The Fires of Vulcan - Cover

The Fires of Vulcan

Copyright© 2023 by Lumpy

Chapter 6


Tabnit looked around at his assembled officers, a sea of attentive faces staring back at him over a large table set up to hold a massive map of the continent. Wooden markers were scattered across the map denoting the positions of armies, theirs and the invading Romans, and the largest settlements, mostly Carthaginian, but a few very large indigenous villages as well.

The city they were currently in was marked as one of the largest Carthaginian settlements, which was only partially true. Until a month ago, it had been a small port built to supply the troops operating east of the Alps and north of the Pyrenees mountains. After their losses in Hispania and the realization that they would need a much larger presence to defeat the Romans and their demonic new weapons, a massive expansion program had begun.

The task the emperor had saddled him with was, without a doubt, the most daunting he’d ever been given. Especially once he’d heard more first-hand accounts of the Romans’ new weapons. The emperor and his advisers had given some detail, but Tabnit wasn’t sure they knew the full extent of these weapons based on what he’d discovered since arriving in Daramouda. While the weapons from the Far East he was being given would help, unless the emperor vastly underestimated their power, Tabnit doubted they’d rival what he would be facing.

Still, it wasn’t like he was given a choice. He had to find a way to defeat the Romans here and now, or he and everyone he’d ever known would suffer for it.

“I know most of you are shaken by what has happened over the last several months,” Tabnit began, his voice steady. “Yes, the Romans’ new weapons make them a formidable adversary. And yes, we have received a long string of defeats facing them. I am concerned, however, that some of you have taken that as an excuse to shirk from your duties in fear. With the exception of one commander who chose to keep his forces in the field and, even now, is fighting the Romans, the rest of you ran back here and have been cowering ever since.”

He looked around the room, hard, making sure to impress upon each man his displeasure with their recent failures.

“This, I cannot abide. And neither can the emperor. Starting now, anyone turning from the enemy, shirking from their duty, will be made an example of. Do you understand?”

There was no surprise or shock among the gathered officers. This had always been the way of the empire. It was only a matter of degrees, of how seriously a given commander applied this command that varied.

“That being said, we have, until now, tried to continue fighting this war as we have fought all of our wars before, relying on raw power and our numbers to roll over and crush anyone who stood before us. I think it is clear that strategy no longer works, at least not against the Romans and their new weapons. To this end, we are going to have to adapt and find new ways to combat them. When I give orders I expect them to be followed, no matter if you understand why or agree with them. While I want my officers to show initiative in the field and I stand behind them, as the one in command in that moment to alter their direct orders as they see fit to win the battle at hand, if that alteration is to simply send your men headfirst into the jaws of the Roman line, hoping one last charge will break them, then I do not consider that initiative. I consider that stupidity. Do I make myself clear?”

Again, the men all nodded their understanding, although it was unclear how many actually grasped what he was ordering them to do. The hardest struggle he’d had with commanders was that merit rarely determined who got elevated to command in the emperor’s service. Connections and kissing up to the right people was really all that was needed, which meant their forces often did not have the strongest military minds leading them. In the past, against like-armed people, that hadn’t mattered, but they were no longer in the past.

“Now that we all understand each other we can get down to business. The emperor is pulling together as many men as he can, and we will be receiving large numbers of reinforcements over the next several months. I’ve already tasked the commanders of these forces to prepare for their arrival. Many of these men will not have been under arms before, and over the next several months as we continue to build our forces, I expect your unit commanders to drill them until they drop. I want these men in good enough shape to be able to fight effectively when we send them into battle.”

The commanders he’d assigned to the job already knew their tasks, but he wanted to say it out loud for emphasis.

“We will not be sitting idle while that happens. I know many of you are not used to operating more than patrols and small punitive actions over the winter months, and I do not care. We currently outnumber the Romans, but they are building allies and are continuing to send men from their island. The longer we give them, the harder the battle we will face when things come to a head. To that end, I am sending General Matho north with fifteen thousand men, the bulk of what we have left here. You will rendezvous with General Ippar, who commands the smaller detachments and was dealing with a small insurrection north of the Danube when the Romans invaded. You are not to engage the Romans in a straight-up fight. They are currently being supplied from the coastline and relying heavily on those tribes that have defected to their side. We need to cut off that support. Burn any villages harboring even one Roman supporter, destroy supply lines, and harass them. I want their army to wither on the vine. If they cannot eat, it doesn’t matter how powerful their weapons are. I say again, to make myself clear, do not assault their forces directly.”

“I understand,” Matho said with a slight bow of his head.

“Good. Once our reinforcements arrive, I will take them west to deal with the Romans in Hispania. For now, all of our forces will use this port as their base of supply. The emperor has fortified the mouth of the Syrian Sea as best as he could and forbidden any ships to travel beyond that to the west, since we can no longer trust any of our shipping to survive where the Romans can reach them. I’ve been promised the rate of supply here will increase and we will have what we need to achieve victory, but be aware our supply lines will now be much longer than any of you are used to. Take what you can from the locals and protect the shipments in your area as best you can. Secondly, there will be no reinforcements, at least for the foreseeable future. Every soldier that comes in will be going west when that army marches, leaving only a skeleton force behind. Your commands are on their own.”

The commanders looked disturbed by that, but no one complained. One of the strengths of the Carthaginian army was that they ruled nearly everything their sight touched, which meant they were never far from supply and reinforcements. The recent turn of events, losing control of the seas and effectively losing control of northern Germania, was a new situation for them. And one no serving commander had ever had to face before.

“Commander Nabalsa, you are to take two alae of light infantry and one of cavalry north of the Pyrenees toward the Roman base of operations. We know they are sending messengers north along the coast and we’ve started to get word that they are sending raiding parties along the mountain range, possibly trying to push forward towards us during the winter. Avoid contact but keep them under observation and disrupt their supply lines. Burn their stores, poison their wells, and slaughter any villagers providing them aid. Do not engage them directly.”

Nabalsa paled at the orders but nodded grimly. Tabnit understood the officer’s worry. North of the mountains was better than south, where the terrain could be treacherous in this weather, but such a small detachment meant any actual combat against the Roman weapons would destroy them completely. He also needed to keep the Romans on their back foot as much as possible, guessing what their men were up to and keeping them from feeling a sense of safety before the traditional campaign season started.

His gaze shifted to Atar, a young but clever commander in charge of a fresh division of infantry supplemented by Numidian light cavalry. Atar looked eager to prove himself, his youthful confidence overshadowing a healthy fear of the coming fight.

“Atar, take your forces south across the plains of Hispania and cut up toward the Roman base from the south. Do not approach their base or forces, but make sure they do not try to go around the mountains in that direction and root out any potential allies they may call on if they start looking for support in that area.”

“As you command,” Atar said enthusiastically.

“Commander,” Tabnit said, pausing until the young commander looked directly at him. “I want you to confirm you understand. You are not to assail the Roman base or the body of their armies directly. You are only authorized to harry small units and foraging parties, or local allies. Understood?”

Atar seemed annoyed, although if it was because Tabnit didn’t trust him to decide that on his own or because he wanted to make a play for glory and Tabnit wasn’t giving him a way to achieve that, the general wasn’t sure.

“Yes, I understand.”

“Good. Both of your forces will link back up with the main body when I march it west, directly to the Roman base. Your job is to keep them from making a move towards us before we’re ready, and to keep them from flanking our forces or trying to dodge us once we move to engage.”

The commanders saluted in unison. Tabnit placed his hands behind his back and studied all of the officers.

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