Ben Kane: Spartacus: Rebellion

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Ben Kane Spartacus: Rebellion
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    Spartacus: Rebellion
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Ben Kane

Spartacus: Rebellion


Mount Garganus, east coast of Italy, spring 72 BC

The furious thrumming of blood in his ears dimmed the cacophony of battlefield noises: the screams of the wounded and maimed, the shouts of his bravest followers and the moans of his most fearful. Despite the awful clamour and his ravening anger — against the Romans, against the gods, against what had happened thus far that morning — the big man’s attention was all on the enemy lines, some hundred paces distant. Every fibre of his being wanted to charge up the rocky slope again, and hack as many of the massed legionaries into bloody chunks as he could. Calm down. If we’re to have any chance of succeeding, the men need time to recover their strength. They need to be rallied.

The blaring of bucinae shredded the air, and he scowled. The trumpets were ordering consul Gellius’ two legions to regroup. He breathed deeply, focusing on the metallic clatter of the enemy soldiers’ swords off their shields as they taunted his men, trying to provoke them into another fruitless attack uphill. The pathetic response of the few warriors left with voice enough to shout was infuriating.

It was no wonder their throats were raw. He was parched with thirst himself. The fighting had begun two hours after dawn, and had only stopped as each of their three previous assaults was repulsed. There had been no chance of relocating the water bag that he’d left on the ground by his initial position. He didn’t begrudge the man who’d found it. As a consequence, he was in the same situation as most of his followers. A quick glance at the sun’s position in the blue sky told him that it was close to midday. Three hours’ combat with no water. It’s as well that it is not summer, or half the army would have collapsed by now. Another sour smile creased his broad face. Much of his army lay dead or wounded on the crimson-coated ground before him. What need have they of water?

The area between the two hosts — a slope free of the peak’s covering of holm oak, turpentine trees and buckthorn bushes — was festooned with the dead. The thousands of mutilated corpses would provide weeks’ worth of pickings for the sharp-eyed vultures that already hung far overhead. Most of the fallen lay near the Roman lines. They lay so deeply in some spots that his men had been forced in subsequent attacks to clamber over the bodies, making them easy targets for the volleys of Roman javelins. Those who had not been cut down by the sky-blackening showers of pila had been halted by the legionaries’ gladii. The deadly double-edged swords had thrust out from the impregnable wall of shields, slicing men’s guts to ribbons, hacking off their legs or arms, running deep into their unprotected chests. He’d even seen some of his followers lose their heads.

In spite of their horrific casualties, they had broken through in a few places during the first frenzied attack. His memory of that small success soured in a heartbeat. All but one of their breaches — his — had quickly been repaired. His men’s lack of armour and shields, and the legionaries’ discipline and height advantage, had made the slaves easy targets. Seeing his men being butchered like sheep in a slaughterhouse, he had ordered the retreat. Had given up his own brutal assault which had so nearly smashed through the first Roman line.

For all the good it would have done. One breach of the enemy ranks doesn’t win a battle. What does is holding one’s position. Remaining disciplined. It was a harsh lesson for a Gaul. Although he had been born a slave, he’d grown up listening to tales of the terror-inducing charges by his forebears, men who had defeated Roman legions on numerous occasions, whose bravery had carried so many enemies before them. That tactic had failed miserably today.

He caught sight of a rider in a burnished helmet and scarlet cloak moving to and fro behind the centre of the Roman lines. He spat a bitter curse. Gellius might be old for a consul, but he picked his ground well. It was foolish to let him steal a march on us and take the high ground. Foolish to rely on the fact that my forces outnumbered his by more than two to one. The first feelings of despair stole into his mind, but he shoved them away with another oath. If he gathered the best of his men together, perhaps they could break through. If they slew the consul, the Romans would surely turn and run. The tide of battle could yet be changed.

‘Come on, lads! There are still more of us than them,’ he roared. ‘One last effort! Let’s make one final charge. If we kill that whoreson Gellius, the day will be ours. Who’s with me?’

Only a score or so of voices answered him.

He ripped his bronze-bowl helmet from his head and threw it to the ground. ‘Piece of Roman shit.’ Striding forward some thirty paces from the disorganised mass of men, still some ten to twelve thousand strong, he turned so that they could all see his face. He was now within range of a long javelin throw. His mail shirt would probably turn away the point, he thought, but he didn’t really care if it did or not. The pain would be welcome, would help him to focus his rage. ‘HEY! I’m talking to you!’

Hundreds of desperate, blood-stained faces fixed him with their stares. In their eyes, he saw defeat. He didn’t feel afraid. Even if they failed now, the Romans couldn’t take his end from him. Dying in battle was all that he’d ever wanted. Granted, it would have been better to do it knowing that his men had beaten Gellius, but he was still a free man, and he would die that way, taking plenty of Romans with him.

Clash, clash, clash went his sword off the metal rim of his scutum. Men who were standing out of earshot edged closer. ‘Now you listen to me,’ he shouted. ‘Three times we’ve charged them, and three times we’ve failed. Thousands of our comrades lie up there, dead or dying. Their bravery, their blood and their lives demand revenge. REVENGE!’ Clash, clash, clash on the shield. ‘REVENGE!’

There was a whirring noise in the air behind him. Despite his courage, his skin crawled. Someone’s thrown a pilum. He didn’t budge. ‘REVENGE!’ Thump. He glanced to his right, taking in the javelin that had buried itself in the earth not five paces from his foot. He threw back his head and howled like a wolf. ‘Is that the best they can do? The stinking Roman bastards couldn’t hit a pile of wheat in a grain shed!’

His men — at least those nearest him — looked more heartened.

Good. They’re not done yet. ‘I’m going up there, and I’m going to tear those bastards into little pieces. I’m going to hew Gellius’ head from his scrawny fucking neck, and then I’m going to laugh as his army runs away.’ His badly scarred nose and the Roman blood covering him from head to foot reduced his encouraging stare to a monster’s ravening leer, but the passion in his voice couldn’t be mistaken. ‘Who’s with me? Who’s with Crixus?’

‘I am!’ cried a Gaul with long braids of hair.

‘And me!’ bellowed a bull-necked man in a torn tunic.

More and more voices joined in. ‘CRIX-US! CRIX-US!’ they cried and, grinning, he clattered his longsword off his scutum in reply. The fearful mood that had hung over the slaves vanished. But their new-found bravery wouldn’t last. Crixus knew that. If they were going to succeed, they had to move at once. Turning to face the Romans, he screamed, ‘Come on then, boys! Let’s show them what courage means!’ Without looking back, he tore up the hill like a man possessed.

Roaring like maddened bulls, hundreds and hundreds of slaves followed.

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