niter deposits and deposits of bat guano.

“We receive several of your crates filled with bat guano every week. Like you told him to, your man Janus has the men make two new concrete slabs every week. They fill one with a mixture of straw and manure and all the pots of urine from the people working at the quarries and the mines are dumped on it every day, as well as chamber pots of urine from your villae rustica. The other is for any bat guano that arrives.

“They’ve built seven more large lime kilns to keep up with demand for the quicklime. They now burn two kilns every day and let them cool for five days before emptying them. Not only are they using the burnt lime for catapult ammunition, but people buy it to spread on their fields or to make mortar or plaster for the walls of their homes.

“Your crates are even being filled and sold with gypsum and potash now. Every day, at least two, and usually several ships arrive looking to buy pozzolana, pavers, gypsum, potash, or empty crates. If the ships didn’t constantly bring the supplies necessary to build crates, you’d run out of them quickly.”

“It’s a good thing that I have more lumber coming in,” I replied. “One of the things produced abundantly near Philippi is lumber. Macedon used that lumber to build their huge fleet. I told them to send all lumber here unless they needed it for building.”

Damn, but they’d been busy while I was gone.

I gasped in shock when I saw my new villa. Aside from being surprised that it had been completed so quickly, it was several times the size I had originally envisioned and was two stories high. Celsus and all the women were grinning at my reaction. “It almost looks like a palace,” I commented, hoping that Antia had nixed any efforts to make the inside too opulent. I like comfortable, not ostentatious.

“I’ll settle for elegant,” I mused silently when I saw the inside. The first thing I noticed was that my original design had been honored, just enlarged. Rather than the entry being an atrium area open to the sky above, the first room we entered looked like a living room, except for the huge mosaic covering the floor. There was also a small alcove just inside the front door with a two-foot statue of the Goddess on a marble pedestal.

Unlike other Roman villas at this time, my glassblowers had been busy and there were glass windows in the outer walls.

“Do you like it?” Antia asked nervously. The mosaic depicted me standing with my bow drawn. In the background was a catapult launching an amphora.

“It’s exceptional,” I said, realizing that the picture of me in the mural had been done from the artist’s memory.

“Several of the men from Pella did it hoping to impress you enough to let them continue making pebble mosaics for wealthy people in the area,” Antia explained.

The next section, the common atrium, was open to the sky with a cistern in the center to collect rainwater from the roofs, which sloped towards the atrium and the collection system. Another mosaic was being created there but was only partially complete. It was similar to a checkerboard, except the squares were diamond shaped. The side to the left of the cistern hadn’t been finished. Carpets covered the edges so that people could walk on it without kicking any of the set pebbles loose.

The next major room was the dining room. It was far larger than what I’d originally indicated and looked like a banquet hall adequate for at least a hundred people, complete with typical Roman short tables that were loaded with food and drink. Hundreds of cushions surrounded the tables for use by the diners. The food on the tables was on highly polished silver platters or in some of the silver bowls that we had looted from the palace in Pella or buildings in other wealthy cities we looted.

At least fifty beautiful girls stood along the walls waiting to serve us. They wore a skimpy version of a silk stola, one that left one breast exposed and barely covered their nether region, as long as they didn’t move or breathe. Once they began moving about the room, everything was exposed.

Dinner was a boisterous affair and the Senators asked questions almost nonstop, only allowing me a few moments between questions to finish a bite of food. Each bite was furnished by my personal server. I had no idea what her name was, but I recognized her as one of the single women from either Dion or Pydna.

She appeared to be genuinely happy and seemed to purposely sit so that her sex was openly displayed in my direction. I almost missed the question when one of the Senators asked about my battle tactics, wondering why I rarely engaged the enemy directly.

“Given the horrendous losses of Roman sons against Hannibal, I hoped to bring as many of my men home as possible. Besides, forcing an engagement with the enemy would mean losses among their troops, and fewer slaves to send back,” I replied.

“Then how can your troops prove their bravery and the superiority of Roman soldiers?” he questioned, sounding more puzzled than confrontational.

“That sort of thinking led to the disastrous battles against Hannibal,” I replied calmly. “I was under the impression that Rome had learned the lesson that rushing into a direct confrontation was not always a wise idea. Had Fabius Maximus lost many more troops to Hannibal in those direct confrontations, Hannibal might well have walked into Rome unopposed,” I reminded them.

Yeah, it was an exaggeration, and I’m sure they knew it, but I made my point. “Each time we faced an enemy that outnumbered us, the enemy surrendered or was defeated. Not once did any of my men look to retreat, even when we engaged them with our bows. Each time, it was the Macedonians who surrendered the battlefield.”

“I did not mean to cast aspersions on your tactics, I merely don’t understand them,” the Senator replied apologetically. “I was trained that Roman troops were superior to those of any other country, and I guess that I’m having a difficult time accepting that superior weapons and tactics are a substitute for superior troops,” he sighed.

“And now we have all three,” I replied, receiving nods of approval from all twelve Senators, thirteen counting Theodocio.

“Who is this goddess that you worship?” one of them asked conversationally, not showing any sign that he was upset about it.

“Let me find one of the small statues,” I said, but my personal slave put her hand on my leg to stop me while another of the slaves scurried off into the villa. The grin on her face told me that placing her hand so high on my thigh hadn’t been an accident.

I realized at that point that I had no idea where any of the other rooms in the villa were, and that I had no idea where Antia had put the statues. A couple of minutes later, the slave returned carrying one of the smaller statues, one about a foot tall.

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