The Depths of Neptune - Cover

The Depths of Neptune

Copyright© 2023 by Lumpy

Chapter 24

“Is this the last shipment?” Ky asked watching four large wagons packed with crates stamped with the recently adopted Britannic seal.

“Almost. We still have another shipment of ammunition and one last cannon and then we’ll be ready to go, although Valdar says it will only take three or four days on the outside, depending on the winds. Since your diversion needs a full week at the least to pull off any of their armies, we’re going to be sitting on our thumbs for almost that long just waiting. Hortensius has taken the extra time as a challenge and thinks he can get at least one more cart load of rifles to us before we set sail. He’s already beaten his target, but the man is nothing if not ambitious.”

“I know. I can’t believe how fast he’s moved. We didn’t get as many of the muskets as I wanted, but at least I feel less bad about taking a hundred of your rifles with us.”

“Now he just needs to keep this pace up so we can arm the rest of the legions. So, are you sailing today?”

“Yes. Ursinus marched the men over to Londinium and the eastern ports days ago, so the men have the least amount of time to sail. Even splitting our troops across multiple docks, the number of smaller ships we have to load up means half of the men will be sitting on board ships for almost a full day before the fleet gets underway.”

“Are they going to be able to get some rest before they start marching?”

“A few hours at most,” Ky said. “The last word Ramirus got was that there’s one small force in the area already, dealing with some unrest, and we have to start our swing south to threaten the larger Carthaginian forces in that direction.”

“Good luck,” Velius said, looking past Ky’s shoulder. “Hopefully I’ll see you when our forces rejoin each other on the coast of the Middle Sea.”

“I look forward to it,” Ky said, clasping arms with the legate and turning to see what had grabbed his attention.

The what was Lucilla, making her way down the docks with her guards in tow. She was taking her time to get to him, since she had to stop every few feet to greet this or that soldier, sailor, or just random citizen calling her name. Ky knew, in a vague sense, how popular she was with the people of the empire, but it still surprised him to see it in effect when they were out in public. People reached out to touch the hem of her stola, held their hands out for her to brush her fingers over theirs, or shoved small children in her direction for her to touch. It was touching, although it made getting from point A to point B very slow for her at times.

Finally, she made it to him, inside the small bubble of space created by his guards, and now reinforced by hers. They didn’t have to bother. As she embraced Ky, the people gave them room, almost purposefully looking away to give the two of them privacy in the midst of the throng. Yet another sign of respect for their beloved Lucilla.

“I’m going to miss you,” she said, wrapping her arms tightly around him. “Every time we get a few days in the same city, time seems to fly by, and then it drags interminably once you leave again.”

“At least we can still talk to each other, which is more than the other men separated from their wives and families right now.”

“You say that every time. It doesn’t make me miss you any less. Just tell me you love me, you’ll miss me, and you’ll think of me every moment you’re gone.”

“I love you, I’ll miss you, and I’ll think of you every moment I’m gone,” Ky repeated.

“See how much better things go if you just do what I tell you to,” she said, smiling up at him.

“It’s funny how that works,” Ky said, matching her grin. “I’m glad you came to see me off, though. I don’t know how long I’ll be gone.”

“Not long. Father wants my coronation to happen within the month, and you’re going to have to be back for that.”

“That might not be possible. It depends on where the field operations are at the time.”

“The first snow should be falling by then, and the Carthaginians will have to pull back south if they want to keep their men supplied. Even if they cut you off from the coast, you can be supplied from the Sea of Serpents, but with us controlling the waters, they have to send food and supplies the long way.”

“Or take it from villages in the area that’ve put aside food for the winter.”

“If they’re dumb enough to do that, they’re doing us a favor. All we have to do is feed those people to bring them to our side, and thanks to how much you were able to increase the harvests this year with the new plows, fertilizers, and that stuff that cut down on bug infestations, we have enough surpluses going into the winter to do just that.”

“True, but that means even more work for me to do.”

“You have competent subordinates. Ursinus, Auspex, and Llassar all know what they’re doing. They can manage for some time even without your powers. I want you back here when the time comes.”

“I’ll do my best,” Ky said.

“I know you will. I also came down here to give you this,” she said, slipping the drone out of her stola and putting it in an empty pouch at his waist.

“I know this is going to make some of the work with Hortensius a lot harder. I’m sorry about that.”

“We’ll manage. You’ve gone over everything new he’s doing, aside from that new impact fuse design you wrote up yesterday, so most of what needs to be done is the refining processes, which I don’t think will require Sophus’s need to visualize.”

“I might need this for a while. I do have a new project I want to start Hortensius and Sorantius on in the spring, but I don’t want to distract them from getting as many rifles, muskets, and cannons produced as possible. We’ll need all of our legions and as many of our allies as possible armed with the new weapons as soon as the snows melt, because the Carthaginians will spend the winter building up their forces, and they’ll be throwing them all at us as soon as they can.”

“I know. I worry about that.”

“Don’t. They’re going to be the ones worried once they face firearms for the first time. Even with a huge push from them, we’ll be able to control the pace of battle since they’re not going to know how to deal with our new weapons for quite a while.”

“I hope you’re right. So what is this new technology that makes up for not having your drone in the field?”

“It’s hard to explain, but I think you’re going to be impressed when you see the first of our people high up in the sky, separate from any building.”

“You’re going to teach our people to fly?” she said, pulling back in surprise.

“In a manner of speaking. Don’t worry; it will make sense when I show you what I have planned. Until then, you’ll just have to use your imagination.”

“So you’re just going to say something like that and then leave?” she said, faux angry.

“Yep,” Ky said, bending down to lightly kiss her on the tip of her nose.

He turned to leave, almost laughing, when she grabbed him hard, spun him back around, and pulled him in for a hard kiss. Shouts, cheers, and several almost indecent suggestions rose up from the men walking around the docks.


“What do you mean ‘wiped out’,” Caesius said to the bedraggled man.

“Just that, my lord. Your father’s men captured everyone from Decius down to our newest recruits. The few of us that were away from home when the raids happened ran, but I’ve heard that most of the others got caught before they could get off the island. They knew my name, my family, and where I lived. Everything. I barely made it off myself and the captain who brought me can’t ever go back. We pushed off from the docks just as the praetorians got there. It was sheer luck that the warships they’ve had sailing around the island were away when we ran for it.”

“I thought he had his men working in cells that didn’t know about each other, so they couldn’t be captured. How did this happen? What happened to Decius?”

“I don’t know. I had already been sent to come here with the latest dispatches and information when it happened. I heard a rumor that he’d been captured, but I don’t know.”

“What about this gunpowder he managed to steal? What happened to it?”

“I don’t know, my lord. I think they were still trying to find a way to get it off the island without the praetorians finding out, but they didn’t tell me things like that. For all I know, it’s still wherever they hid it.”

“So we have no one left? At all?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Fine...” Caesius, no longer seemed to notice the messenger. “Go.”

The man looked perplexed, but bowed and left, leaving Caesius to his thinking, which had turned very dark. Daily, the emperor complained that he wasn’t holding up his side of their deal. He wanted the secrets of the smoke guns and of the black grains that were apparently at the heart of them, and he expected Caesius to get it for him. When he’d received the last message that they had pulled off a daring raid and stolen a dozen barrels of the stuff, Caesius had been excited, reporting that he’d have samples shortly. And then nothing. Days and then weeks stretched on, with no word.

Each day Caesius didn’t deliver the prize the emperor became more and more impatient. After a month, impatience turned into anger. Caesius had found reasons to be out of town, excuses about messages from his contacts and information on the shipment, but those excuses had started to wear thin. After two months, the emperor had assigned him his watchdogs. Terrifying men in all black, except for their skull masks. Only their eyes were uncovered, enough to know they were always watching him.

So far, they were at least not following him into every room, but that wouldn’t last long either. Caesius could feel the moment coming when the emperor, or his functionaries, would order the death disciples to stick closer to him. He was running out of time.

“Go to the docks. Procure a ship for yourself, a passenger, and some servants. Tell them it’s a sickly brother that you want to take to Greece to see one of their healers. Pay them to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. I have a few things I must clear up here, and then I will join you. There will probably not be time for a warning and it’s likely we’ll have to be ready in a hurry,” Caesius said, putting a stack of coins in the man’s hand.

“Where are we going? Greece?”

“For now, that’s all you need to know. We’ll deal with our real destination when we’re safely on the water. This is important. Talk to no one about what you’re doing. Go. Now.”

The man bowed and hurried out, while Caesius began to pace. This wasn’t going to be easy. He needed to secure assets. He wouldn’t have an empire supporting him anymore, and wherever he landed would just be a stop on a journey. He had to get somewhere that wasn’t controlled by either the Romans or the Carthaginians, which didn’t leave a lot of options. Even some of the far northern reaches, like the Scandi, were off limits, since the word was they had begun trading heavily with his father’s Empire.

He’d also need to find a way to get his guard dogs off his scent. He had no problem killing them, but he had no guards of his own and only a few servants he trusted. Men who’d escaped his homeland after the Carthaginians lost it and had come searching for him. None of them was a match for the Brothers, or whatever the skull-masked men called themselves.

It was going to be tricky, and he didn’t have a lot of time to figure it out.


“Consul, the men need a break,” Ursinus said, riding up to Ky’s small group.

“I know,” Ky said, not looking at the junior legate. “We’ll be able to rest in a few hours. They’re still almost all a few hours march behind us. There’s a good ford ahead where we can cross this river. It’s isolated and narrow. If they cross and keep in tight pursuit, we can pick them off one at a time, but I’m assuming their commander will figure that out, which means he’ll hold his men on the other side until his entire force has made it there, which will easily take until nightfall. If he holds, we’ll break to camp early, giving the men a longer rest tonight.”

“Is the other side clear?” Ursinus asked.

It was a fair question. Multiple times they’d tried to find a place where the ground gave them some advantage to fight or a way to take on isolated parts of the Carthaginian army, and every time those plans had fallen apart when a large band of Germanic or Gaelic warriors appeared, forcing the Britannians to continue marching. They’d been marching for four days with hardly any breaks, and the men were starting to feel the strain.

Ky had known this was going to be difficult, but he’d hoped they’d be able to find the right ground to keep his small army from being swamped by the massive number of men chasing them. Classic Roman tactics, arcuballista, and a hundred rifles plus a few cannons were powerful force multipliers, but it still wasn’t enough for the numbers they faced.

Ky had brought almost twenty thousand men with him to what was known, at least in his timeline, as Belgium. It wasn’t enough. When they’d first started out, there had been almost sixty thousand Carthaginians after them, which was more than the last estimate Ramirus had given him, but still, a number they had dealt with successfully before when they were on the right ground. Ky had hoped that they would find a good position once they got out of the lowlands and into the more broken ground where they could more easily limit the front line, but so far they’d nearly been flanked every time.

The Britannians had done well for themselves, marching fast and constantly threading the needle between large warrior bands that might have slowed them down enough to allow the Carthaginians to catch up to them. When the thread was thousands of soldiers in heavy armor, that wasn’t an easy feat, and the men recognized this. Good spirits helped, but only to a point; and the nearly non-stop pace had pushed the Britannians to that point.

Worse, each of those bands of warriors had joined the main body of Carthaginians after missing the Britannians, steadily growing their size until now there were well over a hundred thousand men chasing them, which included warriors from dozens of tribes by this point. That actually made it worse than the number of men they faced.

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