Hannibal the patrol, p.1
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       Hannibal: The Patrol, p.1
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           Ben Kane
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Hannibal: The Patrol


  Contents

  About the Book

  About the Author

  Also by Ben Kane

  Title Page

  Map

  Hannibal: The Patrol

  Copyright

  Extract from Hannibal: Fields of Blood

  Copyright

  About the Book

  An exclusive straight to digital short story which also includes the first chapter of Ben Kane’s Hannibal: Fields of Blood.

  WINTER 218 BC

  In Cisalpine Gaul, a Carthaginian patrol is moving stealthily through thick woodland.

  It’s led by Hanno, one of Hannibal’s young officers, and his second-in-command Mutt.

  Famished and cold, they are making for a town full of the grain that they desperately need.

  But the local Gauls cannot be trusted; and although defeated, the Romans still have patrols in the area.

  With peril on every side and a deadly ambush ahead, there is no certainty that either Hanno or Mutt will survive ...

  About the Author

  Ben Kane was born in Kenya and raised there and in Ireland. He studied veterinary medicine at University College Dublin but after that he travelled the world extensively, indulging his passion for ancient history. He now lives in North Somerset with his family. For more information visit www.benkane.net.

  Also By Ben Kane:

  The Forgotten Legion

  The Silver Eagle

  The Road to Rome

  Hannibal: Enemy of Rome

  Spartacus: The Gladiator

  Spartacus: Rebellion

  Hannibal:

  The Patrol

  Ben Kane

  Hannibal: The Patrol

  Cisalpine Gaul, winter

  The battle was already won when Mutt saw the Roman officer running towards him. Mutt knew that killing him would be the final badge of humiliation for the enemy. Except his plan had not gone as he’d have wished it. The officer was on his own, but he was strong and skilled. He was afraid too, which made him even more dangerous. The fact that Mutt was armed with a thrusting spear had not prevented the officer from fighting back ferociously. With his initial attack, he had come close to shoving his sword clean through Mutt’s large shield and into his belly.

  I’ve bitten off more than I can chew, thought Mutt desperately, as the officer swept away another spear thrust with his scutum and followed through with a mighty shove against Mutt’s shield. Face to face for a heartbeat, they spat insults at one another, then the officer danced away without warning. Released from the pressure, Mutt nearly toppled forward. Curse him! he thought. I’m acting like a new recruit. If I’m not careful here, I’ll end up spitted on his sword.

  That was when the officer darted forward again. Even as Mutt lunged at him, the officer lifted his right boot and planted it in the middle of Mutt’s shield, surprising him completely. Unbalanced, Mutt staggered back a few steps, caught the heel of his sandal on a rock and fell onto the flat of his back. Splatters of mud rose into the air; he lost his grip on his shield. The officer growled in triumph and kicked it to one side, then stamped down with the other foot on the butt of Mutt’s spear, stopping him from lifting it.

  Shit, thought Mutt. I’m dead.

  The officer’s sword rose high as he spat another curse.

  Mutt closed his eyes and readied himself for the afterlife.

  ‘Mutt. Mutt, wake up.’

  Dream. It was a dream, he realised. Relief filled him. He sat up, rubbed away the sleep from his eyes. ‘Yes, sir?’

  ‘Are you all right?’ asked Hanno, his commander.

  ‘Yes, sir. Why?’

  ‘You were talking to yourself, thrashing about in your blanket.’

  ‘A bad dream, sir, nothing more.’ Gods, but I hope it never comes true, Mutt prayed. That’s twice I’ve had it now.

  A nod. ‘Wake the men. It’s time to get moving.’

  ‘Sir.’ Mutt sat up, wincing as the small amount of heat that had been trapped in his blankets vanished into the pre-dawn chill. His hands and feet were almost numb. His nose was too. If his memory served him, he’d spent much of the night waking because of the cold. Why had the gods sent him a stinking nightmare as well? he wondered, fighting a creeping sense of unease.

  *

  Hours later…

  Woodland, several miles north of their camp

  ‘Where in hell are we heading to now?’

  ‘The arsehole of nowhere,’ replied a second voice.

  ‘I thought that’s where we camped last night.’

  ‘No, that was the crotch,’ said the first man, to a chorus of laughter. He waited until the merriment had died down. ‘This is a godforsaken place part of the world, eh, lads?’

  The growls of agreement and spitting noises that followed didn’t make alarm Mutt. Soldiers liked to grumble as they marched. If they didn’t, there was something wrong. Besides, what had been said was true. The area was flat, fertile and well-watered by rivers, but gods was it cold and inhospitable at this time of the year. The powerful wind from the Alps to the north never seemed to ease. It snowed more days than it didn’t, and the temperatures hadn’t risen above freezing for a week.

  Mutt examined his reddened fingers, mouthed a curse of his own. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt warm.

  Much of the time a thick layer of fog hung over the land, reducing visibility and dampening men’s spirits further. And the spot where they had spent the previous night — a mud-bound clearing in the middle of a wolf-infested forest — had been one of the least appealing of the patrol thus far. Yet there was a good reason for keeping out of sight. The countryside might appear empty most of the time, but they couldn’t let down their guard for a single moment. This was Gaulish land, mostly free of the Rome’s influence and not all of the tribesmen were well disposed towards Hannibal and his troops. They — the Carthaginians — might have kicked the shit out of the Romans at the Trebia a few weeks previously, but enemy patrols might still be about. It paid to be cautious.

  So far, their new commander Hanno seemed to be wise to that. It probably helped, thought Mutt, that he had spent a good period of time in captivity if not around here, then in this land of the Romans. Mutt didn’t know the fine details of Hanno’s story, but by this stage, everyone in the damn army had heard of his dramatic escape from slavery and reunion with his father and brothers. Perhaps he’ll tell me about it one day, mused Mutt. If we ever get to know each other. It would be good to have someone he could tell about his nightmare.

  ‘I never thought I’d miss Iberia so much. There was some cold weather, but not like this. It’s fucking freezing here, all the time,’ said the first man, resuming his diatribe.

  ‘What d’you expect? It’s the middle of winter,’ replied the second soldier. ‘Spring will come eventually, you know. It always does, or had you forgotten that?’

  There were hoots of amusement at this. Mutt’s lips twitched a little.

  The first speaker wasn’t to be put off. ‘Smart arse! Maybe it will get warmer, but the natives will still be bloodthirsty savages. The Romans won’t go away either. Give them a month or two and they’ll want another fight. And meanwhile, we’ve got bugger all in the way of food.’

  Mutt had been with the phalanx for more than ten years, and second-in-command for nearly three. He knew the identity of the main complainant without having to look. Ithobaal was a dependable spearman who’d served in the unit for nigh on a decade. He wasn’t short of courage either, Mutt thought, but by Baal Hammon’s beard, he liked to whinge.

  Ithobaal’s last statement had hit a nerve too. The disgruntled comments began to fly thick and fast. ‘How long are we going to be on half rations? That’s what I want to know.’ ‘My belly’s permanently cl
apped to my backbone.’ ‘I can’t sleep at night because Bogu’s bloody stomach rumbles so loudly!’ ‘It’s that or his farts!’

  Mutt broke formation from his position in the twenty-fifth rank. Used to him moving about, the spearmen kept marching. The track they were following through the woods was narrow, forcing a column width of four soldiers instead of the normal six. At full strength, the phalanx would have numbered four hundred men, but the brutal journey from Iberia and the recent fighting had seriously depleted their numbers. Less than two hundred spearmen now remained — nearly fifty ranks — and Mutt knew them all. They were his family, his charges, and he would do anything for them, including meting out discipline when it was needed. ‘Ithobaal!’ he shouted.

  Tramp, tramp, tramp. Several more rows went by, and then Mutt saw him. A tall, broad-shouldered man with a straggling beard, Ithobaal was walking on the far left of his rank. He gave Mutt a wary look, no doubt wondering what he’d done to merit the attention. ‘Sir?’

  Mutt matched his pace to that of the men once more. ‘We’re all in this together, aren’t we?’

  There was no immediate reply. Mutt wondered if Ithobaal was foolish enough to challenge his authority. There would be one warning, and then he’d charge in like a raging bull. A beating would soon restore Ithobaal’s respect. ‘DID YOU FUCKING HEAR ME, YOU MAGGOT?’

  A slightly fearful glance. ‘I did, sir. We’re all in this together.’

  ‘Which means I’m as damn hungry as you are. As all of your comrades are. I don’t like to be reminded of it, and I don’t think the rest of the lads do either, so stop flapping your lips. Understood?’

  ‘Yes, sir.’

  ‘We’ll fill our bellies when Victumulae falls.’ Mutt was addressing everyone in earshot. ‘The grain stores there are fit to burst, I’m told.’

  Ithobaal wasn’t going to give up completely. ‘When will we take the place, sir?’

  ‘Soon, you fool! It’s not much more than ten miles away, and our army is only a couple of days behind us. The siege won’t take long. If you’re lucky, some of you might even find a supply of wine inside the walls. If your luck isn’t in in that regard, Ithobaal, you’d best hope that your whingeing hasn’t pissed off those of your mates who do strike it rich.’

  The smiles broke out at last but Mutt was already walking away. ‘I’d tell you to sing, but you’d make too much noise,’ he announced in a loud voice. ‘Talk among yourselves instead to make the time go by. Imagine the spring sunshine in Iberia. Think of the whores who worked in the Crescent Moon, that tavern in New Carthage, and the good wine they served there.’ More than one man groaned, and Mutt nodded in satisfaction. He’d caught the mood in time. Experience had taught him to act sooner rather later in such situations, or morale could be soured for the rest of the day.

  Catching sight of Hanno at the front of the patrol lifted Mutt’s mood a little more, and helped him not to think of his nightmare, which kept creeping into his mind. After the grievous loss of their previous commander in the Alps, Mutt had led the men as best he could, but leading a phalanx didn’t come naturally to him. Being second-in-command, now that was all right, but not the other. Still, he’d had to do it, or the men would have fallen apart. Not long after they had descended from the mountains, exhausted beyond belief, word had come that a new officer would be taking charge of the unit. Mutt had rarely been so relieved.

  His emotion had changed to concern, however, when he’d first seen the tall, rangy figure of Hanno. I remember thinking that he barely needs to shave, thought Mutt. That he’d have to be a jumped up little shit to be appointed commander so young. His worries had turned out to be groundless. The boy was no snob, and from the start he had thrown himself into getting to know the men. At the Trebia, Hanno had more than proved his mettle, leading from the front of the phalanx. Yet, despite their victory, the fighting had been savage. The main Roman assault that day — a charge by an enormous bloc of legionaries — had fallen on their Gaulish allies, but more than one phalanx had been sucked into the fighting and completely wiped out. Through a combination of luck and sheer bloody-mindedness, Hanno had managed to keep his men together and away from the maelstrom.

  Hiss. Hiss. At first, Mutt didn’t take in what he had heard, but the thumps and subsequent shrieks as the arrows sank into his soldiers’ flesh entirely focused his mind. Hiss. Hiss. More dark shapes scudded in. Mutt’s gaze shot to the right of the track. Among the trees and bushes some twenty paces away, he spotted the dark figures of men, bows upraised. Gods above, why hadn’t the scouts seen them, he wondered? ‘Ambush! Ambush!’ he bellowed. ‘Spears down. Shields off your backs — at the double!’

  He dropped his own spear. His fingers, stiff with cold, fumbled with the buckle of the strap that held his shield across his chest. Hiss. Hiss. A cry from very close by him. The fletches on an arrow that had thumped into the mud by his feet quivered. Mutt cursed savagely. Slow, he was being too slow. Don’t look up, he told himself. Ignore the arrows. Concentrate. At last the tongue of the buckle shifted and the weight of the shield dragged it down his back. With the ease of long practice, and the speed granted by buttock-clenching fear, Mutt spun and grabbed for the handle that was set under the iron boss.

  The instant he had a firm grip on that, the shield went up, over his body and head. Moving too fast to feel relief, Mutt scrabbled for this spear and cocked it overarm in his right hand so that it was ready to thrust. Only then did he look towards their attackers again. They were still loosing arrows. There was no charge imminent. Stupid fools, he thought. He glanced rapidly from side to side, assessing his men. Most now had their shields off, and presented towards the enemy. Less had their spears ready. The line wasn’t complete by any means, however. He made a snap decision. Hanno would look after the front ranks — he had to assume that. Keeping his shield towards the enemy, he moved out of position and began back walking down the column. A quick look over to the left revealed that they were also under attack.

  ‘Shields off your backs,’ Mutt said calmly. ‘That’s if you want to live. Every man is to move forward two steps. Step over your wounded comrades. Get them behind the protection of the shields. Form a complete line. MOVE IT!’

  Over and over, he repeated the orders, only casting an occasional look at the enemy. They had to be Gauls, he decided. Their volleys were ragged and inconsistent, and they hadn’t capitalised on the surprise of their ambush with a charge after the first arrows had fallen. Any decent tactician would have done that. This didn’t mean that he, Hanno and the rest were out of the shit — far from it. But at least he had a little time to rally his men.

  He tried to do a quick head count of the enemy on this side. There were two, three, six men. Four more made ten, and there were at least five or six more a little further on. Those were only the ones he could see in this section. How many of the dogs are there in total? Enough to wipe us out? he wondered. ‘Bogu! Ithobaal?’

  ‘Sir?’ It was Bogu’s voice.

  ‘Can you see what’s going on to our left?’

  ‘Yes, sir.’

  ‘How many are there?’

  ‘At least twenty of the bastards, sir, but probably more.’

  ‘Form a line! Be ready for an enemy charge.’

  ‘Yes, sir.’

  Mutt worked his way back up the column, faster this time. He was pleased to note that there didn’t seem to be too many injured. Two soldiers lay motionless, but that was all right. If the Gauls had loosed a concerted volley, he would have lost far more. The men’s shields were all up, which meant there would now be few casualties – unless the enemy pressed home their attack.

  Parr-parr-parr. Zzzeyrrp. Parr-parr-parr. Zzzeyrrp. Booooooooo.

  Mutt’s skin crawled. He’d heard that ungodly noise before, at the Trebia. Back then it had been sounded by Gaulish allies of theirs, to frighten the Romans. It helped to know that it was a carnyx, a trumpet blown not by a demon, but by a living man. It was still fucking unsettling, he thought. Mutt was g
rateful that there only seemed to be one, or perhaps two, of the carnyxes. He noted the fear on a number of his men’s faces. ‘It’s only a trumpet, boys. Only a damn trumpet,’ he shouted. ‘They’re imitating the noise of their farts!’

  A few soldiers laughed, but not many.

  Parr-parr-parr. Zzzeyrrp. Parr-parr-parr. Zzzeyrrp. Booooooooo.

  ‘Steady now, boys! They’re just trying to scare us. If the whoresons had any wits, they would have come at us already.’ That was probably what they next intended, he thought grimly. The carnyxes were being used to drum up the warriors’ courage against the bloodcurdling fear of charging an enemy.

  ‘Mutt!’ Hanno’s voice came from the front. It was calm, which relieved Mutt immensely. The boy wasn’t panicking. ‘Yes, sir?’ he yelled back.

  Parr-parr-parr. Zzzeyrrp. Parr-parr-parr. Zzzeyrrp. Booooooooo.

  ‘How are things back there?’

  ‘All right, sir. Two dead, or dying. Perhaps half a dozen injured. Shield wall in place.’

  ‘Good. The scouts tell me that there’s a tree blocking the track some distance around the next bend, so we’re going to have to stand our ground and drive them off. It’s that, or retreat. I say we fight.’

  Going back the way they had come was probably a bad idea — Hanno had that right. The forest went on for miles. On the narrow track, they had no chance of forming up in the more protective phalanx formation. The stinking Gauls could just follow them, peppering them with arrows. Yet if the enemy outnumbered them, it might prove more prudent to withdraw. A bead of cold sweat trickled from under Mutt’s helmet liner and down the side of his face. What to do? he wondered. Trust Hanno. He’s the commander. He needs my support. ‘Very good, sir.’

  Parr-parr-parr. Zzzeyrrp. Parr-parr-parr. Zzzeyrrp. Booooooooo. Weapons clashed off shield edges, off iron bosses. Warriors roared battle cries.

  ‘Prepare for an attack!’ shouted Hanno. ‘Two ranks on each side, spears at the ready!’

 
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