The Trumpets of Mars
Chapter 4

Copyright© 2022 by Lumpy

Ky had hoped to slip out of town with his normal guards and a hundred Praetorians who would be taking the place of the legion currently manning the border. It was a large crowd, but he’d assembled them outside of the Praetorian camp, a little away from the city, to keep the fanfare to a minimum.

Despite that, three times the number of men he was taking with him were gathered around their assembly area, watching the men load up and occasionally talking to a friend here or there, which is probably how word of their departure slipped out. The crowd was a mishmash of people including legionaries on passes, Picts, farmers from the nearby fields who didn’t have much to do now that the ground had turned too hard to till, and tradesmen and new members of the working class come out from the city to see the men off. Closest to Ky were several of the legates and city leaders, as well as the Emperor and Lucilla accompanied by their guards, who’d come out to wish the men well on their travels north.

“I believe they want you to say a few words before you leave,” The Emperor said, nodding to the assembled crowd.

“Are you sure they didn’t come out just to see friends and loved ones off?”

“Some of them,” Lucilla said. “Look around, though. Most of these people are just here to see what’s happening. You’re headed north to sign the alliance that will form the new Empire. They might not all understand why we have to do this, but no one in Rome can ignore what a momentous trip this will be. Soon, men from the north will be traveling openly through Roman lands, looking for work, sightseeing, and trading. It’s a big day for all of us.”

“Very well,” Ky said, and mounted his horse, putting him above the assembled crowd. The men around him, most of who hadn’t mounted up yet, backed up to give him space.

“Thank you all for coming,” Ky said, projecting his voice in a way most natural-born humans could not, thanks to the augmentations that had happened across his entire musculature. “I know some of you are here to see your friends and loved ones who will be stationed along the northern border, some of whom you might not see for some time. The Emperor and I both want you to know that we recognize the sacrifice you and your families are making to support and protect the Empire. I promise you that everything possible has been done to ensure your loved ones are prepared for the duty ahead of them.”

He paused and looked out at the crowd, some of whom were still hugging their husband or brother or father who was heading north as part of the Praetorian detachment. A larger percentage of the crowd, however, was unmoved by the previous words, since they had no real connection to the men going north, beyond recognizing that these soldiers were going to protect them.

“For the rest of us, this is still a momentous day. We ride north to sign the treaty with our new allies and establish the Britannic Empire, through which we will reclaim what has been lost and push the Carthaginian hordes off these islands and away from Rome forever, ensuring the safety of every Britannic citizen, be they Roman or Caledonii. This new Empire will also bring new opportunities for prosperity to both of our peoples. New challenges await those who are able and willing to accept them, and a new world is ahead for all of us. Today is a new day. A happy day. A day neither for Romans nor for Caledonians. It’s a day for Britains!”

Most of the people cheered as Ky finished his brief speech. He hadn’t actually meant to name the people of the new Empire after the name of the Empire that would have one day sprung up in this same place, if history had been allowed to play out as it should have. He’d picked the name Britannic Empire for the new Empire simply because, by this time, most of the people on the island seemed to recognize the Roman name for it and its inhabitants.

Even in the real history, there had been such a layering of cultures over the centuries as Saxons, Celts, Romans, Scandinavians, and finally, Normans that they’d eventually just accepted the Latin name for the island. That process had accelerated in this timeline with the Romans controlling two-thirds of the lands for more than a century. The natives wouldn’t see themselves as Romans, since that was a foreign place, but Britain, even though it was a Latin word, was meant to identify the people of the islands and so considered acceptable.

It struck Ky as funny that, on a whim, he might have ended up giving the people who’d populate this island the same name as it would have in his history.

The end of the speech turned out to have a dual purpose. Although they had a long way to go that day, Ky hadn’t pushed them too hard to leave because he didn’t want to pull the men whose families and friends had shown up away from them too early. Had this been back when he first arrived, he probably would have already gotten the men on the road, but his recent experiences made him reconsider what being separated from their loved ones would do to the men.

Everyone took the end of the speech as some kind of unspoken signal that it was time to go, with the civilians who were intermingled with the soldiers starting to break out and move out to the sides of the parade ground where they’d assembled. Ky gave a signal to the centurion that had been put in overall command of this detachment who quickly got the men in order.

“Wait,” Lucilla said as Ky started to turn his horse and lead the men out.

He rotated the animal around so she could step up next to him. All of the saddles used by Romans had been modified with stirrups by this point, but Ky had been presented with one of the first saddles made with stirrups built into it two days before when he’d spent the evening with the legion. Now Lucilla motioned for him to move his foot out of the stirrup, which he did.

Once it was clear, she put her foot in it and, gripping the saddle, she pulled herself up so she was standing balanced on one leg, which was braced in the stirrup. Ky had to shift his weight to keep the saddle from sliding, but she was so light that the horse seemed to barely notice. Standing as she was, she ended up being actually a good half head span above Ky, looking down at him. Considering the conversation the night before about the proper way to show affection Ky was surprised when she broke her own advice and bent down, kissing him hard in front of all of the assembled men and their families.

She took Ky’s breath away to the point where he almost didn’t notice the cheers going up from around his men as she wrapped her arms around him and really leaned into the kiss. Finally, she broke off and leaned back, holding onto Ky’s shoulder as she gave an exaggerated bow to the assembled troops before hopping out of the stirrup and stepping back. Ky had to hand it to her, she did have a flair for the dramatic and the men certainly seemed to appreciate her performance. It was all Ky could do to keep himself from blushing as he straightened himself up and signaled the men to get moving.

Legion Training Grounds “No, goddammit. This is your left foot. Figure it out or I’m going to jam my left foot so far up your ass you’ll never forget which is which,” the optio yelled at one of the new soldiers.

Velius had just ridden back from seeing off the Consul and the rest of the men headed north. While it would be good to have the Fourth legion back with them to help fill the gaps made during the insurrection, he wished Ky had remained behind. Although the legate was officially in overall command of all of the legions while the Consul was here, Velius could take the really challenging problems to him. Without him, they all ended up in front of the legate.

It wasn’t that Velius was scared. He’d been a soldier since he was barely out of puberty, had fought in numerous border clashes, and made legate when he was only twenty-five. That, in and of itself, might have been part of the problem. Rome might have been under threat from both the Picts to the north and the Carthaginians to the south, but the assault on Devnum a few months ago was the first major clash Rome had been involved in since they’d been pushed out of Londinium twenty-four years ago, well before Velius’s time with the legions.

That meant there weren’t many opportunities for promotions to high rank on merit alone. Velius, like all of the other currently serving legates except for Ursinus, had gotten his position thanks to political connections. In his case, it had been after five years of service as one of the Emperor’s guards, which had earned him the Emperor’s favor when the previous legate in charge of the seventh legion had died. Even as legates were replaced, he’d never held top command, since men like the late Eborius and Globulus had always had the seniority. It wasn’t until the coming of the Sword and the battle of Devnum that his fortunes had really changed.

Unfortunately, after that surprising victory, they’d gone back to the same life the legions had beforehand, with field training and garrison duty. Armies were tools of destruction and when on campaign, they were focused, the men all understanding the danger they were in and the importance of being part of a well-functioning unit. A sedentary legion, however, was an unruly beast. Hardly a day had gone by that he hadn’t been forced to hand out disciplinary punishment for offenses ranging from the minor, like petty thefts and fighting, to the severe, such as the murder of a new recruit by one of their seasoned men the day before over a perceived slight the veteran had felt.

“You are the most worthless recruits I have ever had the misfortune to train. Do any of you even understand why it’s important to keep in lockstep with the men on either side of you?” the optio yelled, knocking a man who’d continued to fall out of ranks to the ground.

There was silence among two dozen men gathered in front of them. Although they’d decided to mix the new recruits with the veterans, training sessions like this were for those men first inducted into the legions, before they were assigned to their contubernium, which was the smallest unit in the legion. This training involved how to march in column for travel, and move in combat formation, how to properly hold and use the tall scutum shield and the short gladius. Later they’d learn more advanced weapons like the pilum spear or the new arcuballista, but those were for later. The Roman legion was primarily a walled infantry unit and the scutum and gladius were the tools of their trade and had to be mastered before any legionnaire was ready to be deployed.

Unfortunately, the new batches of recruits made this seem much harder than it should have been. It wasn’t the sons of farmers and merchants, like when Velius signed up so long ago. The ex-slaves he could understand. These people had never been allowed to even touch a sword under penalty of death or even learn simple things like which side was left or right. The Picts that they’d started getting the previous day, or Caledonii, which he’d been told specifically to call them by the Consul, were able to pick things up pretty well. They might have problems working as a coordinated group, but they at least knew their way around a sword.

The worst ones were the ex-Carthaginian soldiers. For a people who’d managed to conquer most of the known world, Velius would have thought the Carthaginian soldiers would have been more formidable than they were. Instead, they were essentially one step above the ex-slaves, and that was being charitable. They might know how to hold and use a sword, but all basic education was withheld from them and they had no ability to think for themselves. The Carthaginians made sure to beat any independent thought out of them early on, since their way of fighting battles was to just throw walls of men at the enemy until they overwhelmed them with bodies.

It was hard to train men who’d been trained to never think for themselves.

“Why even do this. Let me at the death eaters and I will tear them apart,” one of the new Caledonii recruits said in broken Latin.

“Because it will get you and every one of the men with you killed,” Velius said, causing the optio and several of the men to look up towards him. “I’m sure you’re a seasoned warrior and you have many battles under your belt. How many battles have you been in?”

“Twelve,” the man called out.

“In these battles, did you usually outnumber the other side, did they outnumber you, or was it about equal numbers?”

“Usually equal, except against you Romans. We always outnumbered you.”

“Did you win against us?”

The man was quiet for a few minutes before saying, “Sometimes.”

“The times that you won, how many more men did you have than we did?”

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