The Depths of Neptune - Cover

The Depths of Neptune

Copyright© 2023 by Lumpy

Chapter 20

As soon as the council of war had ended, training had begun in earnest. By week’s end, the legions had been divided into the northern and southern armies, each with a unique focus. The southern force focused on the new formations, doing unusual drills for marching and quickly aligning in smaller, three-man rows at the sound of a trumpet call. They learned odd commands like kneeling in ranks, which made a little sense once the Consul had them train with arcuballista, which apparently would be used in similar ways to the new rifles.

The northern force, on the other hand, trained in marching and deploying with cannons, keeping clear of where they might fire until the last moment. They had also taken to firing the cannons around the men from time to time, apparently to acclimatize them to the sound of gunfire.

Llassar was still unsure where he was going to be during all of this. The prince was going to be attached to one of the armies, where Llassar could continue with his education while still being able to help lead the men in combat. If he had his pick, Llassar would prefer to go with the northern force. He appreciated the deadliness of the cannons after seeing them in action and had no doubt the Consul’s rifles would be just as impressive, but he’d already had to adapt to the Roman, or at least Britannian, way of fighting which was vastly different from what he’d grown up learning.

Besides, he hadn’t been involved in the training Velius and his legion had been undergoing over the past few months. He’d had to remain in the capital with Cormac, ensuring the man was focused and learning how this new government was supposed to be run.Their world was changing, and the old ways and their leaders had to adapt with them. It would be up to people like Lucilla and Cormac to lead them into whatever form this new empire evolved into.

As if his thought manifested his existence, Llassar saw the prince striding toward him, determination etched upon his brow. While it was a change from the way the young man had been avoiding him, spending far too many hours in his rooms than where he needed to be, there was something in the prince’s expression that bothered Llassar.

Cormac stood before Llassar, hands defiantly clasped behind his back as if mirroring Llassar’s stoic pose. Llassar studied him, his gaze unwavering.

“Cormac, I thought you were spending the day with the Emperor observing the public audiences.”

Cormac’s voice was tinged with frustration. “I was. We’ve been going all morning, and they’ve taken a short break, but I don’t think I’m going back when they reconvene.”

“Why not?”

“Because this is pointless. Farmers upset about legions damaging their fields during training exercises, merchants angry about tariffs or accusing the Empire of favoritism, it’s all so hollow. These matters could be handled by bureaucrats. A true ruler needs to make decisions, lead his people, not adjudicate petty complaints.”

“Normally, they do go to bureaucrats. The Emperor and the Consul believe there’s some benefit to the people having direct access to their leaders. It also allows the Emperor to keep in touch with the Empire’s realities. It’s how most things are handled in Caledonia. Don’t you think a leader should be accessible to his people and understand their desires?”

Cormac’s eyes flashed with impatience. “He should understand what they want, I guess, but these people are only worried about their little problems, not the fate of the kingdom as a whole. If it’s really important, the leader can always talk to those bureaucrats and find out the people’s concerns.”

Llassar arched an eyebrow. “Is it possible those bureaucrats might have their own thoughts and agendas? Is it wise to know your people solely through the eyes of another man?”

“Fine, I guess not,” Cormac conceded, “but I didn’t come looking for you to get into more rhetorical debates.”

“Then why were you looking for me?”

Cormac’s voice took on a determined tone. “I know my father wants me to learn from you and observe how the government runs, but I need to do more than just watch and listen to meetings. I need to be out there, making a difference.”

Llassar’s expression remained unchanged. “You’ll have plenty of time to make a difference when your father steps down. But the only way you’ll succeed is by understanding how to do it right.”

“You didn’t learn by listening to others talk, nor did my father. You both fought your way into power. You learned to lead by doing. I’m done being treated like a child, hiding behind others while they make the real decisions. My father assigned me to be my people’s proxy here. As equal members of the Empire, we deserve equal say. You were at that council of war. YOU had a seat at the table while the Romans had nearly a dozen. My people deserve representation beyond my mere attendance and expected silence. I demand my rightful place.”

Llassar frowned, his gaze still fixed on Cormac. He had spent much time with the prince, who had many flaws, but this tirade felt off.

“What, exactly, did you have in mind?”

“I’m not doing any good watching the senate or the Emperor arguing about this or that. The real fight for our future is happening with the legions, about to cross over to the continent. I demand to go with them.”

Llassar contemplated his response. “You understand this will become far more dangerous. There’s a chance none of the men who take part in the invasion will return. Neither Talogren’s son nor the Emperor’s daughter is going with the legions, and the Emperor’s daughter is married to the man leading the northern army. Do you think it’s wise to put the sole heir of your people in harm’s way?”

Cormac’s voice grew defiant. “Don’t give me that. If the legions fall, there’ll be nothing stopping the Carthaginians from reclaiming our islands and putting us all under the sword. It’s just as dangerous here as it is out there with the legions. I’m not asking to be on the front lines, but I could learn from traveling with either Velius or the Consul, watching them lead armies in the field.”

“You’ve watched armies in the field already. Now is the time for you to learn other things.”

“No. There won’t be another chance to witness a war like this, and I won’t shrink from my part in it. I’m not a sheep in the field. I refuse to stand idly by while others fight for me.”

Llassar frowned again, his suspicions growing as he realized exactly who the Cormac sounded like. Llassar had heard the princes new wife speak of sheep in fields on multiple occasions, referencing something out of their mythology.

“I will write your father about it,” Llassar said, opting to stall while he considered his options. “There’s still time before the legions sail, and I’m sure your request will sit better with your father if you can demonstrate your proficiency in governing.”

“Fine. I’ll go back and continue to listen, but you need to take me seriously. I want to be a part of this invasion.”

“Believe me, Cormac. I am taking this very seriously.”

The prince eyed the older man for a moment before storming off. Llassar was left to ponder the situation. When the prince had started spending extra time in his quarters, he’d initially assumed Cormac was simply enjoying the pleasures of a new marriage. Medb was, after all, beautiful in her own right. But now he wondered if there was more to it.

Conchobar had warned him that Medb was cunning and that Llassar should be cautious around her. Although he’d tried to keep an eye on her as she toured Devnum or spoke to various groups of women, his focus had been on Cormac. As the couple appeared to be getting along well, Llassar had thought their union was working out.

Perhaps he hadn’t taken the king’s warning seriously enough, after all.


“Let’s see it,” Ky said as Hortensius lead him excitedly into the factory.

Ky had made multiple trips to the rapidly growing industrial center over the last week, going over every detail of new rifle construction. Because of the groundwork Ky and Lucilla had had Hortensius lay over the last several months, all of the tools needed to construct the rifles were more or less in place, which meant they only needed to construct the first prototypes of each piece of the weapon and make sure everything fit together well.

There were some obvious places where they could speed up the process, such as the manufacturing of the body of the weapon itself. Hortensius had set up a separate building to deal with carpentry back when he’d first started working on the arcuballista, which also had a solid wooden body. Ky hadn’t given it much thought at the time, since they’d been able to keep up with the construction quotas quite well and the quality had been good enough, but with the machining factory now under steam power, it turned out that making the bodies of the rifles themselves was actually the slowest part of the process.

A lot of the process was still being done by hand, including the parts turned using water power that were still guided by eye and cutting to blanks, instead of having a machine that could lock in precise measurements and cut the exact part every time. He’d already had Sophus put together plans for a more sophisticated wood processing facility, that could be used for more than quickly producing the rifle blanks, but that would ultimately call for a second steam engine to be built.

It was all doable, but it would take time, which they didn’t have. Ky’s decision to equip the northern force with older cannon had been made for this very reason. There simply wasn’t enough time to arm a full legion, let alone multiple legions, with the new rifles and artillery.Velius might be getting two legions, but only one of them would be armed with the newer weapons and cannon. The other would essentially be a replacement force to pick up the weapons of their fallen comrades, at least until manufacturing could catch up.

It was also why Ky had held off the landings until the last possible moment. He hoped the delay would give Hortensius the time he needed to produce enough weapons.

Hortensius led him to his office, where a finished rifle sat on the table. Sophus’ images had failed to capture the impressive length of the weapon, which would be almost as long as he was tall once the bayonet was slotted in place.

“She’s a beauty,” Hortensius said, lifting it up gingerly.

Ky’s eyes roamed over the assembled weapon, taking in every detail with quiet admiration.

He had seen and measured the individual components, refining the machines that produced them with minute adjustments. Seeing it all together, however, was something else. Hortensius had outdone himself. There were a few places the weapon could use some refinement, but even as it was, it rivaled anything built by craftsmen in the nineteenth century.

’The new, narrow borer Hortensius built has done especially well,’ Ky thought as he looked down the barrel, letting Sophus examine the rifling. Maybe the experience he gained building the larger borer for the cannon has paid off. If this was the case, then the rifles only improve over time.

“You’ve truly outdone yourself,” Ky praised, his voice carrying a hint of awe. “There’s room for refinement, of course, but this weapon is ready for the field as it stands.”

“Thank you, Consul. What surprises me most is how easy this is to produce, once we got everything in place. It’s a complicated weapon, but compared to how we would forge weapons and armor just a year ago, this took a lot less time and manpower, thanks to the machines. I am still amazed by how simple some of these machines make the process. Not only is it surprisingly fast to set up the machines and cut, bore, or mold a part compared to the time and effort required to slowly beat metal into shape by hand, but the training has become so much more simple. I can train a man in a few days to operate one of these machines, as opposed to a lifetime of apprenticeships and training to get a worker capable of making usable equipment.”

“I told you, when we first started working on improving your foundries, that we would make every part of the manufacturing process easier and more efficient. It’s the only way we are ever going to produce enough military supplies to compete with the Carthaginians.”

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