The Sword of Jupiter
Copyright© 2021 by Lumpy
Seventh Legion & Ninth Legion Camps, South of Devnum
Velius led Ky towards a much larger tent in the center of the camp, which he assumed was Velius’s quarters or some sort of meeting area. Inside, eleven men were gathered, each introduced by name and their position, none of which made much sense to Ky. He hadn’t considered it yet, since so far he’d only met the commanders of legions which he’d internalized to being equal to a regiment in the ground forces of his time, although without, apparently, the larger command apparatus that he was used to which existed between field commanders and their Emperor.
Velius outlined Ky’s plan for them, which didn’t take much time considering the simplicity of the Seventh Legion’s part in the upcoming battle.
“Could you explain how the military operates here?” Ky asked the AI internally as Velius began explaining each commander’s responsibilities for the upcoming battle.
“Not all information on current Roman military formations is currently available. From reviewed historical documents, there is a known deviation from the organizational structure of either second century B.C.E. at the point of the deviation or the structures from the time period of the early Roman Empire. Extrapolation from reviewed historical documents suggests Roman organization structures developed on a new path adapting structures used by other nations to counter falling Roman manpower and respond to repeated Roman defeats.”
“So the structure they have now is unique to this timeline.”
“Do you have details of the current structure used in this timeline?”
“Yes, Commander. Enough information on current structures is available to extrapolate.”
“Due to manpower shortages, the largest field unit currently deployed by the Romans is the legion. From reviewed records, it appears the legions rarely work in groups greater than three and normally deploy in singles. According to the map and documents in the council of war you attended, the Romans can currently only field five legions. Each legion is commanded by a legate and reports directly to the Emperor or the senior legate if the legions are operating collectively. The legion is made up of nine standard and one reinforced cohorts and led by their senior centurions. The standard cohorts are made up of six centuries of eighty men each while the reinforced cohort has five centuries of one-hundred and sixty men, with each century headed by a centurion. The centuries are further subdivided into eight-man units called contubernium led by a decanus. The legion is supplemented by one-hundred and twenty man cavalry commanded by a centurion and which could be further divided into groups of thirty, each lead by a decurion.”
“What about artillery?”
“Romans of this time seem to use artillery only in sieges, a rare occurrence due to their defensive nature. Each cohort is assigned between one hundred and five hundred auxiliary troops who are used for tasks ranging from manual labor to skirmishing to manning artillery pieces as needed. There seem to be no soldiers dedicated to artillery itself.”
“So, let me get this right. They use whoever is the highest-ranking centurion to lead a cohort, which leaves his century under his second in command. They have no serious cavalry and no one who’s actually dedicated to learning field works and artillery.”
“Not precisely commander. The armies at this time are primarily focused on heavy infantry with cavalry’s primary role being scouting or as mobile ranged weapons. Although enough information on artillery in this timeline is not available, the corresponding artillery in the originating timeline was limited in quality and functionality and not primarily used in a field setting. As for command structure, this is largely correct. With some exceptions in support staff for the legate such as engineering and clerical specialists, Romans on this timeline have no concept for staff officers.”
“That seems like a poor way to run an army.”
The AI had no response to that and Ky let it drop. Velius was winding down his instructions and turned to Ky.
“Ky, anything to add?”
“No, you covered everything. Just remember you must hold them in place until the Ninth Legion can strike them. If they break through your lines, they will be able to turn on the weaker Ninth and wipe it out.”
“Good. Make sure your men have a good night’s sleep. We expect the Carthaginians at some point tomorrow morning.”
“Do you have someone well versed in artillery?”
Velius turned to a man whose name Ky didn’t remember with a questioning glance.
“Sepurcius has always been a bit ... overzealous when it comes to those damn things.”
“I’ll need to talk to him, next,” Ky said.
“Right. Gordianus, bring your man here. The rest of you, get to it.”
The ten men filed out of the command tent, leaving Velius and Ky alone.
“I find your organizational structure very strange.”
“Really? Even after our displacement by the Carthaginians, Rome is still known to have the most professional military in the known world.”
“I’m sorry, Legate, I wasn’t implying your men weren’t professional. I just know of some other organizational structures that might be more effective.”
“Again, I’d like to hear about these at some point. You seem to have a wide range of knowledge we do not. I’d be a fool to not hear about it.”
“Maybe. Mine is all theory, however. I was a very different kind of soldier than you or your men, so my theory may not work in practice. Once this is over, however, I’ll share what I know and you and your fellow legates can decide what would work best with your armies.”
Velius gave a wry laugh and looked away.
“One of the reasons Globulus and some of his old guard dislike me is my lack of respect for the old ways. I’m not sure you’d find many welcome ears.”
“We can deal with that when we get to it.”
The tent flap opened and a man younger than Velius ducked through. To Ky’s age, he was almost a child and not a soldier.
“Legate?” the young man said, slapping an arm across his chest and keeping his eyes downcast.
“You’re Favonius Gordianus’s man?” Velius asked, sounding as if he was harboring some of the same doubts Ky felt when he saw them.
“Yes, Legate,” he said, his voice squeaking.
“This is a guest of the Princeps who has agreed to help us prepare for tomorrow’s battle. Gordianus tells me you are familiar with our siege engines?”
“Do you have something that will hurl clay jugs filled with a liquid roughly a hundred yards and keep the vessels intact on launch?” Ky asked.
“The onagers would be able to. We made adjustments to them in last season’s campaign to throw containers of Greek fire.”
“All of your shots went on target?”
“One misfired, and the container fell, catching the crew and equipment alight, but the rest hit close to their targets. I’ve been working on modifying my weapon for greater reliability and accuracy.”
“How many of those do you have in your legion?”
“How many in the Ninth and First Legions?”
“As far as I’m aware, the Ninth lost their baggage train in their last conflict. The First has four, my lord.”
Ky turned to Velius and said, “How much trouble would Globulus give us if we asked him for his four to be put under a joint command.”
“It shouldn’t be any trouble, Dominous,” Sepurcius answered.
Velius’s eyes narrowed slightly, aware of a context to the statement Ky didn’t understand or perhaps for speaking out of place.
Velius must have chosen to ignore it because he asked, “Why is that soldier?”
“The Fifth hardly ever uses their equipment. They don’t have anyone assigned to look after them and most the men are more annoyed having to transport them. I’ve asked to borrow parts off them a few times, and they never care.”
“Perhaps it’s best if we let Sepurcius get the equipment for us, to avoid Globulus suddenly deciding he must have them because we asked.”
Velius smiled and said, “It seems you have a very good read on the legate. Yes, that’s probably for the best.”
“Sepurcius, do you have others you know of that you could trust to man these and follow specific instructions? We also need someone who knows how to mix chemical compounds.”
“Yes, Dominous, I do.”
“Before I go to the Ninth, I will put together a series of containers for you. Velius has your orders on what to do with them, but please be aware firing short will blind your fellow legionaries and cause serious trouble for them in the battle. It’s vitally important you hit the targets Velius gives you.”
“I won’t fail you Dominous.”
“Good,” Velius said. “Go and get us the siege equipment and any men you need to operate them effectively. By my order, they are under your command for the coming battle.”
The young man smiled brightly and slapped a fist to chest again before practically running out of the tent.
“I see the men have heard of your exploits,” Velius said.
“Why do you say that?”
“The address Dominous is usually one given by slave to master. They wouldn’t call me or the Princeps that. The only reason a Roman citizen would call another man that is if he wasn’t just a man.”
“Velius, please don’t buy into the stories Ursinus and Lucilla are sharing. I’m just a soldier.”
“Sure,” the younger man said, clearly not believing a word of it.
Ky went over a few more ideas for the upcoming battle and left to begin his journey to the Ninth. Velius assigned a soldier as a guide and for protection, even though Ky assured him neither was necessary. Before he left, he talked to one of the camp engineers and found the supplies he needed to make his special packages for the artillery. That done, he headed for the Ninth, who had the hardest task for the next day and with whom he’d be spending the night.
The Ninth was camped a half-mile away and was, if anything, was much more ramshackle than how the Seventh Legion had appeared. Many of the men looked to be injured in some way and their equipment was dirty and well used. He’d been told they’d only recently returned from a fierce battle that had cost them their commander and a portion of their legion but seeing it was a different experience for Ky.
Before his trip through the bridge, combat was an almost surgical thing, where nanites would repair all but the most serious injuries and the AI could walk back a person who’d been rendered unconscious, after a fashion. Walking wounded was not a thing he was used to experiencing in his time.
Ky tried to keep a positive expression on his face as they walked through the camp, realizing from each man’s expression that they’d already begun to hear stories about him and the silly Sword of Jupiter thing. Even though he didn’t believe in it, they clearly did, and in a battle where they’d be heavily outnumbered and hoping on luck as much as talent, morale was key.
He stopped and talked to some of the men, trying to give as many as he could a word of support or hope for tomorrow’s battle. It was only when they hit the medical tent that he lost the calm exterior he’d been fighting to maintain.
“STOP!” he commanded, grabbing one of the priests before he could place a bandage on a soldier.
“What’s the meaning of...” the man started to say as he turned around, only to stop when he realized who grabbed him.
“Dominous, is everything okay?” Aelius said, looking concerned.
Ky had already tried to squash the Dominous thing multiple times, but Aelius wouldn’t stop and seemed almost aghast at the suggestion he should call Ky by his name.
“They are going to kill these men.”
Several of the priests in the hospital tent began protesting at once. They were all very respectful but clearly incensed that their professionalism was being called into question.
“I watched you pull this stained wrapping off one man, and you were about to apply it to this other man. You’re going to cause infections that will very likely kill him.”
“How would a bandage cause his ailment to spread? We applied vinegar and honey to the wound and seal it with the bandages to keep the vapors in the air away from it.”
“While not as effective as true antibiotics or even primitive chemical disinfectants, both honey and vinegar were used to good effect in ancient times to combat bacterial infections.”
Ky ignored the AI, although once again realized the software offering unrequested opinions suggested things he would sooner not think about at the moment.
“The honey and vinegar are well and good, but if you put a bandage removed from someone else’s infection and place it on that man’s wound, it will just cancel out everything you’re doing with the honey and vinegar. The infection spreads by traveling from one infected region to another.”
“A Varroite,” one priest said to another, both giving knowing looks. “We know of Varro’s ideas, but they’ve been widely disproven. We appreciate your suggestions, but please let us work.”
“I have no idea who Varro is. I do know what you’re doing is wrong.”
“Medico, perhaps you could consider what he’s saying,” Aelius said. “I heard he took the Emperor from the brink of death to walking briskly out of his bedchambers by just placing his hand on the Princeps arm. If he can do that, I think he’s worth listening to. An avatar of the gods knows how to heal men’s wounds.”
Everything in Ky made him want to tell Aelius he had it all wrong, and there was nothing mystical about what he’d done, but keeping these men from killing more sick soldiers took priority. The priests looked at each other, considering his words and almost certainly considering both Ky’s supposedly divine provenance and his connection to the Emperor. Both religious and more practical reasoning seemed to have its effect.
“What would you have us do?” the priest asked.
“Any bandages that touch an open wound must be boiled thoroughly before being used again. The same with bed cloth, clothing, and any metal tools that might be used on a patient. Anything the injured man touches should be boiled and dried away from anything that contains bodily fluids. Continue to apply the vinegar and honey, but make sure wounds are cleaned when bandages are changed with water that has also been fully boiled for several minutes. The boiling will kill the things in the water or cloth that could cause sickness, making it clean to use.”
“So you do believe what Varro said, that small creatures are what cause wounds to fester and sickness.”
“Partially. It’s too complicated to go into now, and much of it I don’t think you’ll believe without proof. I can give you some, but the experiment I would show you will take time. Time which we don’t have. For now, please humor me. When we come out victorious tomorrow I will talk to the Emperor and teach you what I know. All I can tell you, for now, is that where I come from almost no one dies from wounds like this, most children are born healthy and live to adulthood, and neither sweating sicknesses nor the pox plague us. I’m not sure if I can make the same true for the Roman people, at least not quickly, but I can try to tell you why we don’t fear these things.”