The Depths of Neptune - Cover

The Depths of Neptune

Copyright© 2023 by Lumpy

Chapter 9

As he had every day, the Consul left the command tent after the three men finished going over more options and headed out to tour the legion camps below, leaving the details of their decisions to Velius and Bomilcar.

Velius admired the Consul’s dedication to the men. He’d known many commanders over the years who’d preferred to sit with their finery, giving orders from afar while turning their noses up to the men who had to carry out those orders. Those men, Velius could never respect.

That left a lot of the administrative duties to Velius. If he’d had his preference, he would be down there with the Consul and leave the administration to someone more temperamentally suited to it.

As they left the tent, Bomilcar stopped him and said, “I’ll get with Faenius and have his Praetorians do a survey of smaller vessels in the area, and see how many we can get. The whole idea of the last wave coming in off the smaller ships, as the front ranks engage, will all depend on how many of those ships we can get. We also probably need a few for resupply of the cannon on Valdar’s ships, since he’ll be going through quite a lot of gunpowder if he’s going to hold or even break their ranks, and we might need more cannon support once we engage, if the enemy stiffens up.”

“Enemy,” Velius said, almost spitting the word at him. “You always refuse to say their name, instead using euphemisms like enemy, opponents, or targets. Afraid the Consul might remember where you came from and how fickle your allegiance is? And why do you want to go with the first wave? You’re not their commander and you have no right to lead these men into battle, men whose friends you ordered killed. Is this the chance you were looking for to escape? Maybe lead our soldiers into a slaughter on your way out?”

“Escape to where?” Bomilcar asked, not raising his voice or reacting in any way that might indicate he’d just been accused of betraying the Britannians. “There is a price on my head in Carthage, and the emperor has already had my entire family and everyone I was ever friendly with murdered. Your own agents were the ones to get that information, so you know it’s true, and yet you continue to doubt my motives for being here. I understand your anger, and it does you credit since it proves how attached you are to your men. But your men don’t need an advocate, they need a commander who keeps his head and thinks logically, instead of one controlled by his emotions. If you distrust me so much, you should bring your concerns to the Consul.”

“You and I both know that wouldn’t do any good. I don’t know how you managed to trick him, but I’m not giving you the same pass.”

“Do you think so little of the Consul? Is he so easily deceived? Or perhaps you think your judgment is better than his? Either way, for now you serve him and not the other way around. I welcome any dissent to my suggestions you might have, but once he decides which direction to go, I hope you listen to him and make the best of the situation. Unless you plan on taking up arms against him like your insurrectionists.”

“Just know I’m watching you,” Velius said.

“If that’s what you need to do. Just try not to spend so much time watching me that you trip over obstacles in front of you,” Bomilcar said and turned, leaving Velius to glare at his back.


“My lady,” a man yelled, running full out towards her. “My lady.”

“Hold on,” Cynwrig said, putting himself between the running man and Lucilla, grabbing the man tightly to keep him from getting any closer.

“I have a message from Flavius Pedius Hortensius,” he said, extending a sheet of paper toward her. “He said it is urgent.”

The fact that the message was written on paper was a fair sign that it was, in fact, from Hortensius. Although the paper mill was now in full production, nearly everything it produced was needed for governmental or official use, like Hortensius, and very little of it had made its way to the open market. The pages that made it to the market were selling for exorbitant prices, even though the actual cost of producing paper was significantly lower than that of vellum, which had been the most common non-clay substance to write on before paper’s introduction.

Although Hortensius had access to as much paper as he needed, since his work was imperative to the survival of the Empire, he was still at heart a businessman, and wouldn’t have used it for something like a message unless the content was imperative.

“Thank you,” she said, nodding to Modius to take the note while Cynwrig dismissed the runner.

Although she’d always disdained the section of Roman society that felt it was too good to interact with the ‘unwashed masses,’ the last attempt on her life had spooked her guards to the point that they refused to let anyone not cleared by them into her presence. They were even hesitant to let Praetorians, the Empire’s law enforcement, near her if they didn’t know the Praetorian personally. Unfortunately, as much as she bridled against their overzealous protection, Ky had agreed with them and encouraged them, which had made it all but impossible to convince them that it wasn’t necessary.

She opened the folded sheet and looked it over. There were only a few words, but they were chosen well to strike fear into her heart.

“We have to get to Hortensius’s factory. Now,” she said, turning and hurrying for the palace, where they could get horses to make the ride to Factorium.

Hortensius was waiting outside the main factory, pacing back and forth when they arrived, which showed how anxious the situation had made him.

“I’m so sorry, my lady,” was the first thing he said as she dismounted.

“Are you sure they’re missing? Have you looked for them?”

“Yes. I’ve looked through the entire warehouse, even though I never remove them from my office once you give them to me. They aren’t here.”

“Which pages are missing?”

“That’s what’s strange, it’s mostly older stuff that was written on vellum from the shelf closest to the door, and not the more recent documents on my work table. There were three scrolls on the construction of the blast furnace, one on mining techniques, one on arcuballista construction, although only covering the trigger mechanism, and one on the heavy plow construction.”

“Those were all given to you back in the fall. Nothing from the later documents Ky gave you this winter on gunpowder? Nothing on the cannon or uniform weights and measures? Why that collection of documents?”

“No, none of those. I think it may have been because of where they were, and not because of their content. Everything you listed was written on paper, which we started using almost exclusively once the mill was up and running shortly into winter, and not on vellum. Although it has been some time since I’ve needed to refer to any of those documents, I believe they were grabbed because they were the closest to the door, and not specifically selected. It is why my message said I thought the documents had been stolen, and not just lost. If it was someone unfamiliar with our operations, but who had heard I stored documents in my office, those would probably be the first ones they saw, and they might not have realized the paper even had plans on them. It must have happened during the night shift. We have people here, but a lot less, so it’s possible someone could have gotten into my office, grabbed whatever they could, and gotten out without being seen if they were fast enough. If it had happened during the day, someone would have noticed them. There are just too many people here.”

“Don’t you have guards?”

“Yes, and I thought I had enough, but we also have prototypes being worked on, materials being transferred, and other things equally as important to watch over. I hadn’t assigned any to my office specifically, because it’s normally locked, and there are so many people around.”

“Did they break the lock?”

“No, but they could have forced the bolt if they knew how.”

“Damn it,” she said, looking at her feet as she thought.

“I’m so sorry. I accept full responsibility for this. If you or the Consul want to...”

“No,” she said, looking up and putting a hand on his shoulder. “We all knew how you kept the documents, and none of us saw a problem with it. Hell, I think Lucan’s documents on ship construction might just be lying around the shipyard offices, not even behind a locked door. This is my fault. The Consul left the management of production in my care. I just didn’t think about this possibility.”

“How will we get them back?”

“It’s probably unlikely that we can. If they disappeared last night, they might already be on a ship, eventually heading to Carthage or, at the very least, copied and distributed to give the insurgents or spies a better chance of getting them out of the country. No, that ship has already sailed, as Valdar says. I’m going to talk to Faenius about setting up an office here as soon as we can, where we will hold everything under guard. Until then, I will have him assign some guards whose sole job will be to keep watch over these documents in your office.”

“You should make the storage building out of stone,” Modius said from behind her. “Remember the fire at the arcuballista warehouse? If they can’t steal the plans, they might settle for trying to destroy them.”

“Good thinking. Send a man to Faenius now. He also needs to retrieve any documents given to anyone else. Lucan, the healers, Sorantius, and anyone who has any of the technical plans written up by Ky or myself. They are to be put under guard until we can figure out a more permanent solution. For the healers, Valdar, and anyone still working out of Devnum, the documents are to be held in the palace under guard. For Sorantius’s documents or any others needed here in Factorium, they are to be held in Hortensius’s office for now.”

Modius saluted, gave a look to Cynwrig, and left to carry out her orders. She was glad that Modius had come to finally accept Cynwrig and her Caledonian guards. Modius had even taken the ever-impetuous Cynwrig under his wing, placing him as the number two in charge of her detail. Even with that newfound trust, normally he would have sent one of the other Roman guards to deal with a message like this, except she and Modius knew Faenius well.

The Praetorian commander did not take well to getting commands from underlings, even if they were messages from someone who actually had the authority to give him orders, like Lucilla. It meant any message sent to the Praetorian had to come through someone with high enough status to keep him from getting offended. It was an annoying arrangement, but the man was good enough at his job that it was worth the hassle.

Now she just had to tell Ky and Ramirus that plans had been lost under her watch. True, it wasn’t for any of the newest items, especially the gunpowder or cannon, but the Carthaginians getting the ability to make better steel or arcuballista was still not ideal.

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