Note: This story is an alternate history to that which has actually happened at the end of the Ancient World and the beginning of the Medieval Period.
Chapter Twenty Eight: Desperate Responses
Rome, Western Roman Empire 486
There was a point where anger and frustration could only barely be contained, if at all. And the report that the Visigoths had attacked into the Western Empire at Alpes Cottiae province and the city of Genua was one of those points for Narius. He already had a host of other problems that had to be dealt with. He had the religious argument between the Bishop of Rome and the Eastern Roman Empire's religious leaders that would need to be addressed, and in a way that wouldn't lead to a potential war with the Eastern Roman Empire. There were financial matters that related to declining finances and rising costs. And to top it off there was some indication of piracy beyond Rome's shores, possibly as far north as Mare Liguisticum, and if not that far north then at least in Mare Tyrrhenum which would mean that there was renewed Vandal activity.
"General Urses… how well trained are your men?" Narius asked to the man he'd placed at the head of training the new legions and restoring the discipline that would be needed in all future campaigns.
"I would say they're probably good enough to take on garrison duties in a quiet sector," Urses said slowly, "but… I wouldn't put them on par with the quality of the legions originally raised."
Narius frowned heavily, as he half expected that. A lot of what he'd placed as requirements for the new forces being raised reflected same requirements that he'd put in place with the training that he'd required for his original two legions that he'd had at the start of his reign. However, many of them were getting older, which would make things even more difficult. The Visigoth invasion only made it worse, and Narius knew it. He couldn't just let it go unpunished. Knowing this, Narius sighed heavily. There seemed to be trouble on all sides, and the world wasn't perfect.
"I'm afraid we're going to have commit them to combat," Narius said slowly, "hopefully our militia forces remain loyal and can hold the rest of the cities as they are."
"There has been some good news that the militia men have seemed loyal," Urses commented slowly, "though… against the Visigoths… I wouldn't actually count on them to be anything more than scouts."
"Then we must pray that we will face no more direct attacks," Narius gave a heavy sigh, "as while the Visigoths are the biggest threat, they are not the only threat."
"These pirates, you refer to?" General Maxentius asked.
"Yes, likely Vandals," Narius nodded, "and if it's murdered Goths that the Visigoths are concerned about… I'd wager it was the Vandal pirates that were behind it… though I also doubt the Visigoth King is going to agree to it. In this… we MUST beat him."
There were a series of nods from the other generals that were present. Maxentius and Urses both agreed with Narius's wording. However, neither of them were fully knowledgeable on naval matters and thus couldn't say for certain as to whether or not that the Vandals were truly responsible for what the Visigoths claimed had been done to them. They couldn't even speculate as to whether or not that could be proven as well.
"When do we march, Caesar?" Urses asked.
"As soon as we can," Narius answered, "we need to be able to join with Flavius Sextus and Quintus Vicear and set about defeating the Visigoths from there."
"Yes, Caesar," Urses and Maxentius both nodded and moved off quickly.
For the moment that left Narius alone with Janus who had remained quiet for the moment. Military matters were never his strongpoint, and privately, he even felt that many of the things that Narius had assigned to him when Narius left Rome was beyond Janus's own ability. The two stood quietly while Janus nervously fidgeted with his tunic while awaiting his instructions. Eventually, Narius spoke to the man that had essentially served as his secretary, servant, and regent when he was out of Rome.
"This will mean that I cannot go to the conference with the Bishop of Rome over his issues with the Eastern Roman Empire," Narius said slowly, "as dealing with this invasion will require my full attention."
"Of course," Janus nodded slowly, "though… I'm not sure that there is anyone available that would be able to represent Rome… at least not politically."
Narius nodded and looked toward the west, largely having to look through the tents of the old Praetorian Camp and the walls and buildings beyond it that obstructed the view that he would have to look to where the Church was also headquartered in Rome. The negotiations with the Eastern Roman Empire was one that had included issues of religious arguments, where Narius had largely left the Bishop of Rome in a rather free hand in the West, so long as the Bishop also stayed out of political matters. For Narius, it kept them in two separate camps, but for the moment it had worked. However, because of the differences over changes in religious theory in the Eastern Empire there was now hostile arguing in which also raised the risk of war with the Eastern Roman Empire. All over Xeno's Henotikon.
"We are in trying times," Narius admitted, "the Bishop of Rome is in arms over the Henotikon and we face both hostile enemies and trying to organize the government so that it may function properly… and all will take time."
Janus looked to Narius who continued to look out toward the rest of the city beyond them. He watched as Narius slowly swung his arms back so that he held his right hand in his left, and resting them at his waist. Narius was for the moment silent, and likely in deep thought, which Janus wouldn't interrupt. After a few moments, Narius returned his focus to Janus and looked down.
"Under more normal circumstances I would send messages to our ambassador in Constantinople," Narius spoke, "but the Bishop is forcing a political crisis over his issues with regard to the Eastern Roman Empire's policy on religion, which we have no power over. And we aren't strong enough to lose the East as our ally and potential protector against the Ostrogoths."
"I think they are still concerned on their northern frontier, Sire," Janus spoke respectfully, to which Narius nodded in agreement.
"That doesn't change the nature of the crisis that has unfolded and what HAS to be done," Narius spoke, "For the Bishop will most surely attempt to speak for me on matters that he has no authority over, as per the arrangement that the religious affairs of the Church would be left alone. As such, I will need someone with some political experience to speak for the Western Roman Empire… and under the present circumstances, two would be better than one."
Janus nodded and did not move while Narius prepared to deliver a set of instructions.
"The representatives of Rome must be aware that the Empire is NOT out for war with the East and that we do not presume to govern their religion," Narius spoke, "and that the purpose of this conference is to allow the Bishop of Rome to work a compromise with his eastern counterpart. If that cannot be done, we may request that those in the east that agree with the Bishop be protected and to offer a reminder that the Bishop of Rome does not speak for the government."
"Of course, Sire," Janus nodded, "but… who would you have speak? The old Senators have their roles… and while many of the nobles in the provinces have been more placid… as far as I know, most of them are content to stay on their villas."
"Two who are familiar with public service in Rome and one who has some familiarity with at least past matters in Greece," Narius answered…
Alexander Lyos's Apartment, Rome
"So… how do you like your new situation?" Alexander asked to his sister calmly and with some degree of friendliness.
"I don't like the fact that Narius spends much of his time living in a tent in the old Praetorian Camp, but it does have its opportunities," Helen smiled from the couch, "It'll give your bills to provide for education to all of Rome's citizens as a point of standard and necessity an open ear."
"They're more your bills than mine," Alexander said slowly with a shake of his head, "and most in the Senate would prefer that these schools favor teaching certain trades and professions… not in history, science, and philosophy."
He watched as his sister rolled her eyes at that, but to him there was no arguing with his specific point there. He'd long been a good public servant, and he worked hard to provide what was right, but he was often content to serve, even if in a low level post. It was always Helen who had been more interested in those sorts of things, and often better at arguing out those ideas. In that, if she'd been born male, she would have advanced farther than she in fact had. Instead she was born a woman couldn't officially advance beyond a home maker, unless she had someone supporting her. Their father had done so for both of them in the past, and now Helen had won the hand of Rome's Emperor, Narius.
"I'm sure you can convince them, brother," Helen mused with a small smile, "you and I both know those things breed creativity which leads to improvements across the board."
"Perhaps, but it will be a lengthy process," Alexander told her, "particularly when questions of funding and how jealously Narius guards how much is spent on the military."
Helen slowly nodded at that. The man she'd married was intelligent and pragmatic, but his focus was almost exclusively focused on Rome's military affairs. It made for good military leadership, and Narius might succeed in protecting Rome's borders, but it would leave Rome in a position where it would need a long time to recover and get to a point where it might be able to reclaim other lands lost. And in that time, it would need to an economy that would go beyond local farming, fishing, and other trades. There were some times where Narius did seem sympathetic to that, but it wasn't to the point where he would cut into what he'd allotted on the military. It'd probably take some time to actually change things in that regard, and Helen did recognize that.
She was about to say something when there came a knock at the door. It actually made both of them look up. Alexander was the one to get up, waving one hand to his sister and approached the door. To his great surprise, it was Janus, Narius's servant or secretary, who'd often filled in as regent when Narius left the capital standing there. This was a bit of a surprise, as he really didn't expect the man, at least not without Narius. Alexander looked out into the hallway outside the door, as if he expected the Emperor to simply be running behind Janus for some reason.
"I am afraid that circumstances have forced me to come alone," Janus said slowly as he stepped into the apartment and leaving Alexander to shut the door behind him.
"Is something wrong, sir?" Alexander asked to the man, doing his best to remain tactful.
"Yes," Janus spoke, "matters have become more complicated."
The door gave a loud click as Alexander shut the door and let Janus slip by him. Janus ignored it and took a few steps into the apartment. He was about to fully explain what was going on when he looked into the fore room to find Helen Lyos/Narius seated on one of the couches. One arm rested beside her as she sat up while the other hand dropped to her lap. Janus immediately felt frustrated when it also became clear by her close attention to him that she was also interested in his presence.
"Good afternoon, Janus," Helen spoke politely with a small nod, "What seems to be the trouble? Not something you or I have done, I trust."
"The troubles are of political natures, but none that relate to you or me," Janus answered slowly and with some degree of nervousness and irritation.
He was heavily irritated by the fact that Helen actively involved herself in Narius's work, interjecting her opinion and reasoning on various issues. What was worse in Janus's opinion was that Narius seemed to indulge her interference into matters that were none of her business. Yes, she was the Empress, and Janus did have to admit that she was intelligent, but that wasn't the point. Narius's family had kept some copies of old Roman histories that dated back to the First Century, and in many of them, even good Emperors had had their careers undone by ambitious women like Helen. In this, Janus preferred that Helen remain quiet and clean and cook and do the things that were to be typically expected of a woman, but she didn't and Narius indulged her. In this, Janus was privately sure that if he gave Helen the treatment Janus felt she deserved, Narius would punish him for it.
"It must be big with that frown," Helen commented, making Janus shake his to try and refocus himself.
He might not like Helen, personally, but he'd still been given a job to do. As he collected himself, he waited for Alexander to move around to sit on the couch that was opposite the one Helen was seated on. Alexander moved slowly and looked to Janus with some degree of confusion as he sat down.
"It would appear that something has happened that has made the Visigoths attack us along the northern borders," Janus began as he looked to both of them and watched Helen gasp with some surprise and perhaps even knowledge of what was coming in the discussion, "Caesar Narius is already mobilizing the legions around Rome to head north and join with the legions there to deal with the invasion."
"What of the Pope's concerns and the negotiations that he's demanded regarding Roman Christianity?" Alexander asked curiously, "Things between him and Narius seemed rather… icy at the wedding."
"Yes," Helen nodded, "It seemed pretty obvious that the Bishop wants some degree of political authority over Rome but has backed into a position that would be less powerful in exchange for Narius not taking direct control of the church, himself."
Janus slowly nodded, as that WAS something of an issue that had gone on. However, that had been more of a direct agreement between Narius and Simplicius, Felix III's predecessor, and had likely been more that Narius had moved the Empire's seat of governance back to Rome, now that Rome's borders were closer to the northern cities. But that didn't stop Felix III trying to push Narius where he could to accept at least some extension of his authority. The present issue was one that technically bridged both the political and religious worlds.
"The Bishop of Rome still wishes to have his meeting," Janus answered, "And since we've already agreed to it… there isn't much we can do to back out of the meeting. However, you, Alexander Lyos, and the Senate's Junior Consul should be able to handle the negotiations. You are versed in more of the courtly affairs, are you not?"
"To a degree," Alexander said slowly as he glanced to his sister, "though not enough to negotiate with the Eastern Romans on equal terms. Any in their government that might even know who I am would only know me as a low level official in Athenae."
"And the Junior Consul?" Janus asked.
"He's learning," Alexander answered, "but to a degree… all of us in the Senate are learning… given how new so many things are."
Janus frowned as he looked to the man. In many ways, Alexander Lyos was just as frustrating to him as his sister. For where Helen was ambitious and outgoing, Alexander was quiet and reserved. Both were intelligent and Alexander was reportedly greatly respected in Achaia, but Alexander's quiet and more reserved personality had meant that wasn't openly looking for promotion or anything of that nature. It was something that was not expected in political circles, as even good men needed ambition in order to drive them forward. It was at times like this where Janus wished that Alexander and Helen's genders were reversed. Narius would then have a quiet and unambitious wife and an ambitious male Senator who could be expected to certain things.
"Well it would appear that the situation will be forcing you both to learn more," Janus answered, "Many of the noble class have retired to their villas and aren't that interested in political affairs… possibly because Narius has closed the back doors many used to attain high office. Some out of fear of being caught opposing Narius… and most of those that would be part of the old Senate are stretched thin filling the various other roles in the government at this time."
Alexander slowly nodded and then looked down as he finished. He found his leather sandals that wrapped around his feet and fit him surprisingly comfortably. That was one of the things that had come about with Narius's reforms to the Roman government. In many ways, much of it was a patchwork of ideas that looked like they'd had much of their basis in history books and were drawn from what appeared to work. In a general sense, Narius's policies had worked, though Alexander had had enough experience before Narius's rise to know that rapid and intensive change, regardless of what that change was, had the potential to invite problems.
"I take it the Emperor is insistent that I under take this role?" Alexander asked slowly.
"If only for your familiarity with the overall area where meeting will take place," Janus answered, "It may help provide a tactical advantage."
"That will depend entirely on whether or not the Pope wishes to risk a war between the Western and Eastern Roman Empires," Helen commented, "Politically… it may be wiser to arrange a compromise. Let the East have their religious practices and the West keeps its fit two churches cannot get along."
"And that is the minimum political goal for the West," Janus commented, "but by the same token… the bigger goal is to try and get the two churches to reach an agreement with each other."
"Assuming the two sets of Church leaders aren't too dogmatic about their positions," Helen commented off hand, to which Alexander nodded and Janus had to reluctantly agree.
"And it will be to you and the Senate's Junior Consul that this responsibility falls to," Janus then finished, with Alexander giving a heavy sigh.
Outside Genua, Western Roman Empire
The Visigoth camps ringed the city with only the sea being the Roman's only possible escape route. For the moment, the Visigoth King, Alaric II was content to have the city surrounded and isolated, as he knew that Rome's army was weakened by years of infighting and reliant on convincing Germanic tribesman to serve for them. From what he knew, the new Emperor, Narius, had changed things with regard to training and professionalism, but the base issue that had helped him conquer much of Hispania. And from various talks that he'd had with Quintus, whom he now held prisoner, he also knew that the Western Roman Empire was struggling to fund itself. Or at least Quintus seemed to think so.
In this, Alaric II saw his victory as inevitable, particularly after the Goths and other Germanic peoples that had been under Narius's rule had turned on their Roman "masters" when his army reached Sabatia at the start of the invasion. Alaric had been fairly certain that northern Italy had a few Germanic tribes, some of which had been pacified by Narius early in his reign, and that all of them would surely turn on a Roman who wasn't doing well. So far, though, Genua hadn't surrendered.
"We ought to storm the city," one of generals commented as they stood in council under a pitched tent and looking to the walls of the city, "batter their walls or their gates down… Assemble ladders."
"Yes," another added, "We have the archers to hold their militia men from effectively manning the walls. We can take this city easily and move on from there. For it will be Narius and HIS death that will secure the death of this decrepit state that we need. The more we dally, the more their sailors take pot shots at us from their boats, particularly on the eastern camps."
Alaric sighed heavily and looked past his generals to the city walls. He could see the shapes of the militia that the Romans had manning those walls. They were small from the distance they were at. They'd also made no effort to break the siege from the inside. He had some detachments gathering wood to manufacture ladders to scale the walls, but so far with no attacks from within the city, Alaric had saw no reason to rush things. A lone ship was coming in and out of Genua through the siege so far, and from what his generals had reported it was loaded with additional people when it left Genua. In this, he could tell the Romans were trying to get their people out. In this, it wouldn't be too much longer before the people of Genua gave the city up in the hopes of mercy, and those that did would likely be Germanic tribesmen that the Romans long treated with disdain, except when the Romans needed help themselves.
He then turned another of his nobles. This one was fairly high ranking and commanded the cavalry forces for the invasion of Rome. Most of these men were also nobles, but responded well to the noble placed at the head of his cavalry. He'd sent them out on raid early in the siege with the intention of finding where the main Roman forces were. He knew the Romans would respond to his invasion, though so far he'd found them to be rather passive in their response, which made for sending the cavalry out important. They had returned the previous afternoon with their red tunics being clearly visible to the men that saw them.
"General Germaric, have you found the Roman Army?" Alaric asked to his cavalry commander.
"I have raided far and burned where I could," Germaric answered with his voice sounding quite confidant, "I did not encounter anything beyond militia until close to Bononia and Pisae. Their militia are good spearmen… but only so much as to hold off tired or non-committed attacks."
Alaric slowly nodded, "and what would you say is the Roman threat to our siege?"
"At present, non-existent," Germaric answered, "the forces they have deployed are too few in number to be enough to force us away from the militia guarding the city… and even if they were… they are too far away."
"And what is the status on the ladders being constructed now?" Alaric asked to another of his generals.
"I'd think we could have two very simple ladders ready very soon," the man answered while stroking his beard, "but they'd be very simple. Not something to really employ against a walled city… even one as poorly guarded as this. Anything that will enable us to take the city will take longer."
Alaric nodded and gave an almost inaudible grumble at that. He had begun his invasion with the expectation that Narius would rush into battle, as the stories of his campaign against Odoacer seemed to indicate to his court. Some of it he took as simple boasting, but it had been repeated enough, even from among his own people, that he half expected Narius to be a rapid and decisive commander, possibly the best Rome had had in generations, and as such would rush to prove himself on the battlefield.
"Then we may continue the siege as it is," Alaric spoke calmly as he looked to his generals, "Narius may rush… but if his forces aren't close by, they are no threat to us and our own arrow volleys have kept the militiamen in Genua from trying anything."
He watched as they nodded and then turned to his cavalry commander to give more direct instructions.
"However, General Germaric, I will require you to keep tabs on the Roman Armies at Pisae and Bononia," Alaric then instructed, "we can surely expect Narius to show up at some point. The last thing we want to leave ourselves unguarded and have Narius barrel into our rear when we're finally ready to take Genua. If they move from where they are… or Narius brings more forces that he's borrowed from the East, return at once and we will prepare to crush him in battle."
Germaric nodded. Alaric then turned to the rest of his of his commanders. There might have been some disapproval at not assaulting Genua immediately, but Alaric found it the wisest strategy. The city did have walls, however weak, and while the militia might not be trusted stand against his men with the threat the Franks posed to his northern border in Aquitania and the possibility that Narius was in fact a capable commander made him concerned about rushing into something and then being caught by surprise or taking unnecessary casualties. In this, he would try to save as many of his warrior's lives as he could, even if it meant a lengthy siege.
"We will also move our camps away from the immediate shoreline," Alaric instructed to the other commanders, "If the Romans wish to shoot at us with naval archers… let them do so at the limits of their range."
"That might let them escape the city!" one of the generals commented with wide eyes.
"Which would mean an unguarded city becomes part of the Gothic Kingdom," Alaric answered, "and one that Narius will have no wiggle room to get back… and we save the lives of warriors that may be needed against the Franks. Either way, we win."
On Genua's Walls
Genua's mayor nervously climbed up the walls to look out toward the Visigoth camps that practically ringed the city. Their tents and fires were easily visible and he knew that these barbarians would butcher the city's population, given what had been done on the border and had been reported. He had supported evacuating as many as possible by sea in order to save their lives, at least until Narius could recover the army throw the barbarians away. But so far there had been no sign of Narius, and many of the people in the city were beginning to starve, given that no one could go out and tend to their crops without being set upon by the Visigoths. He found the militia captain looking out toward the tents that were where the Visigoths were encamped.
"They've made no move to assault us, sir," the militia commander spoke before the mayor could even say anything.
"Well… that's beneficial," the mayor commented, "the navy is still trying to evacuate as many as they can out… prevent them from murdering the population as they did when they first invaded."
The militia commander nodded and returned his own gaze to the camps. He could note the fire lights from the fires as they burned and kept the Visigoths warm while they maintained their siege. The fact that they didn't seem on the way to storming them was good news, but the commander was fairly certain that the small militia he had would not last long. The Visigoths wouldn't really have a large Gothic population that might rise up in support of them, but that didn't mean the basic spearmen that he had could hold the walls. In fact he was fairly certain that the city would fall if the Visigoths made a concerted attack. Some might be killed, but not enough to be considered serious losses.
"Did the navy man give any report on Narius's movements?" the militia commander asked, "Does he know?"
"I don't think the naval captain knows," the mayor said slowly, "though I would assume by now that Narius knows of the invasion."
"Then all we are is buying time," the militia captain answered, "If Narius is not nearby… we are still trapped against a foe who could easily assault us at his leisure."
The mayor had no answer for that. The silence that passed between them was soon ended as the heavy sound of boots running across the stonework of the walls was heard. That was enough to make both men look up to see one of the militia commander's officers come running toward them. He came calling to them and skidded to a halt on the narrow passageway that was the top of the wall.
"Sirs, something is happening," the man reported, "We might be able to escape!"
The mayor's face immediately brightened with some hope at that, though the militia captain was a bit more skeptical as he looked to the man. Escape was only possible if the Visigoths were withdrawing from the area, and there seemed to be no indication of that from the main camps.
"That would be good news," the mayor spoke, thinking of the people of the city and the lives that the Visigoths had already exterminated in their invasion. With Narius and the army not there, escape was the only thing they could do if they expected to live.
"If it is true," the militia commander spoke, half to remind the nervous politician and half to try and keep discipline with the men under his command, and then finished with a more commanding tone of voice, "show us this withdrawal."
"Of course, sir," the lower ranking officer nodded and then moved back toward where he'd come from, waiving his arm as if beckoning the mayor and the militia captain to follow.
The man then lead those who had authority over Genua back along the top of the wall. They stayed at a walking pace as they did so. As they did so, the mayor occasionally looked over the militia commander with some suspicion as to why he would be so hesitant at what would be obvious good news. It may not be a report of retreat or that the Visigoths felt they could break into the city, but any opening for a potential escape from their siege would be good news. It would save the city and perhaps save lives, which was important, as both the militia captain and the mayor had long agreed that Genua had neither the garrison nor the stores to resist the forces they could see arrayed against them for terribly long. They had agreed to try and evacuate people by sea for that very reason.
They eventually made their way to the post from which the lower ranking officer had come from. The man then came forward again, leaned one hand on the top of the wall with one hand while then pointing with the other on. The arm extended out toward another of the Visigoth camps that covered the land routes in and out of Genua. Both the mayor and militia commander followed the officer's arm and noted the location of the camp and the activity that seemed to go along with it. They could note the original location, which was right on the road and well within the range of the coast. Now, though, the mayor could see that they were moving the camp further inland.
"See they're moving their camp!" the militia officer spoke as he turned back to the mayor and the militia commander.
Both could look to see the Visigoths were moving their camp away from the original spot. In a way it did open the road as an escape route as they could see the tents being folded up and the campfires extinguished, however the militia commander also noted they weren't necessarily go too far. As the camp was being pulled inland and were being put back up again.
"They do seem to be moving their camp," the militia commander admitted with a slow nod as he turned to Genua's mayor, "but I doubt this is a retreat. More likely this is just a shift in placement to keep his men out of range from Trierarchus Mariar's archers."
The mayor blinked at the mention of the Roman navy captain who had agreed to use his ship as a means to get some of Genua's people out of the city.
"But they have opened up the road!" the mayor protested, "We might be able to get more out over land!"
"Not enough to save everyone," the militia commander warned, "they've moved inland, yes, but not so far as that they wouldn't notice us opening the gates or people moving down the road at a walking pace with carts. Those who own horses and could ride at a gallop MIGHT be able to escape, but that would still only be a few in number… and that might give the Goths time to choose a new target, since Narius is not here."
"But the situation is desperate!" the mayor protested.
"I know, sir," the militia commander answered, "and I assure you, if there were a way to get everyone out quicker that wouldn't risk their lives in the process… I'd be all for it. But as I see it… we don't have that option. Either we stay here and die… or try to flee, fail, and die. Their moving one camp hasn't changed that."
"There must be something we can do!" the mayor insisted, nervous over what the Goths would do once they got into Genua.
"For the moment… keep with the evacuation by sea and hope that Narius can arrive while the Goths seem content to simply hold their siege," the militia commander replied, "and that would be assuming you wish to avoid gambling on the Visigoths being merciful."
Mare Internum, North of Cosa, Western Roman Empire
"My lord, look!" a man screamed from the bow of his ship while pointing to the Italian shoreline.
The "captain" of the ship looked from his bridge and followed the line of the coast that was to his right as he sailed along. He'd been on patrol and on the hunt for any and all Roman shipping in seas that connected Europe, Africa, and the Middle East in service of the Vandal factions that had opposed Gunthamund's kingship over the Vandals. The civil war in Africa was lost, but Gunthamund hadn't been able to get all of the surviving fleets of his rivals, which had led to Corsica and Sardinia becoming their own sort of independent state. They'd lost the manpower to fight Gunthamund on land, but they'd also found that despite what appeared to be the start of a navy for Narius's Rome, it was not heavily active or large. That discovery had let the Vandals run rampant in Mare Ligusicum and Mare Tyrrhenum.
At first it had worked quite well, in that they had succeeded in triggering an attack on Rome by the Visigoths, along with capturing and looting a few trade ships moving up and down the coast. It made for some profit that helped the Vandal pirates continue to try and build up a power base on Corsica and Sardinia, which they would use to then help take the pieces of what remained of Narius's Rome. However, since the attack that was made to provoke the war between the Romans and the Visigoths, the trade that these pirates had depended on had practically dried up. They might occasionally see one of "their" ships, flying Narius's banner on patrol and staying close to shore, but that was all on the west coast of the Italian peninsula and north of Sicilia, and they wouldn't be profitable to raid. And it was with that lack of a target in the back of his mind that the captain looked out and noted the formation moving along the coastal road.
"Narius, himself," the captain spoke, as he noted heavy cavalry contingent in the middle of the formation, "It has to be."
The man who had spotted the Roman units moving along the coastal road nodded. It had to be Narius, himself. Cavalry seemed to be all important and it would only make sense that the best units an army had would include its cavalry and would be there to serve as bodyguards for the most important person with the army. The cavalry they had spotted had to be protecting Narius.
"And he only has one body of cavalry?" the captain asked as he hustled across the ship to get a closer look.
"The one that is with him," the lookout answered, "if there are more… they must be well ahead of the forward infantry formation… likely scouting."
The captain nodded and observed the Roman formation. He could see two large masses of infantry, one in the front and one in the rear of the procession. About one hundred yards behind the first mass of infantry was the unit of cavalry that the captain was sure had to be Narius's bodyguard, and was likely further hampered by the fact that it also appeared to have a supply wagon with it as well. A further hundred yards back was the next group of infantry, plodding along at a slow but steady pace. The captain looked down further to the south, and noted that there was another supply wagon at the rear of the second infantry group, but there was no cavalry with that wagon. That confirmed the captain's suspicion that if there was any other cavalry, it was ahead of the formation and scouting for the army.
"What shall we do, my lord?" lookout wondered, "We do have orders to raid the Romans at every opportunity…"
The captain nodded as he looked at the marching formation. They did have orders to raid the Roman coast at will, mostly to shut down Roman trade and potentially even profit off the raiding. However, more recently, Roman merchantmen weren't leaving their port cities. Some trade continued, but appeared to be moving overland along the west coast of the Italian Peninsula and northern Sicilia. It made real raiding on the Western Roman Empire more difficult, as since the rebel Vandals held onto Sardinia and Corsica and didn't have easy access to the Italian Peninsula's eastern coast, as that would risk running into Gunthamund's ships south of Sicilia, which the nobles in Aleria and Carales didn't want to rusk until they felt that Narius's Rome had been humbled for its defeating the Vandals at the start of Narius's reign and at least Sicilia was restored to them.
However, the orders for raiding also meant to avoid a major conflict. Even the Western Roman Empire's tiny and ineffective navy was to be ignored for the moment, as they were still trying to rebuild after the Vandal civil war. This could well mean that engaging Narius's army would also be something that wasn't to be done, but the fact that they had to have stumbled onto Narius's men on the march and that Narius was likely with his men was too tempting to ignore. And desperate for some kind of glory since the major shipping seemed to have stopped along the west coast of the Italian peninsula, there weren't any other options for the captain.
"Signal the rowers to increase speed," the captain spoke, making his decision, "we will catch up with them as they come closer to the shore up ahead. Ready our archers and raiders. We are to aim for the cavalry where Narius likely is. His infantry will then stop to recover and arrange their lines… giving us time to move onto the area where the cavalry will be decimated. We can then confirm Narius's death and then leave with him."
On shore, Narius rode along with the cavalry that was between the two bodies of infantry in the two legions he had available to move north and link up with the units that were already on the northern frontier. This had meant a long march up the Via Aurelia Nova to Pisae, where according to reports that had reached him after he'd left Rome that Flavius Sextus had moved his legion to, while Quintus Vicear's legion was moved to Bononia. According to those reports, it'd meant that his northern generals were mostly just shielding what they could defend, and that made sense. He'd hoped to arrange for the raising and training of a much larger standing force, but Rome's limited finances and metal works couldn't support much more than what he presently had.
For the moment he'd sent Urses' cavalry ahead to scout and keep in contact with Sextus as they moved north, and hoped that once they were together they could then move against the Visigoths to stop them from truly advancing deeper into Roman territory. It was all that could really be done as they made their way north. The only other thing that occupied Narius's mind was the frustrating fact of this invasion was that Vandal pirates were apparently active in the waters north of Sicilia and up the Italian coast, but weren't active south of Sicilia, and the Bishop of Rome continued to press his semi-political arguments with the Eastern Roman Empire over polices that Zeno had enacted long ago that Narius likely wouldn't be able to affect, even if he didn't have these other issues to wrestle with. It was as if fate conspired against him.
But the biggest and most immediate threat was the Visigoths. The Vandals could be a problem at sea, particularly while his navy was as small as it was, but their reported actions seemed limited to piracy, and that would dry up with the ships they needed to plunder still in port. The Visigoths, meanwhile, were already on land and were a major threat if they continued on Rome. Thus the march north. It was at a decent pace, but Narius also sensed that they likely wouldn't make it in time to save Genua.
"Where do you plan to camp, tonight, Caesar?" came Maxentius's voice from a side and distracting Narius from his thoughts for a moment.
"Further north," Narius said vaguely, "we'll rest at Pisae when we link up with Flavius Sextus and his legion. By then we will know more on the Visigoth attack."
"So, we're to continue to push at our full pace?" Maxentius asked as he rode beside Narius as they'd made their advance forward from Rome.
The pace of the march hadn't been quite enough exhaust the men, but it was clear that they had been pushing hard to move north. It had taken a couple of days to move from Rome up to Cosa and the next major city to meet would be Pisae, but at their present pace that was still several days away and there was still little to know about what the Visigoths were doing. From what had been reported, the northern two legions had moved to set up a sort of shield for Rome, but there was nothing to really prevent the Visigoths from moving across the north to link up with the Ostrogoths before turning on Rome. That had probably fueled much of the pace that they had been marching at since they'd left Rome, and Maxentius did understand it, though he did worry about arriving with an exhausted army.
"At full pace," Narius turned his head to look to Maxentius and then paused and his eyes widened at what he saw.
Maxentius was a bit puzzled as he watched Narius turn to look toward him. At first the man's dark eyes were normal, perhaps squinting slightly to deal with the sunlight, but still relatively normal. Then all of a sudden, Narius's eyes began to widen greatly, as he'd seen something that alarmed him. Maxentius gripped the reigns of his horse and was about as what Narius had seen when Narius broke the silence.
"Raise shields! Left side!" Narius ordered as a volley of arrows came down out of the sun.
The attack came in quick and no one in the cavalry unit that Narius was presently with were ready for it. One arrow hit Maxentius squarely in the shoulder, and the general felt a burning pain as the sharp metal penetrated his sleeve, his armor, and then cut into his flesh. The only good news for Maxentius was that the shot had caught him from the side and didn't go too deep into him, but he could still feel the arrow's metal point cut along the bone on the back of shoulder and became lodged there. Others were not so lucky, at least five men took more serious wounds from the first volley of arrows that came in and fell from their horses. Two men were killed by the arrows that came in, and one with a shot in the neck. Maxentius could see the man land on the ground, blood erupting from the wound like a volcano.
And men were not the only one's hit by this volley of arrows. Narius's horse and several others were hit and fell whinnying in pain and torment. The two bolts that brought down Narius's horse sent the animal down on top of him. Narius felt no pain in his leg, but for the moment he was also pinned under the wounded animal, which thrashed at the pain it was experiencing. The whistling of the arrows through the air had also spooked many of the horses, as they didn't expect to be shot at in that moment which raised nervous nickers from many of the horses that hadn't been hit and the clop of their hooves on the stone road moved between from the walking pace to a more fast paced clopping as the riders tried to get their animals under control.
"Get the cavalry off the road and up the hill!" Narius shouted above the chaotic noise around him, "Call the infantry forward and lock shields to repel attack from the west! From the sea!"
Narius hoped that someone could and did hear him as he moved to cling to the saddle of his horse, largely to make sure that if the rest of the cavalry horses panicked and fled, he wouldn't be trampled. All he knew was that there was a ship that had been trailing them. The glare of the sun had been enough that he couldn't see the banner on its sail, but he was certain it wasn't a Roman ship. His guess was that these were the Vandal pirates that had been roaming the waters west of Italia that Admiral Marcellus Ulexis had warned him off. But so far they'd seemed to be at sea and looking any ships leaving Roman harbors, but this was coming into land and ready to discharge an attack, and likely on him personally. He saw the ship and the glint of the arrows in the air, but not much more and he didn't see it until it was too late to truly do anything.
"Get the cavalry off the road and up the hill!" Narius repeated the order at the top of his lungs, knowing it would take a little while for these pirates to safely land their ship, "Call the infantry forward!"
This time, Narius could hear the order being repeated and he looked to see the cavalry moving off the field and into the grass by the road. It took them a bit uphill, and their formation suffered, but it would be better than letting them stay in marching order. There were shouts and footsteps now, as men from the legion ahead of them began to respond, dividing their line of march to give the horse drawn carriage the open road to move forward at the fastest speed the horse could manage. There was also the pounding of feet as the men of the legion behind him began to move forward and try to fill the gap that cavalry had occupied. He thought Maxentius was one of the men repeating his orders.
"Our infantry are ready to charge, my lord," the lookout reported as he returned to the front of the ship where its commander watched the events of the attack unfold.
So far, things had gone perfectly. The first volley had gone into the mass of cavalry, and he could see some of the riders go down, and the screams of the wounded animals was easily heard. This then lead to the cavalry pulling off the road and going up the slope behind the road. The legion in front divided in half to clear the road and let the wagon following behind it gallop forward. That legion would take time to get in order, it was only the rear legion that would be a real problem, as they were moving their archers to the rear and moving their heavy infantry forward, but that would still take time. If they moved quickly, the pirate commander was confident he could grab Narius or at least the Roman Emperor's body and claim a far greater prize that would enable their faction to gain the strength needed to regain control of the Vandal Kingdom.
"Good, have the archers fire on the infantry in the legion to the south," the commander instructed, "the forward legion won't be ready on time to stop us. We need only delay the following legion to make sure Narius fell… and I didn't see anyone in purple ride off with the cavalry."
"Of course, sir," the lookout answered.
The scene for Urses was one that betrayed a great deal of chaos as the supply wagon came forward at a high rate of speed. His men had heard an order relayed from the rear to pull the infantry up, and the sound of the screams of wounded men and animals easily carried. It was this that got him to pivot in his saddle to see the cavalry forces that were to be the advanced guard of Maxentius's legion moving off the road and onto the slopes above it while his infantry divided to open up the road for the supply wagon, likely in response to the shouted orders to get things away. It was soon echoed with calls for the infantry to move forward. Urses could also see that both Narius and Maxentius were on the ground. Narius had one leg pinned under his horse and was desperately trying to calm the wounded animal, while Maxentius lay not too far away and was clutching at one shoulder, where an arrow shaft clearly was noticeable in that shoulder.
Further back and out at sea there was a lone ship moving fast for land to the west of where Narius was. It had to be a Vandal ship, though whether it represented Kingdom of Vandals or was some random pirate faction was an unknown, but it had launched an immediate raid that appeared to be targeting Narius directly. It wasn't an especially large party, but the ship's archers had driven of Maxentius's cavalry and likely wounded both the Western Roman Emperor and one of Rome's newer field commanders. And for the moment that chaos would continue if allowed to.
"Move up that way, but go no further up the road than the length of the Circus Maximus!" Urses instructed to the driver of the supply wagon.
"Sir…" the man began to protest.
"No further than the length of the Circus Maximus," Urses repeated the order, "I don't need my legion throwing away discipline in its first battle!"
Urses then turned his horse to see the ship was coming closer and was clearly intending to land on the shore, regardless of whatever risks were there. It wasn't a large ship, but Urses had the sense that these pirates weren't there for a pitched battle. They were there for an immediate raid and a fast score in killing Narius. Taking the time to deploy fully for battle would give these raiders too much time. He then rode to his centurions and officers trying to prepare the men.
"Position our archers up on the road and have them fire on the pirates' ship!" Urses instructed, "Let the front ranks of infantry sit in a defensive line to protect them."
"But… sir… the cries from the Emperor!" one Centurion commented.
"Let Maxentius's legion engage these raiders in battle," Urses answered, "For that is all they are. We're wasting time, get the archers on the road and firing on the ship! Now!"
Urses's eyes remained focused on the Vandal ship. He knew this was a bit of a gamble, as it could be possible that the ship had more men hidden underneath the decks, but something told Urses that this wasn't a battle and trying to rush to make it seem like one would essentially defeat their real purpose. The archer fire, however limited it may be, as most of their arrows were with the wagon that had been sent ahead, would slow the Vandals down and might even weaken the ship's crew.
"May this work," Urses said slowly under his breath.
The ship had only just made it into water that would be shallow enough to let the raiders leap from the Vandal pirate's ship when the first volley of arrows came in from Urses's archers, and it brought in the same sense of chaos that Romans had to have experienced in their initial attack. The commander was so focused on the Roman infantry south of the cavalry that had withdrawn from the road that he'd paid little to no attention to the actions by the legion to the north. In this, he was unaware of the arrows until he saw a few fly in front of him and catch a few of his raiders as they attempted to wade ashore. This made the man blink, when he also heard a series of hard "noises that sounded like a distinctive "thunk" as the fired arrows hit the deck of his ship and then a few gasps of pain.
"What!?" the pirate commander wondered and then looked up to the north.
The first legion hadn't moved, and merely had its archers on the road and were firing at him. The sound of splashing further reinforced the fact that the Romans had responded in a way he didn't expect. He figured they could still get Narius, but it was likely now they'd take heavier losses for it. He cursed that as another barrage of arrows came in. Though, while aware of the incoming shots, he wasn't able to get to protection, and as he backed away from the bow of the vessel, an arrow struck him squarely in the shoulder and carried enough force that he staggered backwards and actually fell over the side of the ship. He landed hard on his back with a hard splash and among a few of the raiders that were still trying to wade ashore, and things were moving too fast for him to really wonder on how things went so wrong.
Maxentius managed to look out to see the Vandal pirates as they disembarked from their ship and began to try and wade ashore. It wasn't super easy for them, particularly on the northern side of the ship as that side took the bulk of the arrows fired by Urses' legion's archers. He even saw one man that had been at the front of the bow of the Vandal ship catch an arrow in the shoulder and then fall into the sea. He figured some of the archers on the ship also took some hits from Urses' archers, as their bombardment of Maxentius's legion and the area where the cavalry in the Roman line of march had at least slowed, if not stopped. Not that had really saved Maxentius that much.
He'd taken a second arrow during the second Vandal barrage, though this shot caught him in the upper leg. It hurt and he could barely lift that leg, but the general was not to the point of being immobile. His legion was moving into battle formation with its archers to the rear and heavier infantry moving forward in a way that they would be able to move between the charging raiders and the area where the cavalry had been with their centurions pushing the ranks forward. It was moving faster than what the Vandals likely thought possible, but then the men that Maxentius had been given to command had been Urses' men during the civil war against Orestes and Odoacer. They were well trained and many were battle tested from that conflict, and those that weren't were effectively trained by the men they served beside. The Vandals likely didn't know that.
"Once you are in position, aim your fire on those in the water and those on the boat," Maxentius ordered one of the officers in charge of his archers, "Those on the ship will probably begin to recognize that something has gone wrong… the fire they've taken from Urses' legion has staggered them and slowed them down. We need to add to it."
"Yes, general," the officer answered and soon turned to relay the instructions to the archers as the immediate chaos from the initial Vandal attack was beginning to die down. Things might still be hectic, but they were progressing better than one would expect from the overall situation.
"What is going on?" came Narius's voice from where he lay, his leg still pinned under the horse he'd been riding.
Maxentius managed to twist his body to look toward the fallen horse. It was still breathing, but its breaths were slow. He could barely make out Narius's right arm stroking the horse's shoulder. He couldn't tell for sure if the horse's wounds were mortal or not or if Narius could even see the battle that was developing as Vandal raiders struggled to get ashore. Maxentius could only guess that his Emperor couldn't see, based on the question.
"Urses' archers have staggered the raiders' approach," Maxentius reported, "It's actually bought my men time to form into line and move to catch their attack. My archers should be ready to fire on the ship soon."
"How many men are attacking?" Narius asked.
"I'd think no more than twenty or thirty," Maxentius answered and looked back to the shore, where the ship was now taking another volley of arrows. The ship's archers fired back, but their fire now seemed to be divided between Urses's archers and Maxentius's heavy infantry. "I think this was entirely meant as a snatch and grab. They hit us with archers, panic and then they grab you while the army moves to recover."
"I am helpless under this horse," Narius grumbled, "and I think my leg's asleep."
"Well… so far it isn't working," Maxentius assured Narius, "they might have been desperate in their own plans."
In front of them the battle raged, and in a way that was never expected. It was expected that the Romans would panic and take time to organize themselves, wasting time getting into their battle lines, not realizing that the raiders had no intention of actually fighting a pitched battle. They had intended to rush in and make sure that Narius, or at least the man they expected to be Narius was dead and then withdraw with the body. The word would spread like wildfire, and their own "merchants" could then further spread the news. And at first it seemed like the plan was working perfectly, the cavalry had effectively fled the road and the men who looked to be the officers in charge were among those that fell under the archer's barrage. To add to this, the wagon following the first legion, forcing it to rapidly move to get out of the way. That all looked good to the Vandal pirates.
But then things seemed to turn almost on a dime. While the legion to the south seemed to slow to form its standard lines of battle, the legion to the north remained in an ad hoc formation that came as a result of getting out of the way of the wagon that was fleeing the area they had bombarded. This allowed the archers of that legion to get onto the road and open up with the arrows they had on them, which in turn slowed the raiders and interfered with their attempts to get ashore as they jumped into the water to charge where their expected prize was. Those on the northern side of the boat took the worst of the fire, but the archer's on the boat and the commander of the raiders had also been on the receiving end of the barrage of Roman arrows, and when the commander fell into the water, things rapidly began to get worse.
"What do we do?!" on man said to the other as they looked to the wounded commander who bobbed up and down in the water, clutching at his shoulder and the arrow embedded in it.
"Get Narius!" the commander ordered, "he is entirely why this raid was launched! He has to be the commander of those Romans! Kill him and Rome is finished!"
"But… my Lord," a second man protested as he tried to hold the pirate commander up, only have a line of rope fall down into the water with a splash. They then looked up to see the lookout who had spotted the Roman formation before they began their attack looking down to them.
"Tie that to his belt and join in the attack!" the lookout shouted, "the Romans reacted differently than what would be expected. Get Narius and hurry! We're running out of time."
The two nodded and quickly tied a series of improvised knots around their commander's belt, at which point the lookout and the archers on the ship began to try and pull the commander up toward the top deck. The wounded commander clung to the rope with his good hand and watched the two men as they waded ashore. Though the process was slow, and as he was lifted toward the top deck, he could feel the knot actually loosening a bit. That made him gulp a bit as he also knew that if he ended up in the water, it would take longer as the men he'd need to lift him out of the water completely were now charging toward the shore.
The two men that had practically caught their commander when he fell off the boat charged as hard as they could, but as they finally made it onto to land, they could see another flight of arrows fly off and most of the raiders that had gone before them had been intercepted by a line of Roman heavy infantry. They could hear the sounds of metal swords clunking into the heavy shields of opposing soldiers, and they found that the lightly armed and protected raiders really weren't gaining too much of an advantage. The one thing that benefited the two was that there was still an open road to the two officers laying on the ground and still moving. One looked like he was pinned beneath a wounded horse.
The two of them ran hard and moved a slight angle and turn, hoping to get around the main lines of Roman infantry that were beginning to batter their way through the other raiders. From some of the cries, it sounded as though they wouldn't get to claim a full victory, but if they could at least prove they'd killed Narius, they'd be in the free. All they had to do was get in, confirm the kill on the highest ranking officer and then make a mad dash for the boat.
Maxentius watched carefully as his infantry swung forward. The Vandals they engaged appeared to be no more raiders, useful in attacking unguarded settlements or ships and often under the cover of archer fire. They had little to no armor that Maxentius could see and were reliant on speed. However, Urses's archers had slowed down their initial attack and even took out a few of their archers. When Maxentius's archers opened up with their first volley, the raiders' attack was slowed more and Maxentius watched as a man that the Vandals had been trying to pull out of the water was dropped back into the water. On the whole it was a good thing to see.
However, two raiders managed to avoid the worst of the melee that was raging in front of the wounded Roman general. Once out of the surf, the skirted diagonally and up the narrow beach to avoid the battling infantry, going across the front of the bow of the ship before turning up the beach and making a direct charge on Narius and Maxentius, who were otherwise helpless, and there wasn't that much to stop them. Neither Urses's nor Maxentius's archers could fire on them without risking both Narius and Maxentius or Maxentius's soldiers. Some of Maxentius's infantry could pivot and turn to intercept the raiders, but it would take too long for those sorts of orders to be relayed. In that time, the two men armed with swords might well make it to Maxentius and Narius.
"Cavalry front rank… move around Narius and I get those two!" Maxentius ordered as he painfully pointed to the two charging raiders, "Charge!"
"What?" Narius gasped.
"Do it!" Maxentius ordered to his cavalry, "charge!"
With that the front rank of horsemen did leave the safety of where they'd pulled back to at the start of the attack. As they moved, Maxentius let himself fall back onto his good shoulder and watched as the front rank of horses thundered forward with their armed mounts. Maxentius could even feel the vibration of the horse's movements through the rock and stone of the road and gave some smile that the two remaining men stopped their attack and were caught down by the charging cavalry. At the same time, Maxentius could also see the oars on the Vandal ship begin to reverse the ship back and away.
"You may relax, Caesar," Maxentius spoke to Narius, "It would appear they are retreating and those that have tried to land are either dead or wounded."
"Good," Narius answered, "and their ship?"
"It is the ship that is retreating," Maxentius answered, "though they did lose one man who was knocked off the ship by Urses's archers."
"Make sure the wounded are taken alive and cared for," Narius instructed, "we'll see how lucky we were in surviving this attack… find out if the Vandals have supported this or if this is the work of rogues… or if they're in league with the Visigoths."
"Of course, Caesar," Maxentius answered, "though you may need to repeat that to Urses… for I fear I am in need of a doctor."
"There may be many that need that," Narius answered, knowing that the doctors and physicians were attached to and with the army. They had been at the end of the march and might have been even more panicked by the attack, but they were there. It would take some time to handle, which might mean delaying the march north to deal with the Visigoths, but at the moment there was no choice in that.
Brundisium, Western Roman Empire
"Thank goodness there seems to be no pirates here," Felix III commented as the small delegation made their way to the docks in the city on Italy's southeast coast.
"From what Narius's commanders think, most of the piracy is to the west of Rome," Alexander commented as he and the Senate's Junior Consul made their way to the waiting merchant ship, "they aren't interested in this coast…"
"Or are unable," the Junior Consul commented, "Narius may have gotten territory from the Eastern Romans, but their navy does still patrol at least some of the waters. I'm not sure the Vandals want anything to do with them."
"Petty victories in this world," Felix III answered, "while allowing the Eastern Romans to violate things of a higher calling."
"Maybe…" Alexander said slowly, "but then… one must remember that we are but men and must deal with issues of man. And Narius's focus is on saving the Empire. However wrong you think Xeno's Henotikon… Narius is not the Eastern Roman Empire and cannot risk a war with the Eastern Roman Empire over your differences with the Eastern Church."
"To ignore a wrong is no different than to endorse it," Felix III frowned with narrowed eyes to the two officers of the Senate.
"Perhaps," the Junior Consul commented with a glance to Alexander, "but I believe my colleague's point was more in reference to what would happen if we lose such a conflict. Then your point wouldn't gain any support. Thus… it may be wiser to find some way to that wouldn't provoke a war."
"The affairs of war are of the Empire's concern, and I will stand by the agreement that lets Narius run the affairs of the Empire's politics," Felix III answered firmly, "but I will stand for its soul and defend what is right."
To Be Continued…