The Depths of Neptune - Cover

The Depths of Neptune

Copyright© 2023 by Lumpy

Chapter 11

Emain Macha, Ériu

“How could you let her live,” Conchobar bellowed, looking from his elevated throne at Llassar.

“Because having her killed would have meant generations of her people trying to undermine the rule of you and your son. The Empire can’t afford to keep legions here indefinitely, and we need as many of your men as possible to join us in taking the fight to the Carthaginians. That only works if we’ve successfully pacified this island, which again, won’t happen if their queen is dead and her killers are ruling over them,” Llassar said.

“It also won’t happen with her free to try to overthrow me or sitting in my dungeon, which is the same as if she were dead in the eyes of a peasant. At least dead, she couldn’t make things worse. If she were to get free, it would be even worse. She’d be out there and would have successfully made us look weak, which would help her convince more people to join her cause.”

“Which is why I have another idea. You’re going to hate it and probably threaten to throw me in the dungeon with her, but hear me out. I think this will work.”

“I promise nothing,” Conchobar said, but waved for him to continue.

“She should marry your son.”

What?! Have you lost your mind? That woman hates me, took in Fergus, joined the Carthaginians, and had dozens of my villages burned and hundreds of my people killed. Now you think I should make her the mother of my son’s heirs? You’re right; I should have you thrown in the dungeons with her.”

“I know it seems extreme, but it solves all of your problems neatly. Yes, she hates you. And yes, she tried to overthrow your rule, but she knows she’s beaten. She and Fergus had no children and she has no heirs. She knows she’ll never rule in her own right again. A chance for her children to eventually rule will go a long way to easing her hate, and it’s not like she would be their only parent.”

“So my son would have to remain home like a woman, raising children instead of out earning glory and honor for our house? If not, then she will have much more influence over them and children killing their parents in order to rule is not unheard of, nor unusual. What you’re saying is you want to set my son up to be murdered by my grandchildren.”

“That might be a possible outcome if they stayed here, but there are ways around that. You are still young and have many years of rule left in you, and your son will have years of rule in him once you are gone. It will be decades before your grandchild will be in a place to rule. I can speak from firsthand experience that, over time, hate can fade. To ensure that, she and your son shouldn’t stay here. Send your son to join the legions, working under the Consul. Cormac still needs a lot of seasoning, and the war is changing. He will be in place to watch it change firsthand. When the war is over, he will no longer be a young whelp, wet under the nose. He’ll be a seasoned soldier, ready to lead. To understand the ways of war, there is no better man I can think of for him to learn from than the Consul. Hopefully, it will take some of the fire out of his belly and replace it with more brains in his head.”

“I can hear you,” Cormac said. “And don’t I get a say in who I want to marry?”

“No,” both Conchobar and Llassar said, simultaneously.

“Like I said, wet under the nose,” Llassar said.

“You’ve been raised on too many tales from the lore masters, who’ve filled your head with nonsense. You have many responsibilities and who you marry is important.”

“You married the woman you loved,” Cormac shot back.

“I wasn’t King at the time, and it didn’t seem likely I would be. And look what happened to your mother.”

Llassar had heard conflicting stories about the death of Cormac’s mother. To hear the men at court tell it, she had died of a wasting disease that spread across the country while Cormac was a child. Cormac and his father both believed that she died from a curse Fergus paid a witch to put on her. Llassar was as wary of witches as any other man, but having heard Conchobar tell the story, it seemed a little too practiced. He’d always found the king to be a little too calculating, and this was just the sort of thing he would use to help solidify his rule.

“She’s a beautiful woman and, in spite of whom she chose to ally herself with, a capable leader. Her kingdom, of all the kingdoms on this island, has been your biggest threat since she took the throne. She’s smart and clever, traits that would be good to pass down to your grandchildren.”

“Also traits that would lead her to try to overthrow my house.”

“True, which is why I don’t think she should remain on this island. This option actually eliminates many of the problems created by her very existence. In marrying your son, she is elevated to a place of honor, which will take a lot of fire out of the bellies of her followers. But, she also won’t be here to cause problems and she’ll be under the eye of thousands of legionnaires and a man sent by the gods, which is a pretty good way to keep her in line. She will, in effect, be a hostage; but in a way that no one who supports her can complain about. She should remain in the Britannian capitol and off this island for several years and any children should be brought back here, to be raised under your guidance and free from her influence. By the time you step down and your son becomes King, hopefully they will be old enough that your guidance will have sunk in, shielding them from their mother’s influence.”

“This is insane,” Cormac said. “You can’t agree to this.”

“Can’t I?” Conchobar said, his head turning from Llassar to his son. “Llassar makes excellent points. This might actually work in our favor. Once your children are born, it will help cement her people to our kingdom. The people of the other kingdoms that stood up to the Carthaginians were left leaderless. They’re predisposed to support us over anyone who might have had a hand in the destruction of their homelands. With Medb’s people placated, that gives us support from a majority of our new subjects. Better, her kingdom was the second largest next to our own before the Carthaginians arrived. With your union, your children’s claim to leadership will be much better than either mine or yours, which strengthens our family and ensures we endure. I have to hand it to you, Llassar, this idea is very clever.”

Llassar only dipped his head in acceptance of the compliment.

“We are, of course, not our own people any longer. Do you have any idea what our new Emperor or this Consul of yours will think of the union? Have you run this idea past them?”

“No, although strictly by the rules of the Empire, you are free to govern your kingdom as you see fit, as long as you follow the guidelines passed by the Imperial Senate. As far as I am aware, nothing they have passed would affect internal politics, political marriages, or the like.”

“Good, then at least they haven’t screwed that up. While we’re on the subject, I am not overly pleased with the laws they are passing. I assume you heard about the compromise they worked out over our fishermen killed by your people?”

“I did.”

“And what are your thoughts on that?”

“I don’t have any thoughts. My people and your people each have an equal say, and I can tell you that my people aren’t going to be overly pleased with this compromise either. From the maps I’ve seen, it gives your fishermen the prime waters. I’d think this would be a victory for you.”

“A victory would be someone being held accountable for our dead subjects.”

“I have found that when people start declaring blood price as victory, it often turns into an endless loop of revenge killings after revenge killings until people start hating each other on principle and forget why they were ever actually angry in the first place. Better to leave everyone with a poor taste in their mouths and end the cycle.”

“Nothing sets your blood on fire, does it you old goat.”

“Blood spills a lot faster the hotter it gets, I’ve noticed. Better to leave it cold.”


“I wish she would say why she wanted me to dissolve copper into the sulfuric acid,” Sorantius said, looking at the pages he was just delivered.

The messenger, one of Lucilla’s Caledonian guards, just shrugged. Sorantius didn’t consider himself particularly bigoted or prejudiced against the northerners. In fact, he had many Caledonians working in his new chemical factories, two of whom were supervisors overseeing the day-to-day work during their shifts. This one, however, he found particularly grating every time he showed up with something new from his mistress. The short, broad-shouldered man, who Sorantius was pretty sure was named Cywing or Cryrig or something like that, had a habit of just staring at him, hovering around while waiting to get the pages back.

He also found these new rules about the instructions infuriating. He understood the security concerns, but he hadn’t had anything stolen and didn’t see why he should be punished because Hortensius was absent-minded. The tasks he was performing weren’t like melting iron or banging out swords on an anvil. Even with the notes and the detailed explanations on these pages, this was incredibly delicate work using very dangerous chemicals that he still only half understood. The smallest error could cause volatile reactions, and he was having to either travel halfway across the complex of factories to the small document storage building that had just been finished or rely on his memory, giving him the choice between taking additional risks or slowing the process down.

He’d already asked that they be provided extra guards who could deliver the documents and wait with them as needed, or at least a guard for his enclosed office allowing him to keep what documents he needed there during the day, and have the guard return them that evening to the storage building. It seemed like a good solution to Sorantius, but so far, no one else agreed. So he was forced to stand here, attempting to memorize instructions and measurements while this man stared at him, as if he wanted Sorantius to make a mistake.

The philosopher was about to give his latest complaint to the man, even though he knew it would fall on deaf ears, when there was a loud boom from inside the factory. Turning, he saw one, then four, and then a dozen men come running out of the building, all coughing and covering their faces. Several men stopped to retch into the dirt once outside and another collapsed mid-run, smashing into the ground. Some were tearing their clothes off and Sorantius could see holes in them and festering wounds on the workers as their skin was exposed.

Shoving the papers at the brute, he said, “Go get your mistress and any guardsmen you can find.”

Thankfully, the man didn’t argue, grabbing the pages and sprinting off.

“You,” he shouted to one of the people running up to see what the sound was. “Get water and soap. Grab as many men as you can. Help scrub down the wounds of anyone with burns, but do not touch the area. Use long brushes. Get them out of those clothes.”

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