Hannibal 03 clouds of.., p.1
Hannibal 03 - Clouds of War,
About the Book
About the Author
Also by Ben Kane
About the Book
213 BC. Syracuse. Under the merciless Sicilian sun, a city is at war.
Outside the walls, a vast Roman army waits. Yet the city’s incredible defences, designed by Archimedes, mean that Syracuse will not be taken easily.
A veteran of the bitter war since its beginning, Quintus is ready to give his life in the service of the Republic. But dangers face him from within his own ranks as well as from the enemy – who include his former friend, the Carthaginian, Hanno.
Hanno has been sent by his general Hannibal to aid Syracuse in its fight against Rome. Pledged to bring death to all Romans, he is diverted from his mission by the discovery of Quintus’ sister Aurelia, a captive within the city.
Two friends on opposing sides. A woman caught between them. They are about to meet in one of the most brutal sieges of all time.
Who 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
Spartacus: The Gladiator
Hannibal: Enemy of Rome
Hannibal: Fields of Blood
For Camilla and Euan, comrades in Northumberland during a dark time. More than a decade later, you’re friends still. Enough said.
Apulia, southern Italy, summer 216 BC
AFTER THEIR STUNNING victory over more than eighty thousand Romans, Hannibal had let his soldiers rest for a night and a day and another night. It was as well, thought Hanno, studying the faces of the assembled officers and chieftains, some fifty-odd men. They were Carthaginians, Numidians, Iberians and Gauls. Their faces and arms had been cleansed of blood, and they might have caught up on some sleep, yet to a man they looked shattered. Exhausted. Drained.
Hanno, a lean young soldier with black hair, felt the same way. How could he not? The fighting at Cannae had lasted all day under a burning summer sun. Even when the tide had turned against the Romans, the killing had gone on, because the legionaries had been surrounded. The unrelenting slaughter had finished only when darkness fell, when the Carthaginian soldiers were covered in gore from head to foot, when their horses had been crimson from the bottoms of their necks to their hooves. Gone were the fields of stubble that had been there at dawn; in their place, the fighting had left fields of blood.
The toll on the survivors had been more than physical. More than fifty thousand Romans lay dead twenty stadia hence, but eight thousand of Hannibal’s men would never see another dawn either. Hanno’s father Malchus had died that day. Hanno stifled the grief that rose within him. Most of those nearby had suffered the loss of a loved one too; if they had not, it was certain that they had seen close friends and comrades die. Yet it had been worth it. Rome had been dealt a hammer blow the likes of which it had never felt. Its standing army had been reduced by more than two-thirds; one of its consuls had been slain, so too had many hundreds of its ruling class. The devastating news would already be sending tremors through every town and city in Italy. Against all the odds, Hannibal had beaten the largest army ever assembled by the Roman Republic. What would he do next? Since Hannibal had ordered them here, to the open ground before his tent, the same question had been on everyone’s lips.
Hanno caught his older brother Bostar’s eye. ‘Any idea of what he’ll say?’ he whispered.
‘Your guess is as good as mine.’
‘Let’s hope that he orders us to march on Rome,’ interjected Sapho, the oldest of the three siblings. ‘I want to burn the damn place to the ground.’
For all that his relationship with Sapho was fractious, Hanno longed to do that too. If the army that had just defeated them so decisively turned up at its gates, surely Rome would surrender?
‘First, we need to move our camp further from the battlefield,’ said Sapho, wrinkling his nose. ‘I’m sick of the stench.’
Hanno grimaced in agreement. The summer’s heat would only intensify the ever-present odour of rotting flesh. Nonetheless, Bostar let out a phhhh of contempt. ‘Hannibal has more on his mind than your offended nostrils!’
‘I was making a joke, something you wouldn’t understand,’ growled Sapho.
Hanno scowled at them both. ‘Enough! He’s here.’ The black-cloaked scutarii who served as their general’s bodyguard had snapped upright.
A moment’s pause, and Hannibal emerged from his tent into the early-morning sunlight. The tired officers raised a rousing cheer. Hanno bellowed for all he was worth; so too did his brothers. Here was a man worth following. A man who had led his army thousands of stadia from Iberia, across Gaul and into Italy, there to heap humiliations upon Rome.
Hannibal was dressed as if for battle. Over his purple tunic, he wore a burnished bronze cuirass; layered linen pteryges protected his groin and shoulders and a simple Hellenistic helmet covered his head. A strip of purple fabric covered the space where his right eye should have been. He carried no shield, but was armed with a simple sheathed falcata. Hannibal also looked tired, but the pleasure on his broad, bearded face as he met his officers’ acclaim seemed genuine. His remaining eye sparkled. Planting his feet a stride apart, he raised his hands.
Silence fell at once.
‘Has it sunk in yet?’ asked Hannibal.
‘What, sir?’ Sapho enquired with a wicked grin.
There were loud chuckles, and Hannibal inclined his head with a smile. ‘I think you know what, son of Malchus.’
‘It’s beginning to, sir,’ answered Sapho.
Murmurs of agreement; satisfied looks shared. Before the battle, thought Hanno, no one had doubted Hannibal’s tactical expertise, but now his abilities seemed to verge on the godlike. Their fifty thousand soldiers had faced twice that number of Romans and come away not just victorious, but all conquering.
‘Any time I forget, sir,’ added Sapho, ‘the smell reminds me of how many of the enemy we killed.’
‘We’ll be moving camp soon enough, never fear,’ said Hannibal. He paused, and the amusement died away.
‘Where to, sir? The plain of Mars, outside Rome?’ shouted Hanno. He was pleased that many officers nodded in approval, including Maharbal, Hannibal’s cavalry commander.
‘I know that is what most of you want,’ H
Hannibal’s words fell like lead shot. Hanno’s enthusiasm waned before his general’s certainty. The same unhappiness was clear in many faces around him, in the muttered words between neighbours.
‘It may not come to that, sir,’ challenged Maharbal.
A surprised hush fell.
‘We’ve beaten the Romans three times, sir,’ Maharbal went on. ‘Trounced them at the Trebia, Lake Trasimene and here, at Cannae. They must have lost a hundred thousand men by now. Only the gods know how many equestrians and senators have died, but it’s a large portion of the total. We’re free to wander their land, burning and pillaging. If we march on Rome, they will sue for peace – I know it!’
‘Damn right,’ said Sapho.
There were loud rumbles of agreement.
Maharbal’s words appealed, but Hanno was remembering how his friend Quintus, aged just sixteen, had faced up to three armed bandits – on his own. He had to be one of the most stubborn, courageous people Hanno ever met. These were not unusual characteristics for a Roman. During the battle two days before, many of the legionaries had continued to fight on even when it was clear that they had been defeated.
Hannibal rubbed a contemplative finger along his lips. ‘You’re so sure,’ he said at last, eyeing first Maharbal, and then Sapho.
‘Yes, sir. Who can take such a beating as we delivered two days ago and continue to fight on? No one!’ declared Sapho.
‘He speaks true,’ said an officer. ‘Aye,’ rumbled another.
If Quintus lives, he will not give up while there is a breath still in his body, thought Hanno grimly. He would struggle to the death rather than submit.
Hannibal’s bright eye fixed on Sapho. ‘Maharbal knows the entire story of our first war against the Republic, but do you?’
‘Of course, sir. I grew up on my father’s tales of it.’
‘Did he ever tell you of the occasions when the Roman fleets had been sunk, and their treasuries were empty?’
Sapho flushed a little, remembering. ‘Yes, sir.’
Hanno could recall the story too.
‘Any normal people would have recognised defeat after such major disasters. Instead, the Roman nobles sold their own properties to raise money for the construction of new ships. The war went on, because the stubborn bastards would not admit that they had been beaten. And we all know what happened at the end of that conflict.’
Angry murmurs, mention of reparations and territories lost.
‘The Romans have never been vanquished as they were here, though, sir,’ said Sapho.
‘True,’ admitted Hannibal. ‘And therefore my hope and expectation is that they will sue for peace. With that in mind, Carthalo’ – here he pointed to one of his senior cavalry officers – ‘will tomorrow lead an embassy to Rome, there to deliver terms to the Senate.’
This might work. ‘What terms, sir?’ asked Hanno.
‘Rome will recognise the honour and power of Carthage. It will return to us Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica, and acknowledge our pre-eminence in the seas west of those islands. If the Republic does not accept these terms, then, as the gods are my witness, it will see enough death and destruction visited upon its citizens to make the battle here look like a skirmish. This, while the non-Roman peoples who come over to us shall live under our protection.’
Maharbal shook his head, but many officers exchanged pleased looks. ‘Those demands are reasonable enough,’ said Bostar. ‘Rome will see that, surely?’
They had been releasing captured non-Romans for a good while, but Hanno hadn’t fully appreciated Hannibal’s purpose before. ‘You want to break up the Republic, sir?’
‘I do. It isn’t that long since peoples such as the Samnites, Oscans and Bruttians were conquered or came under Roman influence. I want them to seize their liberty with both hands. Allied to Carthage, they will be free to determine their own futures. Few of you will know, but there have already been approaches from leaders of cities such as Capua about severing their links with Rome.’
That went down well with the officers.
Sapho looked disappointed, but Hanno didn’t notice. Defeating Rome was what he had always craved, but he had another reason for wanting the war to be over. Quintus’ sister, Aurelia, had flashed into his mind. If the fighting ended, he would be able to seek her out. A burning hope lit in Hanno’s heart. Let Rome see that it is beaten, he prayed. Let there be peace.
‘Would it not be better, sir, to be more aggressive? Why not let me ride ahead with our cavalry?’ asked Maharbal, his expression eager. ‘The dogs will only hear of our approach after we have arrived. I could deliver your message with thousands of horsemen at my back. You and the rest of the army can follow on behind. If the Romans have not agreed to the terms by then, your appearance would make up their minds.’
‘I agree, sir,’ said Sapho. ‘We should march on Rome.’
‘Should?’ Hannibal studied Sapho for a moment, and his lips thinned. Sapho met his stare at first, but he couldn’t keep it up. Hannibal’s face softened as he cast his gaze at Maharbal. ‘My mind is made up. Carthalo and his companions will carry my words to Rome. The troops need rest, and so do your riders. I am going to give it to them.’
‘Truly the gods do not grant everything to the same man,’ said Maharbal sombrely. ‘You know how to win a victory, Hannibal, but you do not how to use one.’
Two and a half years later …
Apulia, late winter
IT WAS A fresh morning. A light, cool breeze carried in from the east, where the sea lay, one hundred stadia away. The worst of the winter weather had gone, for which Hanno was grateful. Over the previous few months, the temperatures had not often been harsh, but he still missed the warmth of Carthage, his home. The sun’s heat on his face, and signs that the plants were beginning to grow again, would be welcome.
As usual, he found Muttumbaal among the Libyans of his phalanx. If his second-in-command wasn’t sleeping, he was with their men. They were his entire world, for he had neither wife nor family, and he was assiduous in their care. No one had ever called Mutt by his full cumbersome name, except perhaps his mother, thought Hanno wryly. To the world, his dour subordinate was just known as Mutt. He was a damn fine officer, and had covered for Hanno on innumerable occasions. Saved his life more than once too.
Mutt was drilling the men on the open ground beyond the camp perimeter. It was a habit that Hanno continued to find amusing. They were some of Hannibal’s most hard-bitten veterans, who knew their craft inside out. Career soldiers, they had travelled from Carthage to Iberia, from there to Gaul, over the Alps and into Italy. They had fought – and won – more battles for Hannibal than anyone could remember. Yet that didn’t stop Mutt from insisting on regular drill and marching sessions. ‘Let them sit on their arses for too long, sir, and they’ll get rusty,’ he’d said when Hanno had questioned the tactic. Over time, Hanno had had to admit that Mutt’s reasoning was sound, given the existence that they had all lived since Cannae. There was still occasional fighting, but much of their routine was to stay in camp. Yes, there were marches to defend a pro-Carthaginian town or city from a Roman army that was threatening it, but their fearsome reputation meant that this tactic usually made the legions withdraw without a fight. Large swathes of southern Italy were now on their side, which meant that combat had become less common. Frustratingly, that didn’t mean that the war had been won. Far from it, Hanno thought bitterly. Plenty of Rome’s allies remained loyal, even when their territory wa
Capua was allied to Hannibal, but nearby towns were not. He pictured Quintus’ sister Aurelia, how she’d been when he had last seen her near Capua, and his heart squeezed. There had been no chance to find her since, and there probably never would be. He swallowed down his feelings. It was as well, for she would have forgotten him by now.
Spotting a dust-covered rider urging his horse towards the camp, his mood soured a little more. ‘Who’ll be begging for help this time?’ he said to no one in particular.
Mutt heard him, and wandered over. ‘It’ll be the same old story, sir. “A Roman army is at our gates. We need your assistance. Come with all haste.”’
Hanno laughed, before saying something that he would admit to few others. ‘Sometimes it seems as if Cannae wasn’t enough. If only their new legions would take us on. We’d kick their arses.’
Mutt hawked and spat. ‘I’d be surprised if they’re that stupid again, sir.’
Mutt was right, thought Hanno angrily. Since Cannae, their enemies had recruited and trained more than ten new legions. They operated in consular-sized forces of two legions throughout the peninsula – substantial enough to be militarily potent without losing the ability to be manoeuvrable and fast-moving – concentrating on the defeat of cities and peoples who had deserted the Republic.
‘Cannae taught them a real lesson, sir.’
‘They’re scheming dogs.’ Hanno knew all too well how it worked. If Hannibal tried to face these legions, or to draw them into pursuit, they backed away or retreated into the mountains where the huge Carthaginian superiority in cavalry was negated. Not for the first time, Hanno remembered Maharbal’s warning just after Cannae. Had their general made the wrong decision when he decided not to march on Rome? Hanno wasn’t sure, nor would he mention it to a soul other than Mutt or Bostar. As well as feeling disloyal by discussing it, no one really knew the answer. It was impossible to predict what might have happened. Obsessing about the past did nobody any good, he decided. They had to deal with the present. ‘We’re hardly doing badly. Hannibal is undefeated; at no time since Cannae has it looked any other way.’