The Depths of Neptune - Cover

The Depths of Neptune

Copyright© 2023 by Lumpy

Chapter 3


Ky’s gaze swept down the long table, surrounded by all of the military commanders currently stationed on Britannia, as well as Talogren, Ramirus, and even Hortensius, who all decided to remain after the treaty signing. Over a month had passed since the Carthaginian forces and fleet had been defeated in Ériu, but this marked the first occasion Ky could gather the dispersed forces to strategize their next moves.

Velius was en route, ferrying his legions to Britannia, but Ky couldn’t afford to wait for his chief general. The Carthaginians had done them a favor, stripping a large number of soldiers from Iberia and the continent for the multiple armies sent against Rome. It was far from the largest part of their strength, but most of that was still scattered across their vast empire. They had a window where the Carthaginians were weakened along the coast. According to Ramirus’s reports, the Carthaginians were stretched too thin, leaving the coastline vulnerable. Now was the perfect time to strike.

Of course, they couldn’t just transport the legions in their current state. Despite the first cannon rolling out of Hortensius’s factories, swords and shield walls wouldn’t stand up to the size of the forces the Carthaginians could muster. Unlike their battles on Britannia, where the Carthaginians had to transport men, weapons, and supplies, the continent provided ample resources. The armies they would encounter would dwarf those they had faced thus far, and Ky doubted they could train more than one additional legion, even with the Ulaid’s support.

Recruitment from the Roman and Caledonian regions had slowed due to the competing need for workers in factories and fields, both crucial to the Empire’s chances against the Carthaginians. Until they reclaimed more territory, stripping Carthage of their conscripted soldiers, Britannia would continue to face a growing disparity in troop numbers.

Crossbows and better steel were insufficient. The cannon was a good start, but Ky needed to start adding serious force multipliers if they were going to be victorious. Time was of the essence, and they were in short supply.

It would be a race between the Britannians amassing weapons and forces and the Carthaginians mobilizing their forces towards the coast. Whoever got there first would win.

The men engaged in lively conversation, their spirits high. They had persevered through seemingly insurmountable odds, boasting an impressive string of victories. Ky almost hated to bring them back to reality. Almost.

“Gentlemen, and lady,” Ky began, nodding at his wife, who returned his gesture with a warm smile. “We’ve accomplished much this spring. Britannia Mana is nearly free of Carthaginians, and for now, we dominate the seas surrounding our islands. Our people are safe, for the moment. However, isn’t the time to lull ourselves into complacency. We’ve injured the monster at our doorstep and captured its attention. It’s only a matter of time before they bring the full force of their empire down on us.”

“Let them try,” Valdar, the newly appointed admiral of the fledgling Britannian navy, declared. “We rule the seas and will sink any ship that dares approach.”

“You are smarter than that, Valdar,” Lucilla said. “You’re one ship was nearly out of gunpowder when you lured their fleet into the range of our guns on the cliffs, and that fleet was just what the Carthaginians could pull together on short notice. Are you so confident they will fall into our trap twice? And even if they do, we could not possibly mount enough cannons to sink a larger fleet. The last one was surprised and overconfident. If they decided to ignore you and take their losses, they still could have landed a huge army on our shores. Thinking your enemy is toothless, or underestimating the danger they represent, is how fools die.”

Ky struggled to suppress a smile, hearing his words echo from her lips. He didn’t resent her passing off his analysis as her own, even when she had taken the exact position as Valdar during their previous conversation on the subject. While the Caledonians adored her, not all Britannians believed a woman belonged in combat leadership. They were a united front, and it was crucial that she convinced the commanders she was essential in their war councils. If providing her a cheat sheet ensured that, he was more than happy to oblige.

“Exactly. I believe we can eventually control the waves with a fleet no Carthaginian can touch, but we’re not there yet.”

“I apologize, my lady,” Valdar conceded, bowing his head slightly.

“We need to divert their focus from our islands and start reclaiming some of their resources, including manpower. That means taking the fight to the continent, which is precisely why I’ve gathered you all here.”

“Is that wise, if that’s where they’re amassing their new armies?” Ursinus, the former guard and newest legate, inquired. “Any troops we land ashore would be crushed by their superior forces, just as they would if we allowed them to land here. I agree that Valdar was premature in his assessment, but he’s not entirely wrong. If we can build a big enough fleet and produce more of these new cannons, wouldn’t our safest strategy be to put a ring of ships and cannon around our islands?”

“Perhaps, but that won’t last forever. They will never stop prodding us, and eventually, they will break through. We also do not have limitless resources and, as long as they control most of the continent, they effectively do. They can cut us off from trade routes without ever coming directly into conflict with our ships. If they wanted, they could starve us. We import a fair amount of food and a lot of supplies from the Scandi and Asia, and that doesn’t even consider the number of men we’d need to keep a ring in place for years, sustaining constant losses to Carthaginian probes. No, hiding on our islands, hoping that the monster will just go away, will not work.”

“But you have a plan, yes?” the Emperor, who was the only one seated at this meeting, asked.

“Yes, Princeps. There are several things we need to do simultaneously. One. We need to begin training the new men coming in. Our superior cohesion is what has allowed us to stand firm against far superior numbers, and the number of trained legionaries we have now is significantly and dangerously lower than when I arrived almost a year ago. You all understand the difference between a soldier and a warrior, and the need for soldiers. With the mostly Ulaid reinforcements, we will need time to train them. Two. Hortensius will continue to produce new weapons. With the successful field test of the cannon and the progression in the quality of the steel we have been producing, I believe it is time for another major leap forward in our weapons technology. The arcuballista was a good middle step, something better than what the legions used previously but still within our original manufacturing capabilities. They are not, however, good enough to give us the force multiplier we need to deal with the Carthaginians.”

“And what are these new weapons, precisely,” Auspex asked.

“I am going to hold off on sharing that for the moment. It is going to take time and a lot of work on Hortensius’ part to get us ready for production on anything more complicated than the arcuballista, and I don’t want to distract the men. I’m sure word will leak out before we decide it’s the right time, but, right now, I want your men focused on training. My purpose today was to let you know there is a major overhaul coming which will change the way the legions fight, although the change will be less than it would for a less ordered unit.”

“And what, precisely, are we training for?” Ursinus asked. “Besides teaching farmers and herders how to hold a sword and march, what are we doing?”

“That’s number three. When we do land on the continent, it’s going to be a challenge. The last time anyone here attempted a landing on an area without a port, it was in small, oar-driven, shallow draft vessels. It took days to move whole legions, which is plenty of time for the Carthaginians to catch us with half our legions on the continent and half on Britannia, attacking us when we are not prepared. That said, even if they greatly increase their manpower along the coast, they can’t cover every inch of it and they won’t know where we’re going to strike. That gives us the element of surprise, a chance to maneuver, and even a chance to make local allies to help reinforce our numbers.”

“Do you really think the locals will side with us when the time comes?” Valdar asked.

“Maybe. We’ve taken in a lot of refugees from the continent over the last several months, as the tribes closest to the coast have seen us as a potential safe haven. We can use that to our advantage, getting some of our new countrymen to negotiate with their brothers and cousins to see that siding with us is in their best interest.”

“Which is why you pushed so hard to get them allowed in as citizens,” Lucilla said.

“Precisely. They’ve been safe for several months now. Ever since we defeated Bomilcar’s army, we’ve allowed them to come here for safety,” Ky said, which caused all eyes to turn to the Carthaginian, now Britannian, general who had remained silent so far. “They all ran because they didn’t want to live in Carthaginian lands, where they and their families were being brutalized. It hasn’t been so long, however, that their people aren’t still there. Once they see some of their family in legionnaire armor, coming to free them, they’ll do the work for us. Or at least make it easier. That will be the start. Once we convert some villages and create a safe area on the continent for our forces, more will defect to us. The Carthaginian empire is held together by fear and their armies are made up of men who serve because if they don’t the Carthaginians will kill everyone they grew up with and burn the remains of the village behind them as they leave. The more villages we free, the less manpower the Carthaginians will have. The men they would conscript from those villages will see a chance for freedom and come over to us, and so on and so on. By the time we clear enough of the continent to secure our own supply lines, the Carthaginian army, and their base of supply, will be greatly diminished, which is what we need, because this will only work in Germania, Gaul, and the like. Once we cross over to the Carthaginian homelands, we will have to fight for every inch we take.”

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