In 213 B.C., as the forces of both Rome and Hannibal’s army from Carthage are still reeling from the losses at the Battle of Canae, the second Punic War rages on. With more and more of Rome’s Italian allies switching allegiance to Carthage, the stakes continue to increase. When the major Sicilian city of Syracuse defects to Hannibal, Rome sends all that it has to retake the city. Now, outside the nearly impregnable city walls, a vast Roman Army besieges the city. Inside the city, tensions and politics are an even greater threat.
Two men—once boyhood friends, through circumstance now find themselves fighting on opposing sides—are about to face each other once again. Caught between them is a woman. All three trapped in one of the most famous and brutal sieges of all time.
Ben Kane's Clouds of War is a vivid, exciting, and very human novel about one of the most defining conflicts in history, seen from the very top, where the generals make bold gambits, all the way down to the very bottom, where the people who are caught in the crossfire are trapped.
Release date: November 22, 2016
Publisher: St. Martin's Publishing Group
Print pages: 512
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Clouds of War
TWO AND A HALF YEARS LATER …
APULIA, LATE WINTER
It was a fresh morning. A light, cool breeze carried in from the east, where the sea lay, one hundred stadia away. The worst of the winter weather had gone, for which Hanno was grateful. Over the previous few months, the temperatures had not often been harsh, but he still missed the warmth of Carthage, his home. The sun’s heat on his face, and signs that the plants were beginning to grow again, would be welcome.
As usual, he found Muttumbaal among the Libyans of his phalanx. If his second-in-command wasn’t sleeping, he was with their men. They were his entire world, for he had neither wife nor family, and he was assiduous in their care. No one had ever called Mutt by his full cumbersome name, except perhaps his mother, thought Hanno wryly. To the world, his dour subordinate was just known as Mutt. He was a damn fine officer, and had covered for Hanno on innumerable occasions. Saved his life more than once too.
Mutt was drilling the men on the open ground beyond the camp perimeter. It was a habit that Hanno continued to find amusing. They were some of Hannibal’s most hard-bitten veterans, who knew their craft inside out. Career soldiers, they had traveled from Carthage to Iberia, from there to Gaul, over the Alps and into Italy. They had fought—and won—more battles for Hannibal than anyone could remember. Yet that didn’t stop Mutt from insisting on regular drill and marching sessions. “Let them sit on their asses for too long, sir, and they’ll get rusty,” he’d said when Hanno had questioned the tactic. Over time, Hanno had had to admit that Mutt’s reasoning was sound, given the existence that they had all lived since Cannae. There was still occasional fighting, but much of their routine was to stay in camp. Yes, there were marches to defend a pro-Carthaginian town or city from a Roman army that was threatening it, but their fearsome reputation meant that this tactic usually made the legions withdraw without a fight. Large swathes of southern Italy were now on their side, which meant that combat had become less common. Frustratingly, that didn’t mean that the war had been won. Far from it, Hanno thought bitterly. Plenty of Rome’s allies remained loyal, even when their territory was surrounded by those friendly with Carthage.
Capua was allied to Hannibal, but nearby towns were not. He pictured Quintus’ sister Aurelia, how she’d been when he had last seen her near Capua, and his heart squeezed. There had been no chance to find her since, and there probably never would be. He swallowed down his feelings. It was as well, for she would have forgotten him by now.
Spotting a dust-covered rider urging his horse toward the camp, his mood soured a little more. “Who’ll be begging for help this time?” he said to no one in particular.
Mutt heard him, and wandered over. “It’ll be the same old story, sir. ‘A Roman army is at our gates. We need your assistance. Come with all haste.’”
Hanno laughed, before saying something that he would admit to few others. “Sometimes it seems as if Cannae wasn’t enough. If only their new legions would take us on. We’d kick their asses.”
Mutt hawked and spat. “I’d be surprised if they’re that stupid again, sir.”
Mutt was right, thought Hanno angrily. Since Cannae, their enemies had recruited and trained more than ten new legions. They operated in consular-sized forces of two legions throughout the peninsula—substantial enough to be militarily potent without losing the ability to be maneuverable and fast-moving—concentrating on the defeat of cities and peoples who had deserted the Republic.
“Cannae taught them a real lesson, sir.”
“They’re scheming dogs.” Hanno knew all too well how it worked. If Hannibal tried to face these legions, or to draw them into pursuit, they backed away or retreated into the mountains where the huge Carthaginian superiority in cavalry was negated. Not for the first time, Hanno remembered Maharbal’s warning just after Cannae. Had their general made the wrong decision when he decided not to march on Rome? Hanno wasn’t sure, nor would he mention it to a soul other than Mutt or Bostar. As well as feeling disloyal by discussing it, no one really knew the answer. It was impossible to predict what might have happened. Obsessing about the past did nobody any good, he decided. They had to deal with the present. “We’re hardly doing badly. Hannibal is undefeated; at no time since Cannae has it looked any other way.”
“’Scuse me, sir.” Mutt had noticed something untoward. He strode toward the men, shouting orders.
Hanno fell back to brooding. In Iberia, the situation was not as good as it had been. A number of Carthaginian defeats had seen many tribes changing sides to support Rome. Happily, Sicily was another story. There Carthage had new, powerful supporters. Hippocrates and Epicydes, two Syracusan nobles who had fought with Hannibal, and been subsequently sent by him to the island to foment unrest, had of recent days seized control of the great fortress of Syracuse. This advance—upsetting the city’s fifty-year status as an ally of Rome—increased the likelihood of further help from Carthage on the island. Hanno prayed that the Syracusan and Carthaginian troops on Sicily would be victorious. That outcome would see Hannibal receive reinforcements, which would be warmly received.
The war has taken us from one end of Italy to the other, thought Hanno. His right hand strayed to his neck, the fingers slipping under the cloth that hid his scar from the world. He’d received it as a prisoner in Victumulae, thousands of stadia to the north. Pera, the Roman officer who had given it to him, had been a sadistic bastard. No doubt the sewer rat had been killed in the sack of the town, but Hanno wished that he could have personally seen him on his way to the underworld. Bomilcar, the Carthaginian who had saved Hanno’s life, had been assigned to a different Libyan phalanx afterward. He had survived Trasimene and Cannae, and the campaigning since. Hanno felt a stab of guilt that he hadn’t been better at keeping in touch. I’ll seek him out tonight, he decided. Bring along a jug of decent wine.
Hanno tramped over to join Mutt. The pair spent the next couple of hours sweating, shouting at the men and getting involved in the more complicated maneuvers. By the time that they had finished, Hanno had forgotten all about Aurelia and his concerns with the campaign. “Mutt, come with me this evening,” he said as they led the soldiers back to the camp.
After this long, the honorific still jarred. Hanno had told his second-in-command on numerous occasions not to bother with it, but Mutt was intransigent. “The men need to know that there’s a difference between you and me, sir, just as there is between me and them,” he had replied. Mutt was as stubborn as a mule, so Hanno said nothing.
“I want to find Bomilcar. The man who got me out of the cell in Victumulae,” he explained when Mutt’s face remained blank. “I haven’t seen him in months. It’d be good to have a few cups of wine with him. I would appreciate your company. He would too.”
“Aye, sir, that sounds—” Mutt broke off as a troop of chattering Numidians cantered past, as ever clad in nothing but their sleeveless tunics. “—good,” he finished.
“Excellent.” Hanno clapped him on the shoulder. He could feel a fine session looming. On the rare occasions that he’d persuaded Mutt to drink with him, things had got very messy indeed. It didn’t matter if that happened, though. Life was quiet at the moment. No one more senior would care if he spent the following day in his blankets, recovering.
It was then that he caught sight of Sapho walking toward them. Hanno’s mood dampened. No one more senior would disapprove perhaps, but his oldest brother, who was of equivalent rank, undoubtedly would. Since their youth, Sapho had liked to act as if he were Hanno’s moral guardian. “Not a word about tonight,” he hissed.
Mutt knew Hanno well enough. “My lips are sealed, sir.”
“Ho, brother!” Sapho called out. “Well met.”
“Well met indeed.” Hanno pulled a smile that was only half fake. Some of the time, he got on with Sapho. To his endless annoyance, he could never quite predict which brother would greet him: the snide, ruthless Sapho who had—probably, although Hanno had no proof—considered letting him drown in a mud pool in Etruria, or the jovial, considerate Sapho who brought wine and told him what Hannibal was planning, as had happened before Trasimene.
“Training your men?” Sapho fell into step beside him.
“Mine are on a hundred stadia run with my second-in-command.”
Hanno heard his soldiers’ dismayed mutters as Sapho’s words carried over his shoulder. “Any special reason for that?”
“They’re getting wine bellies from lying about, doing nothing but drink. It’s time that they got back into shape.”
A devilment took Hanno, and he poked at his brother’s stomach, which wasn’t as flat as it had been. “Shouldn’t you be with them?” He heard Mutt’s snort quickly converted to a cough.
Sapho shoved back at him, annoyed. “I’m as fit as I ever was, you cheeky pup!”
“Of course you are,” said Hanno. I shouldn’t have said a word, he thought. It’s not worth the aggravation. To his relief, Sapho let it drop.
They made idle chitchat on the walk back, passing through the large gateway that granted access through the tall earthen fortifications. Relieved that Sapho appeared not to have sought him out for any particular reason, Hanno began to relax. He was beginning to consider the idea of inviting Sapho along that night—surprising himself—when he spotted Bostar with a couple of other officers, coming their way. His heart sank. Any time his two older brothers got together, there was potential for trouble.
To his surprise, a convivial air reigned as the groups converged. Bostar introduced his companions, two phalanx commanders whom Hanno vaguely knew but whom Sapho hailed like long-lost comrades. The five men chatted about the usual sort of things: the weather, the state of their men’s fitness, how bad their rations were, whether there had been any reliable sightings of Roman forces, where the next enemy attack would be and so on. Everything was fine until Sapho mentioned, as he just had to Hanno, that his men needed to improve their fitness because of the amounts that they’d been drinking. At this point, Bostar pointed at Sapho’s belly and commented, “There’s a bit of extra flesh there, or my eyes are mistaken, brother.”
Sapho flared up like a bush fire. “What are you saying?”
Bostar, who was still lean as a hunting dog, shrugged. “You have a slight gut. Some exercise would do you some good too.”
Sapho’s eyes filled with suspicion. He swung from Bostar to Hanno and back. “You two have been talking behind my back, haven’t you? Laughing at me!”
“No!” protested Hanno truthfully.
“We haven’t said a word,” said Bostar with a trace of a smirk. Hanno cursed him for it. Now was not the time to rile Sapho further, over something so inconsequential. The two other officers already looked embarrassed—and less than impressed.
Of course Sapho homed in on Bostar’s expression like a fly to shit. “Then why the little smile, eh?”
“We haven’t said a word to one another, Sapho, I swear it,” said Hanno, annoyed at the way this was degenerating.
“Really?” Sapho’s mistrustful expression eased, but his face was full of rage as he turned on Bostar. “Just had to get a joke in in front of your friends, was that it?”
“As if you wouldn’t do the same, if I were overweight!” retorted Bostar.
“Screw you!” snarled Sapho. Before anyone could react, he’d stepped in and thrown a powerful punch to Bostar’s chin, snapping his head and body backward. Thump. He went down on to the flat of his back. Sapho waded in, throwing kicks and stamping on Bostar with his studded sandals. “Always think you know better than me, don’t you?” he shouted, spittle flying from his lips. “Well, you don’t!”
Hanno shoved himself between Sapho and the groaning Bostar. “Get off him!”
Sapho didn’t seem to hear. With superhuman strength, he pushed Hanno out of the way. The tiny delay had given Bostar a chance to get up, however. Roaring with anger, he flung himself at Sapho, arms outstretched, and caught him around the middle. The pair went sprawling on to the dirt, each raining punches upon the other. Hanno looked on in dismay. From the corner of his eye, he could see Bostar’s two companions and Mutt doing the same. His inaction lasted only a moment. This had to be stopped. As much as anything, it was a terrible example for the men to see officers brawling.
“Help me separate them,” he ordered Mutt. “You grab Bostar. I’ll go for Sapho.” Hanno leaped in and grabbed one of Sapho’s flailing arms. With that grip he was able to heave his brother back, managing at the same time to seize his other arm from underneath. Hanno bent his elbows, securing his purchase on Sapho’s upper body. Sapho spat and cursed, but was unable to break free. That didn’t stop him aiming another kick at Bostar, who was lying helpless underneath Mutt. There was a groan from Bostar as the blow landed, and Sapho chuckled. “How do you like that, you filth?”
Hanno wrenched Sapho back several steps. There was a yelp of pain.
“Gods, my shoulders!”
“Good.” Tightening his grip, Hanno dragged him back another pace or two. Sapho began to speak, but Hanno had had enough. “Shut your trap!” He peered over Sapho’s shoulder. “Mutt?”
“Have you got Bostar under control?”
“Good. He’s to promise not to start fighting again. Then you can let him go. If he won’t, hold him down.” Hanno moved his lips to Sapho’s ear. “This has to end. Do you hear me?”
“I—” Sapho began to growl.
“No, Sapho, I won’t have it! You’re a grown man, and an officer, not a ten-year-old boy!” There was no response, so Hanno squeezed with all his might, forcing Sapho’s arms upward and back even farther. Another hiss of pain from his brother. “Understand?” demanded Hanno.
“Fine. Yes,” came the surly reply.
“Bostar has agreed,” said Mutt.
“Release him.” Hanno slackened his grip on Sapho, allowing him to step away. He moved to stand between his two brothers, still furious. Bostar was regarding him with surprise, and Sapho with smoldering anger. Hanno was so incensed that he didn’t care what either of them thought. “You’re both a disgrace to your rank and station! Senior officers, fighting like two drunks, and in front of common soldiers. Hannibal would have the pair of you flogged for this. I’ve a good mind to do the same myself.” Their mouths opened in shock, but Hanno wasn’t finished. “Father might be gone, but that doesn’t mean he’s not looking down on you in disgust, the last of our family. He would have told you that our war is with the damn Romans, not each other. Isn’t it?” He eyeballed them.
“It is,” mumbled Bostar after a moment.
“Yes, I suppose.”
“Then start acting like a man, instead of a child!”
Sapho flushed, but did not answer back.
“I want you both to take an oath that this quarreling will end here and now,” commanded Hanno.
His brothers looked unhappy. “And if I don’t agree?” demanded Sapho.
“As the gods are my witness, I will tell Hannibal,” replied Hanno from between clenched teeth.
Bostar sighed. “I will swear.”
“My little brother has all grown up,” murmured Sapho.
“What’s your answer to be?” barked Hanno.
“I will also swear,” said Sapho mildly.
Hanno didn’t trust the look in Sapho’s eyes, but he had backed down. Hanno moved his fingers away from his sword hilt, where they had begun to stray. “Speak your oaths,” he ordered.
One after the other, his brothers swore to all the Carthaginian gods that they would bury their feud forever. When they were done, both glanced at Hanno. They’re waiting to see if I am satisfied, he realized, shocked by the sea change in their relationship. A few moments before, he had been the youngest brother, lowest in the pecking order. Now he had acted as their father might have, and they had accepted it. “Fine.” He glanced at Mutt. “We’ve wasted enough time here. Have the men form up again, ready to march.”
Mutt roared out a command. Sapho, Bostar and the two others quickly moved out of the way. Hanno began to feel proud of what he’d done. Whether the two would honor their promise remained to be seen, but the strength of their vow would prevent them from fighting, for the time being at least. He wondered if Sapho would seek revenge on him for the humiliation. If he does, I’ll be ready, he decided. As I have been for some time. “Forward march!” he cried.
“Hold!” shouted a voice.
Thinking it was one of his brothers, Hanno continued to advance. Mutt and the rest followed.
“HOLD, I SAY!” repeated the voice.
Realizing it was someone else altogether, Hanno ground to a halt.
A short distance away, a nondescript soldier threw back the hood of his cloak. He was one-eyed, broad-faced, bearded.
There was a universal gasp of amazement.
Hanno was first to react. “Attention!” he cried, snapping upright. “Your general is here.”
His men stiffened to attention. His brothers and their companions did the same. Hannibal stalked over, his face a blank. Hanno began to feel nervous. It had always been their general’s habit to wander among his soldiers incognito, his purpose to assess their morale, their mood. Since Cannae, this practice appeared to have lapsed. Until now, thought Hanno. His certainty that he had acted in the correct manner wavered. Hannibal was liable to punish lapses of discipline severely. Gods, what will he do?
Neither Bostar nor Sapho could meet Hannibal’s eye as he spoke. “I’ve been aware of the animosity between you for a long while, but I had no idea that it was this bad.”
“Sir, I—” began Sapho.
“Quiet!” Hannibal’s voice cracked like a whip.
“Sapho, the wild but courageous one. Bostar, also brave as a lion, but more dutiful.” Hannibal’s gaze moved to Hanno, who squirmed beneath it. “The cub, usually the one to do as he pleased. The one who needed disciplining the most, or so I thought.” He paced to and fro, letting the brothers sweat.
“Under normal circumstances, this incident would have passed me by,” Hannibal said at last. “But I was here, and I saw it.”
Hanno’s eyes flickered to his brothers’ faces. He wasn’t alone in holding his breath.
“It’s a poor sign when two of my phalanx commanders brawl with each other like a pair of drunks outside a whorehouse.”
Hanno stared at the ground, acutely aware that he would have to accept whatever punishment was meted out to them—and him.
“It seems to me that the vow Hanno forced you to take should be enough to keep the peace.”
Relief—and a little disbelief—all ’round, although none of the brothers dared to relax.
“If we were not at war, I would strip you both to the ranks, at the very least.” He glared at Sapho and Bostar, who both looked ashamed. “However, we are at war, and in a foreign land. Officers of your caliber are impossible to replace.” He raised a warning finger. “Yet the matter cannot go unaddressed. Therefore, despite your oath, I am going to separate you. Permanently.”
All three exchanged worried glances, and Hannibal laughed. It was not an altogether pleasant sound. “I’ve had word that my brother Hasdrubal in Iberia needs experienced officers. Despite the shortage in my own forces, I am going to send him a few men. Bostar, you will be one of them. You will have to go by sea, because it would take too long to travel by land. The voyage will be dangerous in the extreme—I expect you know that. Two of the last three ships sent from Iberia have been sunk or taken by the Romans. Gods willing, you will make it. Once there you will do all in your power to help Hasdrubal and our other generals defeat the enemy.”
“I will do my best, sir,” said Bostar with a resolute nod.
“Good.” Hannibal rounded on Sapho, who flinched a little. “You, I will keep by my side. Don’t think that that means life will be easy. For a start, you and your phalanx will be on extended patrols for the next three months.”
“Thank you, sir,” said Sapho stolidly. “We will do all that is asked of us.”
Why did it have to be Bostar who was sent away? thought Hanno furiously. He might never see his favorite brother again. That idea was terrible to contemplate. Hannibal’s attention fell on him then, and Hanno forgot about his brothers. Where was he to be sent?
“And so to you, youngest son of Malchus,” said Hannibal.
A pulse hammered at the base of Hanno’s throat. Punishment would be forthcoming, of that he had no doubt.
“Your father was ever a valiant servant of Carthage. His loss was a personal sorrow for you and your brothers, of course, but I too grieve for him still,” said Hannibal.
“Thank you, sir,” Hanno replied. It helped to have his father’s sacrifice acknowledged. Bostar and Sapho also seemed pleased.
“Malchus would be proud of you today. What age are you now?”
“Young still. Your actions were impressive.”
Uneasy with the praise, Hanno shifted to and fro. “Th-thank you, sir.”
“I have need of a trustworthy officer to undertake a dangerous mission. I had thought to send someone else, but what I have just seen has changed my mind. You will go instead.”
Hanno’s heart began to thump even faster. “Where, sir?”
Hannibal lowered his voice. “To Sicily.”
“Sicily, sir?” Hanno repeated, like a fool. Glancing at Mutt, his heartstrings tugged painfully. Mutt and his men felt like family. Besides, what use could he be without his soldiers? “Who will command my unit in my absence?” he asked, stalling.
“Why, Mutt here. Not as if he hasn’t done it before, is it?”
Panic flared in Hanno’s belly. Did his general know about his unauthorized leave of absence, before Cannae, when he had sought out Aurelia? His eyes went from Hannibal to Mutt, whose expression was as innocent as a babe’s, and back again.
“The original officer who led your phalanx died in the crossing of the Alps. Mutt looked after them until I appointed you,” said Hannibal.
“Of course, sir.” How could he have doubted Mutt? Hanno smiled as if he’d understood Hannibal’s meaning all along.
“Come by my tent as soon as you’ve finished with your men.”
“Very good, sir!” Proud yet sad at what this meant, Hanno threw off a parade-ground salute.
“As you were.” Hannibal waved a hand in dismissal. Slipping up his hood, he walked off, just another ordinary soldier again.
“So you two get special treatment while I have to stay in Italy.” Sapho’s voice was sour.
“You’re staying with the most important general in Carthage,” retorted Hanno.
“It’s as honorable to remain with Hannibal as it is to be sent overseas,” added Bostar in a surprisingly conciliatory tone. “Hannibal values you. He’s said as much before.”
“True,” Sapho conceded, but the jealousy in his eyes gave the lie to his answer.
Sapho wouldn’t be happy whatever the outcome, thought Hanno. He felt a whisper of relief that he would soon be far away from his oldest brother, yet that emotion was mixed with a contradictory sadness that he would be parted from not just Bostar, Mutt and his men, but Sapho too. There was every chance that they would never see each other again.
“We’ll have to get together before any of us leave. Offer a sacrifice to Father’s memory.” He paused. “And then get royally pissed.”
Copyright © 2014 by Ben Kane
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