The Depths of Neptune - Cover

The Depths of Neptune

Copyright© 2023 by Lumpy

Chapter 21

“You’re sure we’ve got them all?” Lucilla asked, perched on the edge of her father’s seat in the Imperial box, gazing down at the colosseum floor.

The sandy stage for the glory of chariot races and the fierce athleticism of wrestling matches, had been transformed into a gruesome display. A wooden platform loomed, its sole purpose to hold the headsman’s block and a ghastly urn designed to catch the severed remains.

“All the ones he and the rest of the men we picked up could tell us about,” Ramirus said. “He was definitely in charge of what was left of your brother’s supporters here, but I won’t discount the possibility that the Carthaginians have their own people here as well, separate from the insurgents.”

“Which is to say, just because we finally caught Decius doesn’t mean we can loosen up on any of our security arrangements.”

“That would be my suggestion.”

“How many in total?”

“Sixty-three, so far, and counting. We’re still integrating several of the second and third-tier targets we acquired. Decius swears most of those men didn’t have the names of anyone outside of their cell, but since he didn’t keep records, we’re just going off his word for it.”

“What about the men who carried out the raid on the gunpowder storage? Did we get them?”

“Yes. We’ve rounded up everyone who survived. Several were still healing from wounds they got in the fight, and several others did not survive the interrogation, but we’re bringing the ones who can walk out with Decius.”

“Good,” she said, rising from her father’s seat and stepping forward to the edge of the box.

As the men were marched onto the arena floor and up onto the platform, their gazes met hers, and she could not help but feel the weight of what was about to happen.

“Like the men who stood on this same ground after trying to overthrow the Empire, you have all been found guilty of treason and your lives are forfeit,” she said, the words echoing off the colosseum walls. “You have given support to the people who have tried to destroy us and to kill every man and woman in the Empire. For your crimes, your lives are forfeit, while your families, or at least those who knew nothing of your treason and took no part, will be spared, your property is forfeit. With your deaths, we finally put the darkest part of our recent history behind us and leave it to the gods to judge you.”

“You will never be your brother,” Decius’s said with a snarl.

“No, I won’t,” she said coldly, giving a nod to the executioner.

Whatever retort Decius had prepared was lost as he was yanked to his knees, his head placed on the block and tied in place. The once-proud man now trembled like a leaf caught in a storm, his bravado gone, as the sword descended, severing his head from his body.

Lucilla didn’t look away. These people had tried to kill her three times. They would have too if it wasn’t for the tiny machines Ky had put in her body. She felt a cold satisfaction at seeing the men behind the deaths of her soldiers finally meeting their fate, but this wasn’t about vengeance. She had sworn to herself that every punishment meted out would be fair and impartial. She only hoped that this would put an end to this chapter of their history.

Off the Coast of Hispania

“Well done,” Ky praised, his enhanced vision capturing the same image Valdar observed through the spyglass pressed against his eye.

Beneath them, the guns roared to life once more, a thick veil of smoke spewing from the side of the ship. The vessel carved an elegant arc through the water, encircling the barrels they’d deployed for target practice. As they watched, water spouts erupted in a tight formation around one barrel before it shattered into a storm of splinters.

“For a while, I doubted we’d ever reach the point where we could hit anything, even stationary targets,” Valdar admitted, a wry smile playing on his lips. “But you were right. With enough practice, we improved. You made it look so effortless that first time; I think everyone assumed they’d share the same success.”

Ky chuckled. “The same could be said for sailing your ships. I’m sure plenty of landlubbers imagine they could master the skill the first time they set foot on deck. But everything requires time and practice.”

“Well, we’re not quite as proficient as you yet, but that grouping isn’t half bad. Especially considering our speed. I suspect we’d still struggle in rough seas, but give me time, and I might even excel there, too.”

“I admire your confidence,” Ky replied. “You won’t get much target practice on tours like this, since you’ll need most of the powder for sinking Carthaginians. But we must ensure your ships rotate through regular training stints when possible.”

“I will. We’ll also need to start training the men who’ve signed on to crew the four new ships, as they’ll likely be ready by the time the legions require transport to the continent.”

Ky nodded. “I spoke with Lucan before we left, and he agreed. We must maintain these patrols but rotate one of your three ships back for training until then. I understand it’ll make your job out here more challenging, but that issue will resolve itself as we increase our fleet. That won’t happen if we lack trained crews.”

Valdar furrowed his brow, concern etched on his face. “Are you sure? Even with fishermen and friendly merchants, it’s difficult to patrol such vast waters with our limited fleet. We’re bound to miss some Carthaginians.”

“I know, and we’ll have to accept that. They’re keeping most of their ships in the southern part of Hispania for now and relying on land routes for supplies. So, even if we manage to sink every vessel we find, it won’t significantly impact their response to our operations. They send the majority of their shipments across the Middle Sea and then overland. We won’t truly cut them off until we control the Middle Sea, but that requires more ships and a base for those ships. Once we achieve that, they’ll have to march around Persia to reinforce their forces on the continent. Until then, it doesn’t really matter.”

As Valdar opened his mouth to respond, a voice called down from the loft above the center mast, interrupting him.


“I swear, that might be the best improvement you made,” Valdar mused as they strode to the opposite side of the ship, eyes following the lookout’s outstretched arm.

Ky understood his sentiment. In their older vessels, lookouts precariously perched at the prow, scanning the horizon with unaided eyes. On a clear day, the open sea offered expansive views, yet the horizon remained a steadfast barrier. Now, with the crow’s nest and spyglass in hand, they could identify ships kilometers away.

“I see it. It’s got our new triangular sails,” Valdar observed, squinting through his spyglass.

“It’s one of yours. The Skinbladnir, I believe,” Ky confirmed.

Valdar lowered the spyglass, a wry expression on his face. “I wish you could bottle your gift and infuse it into this,” he said, brandishing the glass. “These are incredible, but I can barely discern the sails’ shape. I bet you could tell me how many men are on that ship.”

“Only at the front. The back half remains obscured by the horizon. Give me a few minutes, though...”

Valdar merely shook his head and waved over his first mate. “Signal up.”

Ky acknowledged the crow’s nest’s usefulness but felt they underestimated the introduction of signal flags. Previously, ships had to sail dangerously close to communicate, risking boarding by hostile vessels. Signal flags and spyglasses now enabled communication at far greater distances.

While training, the ship’s signalmen developed a communication system and procedures for encountering other ships, allowing swift identification and coordination.

As the Skinbladnir drew nearer, the signalman commenced communication with a flurry of flags.

“They’ve sighted a small group of Carthaginian ships,” Ky revealed, not waiting for the signalmen to translate the message.

“How many?” Valdar asked.

“They don’t say. South by southeast. A few hours sail.”

“Signal back. How many ships and were they spotted,” Valdar instructed the signalman.

Flags flew up and down the pulleys to the crow’s nest, as Ky observed the Skinbladnir as it angled to meet them, facilitating communication.

“Eight ships,” Ky announced. “They don’t think they were spotted.”

Valdar nodded, eyes scanning the sails and rigging as he calculated in his head.

“Seventy degrees,” Ky said, anticipating his thoughts.

Valdar shot Ky a glance but didn’t question his knowledge of wind direction or required sailing angle.

“Sailing Master,” he bellowed to a man beside the main mast, “hoist the foresail and mainsail and trim for a close reach.”

As orders echoed and sailors scurried up the rigging, Valdar turned to the quarterdeck and bellowed, “Helmsman, make your course south by southeast, at seventy degrees.”

The helmsman consulted the large mounted compass Ky had designed for the new ships and the wind gauge, turning the ship wheel and altering their course.

“Signal the fleet to follow, south by southeast, at seventy degrees. Prepare for contact. Then signal our thanks to the Skinbladnir.”

The signalman rummaged through his stack of flags, hoisting them to the mast.

Valdar approached the quarterdeck, pausing near the hatch to the gun deck and the helmsman. Ky observed him glancing toward the foredeck, understanding the sailor’s thoughts. In the past, the captain would stand near the bow, directing combat and observing the enemy—a viable strategy when ships were mere wooden platforms for soldiers. Now, however, lookouts would spot enemy ships from a distance, communicating their findings with hand signals. It was more effective for the captain to be close to where he needed to issue commands. Combat was no longer up close and personal, unless they aimed to capture an enemy ship. It was a change that would take time for the old sailor to adapt to this new way of fighting.

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