When in Rome - Cover

When in Rome

Copyright© 2023 by FantasyLover

Chapter 9

I awoke in the morning to Cassia being frisky. “Lucius never made me or any of the slave girls pregnant,” she whispered, the excitement shining in her eyes. “Celsus is trying and agreed that I could let you try, too.”

Later that day, I learned that more than a thousand people had gathered on the southernmost tip of the peninsula south of Misenum to watch us test the catapults. They had been able to see both the white cloud and the rain of fire, as well as watching the black smoke as the target raft burned. By the time we made it to town for the wrestling matches, it seemed that everyone had heard about what we did yesterday.

The local cities already knew that we were training troops, although they didn’t know why. They knew that our troops had superior bows, and some had better swords. Plus, they all had saddles. With the addition of what they called fire rain, I suddenly received even more attention than before, and even more respect. That evening, Celsus commented on it, too, having been the recipient of the same increase due to my association with him.

While I was on Sardinia, the siege engineers sent by the Senate had arrived and my men began working with them, as well as with our own men that we were training to use the catapults. They started training on land, using concrete payloads that weighed the same as filled amphorae. They practiced at my bombing range along the lakeside beach to familiarize themselves with the catapult’s operation, as well as mentally timing how long it took for the concrete to reach its target.

Once they mastered the catapults on land, they started training aboard deceres so they could familiarize themselves with the rising and falling of their boat as they aimed their shots, as well as gauging the movement of opposing ships. We had a trireme sailing across the area trailing a trireme-sized raft. Like the one I’d used for our initial demonstration, the raft was only a frame, so we didn’t waste too much lumber. The trireme was never endangered. The same can’t be said about the numerous target rafts, some destroyed by chunks of concrete, and others by napalm.

The rare times they practiced with the quicklime amphorae, they made sure the wind would blow the noxious cloud away from both the catapult ship and the ship towing the target raft. By the time I returned from Sardinia, the catapult crews were ready. Many of the crews had one of the Roman siege engineers with them to observe and gauge the effectiveness of the weapons and the way we employed them.

I returned to another surprise. The Senate had sent twenty male molossers for our campaign. Molossers were large dogs, one of the breeds that had been combined to make the modern mastiff. The animals were tall enough that the tops of their heads came to my waist when the dogs stood on all fours. Molossers were heavy, large-boned dogs used as shepherding dogs, hunting dogs, and war dogs.

These had been trained as war dogs, and a trainer accompanied them. The Senate also sent a dozen females for us to breed to provide me with more of the dogs in the future. They insisted that I keep at least three of the dogs with me while we were fighting and asked me to use ten of my best troops as my personal bodyguard.

Theodocio was back from Rome and explained that the Senate wanted to keep me safe. He was also able to purchase nearly three thousand librae (over 2200 pounds or 1000 kg) of niter that he brought with him. He told the man he bought it from to order as much as he could, explaining that they were preserving a lot of meat for the army in case Rome ended up being dragged into the fighting in Greece to protect allies.

That night, I had another of “those” dreams. Having not experienced one for some time, I’d been a bit worried that I’d done something wrong and alienated the Goddess. When I awoke in the morning, the enormity of two things hit me. First, I was about to wage war in 200 BC against a militarily dominant country. Second, and possibly even more frightening, was knowing that eleven of my women were pregnant with my children, as were all three of Celsus’s women. I also knew that the younger women would be fine if they became pregnant before they turned sixteen. I even had time to make sure Felixa and Tatiana were pregnant before my troops and I were to sail in eight days.

Antia obviously had the same dream because she insisted that I tend to both Felixa and Tatiana that morning before I left the villa and told all three of the younger women that they could now become pregnant if they so desired.

I assembled the twenty-eight-hundred troops and announced that we would leave with the morning tide in eight days. I also warned the men that we would do things differently when we captured a city. If they capitulated without a fight, we would take no more than one tenth of the population as slaves. None of the women were to be raped or harmed and no one was to be killed unless I decreed it as a punishment. If the men took a female as a slave, they could use her for sex, but were limited to oral and vaginal intercourse for the first month. Each woman was limited to one man and vaginal sex no more than twice a day except virgins who were limited to once a day for the first three days.

I explained my reasoning. “Imagine how hard you would fight to protect your family if you thought they would be raped and tortured if they were captured,” I reminded them. “The inhabitants of the cities we fight will feel the same way. If we earn a reputation for not being brutal to cities that capitulate, imagine how much easier it will be for the men and soldiers to decide to surrender rather than fight us once they see what our weapons are capable of.”

I assured the men that we would go through the towns and cities and seize most of the valuables. However, I insisted that we leave them enough food to survive, not destroy buildings in towns that surrendered without fighting, and only take loot from the rich, the government, and the military.

For any cities that resisted, we would enslave the entire population and take everything of value. Still, the rules about the treatment of women would be the same. Once I finished, the men stood and cheered, looking forward to a victory.

I toured all my enterprises each day, making sure everyone was comfortable with my long-term plans, with their current situation, and with my impending absence. The construction of the five villae rustica was progressing surprisingly rapidly, and there were more than a hundred slaves working at each of the sites. Valerius assured me that all five would be complete within six weeks, which made me happy for the workers and their families. They would be moved in well before the cold weather arrived, although most of the rainy season would be over by then. They had even made clay pipes to direct steam from volcanic vents to each of the villae rustica, although they were having to figure out how to run the pipes through each room and the barns. Rather than allow steam into the rooms, heat from the pipes would keep the rooms warm since I hadn’t figured out how to make a radiator.

Two days before leaving, we loaded the catapults and the cranes needed to remove them from the ships, along with plenty of ammunition. Ten merchant ships would accompany us with nothing but food, extra arrows, extra lances, and more catapult ammunition. Other ships carried our horses and their food and water.

Eleven of the deceres carried a catapult, as well as troops that would remain aboard to defend the ship once the rest of us landed. One of the eleven was my flagship. The rest of our armada carried the troops. My initial estimate of needing a hundred ships turned out to be inflated since triremes carried far fewer troops than deceres or quinqueremes. We only had twenty triremes, and those were reserved for attacking the Macedonian fleet because they were more maneuverable and could sail among the anchored fleet of Macedonian ships while our archers picked off any troops still aboard the Macedonian ships while staying far enough away that the Macedonians couldn’t respond in kind.

Most of the Macedonian ships were deceres and large cargo ships. I hoped to capture as many as possible, only destroying ships that we couldn’t capture. Three of our deceres would accompany the triremes to use their catapults against any Macedonian ship that managed to get underway.

The afternoon before we were to leave, our troops and their horses boarded the remaining ships. Once a ship was loaded, it anchored offshore to expedite our morning departure.

The morning of our departure, there was surprisingly little confusion as our armada weighed anchor and headed out of the harbor. Within an hour of reaching open water, the wind picked up, pushing the fleet in the desired direction.

That night, not even the gentle rocking of the ship, the rhythmic creaking of the oars, or the groaning of the ropes holding the straining sail could lull me to sleep. After the hectic pace I had set for the last five months, I had been looking forward to our voyage to confront Philip V of Macedon outside the city of Abydos.

I finally fell asleep after worrying about every detail. Would the weather hold for the remainder of our voyage? Would the Macedonian troops and fleet be where the Goddess told me they would be? Would Philip V of Macedon surrender or would he insist on fighting? If he chose to fight, how many of his troops would follow him after we demonstrated the new weapons? What would he do to counter our catapults and the range advantage of our bows?

I’d been a squad leader in the Marines, so I was used to leading men into battle. I was trained to follow orders and improvise as needed. I was not trained to plan invasions that could trigger a war between two countries and risk the prestige of Celsus and Theodocio should we fail. Failing would also leave my numerous unborn children fatherless, although Celsus had promised to take care of them, like I had promised to take care of his women if anything happened to him.

Day 263

I slept late into the morning, finally awakening, and feeling fully rested for the first time in months. Sometime before noon I actually laughed when I realized that nearly every general I had met in my previous life had grey hair and wondered if it was from carrying the heavy burden of responsibility that I now carried.

The captain of our ship commented that the Goddess I’d spoked about must have blessed our venture. The wind shifted as we sailed around the southern tip of Italy last night and the full moon let him steer the course through the narrow channel between the peninsula and the island of Sicily. No sooner had the last of our ships cleared the peninsula and finished the turn to the east than the wind shifted, once again blowing in the exact direction we were headed. By the time I woke up, we were miles beyond Italy and headed northeast towards what would be the Dardanelles Strait in my original time. The captain exclaimed that the fleet was making record time.

During the day, I worried about everything, but finally realized that worrying wouldn’t accomplish anything. All I could do was hope and pray everything would go somewhat as planned, and we would react appropriately to anything that didn’t follow our plan. Still, the old adage that no plan survives first contact ran through my mind constantly.

Day 265

The captain woke me in the middle of the night, telling me that we were passing the small island of Tenedos. It belonged to our ally Pergamum and meant that we’d reach the Hellespont (Dardanelles Strait) soon. Our destination, Canakkale, was not far beyond that. Canakkale was a small city less than five miles south of Abydos.

I had the man wielding the cornu aboard our ship blow it three times, wait, and blow it twice. That was our prearranged signal to prepare to debark. For a good ten minutes afterwards, I could hear the horn signal relayed from ship to ship, although most of our ships should have heard the original signal. Across the calm, open water and with the relative silence out at sea, it should carry for a couple miles.



The oarsmen bent to their task when we entered the long strait of the Hellespont. It was the first time in days that they had to row so they were well rested. Less than two hours later, we reached Canakkale. Docking and unloading took far longer than I had hoped. First, we unloaded the troops to protect against an attack. Once they were in position, the horses and four catapults were unloaded, along with carts to carry extra catapult ammunition, food, arrows, and other supplies.

Each man already carried enough rations for four days, and ten sheaves of arrows. Once our ships were unloaded, I started to worry about how long we had before dawn. The ship’s captain pointed to the moon, which had nearly reached the western horizon and told me that we had plenty of time to reach Abydos before dawn.

Our scouts returned and reported that the Macedonian army was camped east of Abydos, and it appeared that they were still asleep. Their ships were anchored just north of the city, right where I said they’d be. For the first time in weeks, I felt the apprehension drain from my body. Whether it was the news or the realization that we were so close to the enemy, I suddenly felt energized, my senses heightened like they had always been right before a battle.

With the scouts ahead of us again, we started for Abydos. Our troops formed a convex shield in front of us. Two companies rode to our right and two to our left. Two companies protected our rear. The carts and catapults creaked, groaned, bumped, and thumped along the road to Abydos, almost reminding me of a short, albeit exceptionally slow, column of armor.

Shortly before the first light of the false dawn, we were in position less than half a mile south of the sleeping Macedonians and the city of Abydos. Their sentries were more intent on preventing an escape from Abydos than detecting an external threat, so they’d been easy to deal with. A very slight rise hid us from the view of the Macedonian army. Most of our troops were spread out along a line just behind the rise, ready to move forward and unleash volleys of arrows.

Three companies flanked the Macedonians on the east, my right. Four companies were on my left, the Macedonian right. The extreme right side of the Macedonians’ phalanx formation would be their weakest point since they carried their shields on their left. One Company was aboard our ships that were now closing in behind the Macedonian fleet.

I’m sure that I stood out astride my horse atop the low rise, and I stayed there until there was enough light to make out our small attack fleet deployed beyond the Macedonian fleet, cutting them off from open water.

“It’s time,” I said to what I liked to think of as my bugler, although his bugle was a cornu, and he was referred to as a cornicen. The cornu looked like a very skinny Sousaphone.

As he rode up beside me, the rest of our troops advanced with him to the crest of the rise. As some two thousand of us prepared mentally to face the nine thousand Macedonian troops, a single drawn-out bass note came from my cornicen’s horn. I was impressed when he held the note for nearly half a minute. That note was intended to draw the attention of the Macedonian troops, and to tell our fleet to advance.

I could see that the attack fleet was already moving slowly in our direction, anticipating the sunrise. With their sails furled, I could see our large red flags flying from the mast of each ship. Each flag had a bright yellow border with a large yellow “I” (Roman numeral 1) in the center of the flag. If we returned successfully, I fully expected this group to become the first brigade of the Roman Marine Corps.

Each two-hundred-man company had a similar, although much smaller triangular flag. It also had a large yellow “I” (Roman numeral 1) and had a Roman letter from A through O for companies 1-14. A Captain commanded each company.

[Author’s note: no, that’s not a mistake. There was no J in the Roman alphabet.]

A Company was broken down into four platoons, each commanded by a Lieutenant. Each platoon had five squads commanded by a Sergeant, and each squad had two teams headed by a Corporal. A Colonel was my second in command.

While the rudely awakened Macedonians scrambled below us, I had my bugler sound “attention.” With everyone watching me, I signaled for catapult 1 and had the bugler signal “Fire.” The punk man lit the fuse and jumped back. A moment later, the amphora arced through the sky as the catapult bucked like a pissed off Brahma bull. All movement in the Macedonian camp ceased when it exploded in the air and the burning napalm rained down onto the ground partway between us.

The same scenario repeated three more times as each of our other three catapults launched a single amphora. When the final catapult’s amphora was launched, I waited until all four had reloaded, this time with quicklime.

I signaled to catapult four’s crew with a closed fist and received the same signal in return indicating that they had, indeed, reloaded properly. My bugler signaled “Fire.” This projectile would explode closest to the Macedonian camp. The brisk breeze was blowing from directly behind us right towards the Macedonian camp and should keep the powder away from the city.

It exploded about a hundred feet in the air. The white cloud swirled and spread, gradually drifting lower as it neared the Macedonian camp. Most of the Macedonian troops wisely ran to the side of the drifting cloud as it passed them by. The few who remained ended up writhing on the ground.

Having completed my demonstration, I rode forward carrying a white flag, alone save for the four dogs with me. A man that I assumed was Philip finished putting on his armor and sword while his horse was brought to him, and he then rode out to meet me.

“Who are you and what do you want?” he asked angrily in Macedonian. I answered in his tongue. “I am Quintus, leader of these mercenary troops hired by Pergamon and Rhodes. You may either surrender or die trying to fight us,” I replied calmly.

“I have far more troops than you do,” he snorted derisively.

“Yes, it does appear that way,” I responded calmly. “But even if I have fewer troops, how many of yours will survive the rain of fire and the white clouds?” I asked. “Those who do will face my archers,” I added, turning, and pointing to the man to the right of my bugler. When he saw me, I made a drawing motion for a bow.

He raised his bow and released a single arrow that Philip watched, his eyes growing larger as the arrow came closer. It stuck into the ground about fifty feet from us. “You chose the one archer with that range,” he accused.

“Choose any archer that you wish,” I replied. He did, finding a man about two hundred yards to the left. When the man pointed at himself, Philip shook his head and pointed more to the left until the man he wanted raised his hand. Philip watched as his arrow went even farther than the first.

“What are your intentions if we surrender?” he asked thoughtfully, although I had the impression that he was stalling to give his men time to prepare for battle.

“If they surrender, the men in your standing army will be sold as slaves. The conscripted men will be sent home. If you fight, the few who survive will be sold as slaves.”

“Let me speak with my other commanders. I’ll send a messenger back with my answer,” he said, and then turned to ride away.

“What treachery is this?” he screamed when he saw my warships among his and nearly to the beach.

“No treachery at all,” I replied. “My ships were already attacking yours. If you didn’t see it and respond, it’s not my fault,” I replied calmly. I waited and watched until he was more than a hundred yards away, expecting him to turn and attack me.

When he didn’t, I rode back to our lines and gave the signal to prepare for battle, a message repeated by my cornicen. We moved forward slowly, making sure the teams of horses pulling the heavy catapults kept up with us until the last of the catapults was well beyond the top of the rise and the troops were below them on level ground, arrayed in a battle line.

I could hear Philip shouting orders when he reached his own lines and his troops hurriedly formed up for battle. By now, our triremes had captured most of the Macedonian ships and prize crews had begun moving the ones closest to shore farther out to sea. One of our deceres came closer to shore and launched a napalm amphora into the middle of the Macedonian camp. It didn’t harm any of their troops but reminded the Macedonians that they were surrounded, with my troops both in front of them and flanking them. The sea was behind them. After the single salvo, our ships moved farther from shore so as not to be affected by a quicklime cloud.

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