The Depths of Neptune - Cover

The Depths of Neptune

Copyright© 2023 by Lumpy

Chapter 23

Legion Training Camp

“Consul, you made it,” Velius greeted, riding up to Ky and his small party.

“I said I would. I’m excited to see what you’ve done here,” Ky replied.

“I have my command up on that small hill, which offers a splendid view of the training field, especially for you. Let the centurion lead you up there while I get the men set for a demonstration,” Velius instructed, gesturing to the aide sitting on horseback beside him.

Ky and his group trailed the centurion as Velius cantered away enthusiastically. The legate was correct, the modest incline provided an ideal vantage point for observing the bustling activity below. Ky watched as the men scattered throughout the vast open field began responding to commands, assembling in orderly marching columns. One of the legate’s other aides galloped briskly towards the fortified camp in the distance, returning ten minutes later, accompanied by teams of horses hauling three cannons and a group of unarmored legionnaires sprinting behind them.

It wasn’t until Ky saw the artillerymen that he realized the lines of rifle wielding legionnaires still donned their armor. It was peculiar to see men clad in segmented armor while brandishing long rifles with their bayonets already affixed; a bizarre fusion of two eras coexisting in the present. He had grown so accustomed to the sight of men in traditional Roman armor that the incongruity hadn’t struck him until he saw the unarmored artillerymen, who appeared more in line with his expectations for men wielding such weaponry.

Ky and Sophus had extensively debated the subject of the legionnaires’ armor. If they confronted adversaries equipped with similar arms, it wouldn’t be a concern, as the armor couldn’t stop a proper rifle round, and shedding it would facilitate marching and fighting for the soldiers. However, for the time being, they would engage men still wielding swords and spears, against which the armor would undoubtedly offer protection. Sophus had contended that they should adhere to his historical files, arguing that the enemy was unlikely to engage in melee combat and, given the numerical disadvantage, the armor would be of little help in keeping the legion alive even if they did. Abandoning armor production would also free up foundries to manufacture more necessary weapons.

Though Ky believed the AI was likely correct on both counts, he considered the psychological aspect of the armor. The legionnaires were already grappling with numerous changes in their combat tactics, and their armor provided a sense of familiarity. Ky wasn’t concerned about the weight of the armor during marches, as these men had been marching in such gear for quite some time. Furthermore, there remained a possibility that they would find themselves in hand-to-hand combat, which was why Velius had incorporated shieldmen in the front rank. Ultimately, Ky conceded that they would have to abandon the armor at some point, but for now, he thought, this could work. He’d left the decision up to Velius, who’d clearly chose to continue using the armor for the time being.

It took nearly thirty minutes, but at last, Velius came riding back up the hill to rejoin them. Ky had to admit, the presentation was nothing short of spectacular.

The two columns marched forward, two abreast, until the piercing sound of a bugle call resonated through the air. With remarkable precision, the clusters spread out into battle lines four men deep. As promised, the first line comprised shieldmen armed with gladii, while the rear three ranks bore long rifles resting on their shoulders, resembling the spears of a phalanx as they advanced.

The line appeared considerably thinner than those that would have been employed before. Rather than tight cohort-sized units, they were more dispersed, with each century functioning as an independent unit and a slight gap between them—save for three spots where the break was more substantial. Additionally, there were three centuries positioned slightly behind the rest, evenly distributed along the line, seemingly serving as a reserve force.

Ky observed as the men halted, and the front shield line dropped to their knees, allowing space for the rows behind them to fire. The reason for the three larger gaps quickly became apparent when horse teams rode up and executed a tight arc, stopping when the cannons were roughly aimed in the direction of the imaginary enemy. As soon as the horses ceased movement, the artillerymen unlimbered the guns, leaving the wheeled caisson containing the guns’ ammunition and shells still attached to the horses. In under a minute, the men had rolled the guns forward into the gaps in the line.

A bugle call reverberated, and the front-rank rifles descended in a somewhat uneven line, discharging their weapons. The shots were not perfectly synchronized, as there were a few intervals between this or that century, but within a five-second window, the entire front rifle line had fired and then knelt as the second rank’s rifles lowered.

As the second rifle rank unleashed their fire, the cannons boomed, their thunderous roars nearly drowning out the sounds of the second line firing, followed by the third rifle rank’s discharge. Just as the first rifle line sprang back up, a bugle sounded, halting their fire. The entire sequence had taken perhaps thirty seconds, and it was evident that it could almost instantly recommence. For sustained fire, that was rather impressive, slower than the three rounds a minute rate indicated in Sophus’s records from their history, but noteworthy nonetheless.

“You chose to go with a lighter sustained fire over heavier volleys from the centuries as a whole?” Ky asked.

“Yes, I discussed it with Bomilcar before he left, and we’ve conducted trials with both patterns. Surprisingly, having the entire line reload and reset proved to be slower on a rounds-per-minute basis. We concluded that continuous fire would be more effective in repelling or slowing a charge than concentrated volley fire, which might be more advantageous against an enemy employing the same strategy and both sides experiencing the same lag time. Furthermore, to make that work, we’d have to abandon the front shield wall since it necessitates the front rank to kneel.”

“You understand this type of formation won’t endure for long. Once we have enough guns, the benefits of having additional men firing will outweigh the minimal protection offered by the shield wall. The ability to rapidly eliminate more of the enemy from a distance will be more valuable.”

“Yes,” Velius said, nodding thoughtfully. “That much became evident early on. However, the shield wall does provide some extra protection for now, and the alternative would be to have them waiting behind the lines to pick up fallen weapons. Once we have sufficient rifles, the transition will be simple enough for the men to learn, so there isn’t really a downside.”

“I see,” Ky replied, his tone neutral.

In truth, he thought Velius was likely correct. The tactics they were employing now didn’t deviate significantly from those they would use once they had enough guns. The legate wasn’t wrong there.

The artillerymen swiftly limbered up their cannons and moved them aside as the cavalry thundered through the gaps left in the cannons’ wake. The timing was impeccable, but a brief window of vulnerability emerged, as the rifles had to cease firing once the cavalry charged through and suddenly obstructed their aim.

“That seems like a risky maneuver,” Ky observed.

“This is only to be executed once their line starts to crumble, but they are still not close enough to exploit the gaps in our formation. We would initiate this if we noticed their cohesion deteriorating to the point where it was unlikely they could reassemble their ranks before our cavalry could strike. We have distinct signals for all left or all right flank attacks, where they maneuver around either side, or a split flank attack where they emerge on both sides. There are more nuanced commands, such as flank and drive for the center or slicing along their formation’s edges, allowing our guns to continue firing, for instance.”

“You’ve really done good work taking the tactics I gave you and adapting them to suit our needs.”

“Thank you, Consul. However, much of the credit must go to Bomilcar. The moment he witnessed the first rifles being test-fired and the devastation they caused, he was brimming with ideas on how to make that work for us.”

“Good. I’m glad to see you two have started working better together.”

“It’s more accurate to say that I’ve learned to work better with him. He has always been professional, and all I can do is extend my apologies to you for my stubbornness.”

“You’re forgiven. We all make mistakes, and you were genuinely doing what you believed was best. Though, you should probably apologize to him as well.”

“I already have.”

“Good, good. Well, I must say I’m thoroughly impressed with what I see here. Let’s go watch some of your men’s target practice and determine if they can actually hit their mark from these intricate formations you’ve devised,” Ky suggested, a hint of playful challenge in his voice.


“Llassar, it’s a pleasure to see you,” Medb greeted with feigned warmth as she opened the door to the quarters she shared with Cormac. “Please come in.”

“We need to have a conversation about Cormac,” Llassar said firmly.

“Why? Has something happened?” She asked, her face a mask of false concern.

“You can drop the act,” Llassar said. “I’m not a naive young man you can lead around by his nose like some kind of prize bull.”

“You assume it’s his nose I’m leading him by,” Medb retorted, the sing-song voice she’d been using gone. “What do you want?”

“I want you to stop meddling in Cormac’s affairs. I know you’re behind all of the demands he’s been making, and I can only imagine what else you’ve been filling his head with.”

“I’m simply trying to adjust to this new life you’ve thrown me into. You could have left me to help my people, but instead, you marry me off and bring me to this place. I know I don’t have the power to get my life back, so all I can do is make the best of what I have now. You told me to be his wife, so that’s what I’m trying to do.”

“You’re also planting ideas in his head, pushing him to request a command for himself. I can only guess you’re trying to get him killed off to free yourself of him.”

“If you’re concerned about him being frustrated by not getting an opportunity to prove his worth, that’s your issue, not mine. I’m not implanting any notions. His father was a warrior who claimed his throne; do you believe he requires me to persuade him to take a more active role in his life? He’s a headstrong, young man. I’m simply supporting him, because he’s right. If I were in his position, I’d demand the same.”

“You aren’t going to rule through him,” Llassar declared.

“No. I’ll rule alongside him, and for that to happen, he must be alive, mustn’t he? Are you accusing me of attempting to control his throne through him or wishing him dead to escape this marriage? It can’t be both.”

“I’m accusing you of trying to influence him. I’m trying to teach him how to be a leader, and I can’t do that with you whispering in his ear. If you keep interfering, his father will find out and he will have your head. You aren’t going to control him for your own purposes, and the sooner you realize that the better your chances of survival will be.”

“I’m not trying to do anything but be a wife.”

“You’ve been warned, Medb. Stop now,” Llassar cautioned...

As he turned to leave her quarters, he could feel Medb’s eyes boring into him. Her message was clear. She had no intention of stopping. Llassar knew Cormac was smitten with his new bride, so having his father kill her would only make matters worse. That option would be reserved as a last resort, in case she went too far. Until then, he’d have to find another way to address this.

“You have to keep cleaning the surfaces with this antiseptic every time a patient is released,” Ky said, annoyed to be having the same conversation for what felt like the hundredth time. “Doing it once doesn’t make it completely clean for all time.”

“Then what’s the point?” the physician countered, clearly irritated. “IIf these small demons can be put here at any time, what’s the point?”

“They’re not...” Ky started to say and stopped, working hard to keep in his sigh. “They can come in on anything. Other patients, you, tools you might not have sterilized well enough, which can include the bedding. It can grow on its own if a wound starts to fester, or even come in on insects. We can’t keep it all away, but the more we do keep away the better chance the patient has of recovering. I’m tired of having this conversation. We have these new rules in place for a reason. The physicians who follow them have nearly half the number of dead patients as you do, and it’s because you refuse to change the way you do things.”

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