The Depths of Neptune - Cover

The Depths of Neptune

Copyright© 2023 by Lumpy

Chapter 25

Off the Coast of Hispania

“Captain, enemy sails,” the sailor holding a spyglass called.

Yrsa pulled out his own spyglass. The sails of two Carthaginian galleys danced in the distance, turning hard toward the mainland. Yrsa watched the single galley sails, calculating their angle to the mainland and distances, trying to work out where they were headed. Southern Gaul, perhaps?

They had seen the Britannian fleet and were running, which meant they weren’t a threat. He could have easily caught them if he wanted. The small ship he’d been sold in exchange for his swearing allegiance was the fastest ship Yrsa had seen in his twenty years of sailing. Any of the Valdar’s lumbering ships could have caught the galleys, and Yrsa had had to pull in his sails to keep from outpacing them. He could have scooped up the Carthaginians at will if he wanted.

“Signal from Valdar’s ship,” the lookout announced, pulling out the Britannian ‘book’ of flag descriptions. “They want us to break away from the fleet and pursue. We are to sink them before they get to port and can spread the word about the fleet.”

Yrsa sighed. He’d hoped Valdar would just let them go. It wasn’t like the Carthaginians weren’t going to figure out what they were doing once the several thousand men in their little fleet hit the shore. He’d been warned that he might be required to do this. They’d loaded supplies for the soldiers onto his boat but none of the actual soldiers, expecting his swifter vessel to act as security for the rest of the fleet.

“Fine. Signal our confirmation,” he commanded, before turning to his sailors, half of whom were waiting around for commands. “Trim the mainsail and loose the jib. Helmsman, make your course northwest.”

Even the commands Yrsa gave felt foreign to him, like trying on someone else’s coat. He wasn’t quite sold on the idea of entrusting the wheel to a crewman when he felt he could manage it himself. Yes, the new ship’s sails and rigging were complex, but he still wanted to keep his destiny under his control.

For now, he yielded to Valdar’s ways, still learning the ropes of this new vessel. His ship broke away from the fleet, slicing through the water like a finely honed blade. The galleys’ decision to sail with the wind had sealed their fate.

A galley’s only advantage in this new age of sail was that it could travel directly against the wind in a way that his ships could not. If they’d been smart, they’d have tried to swing around the fleet and then sail directly into the wind, which would take them to several of Carthage’s Hispania ports. This way, it wouldn’t take them long to close the distance.

“Prepare the cannons and clear for battle,” Yrsa called, adrenaline coursing through his veins like wildfire.

He relished the moments before combat. He’d never been a pirate himself, but he’d considered it. He loved that moment before the screams and blood, with its intoxicating mix of excitement and fear. Many Scandi merchants avoided conflict, but Yrsa’s warrior spirit burned like an eternal flame.

“Take us between them,” he commanded the helmsman, his grip on the railing strong and steady. “They’ve lined themselves up nicely. Prepare for raking fire as we pass.”

“Sail,” a lookout shouted. “Multiple sails. South, east, and north.”

Yrsa cursed inwardly, realizing he’d been too focused on his prey. He swung his spyglass from vessel to vessel, a sinking feeling in his gut.

“They’re starting to turn,” the helmsman noted, pointing toward the ships they’d been chasing.

“It’s a trap,” Yrsa muttered, feeling the sting of his own carelessness.

“Hard-a-lee,” he barked, directing the helmsman to turn the wheel sharply left, steering the ship away from the coastline and toward the open sea. “Haul in the jib, and trim the foresail. We’re turning sharp into the wind. Gunners, fire as she bears, whichever ship you can reach.”

As the ship swung hard left, the guns on its right side fired in a staccato rhythm, each crew lighting off their weapon in time with the turning schooner. The starboard ship narrowly escaped, the turning giving gunners little time to aim. The other ship, however, suffered a brutal fate. Multiple cannonballs tore through it, creating a deadly storm of splintered wood that pierced oarsmen and painted the deck with blood. More cannonballs punched through the deck and into the ocean, sending geysers of water skyward. The remaining blood-soaked oarsmen dove off the ship as it tilted for its final descent to the ocean floor.

Yrsa admired his gunners’ accuracy, but they were far from out of danger. Eight sails had appeared so far, veering towards them from seemingly every direction, including one between them and the open ocean to the west. Yrsa marveled at the Carthaginians’ coordination, despite their reputation as terrible sailors.

Not that it mattered. They’d managed it and now Yrsa scanned the horizon, assessing each sail. They were undoubtedly trying to get close enough to board or at least get within arrow range. They couldn’t chase him down, so their only hope was to surround his ship and overwhelm it. And they were very close to succeeding. Unfortunately for them, the trap closed unevenly, with some ships coming in faster than others.

“Forty degrees starboard into the wind and hold fast,” Yrsa called out. “Loose and trim the jib.”

The ship turned partially back, its wake forming a serpentine pattern as it curved again. It would be a close call, but there was still some distance between the ships. They would come under fire, but it wouldn’t last long.

As the distances closed, Yrsa focused on the two ships he needed to navigate between, timing the pass just right to avoid the possibility of them throwing lines for boarding. His ship was impressive, but a galley could hold many men. If they intended to take his ship intact, they would be able to fill his decks with more soldiers than he had crew.

Sure enough, Yrsa noticed the prows of both galleys sporting long boarding planks with massive spikes intended to pierce the deck of a ship, holding it fast for boarding.

“Prepare to fire. Ready the buckets,” Yrsa commanded, tension lacing his voice. “Helmsman, three degrees port.”

They began to veer away from the closer of the two ships, which angled menacingly toward them, attempting to corner Yrsa’s vessel. The situation was dire; if Yrsa turned hard, the other ship would be perfectly positioned to spike his schooner. Arrows started to rain down, and although most missed due to their forward momentum, the cries of hit crew members pierced the air.

“Haul that cannon to the prow,” Yrsa barked. “Move, damn you.”

His crew struggled with the weight of the gun, sweat dripping from their brows. In frustration, Yrsa cursed and shoved two men aside, his massive frame bulging as he popped the cannon off the rails that held it in place. The sailors, though strong, couldn’t compare to their colossal captain. The cannon rocked dangerously before settling.

“Wheel it up to the prow. Now!”

“Captain, if we fire the gun, there won’t be a gun block to stop its recoil. It will jump halfway across the ship,” one crew member warned.

“Then let it jump. Or do you feel like dying today?” Yrsa snapped, but he knew the man had a point. “Watch yourselves and watch out for this gun, but keep to your weapons.”

Yrsa knew the risks. If he lost some men, so be it. He had to do something about the encroaching ship, and this was his only option.

“Aim on the down heave. Take your target. You get only one shot at this.”

The man at the rear of the gun appeared nervous as he readied the primer and pull cord. He stood to the side, but it was impossible to predict where the gun would jump without being secured to the deck. Despite the danger, he held his position. If the man survived, Yrsa would consider promoting him.

The ship dipped and lifted, surging against the waves as the enemy ship played hide-and-seek with the horizon. On the third downward heave, as the enemy vessel came into view, Yrsa roared, “Fire.”

Smoke erupted from the end of the cannon and the gun shot backward, missing the cannoneer by inches. He flinched back as the hot gasses still spewing from the end of the cannon singed his whiskers.

A sailor further back, near the mast, wasn’t so lucky as he was turned into a long red streak across the deck when the sailing metal tube smashed over him. The cannon finally came to rest near the rear of the ship, thankfully not continuing on into the ocean.

Despite its smaller size, the cannonball wrought destruction as it shattered the hooked plank and careened across the crowded enemy deck, tearing a dozen men to shreds. Unlike Yrsa’s cannon, which spared his ship’s mast, the Carthaginian vessel wasn’t so fortunate. The blood-slick cannonball tore through the towering wooden mast before ricocheting off the stern to roll chaotically across the deck.

Yrsa watched as the Carthaginian sail swayed and collapsed to the starboard side, crushing more oarsmen beneath its weight before crashing onto the deck and sliding into the ocean.

“Fire as she bears!” Yrsa roared to his gunners as they sailed past the foundering ship, unleashing a devastating full broadside.

The galley trembled and nearly disintegrated under the onslaught of the schooner’s barrage, with multiple holes punched near the waterline. Yrsa’s port side gunners fired at the other galley as it came into view. It had turned to try and ram his ship, making it a difficult target for his gunners, sparing it from the same grisly fate as its sister ship. However, the rounds that did strike slowed its oarsmen, preventing it from reaching the schooner before it escaped the trap.

“Now let’s get moving and show these bastards what this ship can really do,” Yrsa declared, his fierce bearded face breaking into a triumphant grin.

The crew’s energy surged in response, screaming a war cry as the schooner loped into the ocean, once again predator instead of prey.


The aftermath of the battle stretched on for days as Britannians moved the mounds of bodies into huge mass graves. Ky’d been surprised after their first significant conflict, learning that it had been Roman practice to bury enemy dead in mass graves when time allowed. He was grateful for it, though.

Thankfully, they hadn’t needed to bury all sixty thousand Carthaginians. About half the army, consisting of actual Carthaginians and some auxiliaries from southern regions who’d been under Carthaginian rule long enough to become true believers, were slaughtered. Even those who tried to surrender. The survivors were mostly Gauls or Germans, forced into Carthaginian service before Londinium’s fall.

None were loyal to the Carthaginians, particularly since it was evident their home villages would either rebel or be soon liberated. Too many had perished before the slaughter ceased, but once everything settled, Ky’s new allies swelled to nearly fifty thousand. They were from across the continent, even deep within Asia, but all recognized a genuine opportunity to end Carthaginian tyranny.

This was the real weakness of the Carthaginian system of conquering people and forcing them to fight for their overlords. Their conscripted soldiers were only loyal as long as they thought their families and villages were still under threat. As soon as a chance to break free was offered, their armies fell apart. Ky just had to hope this would be a problem with future Carthaginian armies. If they could only rely on their own people, there was no way the Carthaginians could maintain their massive empire, and they’d collapse all on their own.

“Any word from the scouts?” Ky asked Ursinus as the legate entered his tent.

“Not yet, but this would have been most of the Carthaginian forces within a hundred mille passus of us. If the forces near Hispania have started marching towards us, our scouts won’t even be in the area they could have marched to for several more days. The locals have sent out riders to every village this side of the Pyrenees Mountains. We’ll know about them before they get close.”

“Assuming those villages switch to our side. The closer they are to Carthage or Italy, the more they’ll still fear Carthaginian reprisals. We need to be on the lookout for bad intel.”

“Fortunately, I found someone to help us sort through that,” Ursinus said, grinning.

“Really?” Ky asked, uncertain where this was headed.

“Absolutely. Come in, General,” Ursinus said, raising the tent flap for Bomilcar to join them inside.

“Bomilcar,” Ky said, standing quickly and grasping the Carthaginian’s arm in greeting. “I knew you had to be behind our sudden good fortune. The chieftains we’ve talked to all kept mentioning a Carthaginian turncoat, but none seemed to know your name.”

“I felt it best to keep a low profile among people I didn’t know personally. At least until I was safely with the legions again. I knew the man who was in charge of this army, and if he heard any of the tribesmen mention my name, he would have figured out this was a trap. Sorry I couldn’t let you know it was coming before we made our move.”

“I was just happy you did. We were in a tight place.”

“You would have won either way. The way you blocked off the ford, you would have ripped apart the Carthaginian army before they ever pushed through.”

“I don’t know. Most of our gunpowder went south with Velius. I don’t think we could have maintained the firepower to completely defeat this army. It would have pulled back and come at us again.”

“Maybe. Still, you did some real damage. From what I’ve gathered, there’s only a force in southern Hispania and one out in Greece left on the continent. They haven’t even moved their Persian armies yet. Wiping out this army means we’ve essentially cleared Germania, with the exception of a few small detachments. They’ll have armies in the field come spring, but we should have a good long winter to consolidate our forces and work with our new allies.”

“Speaking of, how’s that going?”

“Good. I told them about some of the new weapons we’re willing to give them. They were skeptical at first, but seeing your men in action, they haven’t stopped asking when they can get their hands on some of the thunder weapons, as they keep calling them.”

“They understand what we’re giving them isn’t exactly the same as what we used here, right?”

“Not really. I tried to explain it, but it’s all magic to them at this point. I actually brought several of the tribal leaders from the larger tribes. I’ve mostly been dealing with them, and they’ve been working with the smaller groups to put this together. We’re going to have to think of something more long-term soon, to keep these men from dominating our relationships, but for now, they’re who we need to talk to.”

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