Jack Ludlow: Triumph

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Jack Ludlow Triumph
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Triumph: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Jack Ludlow



The state of the world looked promising for the Roman Emperor Justinian in the Year of Our Lord 536. Sicily was Goth free and wholly pacified, while Sardinia and Corsica were firmly in the right hands. If there were continuing rumblings of discontent in the reconquered provinces of North Africa that was a region requiring to be pacified rather than fought for. Victory had also just been achieved over the Ostrogoths in Illyricum, securing the Adriatic coast all the way north to the River Timavo, the border with Italy proper.

The reconquest of the remainder of the Western Roman Empire was now deemed to be possible, this being an ambition Justinian had long harboured, one he had craved even before his elevation to the purple. Waiting in Sicily, Constantinople’s most successful military commander and the magister militum per Orientem. Flavius Belisarius, was instructed to cross the Straits of Messina and begin the conquest of the mainland.

The army he commanded seemed far too small for such an undertaking, many less than that he had led when he defeated the Vandals of North Africa, yet the message from Justinian was blunt. With trouble an ever-present danger on the eastern border with Persia there were no more troops to be had: the man he trusted to lead his invading army must make do with what he possessed.

To Flavius Belisarius numbers mattered less than experience added to discipline, and those he led had those qualities in abundance. The bulk of his forces had fought under him for many years now, some since his days as an untried commander on the Persian frontier. In addition he could deploy six thousand men from the imperial army under the patrician general Constantinus, who would act as his second in command.

That body included a large force of German foederati, fighters from beyond the Danube and the Rhine who lived for combat and would be used as shock troops. Constantinus also brought to the army substantial contingents of other mercenaries; Isaurian infantry as well as Hun and Moorish cavalry, but the backbone of the host Flavius ordered aboard the ships that would carry them to Italy proper lay in his own comitatus, personal troops attached to their general and fiercely loyal to his person, consisting mainly of heavy cavalry. These were soldiers he had personally raised and trained who could be deployed as mounted archers as well as spearmen.

The unfortified port of Rhegium, his first objective, observed from the deck of his command galley, looked somnolent rather than a city under imminent threat. To the north, directly opposite Messina, his army, under the watchful eye of his domesticus, Solomon, was disembarking across a pebble beach that made such an enterprise slow, uncomfortable and at risk from enemy interference. Yet from what he had seen sailing south it was going to be carried out unopposed.

The only road to and from the capital of Calabria was coastal and visible; Ebrimuth, the nobleman in command of the Goths, who must have had orders to oppose any landing, showed no sign of moving his troops to give battle, this in a situation where he could not be in ignorance of the movements of an enemy fleet large enough to transport some twelve thousand men as well as their horses. The coast of Sicily was visible to the naked eye.

The faint possibility existed that Ebrimuth was moving to a confrontation out of sight, yet that would mean a march along goat trails, through the mountains that stood at the back of Rhegium, which would be exhausting to the men he led. Still, the prospect had to be guarded against and patrols had been sent out to cover the paths out of the mountains that led to his landing beach and that, Flavius now reasoned, was where he needed to be.

The order given, the calls roared out and the oars of the galley dipped as the great mainsail holding them steady was raised: the wind that had brought them swiftly south was not there to make the return. As the vessel began to move Flavius kept looking at the port city he needed to capture. The reports he had told of a force too large to be left at his rear even if in its composition and numbers it was very inferior to his own. He was deep in contemplation of the ramifications of this when the voice from the lookout sounded an alert.

‘Boat setting out from the harbour and there are armed men aboard. Goths, by their armour.’

‘Size?’ demanded the sailing master; he also had the job of controlling the fighting if his vessel was drawn into battle.

‘Small, ten oars.’


‘I am not a sailor,’ Flavius responded after a pause. ‘It falls to you to decide what threat they pose.’

The man was rendered nervous by that response; the finest general the empire possessed, the Victor of Carthage and a man reckoned to be a close personal companion of the Emperor, was leaving a decision to him and to be wrong did not bear thinking about. He went to the side and raised a hand to shield his eyes, not only from the sun but also the glare reflected off the sea and it was quite a while before he gave his opinion.

‘If they seek to board us I can’t see them succeeding with such numbers.’

At a nod from Flavius the master had the oars raised on one side, which brought the galley round in a wide arc, all sticks dipped once more close with the mainland shore. More commands had half of them withdrawn while the rowers who abandoned their sticks quickly equipped themselves as fighters, donning armour and eventually lining up on deck, some with bows and others bearing spears.

Flavius could see the figure on the opposite prow now, standing in a way that sought to display boldness, a gleaming war helmet on his head and a white decorated cloak whipping in the breeze, while behind him stood a file of warriors also with spears, which had him call for a shield of his own. Low numbers could mean many things and one of them might be an attempt on his life from a man ready to die to achieve it. The Goths would know by the standard on the mast who was on the enemy vessel. He might also surmise that to remove the head of an army was to atrophy its limbs and render it ineffective.

‘Take station behind me, Father.’

Photius, his stepson, said this with a gravity way beyond his years, stepping forward to cover Flavius with his body and shield.

‘If we stand side by side how will they know which of us is the desirable target?’

About to protest the boy hesitated, then smiled, aware that he was being treated to a jest; how could anyone see Flavius Belisarius, who had stature and presence to spare, a man in his prime, set against a very obvious youth hardly old enough to have a beard.

‘It could it be Ebrimuth, magister?’ said Procopius quietly. Flavius answered his secretary, now stood behind him, with a nod, which prompted a firm opinion. ‘He cannot be coming to issue a threat, can he?’

‘Is what you are suggesting not too much to hope for?’

‘Rhegium has no walls, for all we know he has fewer troops than we were led to expect and with a father-in-law like Theodahad, Ebrimuth cannot feel utterly secure.’

‘King Theodahad might be marching south with a powerful Goth army as we speak, so this may be a ploy.’

Procopius brushed that aside. ‘It’s a long way from Ravenna, magister, over two hundred leagues. If Ebrimuth is going to parley he best be prepared to have it last for many weeks.’

As ever, the pace of matters at sea allowed much time to think, especially as on a distinct swell, the smaller craft was making slow progress. After long consideration and with the putative enemy now in plain sight, Flavius requested that the master heave to and prepare to receive an honoured guest. Thus most of the oars disappeared, only those right fore and aft still in the water to hold the ship steady.

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