The Sword of Jupiter
Copyright© 2021 by Lumpy
Ky walked into what he was thinking of as the throne room the next morning, refreshed, despite the small amount of sleep he’d gotten the night before. Although he could get along on very little sleep when needed, the doctors had still recommended eight hours of sleep when possible.
While he hadn’t hit that benchmark by any degree, he still felt like a weight had been lifted off him. He considered that maybe it was because he’d at least made a decision, allowing him to focus on going forward instead of standing still. The soldier in him enjoyed the simple distinction of having a clear objective. A small part of him suggested there might be more to it than that but Ky wasn’t clear what that would have been.
He’d sent for two more stacks of documents the previous night and, while he knew he needed to do a lot more reading, he felt he had a good handle on the Romans’ general situation, if not its specific tactical one. He’d also gotten a picture of their society and technology. On the technological front, while this was a far cry from what his people had in the future, he was surprised by how advanced it was, all considering. He had never been a historian and had nothing beyond the most shadowy of ideas of what Roman technology had been. When he’d explained his understanding the night before the AI had suggested he was confusing Roman, medieval, and even some renaissance history together.
He was less thrilled with what he’d learned about Roman society. While he was fine with the society being led by an Emperor, mostly because his own had something very similar, he was thrown by the large amount of slavery that existed among the Romans. The poor who couldn’t pay their bills, the children of people already in slavery, and those captured in Roman battles, including women and children found in overrun cities were all part of a large slave class. He found himself extremely bothered by the practice, although the AI pointed out the same situation existed among all the contemporary societies.
For now, he’d have to live with the practice, but Ky had promised himself he’d work on convincing the Romans to abandon the practice if at all possible. That was, of course, assuming he and the Romans as a whole survived the upcoming battle.
Ky was surprised to see the room a lot less full than he expected, although it was far from what he would have called empty. Standing around the edge of the table that currently held a large map with various figures sitting atop it were the Emperor, Lucilla, and Ursinus, along with three of the men he’d met the previous day and a fourth man Ky had not seen before. A few steps behind the three men from the day before and the newcomer were about a dozen more men wearing various symbols of rank that meant nothing to Ky but that he took to be subordinates of the men closest to the map.
“Ky, excellent,” the Emperor said, looking up as Ky was ushered into the room by one of the guards at the door.
“You asked for me?” Ky said, walking up to the table.
“First, I wanted to tell you how happy I am that you’ve decided to stay with us.”
“You and your daughter both made good arguments.”
Father beamed at daughter for a moment before looking at the other two men in the room, “Ursinus you know, and you met Ramirus, Globulus, and Velius the other day, albeit briefly. Globulus and Velius each command one of the two full legions we have at our disposal for this fight, while Ramirus is in charge of our spies and intelligence. Aelius is Primus Pilus of the Ninth Legion and brought back what is left of it after half the legion along with the legate and all the tribunes were lost. While not a full legion, I have asked him to stand as its legate for now, since he is familiar with the men.”
Ky nodded to each as they were introduced.
“I asked Ky to be here so you could bring him up to speed on where things stand,” the Emperor said to the gathered men. “I’m interested in hearing our new friend’s point of view on the defenses. Legate, why don’t you start?”
The last sentence had been said to the man identified as Globulus, who made a sour expression and indicated with a nod that the younger legate should take the lead. Ky couldn’t help glancing briefly at the Emperor, wondering what the man was thinking. From their conversation the day before, Ky was certain the Emperor was one of the craftier men he’d ever met, but Ky still wasn’t sure why he’d been sent for. The man didn’t know him and had no idea what Ky could or couldn’t do, except what Lucilla or Ursinus would have told him about the two small clashes Ky had been involved in. Except for Ky telling the Emperor the day before that he was a soldier, there was no reason Ky could think of for the Emperor to have called him to the planning session.
“Certainly, my lord. Thanks to the information Ky brought back, and some additional information we have from assets in Londinium itself, we know this is the majority of the forces Maharbaal currently has locally. We’ve heard rumors that the ending of the revolt in Iberia has opened up additional forces, but we are pretty sure he hasn’t received any forces from the Continent yet, and most likely won’t until after the ground thaws. While Ramirus’s sources might have missed the army marching out, based on some of the insignia Ursinus saw during the ambush, we are fairly certain this is part of the force already stationed on Britannia. Which is, in its own way, good news.”
“The army is four times your size, how is that good news?” Ky asked.
“Because this is the majority of the forces available to them for now. While he kept some in reserve back in Londinium, based on the numbers Ramirus’s men were able to put together, a lot of that needs to remain where it is to keep the local countryside pacified. Why that is good for us is that, if we can somehow beat back this army, we will have at least the winter to prepare for his next incursion. Snow is already starting to fall which means there are fewer supplies available than there would be at other points in the year. Plus, they would need to outfit their army to fight in the cold, which the Carthaginians just aren’t set up to do. They rarely operate north of the Danube, and hardly go into even Gaul, leaving that to their Germanic puppets. They would end up spending most of the winter pulling together new forces and equipping them for winter operations, just to have to equip them again for coming at us after the ground has thawed and the temperatures go back up.”
“Doesn’t that mean they’ll spend the winter putting together a new army to come after you? One most likely better equipped and much larger than the one they’ve already sent, to make sure they get the job done?”
“That is absolutely what it means,” Velius said. “It also gives us time to do the same and prepare for another assault. We can worry about that then. For now, we need to deal with the threat in front of us.”
“Which, as Ky pointed out, is still an army four times your size, Legate,” Lucilla said.
“That is true, my lady. We have some ideas for that, however. My plan,” Globulus said, pointing at locations on the map as he spoke, “is to push forward and straddle the Silurum - Devnum road. The forest is dense and goes almost all the way to the ocean on the West, and to the Sabrina River on the east. The only real path to us is either to go around to the coast and follow the coastline towards us, which still limits how far they can deploy their army and requires an almost sixty-thousand passus detour, or to backtrack fifty-thousand passus and go around the Sabrina. The only direct route is to come at us up the central road, which is bounded on either side by thick forest. This will keep him from turning our flanks and let us take his army head-on.”
“Can you win a head-on battle against so many men?” Ky asked.
“Quite possibly. My men are hardier and better fighters than the Carthaginians. I know we can take them in a straight-up fight where I can control how much of their army can get at us.”
Globulus sounded confident, but it was clear from the expression on both Velius’s and Ramirus’s faces that they did not share his confidence.
“I don’t mean to sound doubtful Legate, but is it wise to use the superiority of your troops, which I am in no way doubting, as the entire basis of your strategy?”
“Wise? The Roman legions are the best armies in the world and cannot be beaten in a stand-up fight. Additionally, it neutralizes their larger cavalry. Coming to grips with them just as they exit the forest will keep their archers or siege train from deploying against us, as well.”
Ky opted not to point out the Roman Legions had lost time and again to the Carthaginians, pushed out of Africa, off the Continent, and now hemmed into one side of Britain.
Instead, he said, “True, but the forest is not impassible. Yes, it will keep his men from going around your flanks in mass but, if their general is smart, he will still send soldiers through the trees to harass you from the side and rear, and eventually cut you off. He has more than enough soldiers to pour them into the trees piecemeal, in hopes that it weakens your force enough for his front line to push through, or to engage you long enough that he completely surrounds your legions, forcing you to fight in all directions.”
“Our cavalry should be able to hold the tree line,” The legate said, sounding a little less sure of himself.
“Commander,” the AI queried. “An additional strategy is available for the given array of forces.”
“Show me,” Ky sub-vocalized.
The map animated in front of his eyes as the AI overlaid troops based on the figures he’d been given by Ursinus during their ride back to Devnum and what he’d seen of the Carthaginian army. As Ky watched, the AI’s strategy was laid out in front of him and played out in repeating cycles as the AI showed possible outcomes to the strategy and their effects.
“Ky,” Lucilla said, her voice breaking through his concentration.
“Wha...” he said, looking up to find all the faces in the room turned towards him.
He’d been so focused on the strategies offered by the AI that he had stopped paying attention so the other people had noticed.
“Did you have something to offer?” the Emperor asked.
“Yes, my lord, I think I see an alternative strategy.”
“My lord, I renew my protest. I can’t see why we should listen to...” Globulus started to say but stopped as the Emperor held up a hand.
“I would like to hear him out,” the Emperor commanded, causing Globulus’ already dour face to darken even more.
“Let me make sure of a few points first. Based on my observations of their army and my reading last night, the Carthaginians primarily use phalanxes to hold an opposing force in place and a combination of their cavalry and light infantry to work around the sides of the pinned army?”
“Their cavalry, like our own, is mostly used as mounted archers and scouts until the opposing forces lose cohesion, but otherwise correct.”
“Am I also right in saying the phalanx is more vulnerable than your legions to flanking attacks?” Ky asked.
“Yes. Generally, they are more lightly armored than our legionaries, and they don’t pivot to face attacks from new directions nearly as well,” Velius replied.
“My suggestion would be that you split your forces. You move back to just past where the road leaves the forest and opens up into the farmland between here and Devnum. There you would use two full legions as a holding force to blunt the Carthaginian army and hold them against the forest, or at least let them feel they have you pinned in place. Once the army is all the way deployed, we would smash into its rear and flanks with the Aelius’s men and all of the cavalry.”
“You want me to take on a force four times my size with mine broken into three smaller groups? That’s madness!” Globulus bellowed.
“Hear him out!” the Emperor said, his voice taking on a tone of command Ky hadn’t heard from him before.
“I understand the idea of splitting your army is distasteful, but with the right timing, it could be enough to counter the Carthaginian’s superior forces.”
“I assume you have a plan to ensure our forces achieve total surprise?” the Emperor asked.
“Yes,” Ky said as he proceeded to lay out the AIs plan in detail.
When Ky finished walking the Emperor and his legates through the details of the plan Velius was nodding thoughtfully while Globulus could barely contain his contempt. Aelius, for his part, was silent, seeming uncomfortable surrounded by so many men of higher standing, including the emperor.
“Will this work?” The Emperor asked his legates.
Velius gave the map another long look as he collected his thoughts and said, “Maybe. If everything goes as he says, yes. I’ve fought the Carthaginians in one of my first battles. It was a skirmish, but I’ve seen how they fight. They don’t do well with attacks into their rear. If we manage to pull it off, it will work. If they break the holding force before the Ninth can engage and turn to face the new threat, however, then it’s all over.”
For his part Globulus made a disgruntled noise.
“Is he right about the chances of the original plan being successful?”
“No,” Globulus declared.
“Yes,” Velius said, almost simultaneous with the other legate, who glared at Velius.
“So his plan gives us a better chance of defeating the enemy?”
Globulus didn’t reply, continuing to glare at the younger centurion.
“It is risky, but yes,” Aelius said, speaking for the first time.
Velius took his joining the conversation in stride while Globulus didn’t even try to mask the raw contempt on his face.
“Do we have any ideas that are less risky and still give us any chance of stopping their army?”
“No, my lord,” Velius said.
“It seems we should go with Ky’s plan, then.”
“My Lord, we can’t...” Globulus started to protest but was interrupted by the Emperor.
“No. I was concerned about your plan from the beginning. Everything he said about the weakness in that plan had already occurred to me and it should have occurred to you. His plan, while it is risky, does at least address those problems. You will follow my orders.”
“With your leave, I will go to my men and prepare them to move into the assigned positions,” Globulus said, looking angry.
“Yes. Please coordinate with Velius’s legion. Aelius, I will issue orders that you will retain direct command of the Ninth for now, but Ky will be in overall command of the ambushing forces.”
“As you say, my lord,” Globulus said and turned to leave, several of the men falling in line with him, leaving the large, open room.
“What about your other legions?” Ky asked. “You said the Ninth arrived just recently. Is there any chance more could come to our aid before the Carthaginians attack?”
“No. They’re all putting down an incursion by the northern barbarians. We sent a runner to them requesting they send four of their eight legions back to us, but its two days ride there and that’s for a single messenger riding hard. It will take the legions we requested at least five days to get here. It’s only luck that had Aelius detached with a weakened legion to reinforce and refit itself.”
“My lord, I also need to go to my legion and begin getting my men prepared. We will need to move in the next few hours to get our men in place. Their outriders could be upon us as soon as tomorrow morning. If this trap is going to work, they need to report back to their leaders about our formations waiting for them just outside the forest. The more the Carthaginian general is focused on our holding force, the less chance they will look for our ambushing forces.”
“Certainly, Legate,” the Emperor said, using a much friendlier voice that he’d used with Globulus. “Aelius, you should also return to your men. Ky will join you before you move into your final positions.”
“Thank you Princeps,” Aelius said, and left along with two more of the silent observers.
“If you approve, I’d appreciate it if I could take Ky with me to visit the army. His suggestion seems to be the best option we have, but I think it would be good if he saw the forces first hand, to see if it changes his suggestions.”