JUNE, 263 B.C.
Hannibal Gisco looked a fearsome sight, standing on a great elephant, his armor a deep red. But it was mostly for show. Hannibal did not intend to get his hands dirty today by leading the attack on Locri. That was how leaders got themselves killed, and how armies lost heart.
The sight of Gisco in full armor gave the illusion to his troops that he would be fighting alongside them, and gave them heart.
Hannibal watched as the siege ladders began moving for the city. The plan was simple, to climb the walls, kill the men, and open the gates. There would be no night attacks or betrayals on either side of this battle, as far as Gisco was concerned.
The Punic general winced as he saw flaming javelins hurled at his siege ladders. A few men died, but thankfully no fire caught.
Then came the thwip sound of a ballista flinging a stone through the air. It struck the gate facing it, but it held strong against the impact.
For now, there was nothing Gisco could do except watch.
A Roman captain, commanding the few legionaries that had survived the previous battles, watched as the siege ladder before him slammed into the very wall he stood on.
The first Carthaginian to reach the wall was quickly killed by a sword through his neck by the captain. But more followed, even as the ladder behind them caught fire as more flaming javelins struck it.
"Hold the line, men!" cried the captain, as he himself stood his ground.
Publius Maenius watched the battle on the walls from one of the city's towers. For once, the Romans were winning. Their infantry was heavily outnumbered, but the Punic army's overwhelming numbers could not be deployed effectively in such a contained fight.
But it was the javelins that were really making the Carthaginians bleed. If the Roman and Greeks had not begun throwing javelins or firing arrows on the Punic men below, half of the wall would have already been in the enemy's hands.
Still, the fight raged on.
One Carthaginian climbed to the top of the wall, teeth bared and ready for a fight. But he turned at the sound of cracking wood behind him.
The entire siege ladder had bent as fire lapped at it, and suddenly the structure collapsed, taking with it many a screaming Punic soldier.
Before the soldier watching could register what had just happened, a Roman sword was thrust through him.
Gisco couldn't help but grimace as he watched two of his siege ladders go up in flames. The ladders had already been mostly a failure, except for one ladder that had allowed some Punic infantry to gain a foothold on one of the walls.
Another ladder began to collapse into tinder, leaving only the one which had some success. The Carthaginians there were fighting Romans on either side of them, but it seemed that the enemy was running out of quality infantry. The Carthaginians were giving out death far more than they received.
A Roman hastati threw himself shield first into the nearest Carthaginian. The Punic man staggered, giving the Roman enough time to slash open his enemy's neck with his shield.
The battle was one-sided between the Romans and Carthaginians on the wall, as the Romans were almost fresh recruits, while the men of Carthage had been hardened in several battles. But the Punic men were being attacked on both sides, so it was a bloody melee for both sides.
The Roman snarled at the next Carthaginian to face him.
King Eirenaois watched the battle on the walls from a different tower than Publius. The last siege tower had refused to catch fire, and now the Carthaginians were truly attacking in force. Some of the hastati were already running away, though more took their place, while the Punic infantry held firm.
The King was beginning to wonder whether the Carthaginians would actually take the wall. If they did, there was no way the city could hold. They had nothing that could truly challenge the enemy's elephants or cavalry.
But Eirenaois could do little more than hope.
The Roman hastati narrowly ducked a Roman's blade, before head-butting him. He quickly slashed open the dazed Punic man's throat, ignoring the man's blood as it struck his face.
For a moment, the Carthaginian's lines began to falter, as some men fell back. But then another wave of men finished climbing the ladder, and their retreat quickly ended.
"Die!" screamed the Roman, who was crazily bloodlust. "Die and stay down!"
Hannibal Gisco was having trouble telling whether his men would take the wall. More Romans were dying than his own men, but their morale had been greatly discouraged by the other ladders breaking apart.
But then the line of Punic soldiers managed to push the hastati back, taking more of the wall from them.
Keep advancing, thought Gisco. Don't let them stop you.
The Roman hastati grunted as a Carthaginian pushed him back with a shield. The Roman made a wild swing, making a glancing blow on the Punic man's arm. The other man cursed at the spray of blood, but stopped when the Roman's sword pierced his heart.
Another Carthaginian took his place, but this one was faster. He kept moving forward, drumming on the Roman's shield until it was splinters. As if be miracle, one of the shards of wood cut the Carthaginian's face, and in moment's hesitation the hastati slashed his waist, nearly bisecting the Punic man.
And yet, there were more Carthaginian soldiers. The Roman, near exhausted, turned heel, and with him followed any of the nearby Romans.
The Roman didn't notice, but the entire Roman army began turning from their posts, all of them, running for the center of the city. But the Greek soldiers remained, ready to defend their city.
King Eirenaois watched the Romans fall back. Half were running as if from hell, the others retreating almost neatly. The king could see their general, Publius Maenius, trying to organize the withdrawal as best as he could, to prevent it turning into a rout.
The line of Carthaginians on the wall had once again halted, his time by Greek infantry. But they were holding up even less effectively against the Punic soldiers, and Eirenaois knew that he had far less troops to throw at the Carthaginians.
Thankfully, the Greeks were less willing to abandon their posts than the Romans had been. Even so, the Punic soldiers were pushing forward, if over the bodies of dead Greeks.
They need to be bleeding, thought Eirenaois. They just can't take this much punishment.
One Carthaginian grunted as he withdrew his blade from a slain Greek. His tunic was almost completely red due to gore of battle, but it wasn't over yet.
He blocked the swing of another Greek, and another, before striking the man on the leg. The Greek buckled forward, and the Carthaginian skewered the man through his belly.
A few Greeks were running off, but more swarmed up to meet the advancing Carthaginians. This one bared his teeth, and he and his comrades rushed to meet them.
Hannibal Gisco's eyes whipped back to the city as he heard a loud crash.
One of his ballista had broken through the gates. And then another gate, just as suddenly, crashed open. In only a few minutes, all four gates had crumbled to the ground.
But Gisco's reaction faltered slightly as he realized that the section of the wall his soldiers had taken was above one of those very gates, and that it too, with many a Punic soldier, went tumbling down.
"Send in the elephants," said Gisco to the nearest captain, even as the men around him began their ragged cheers.
In a few minutes, elephants were gathered in front of the various gates, and began to move forwards.
Most the walls were still held by Greek soldiers, and they put whatever infantry they had throwing spears or rocks, or firing arrows on the elephants below.
Before the elephants got close to reaching the gates, an entire quarter of the animals fell to the ground, dead.
And then, the Carthaginians began to flee.
The men with their elephants turned back, the infantry milling around the gates lurched back, and any Punic men on the walls began to surrender.
"Sir, what do we do?" asked Hanno Herbal, as the entire army began to lurch backwards in fear.
"Get them back in order. And no more attacking, the men are tired."
Gisco half expected cavalry to ride out of the city to take his frightened army unprepared, but it appeared that only the Romans had cavalry left, and they had already pulled back. The siege would go on.
Marcus Fulvius Flaccus frowned upon the map of Italy in front of him. The piece was covered in small wooden figurines. Many were of elephants, others of eagles. Some were simple wooden pawns, painted different colors; blue, white, yellow, orange, or not at all.
His eyes looked upon two specific pieces, one an eagle, the other an unpainted pawn. He looked up at the man before him.
"This is what you have left me with. Rebels, traitors and invaders on all sides, and only me to keep them back."
Lucius Megullus could not meet Marcus' eyes. "I did not cause these-"
"Not entirely, but you are at some fault. Getting yourself captured by some Greek bandit."
Lucius winced. "They outnumbered us, and had us by surprise."
"You're supposed to be consul!" cried Marcus. "Now the Senate has the sense to make me dictator, now that you and your friends have started, and failed at, a war I did not want. I am to clean up the mess you have made of this war, and Rome itself is under threat."
"Carthage is still besieging Locri, Rome is far from their reach."
Marcus pointed at the pawns painted white. "Both the Etruscans and the Samnites have broken their allegiance to Rome. They are not far from the city itself, and could attempt an attack on the capital itself." Marcus looked up at Lucius. "Which is why we must negotiate a peace."
Lucius turned pale. "We can't negotiate with oath-breakers. They will simply…"
"Shut up. I do not have the men to fight off Carthage, and I barely halted these damn rebellions. I cannot be diverted by the Etruscans."
"What are you offering?"
"They will only accept peace allowing them to be equals, not our vassal. And I cannot ask them to help in the war with Carthage, as that will show more desperation."
Lucius did not look pleased, but he decided to change the subject. "You have finally captured Callias?"
Marcus glared at Lucius, but turned his attention back to his map.
He tipped over the wooden pawn near Croton. "The final and largest rebellion, crushed under my foot like a bug," he said grimly.
Marcus would not admit it aloud, but he knew that Callias' defeat had mostly been the Greek's own fault. He had tried attacking the city of Caulonia, and had only butchered his own men of the walls, and gotten himself captured. His men had traded Lucius Megullus to get Callias back, but the stupid Greek had led the few men he had left deeper into Roman territory, right into Marcus' hands.
The dictator stood, and beckoned Lucus to follow him.
They went onto the streets of Croton together, and walked a little before reaching a different building. The cells for all the criminals and beggars that were unlucky enough to be caught by the soldiers.
Marcus walked in, and it was clear to Lucius he knew exactly where Callias was being held. The dictator stopped in front of one cell, and motioned to a guard to open it for him.
The two Romans entered the cell, and looked upon the captured rebel.
The man took his time to speak. He looked up, grinning, and spit at Lucius' foot. "Look what I've gotten into," said Callias. "First you're my prisoner, now I'm yours. I should've killed you first."
"Normally you would be executed," said Marcus, who managed to stop himself from grinning at the slime that struck Lucius' toes. "But I've heard you have three daughters in Rhegium. It would be so sad for them to lose a father."
Callias' grin turned into a snarl. "They didn't do anything, you leave them alone! I'll gut you if one of them gets touched."
"I haven't had the pleasure of meeting them, unfortunately," continued Marcus. "They're in Rhegium, no doubt arrested by the king you declared war on. But King Basileios has broken his vows to Rome, and is my enemy as much as yours."
Marcus bent down to be face-to-face with the sitting Greek. "If you were a Roman citizen, you could plead your case to the Senate, and they could be generous enough to give you a few men to rescue your family. Except you're not a Roman citizen."
Marcus stood again, and turned to the door. "Tomorrow you will be released, given a horse and some rations. If you are ever seen in a Roman city again, you will be put to death." Marcus tilted his head slightly, as if thinking. "Unless you were seen with several Roman commanders, who you had rescued from the clutches of Carthage. If you did that, you would be a hero, one easily granted citizenship."
Marcus left the cell, followed by a stunned Lucius. "Good luck to you, Callias!" called Marcus down the hall.