Hannibal: The Patrol

BOOK: Hannibal: The Patrol
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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 clapped 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.

BOOK: Hannibal: The Patrol
8.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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