Now’s the time! Help me get this book out there! Head over to Indiegogo and preorder the book, support the campaign, be part of the project!
Now’s the time! Help me get this book out there! Head over to Indiegogo and preorder the book, support the campaign, be part of the project!
Work on “Darkness over Cannae” is in full swing. I haven’t been this deliriously happy with anything I have done in… decades?!
Check out the (updated!) Project Page: http://darknessovercannae.com/
Or follow it on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DarknessOverCannae
Head over to DarknessOverCannae.com to see the website I’ve put together for the new project! It’s like a tie-in appendix for the upcoming novel, with loads of goodies, artwork (more to come), and all sorts of thoughts concerning the Battle of Cannae.
If you know anyone who might be interested in the project, please share it! :)
Also on Facebook!
Work on “Darkness over Cannae” is well underway. I now know it’ll be an illustrated novel – a bit like Neil Gaiman’s Stardust in form (highly recommended, by the way!) – of probably around 120-150 pages.
It’s all set on this one fateful day – August 2nd, 216 BC – spanning an hour before dawn to a few hours after sunset, from the perspectives of six men, three Roman and three Carthaginian.
I’ve been doing some sketching, but the more finalised images and of course, greater portions of the text will not be online until the thing is done. Until then, here’s some impressions!
“Either Varro is smart – and conservative – enough to keep his line close together, which enables us to envelope him on the wings. Or he’s innovative – and dumb – enough to deploy in a long line to encircle us; in which case we’re more likely to break through his centre as it bumbles along than he is to break through ours. We’ll see. For the moment, however, we’ll assume he is smart and conservative, and the original plan remains the same as ever, in its main points.” Hannibal positioned the six Roman infantry rectangles as a neat, solid line with spaces between the blocks, then looked at each of the men assembled in turn and went on, sombrely, “At the risk of boring you into a stupor, here are the details again. If you want to, sing along; it can’t hurt.”
“It will, if I do,” Hasdrubal growled. Hanno chuckled; Mago snorted.
“Terentius.” Paullus hastened after him, holding his colleague by the arm, speaking in a low voice. “Let us not fight on the right bank, at least. It favours his cavalry too much.”
“You don’t want to fight on level ground for your fear of his cavalry. You don’t want to fight on rough terrain for your fear of ambushes.” Varro had come to a halt in the semi-privacy of the tent entrance. “Where, in your opinion, should we give battle? At the bottom of the sea? Or on treetops?”
“In a place where we know he can’t stage an ambush, and that we have controlled for about a week before he gets there!” Paullus answered between his teeth. “He has been here for weeks! What do you think he has been doing?”
“Such a situation will never happen!” Varro’s face was red with contained anger. “We cannot force him to fight. That much is clear. The gods know why he even wants to fight here, outnumbered as he is! We need to take this chance, and beat him now, before he can come to his senses! Aemilius, why won’t you see it – Hannibal has finally made a mistake. We finally have him where we want him, and we can finally end this. And by Jupiter Stator, I will. It’s the great deeds and courage of our ancestors that have made Rome great. Not hesitating, not hiding, and certainly not bickering!”
Servilius Geminus was dead, hacked to pieces by several Iberian swords at once. Furius Bibaculus was dying, run through with a spear. The legates’ bodyguards were just being cut down along with them. Lentulus had drifted into view and out again, shouting at him, but the words had made no sense. Claudius Centho was dead, defending the consul, who was in a state of shock and utter disbelief.
Aemilius Paullus had left the dying right flank, only to die in the centre.
I have a new favourite medium: ACRYLIC INK. I can’t believe how good this stuff is. It’s like the answer to all my failed acrylic and gouache experiments. A medium for transparency-fanciers who want to paint opaquely. Once in a while. But are scared of pasty paint. I just love this medium.
The world was lost in fog.
The sun should have been up by now – it must be up, judging by the dim, milky twilight that had replaced the clinging, misty darkness – but the lakeshore, the hills, the trees and bushes, even the thirty-thousand men all around were invisible, all but Hannibal’s guard and a handful of Gaetulan spearmen closest to him. The fog had swallowed all. The rocky slope in front of him vanished a short distance from his feet. Covering all the blinking metal parts turned out to be an unnecessary precaution. We could all be waving red flags, he thought; nobody would see.
Even the noises seemed dimmed. The soldiers behind Hannibal, the Gaetulan skirmishers with the heavy Libyan infantry further down the slope to block the exit from the trap, had settled into breathless silence barely interrupted by whispers. Every metal part was wrapped in cloth to prevent them from clanking.
Even the few officers’ horses behind him were almost as silent as the men. There was the tiniest clinking of tack when one of them shook himself restively. Three Iberians of Hannibal’s guard, positioned behind the general, had even coaxed their mounts to the ground. One of the animals gave a little restless nicker, before his master’s ear-scratching quieted him again. The horses were used to this; Hannibal had often marvelled at the horsemen’s skill in keeping their mounts hidden and quiet while lying in wait for an ambush.
Not long now.
The trees and bushes, the hills, the entire lakeshore lay waiting. Thirty-thousand were waiting. There were no messengers, no horn signals. Hannibal had a few quick runners with him, as well as a handful of mounted messengers, but all his officers knew what was to be done, and he would use messengers only if something went horribly wrong and the others had to be warned. But if anything did go horribly wrong, chances were he would be the last to know. Maharbal was stationed at the entry of the narrow pass along the lake. If all went according to plan, the Romans would now be filing past him. Two horn-blasts when the last of the Roman column had passed the entry into the valley; one horn-blast if they detected the trap.
Not a sound. The horns were silent.
Someone behind him stifled a groan as he stretched aching muscles. They had taken their positions on the slopes two hours ago, at first light; the waiting was becoming more and more agonizing now that the day had finally come. The inability to do anything was almost unbearable. Hannibal stared into the fog as if he could force it to reveal its secrets to him. His dead right eye started watering; it still felt unfamiliar to have a half-vision only, even if today, all were equally blind.
And after all, in the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.
The twilight grew brighter, but still the fog didn’t lift. When the wind brought snatches of voices, hoofs and the marching feet, a shudder seemed to go through the men behind; there was the briefest outbreak of a hissed “They’re coming!” and hurried prayers in at least three different languages, quickly silenced. Hannibal stared into the mist below. The sounds below were getting louder and nearer, slowly, very slowly. Marching feet, the neighing of horses. Snatches of conversation in Latin, even snatches of laughter, but still there was nothing to be seen.
They have no idea, Hannibal thought, overwhelmed. Yes, he had counted on this, had planned for it, had assured his officers and his men of it, but now, the Gods had truly laid everything into his hands. The fog, the natural ambush site provided by the lakeshore, and incredibly, the utter artlessness of Gaius Flaminius. There was nothing to indicate the Roman consul had sent out any scouts, or his Libyans would have encountered them by now. Flaminius knew Hannibal was just a day’s march ahead of him, but he was leading his army into this misty valley without a shred of caution.
Forty thousand men marching blindly into their doom.
Behind Hannibal, breathless tension. No more hissed comments, not even prayers. His surroundings felt unreal, remote, secondary; his sole focus, every tendril of his being, concentrated on the unseen Roman army making its way along the coastal road, deeper into the mist, towards him, into the waiting trap. Only minutes now, and they would all be inside the jaws of death, still utterly ignorant. Only minutes until there would be no escaping Lake Trasimene. Closer came the hoof-sounds, closer came the voices; now he could hear even the scraping of iron-shod sandals on the sandy road; could make out a half-sentence or two –
Then, two horn-blasts from the far end of the shore. The trap was sprung. The jaws closed.
“Servilius Geminus was dead, hacked to pieces by several Iberian swords at once. Minucius Rufus was dying, run through with a spear. The legates’ bodyguards were just being cut down along with them. Centho was dead, defending the consul, who was in a state of shock and utter disbelief. Lentulus had drifted into view and out again, shouting at him, but the words had made no sense.
Aemilius Paullus had left the dying right flank, only to die in the centre.”
Part of a new personal project of mine I’m working on in between commishs. It’ll be a while, but… stay tuned. ^^
Late December 218 BC. Hannibal’s army has recovered from the ordeal of crossing the Alps, and unwritten laws of ancient warfare say that this is the time to move to winter quarters. Hannibal, however, can’t – he’s in enemy territory; neither is the Roman consul Servilius willing to wait for warmer weather. He wants a military success before his term ends, and he is not overly worried about the Carthaginian army, thinking the weather is worse for the Africans than it is for the Romans. Hannibal, with his inferior numbers, plans to make good every tactical advantage he can, and to force the Romans to fight tired, hungry, and frozen to the bone. Romans and Carthaginians are encamped at opposite banks of the river Trebia.
Just before sunrise, Hannibal went on a walk around the camp with Maharbal. Several units still looked bleary, cursing the cold, but most were already at breakfast, and wherever Hannibal appeared, the men did their best not to cut a bad figure before their commander.
The Numidians were in the process of rubbing themselves with oil that Hasdrubal had distributed among them the previous night. They would cross the Trebia to draw out Sempronius, and bait him across the river. They were sitting around fires, huddled under blankets, and did their best to drown out their chattering teeth with the loudest and self-assured banter possible.
“The only g-g-good thing,” one of the men shouted to Hannibal and Maharbal, “is that the river c-c-can’t be any colder than the Alps!”
Hannibal grinned as he joined them at the fire. “I hate to tell you this, Gaia,” he said in Numidian. “But I’m afraid this’ll be colder. At least you’ll have something to do to get warmed up again this time.”
“Hurry up with your breakfast over there!” another man shouted to the Punic camp as he was pulling his chiton back over his head. “We’ll get you some Sempronius for afters!”
“No unnecessary heroics, Gulussa,” Hannibal warned. “Draw them out and get them to follow you into the river, but don’t let them get you.”
“No worries,” Gulussa replied. “They can’t get us, we’re too slippery.”
They all laughed, and Maharbal added, “Be careful not to slip off your horse, Gulussa.”
Maharbal turned away with a suppressed grin, and Gaia roared with laughter. “Too much information.”“I can’t!” the man chuckled. “I didn’t oil my thighs on purpose. That’s where my horse’ll keep me warm.”
Hannibal gave Gulussa a clap on the shoulder. “Think a few warm thoughts, but keep them to yourself. I’d like to keep my breakfast to myself, too.” He wiped his hand on his cloak. “Bah. Yes, I think the Romans won’t get you. Good luck.”
In spring of 217, the year after Hannibal’s arrival in Italy, two new consuls are closing off the Apennine passes to stop Hannibal from leaving the north of the country. Hannibal has chosen an unguarded road, but due to flooding of the area round the river Arnus in Tuscany, his army is having a hard time getting to drier ground. Hannibal himself suffers from ophthalmia. Maharbal (right), the chief commander of his cavalry, has just returned from an extensive scouting mission.
Maharbal returned just before sundown. Despite the late hour, the men weren’t setting up camp, instead standing where they were, some sitting on their packs, trying to catch some rest until an officer walked by and shouted at them to get their gear out of the mud. Some were too tired to shout. The only dry places where a man might sleep were dead mules. Many of the remaining pack animals and horses were in a bad way, and the men weren’t looking any better.
He found Hannibal with Hanno and Mago at the rear of the column; the strategos wore a bandage around his head, covering the inflamed eye. He looked terrible, even the left eye reddened from lack of sleep. Syrus, the last surviving elephant, stood close by, looking almost unperturbed in all the misery around him, but his flanks were sunken, the small ears beating pointlessly at the flies and mosquitos.
“Ah, finally. How much further?” Hannibal asked as he saw Maharbal approach.
“Five to seven hours. Probably closer to seven,” Maharbal amended, dismounting. “There’s a place called Faesulae ten miles ahead, but we found a few estates on dry ground close to the swamp. The town is small and far enough away not to bother us. My men are taking care of the estates. The barns are well-stocked, and there’s enough cattle to keep the army fed for a while. We ought to be able to rest there for a few days.” He cast Hannibal a beseeching look at these last words.
Hannibal nodded, apparently oblivious to the plea. “We’ll march in an hour. Mago, you stay with the rear. Hanno – ride up to the van and tell the men we’ll be on dry ground before dawn; that’s as much comfort as they’re going to get here. Take Sedoc with you, so he can tell the Celts as well. I’ll be coming after you on Syros.” He grimaced and rubbed his eye under the bandage, watching as his nephew mounted a bedraggled-looking horse and laboured his way up the column again. “You’ve been thorough?” Hannibal finally asked Maharbal, who was watching his friend with worry written across his face. “Any news on the consuls?”
“Thorough? You know me. – Hannibal, you need to get that treated.”
“I am getting that treated, but look around. – The consuls?”
Maharbal caught Mago’s look that said, How many times do you think I’ve told him that? “Servilius is still in Ariminum,” the cavalry commander reported at length. “A couple of men from Faesulae we captured yesterday are definite that Flaminius is still in Arretium – perched on the road to Rome like Iuppiter Stator in person and wondering when and where we’ll be crossing the Apennines.” He grinned. “Baal Hammon, I wish I could see his face when he finds us right in front of him.”
“Enemy scouts?” Hannibal wasn’t smiling, his voice clipped in pain.
“None. Not a horse’s tail in two days. It seems our friend Flaminius doesn’t believe in such Punic treachery as ambushes, or scouting. A fine, stout Roman. Bah.”
“Perfect. Servilius is completely out of touch and Flaminius isn’t expecting us. We need to make sure it stays that way. What have you found out about the terrain?”
“Bad terrain for cavalry. Hills and woods for at least twenty miles, beyond Arretium.”
“Bad for cavalry, but an ambush might work,” Mago said. “Especially against a commander who doesn’t do much scouting.”
Hannibal nodded. “We’ll see about that. Tell your scouts to keep their eyes open.” He cursed under his breath and vigorously rubbed at the bandage, his face contorting in pain.
“Once we’re out of here, a couple of days’ rest will fix that up.” Mago didn’t sound convinced in the slightest.
“I told you, I don’t have a couple of days,” Hannibal said, his voice raw. “You heard Maharbal. We know Flaminius is eager to meet us, and we want to draw him along before Servilius realises what’s happening. Flaminius will be happy to tackle us without his colleague – more laurels to him – but if Servilius gets wind of where we are, he’ll move. The terrain might allow us an ambush of one consular army, but not two. Any delay may well get us crushed between hammer and anvil. We can’t risk that. Not now. Not if we can take out one of them without much trouble.”
Maharbal exchanged a glance with Mago. Hannibal’s logic was impeccable, but the unspoken question was whether the defeat of Flaminius would come at the price of the strategos‘ eyesight. He didn’t dare to voice it.
In the winter of 220/219, things between Rome and Carthage are headed for confrontation.
Here’s my interpretation on what happened at that meeting, based on the accounts of Roman historians and some corrections by contemporary historians, such as Zimmermann, Seibert, Hoffmann or Christ.
Carthage: Karchedon in Greek, Carthago in Latin, Qart Hadasht in Punic. To make matters confusing, Qart Hadasht is the Punic name for both Carthage (in Africa) and Carthagena (in Iberia).
Ebro: a river in Spain, agreed on as a border north of which Punic forces are not allowed to cross.
Saguntum, Zakantha in Greek, an Iberian city south of the Ebro.
Torboletes: an Iberian tribe living next to Zakantha.
strategos: Greek for “commander”, the title that Hannibal holds among his Iberian allies.
Messana: modern Messina, a city in Sicily over which the First Punic War broke out. in this text, obviously, from a Carthaginian perspective, it’s called the Roman War.
The Roman delegation, Hannibal was told, had been put up in the byrsa. His brother Hasdrubal told him they had been growing impatient at Hannibal’s prolonged absence, sensing a deliberate slight.
“You told them, I hope, that I had a revolt to put down and couldn’t wait on the needs of a delegation from Rome.”
“Not in such plain words, but… yes. Somehow, they still didn’t seem delighted.”
Hannibal pondered. “Send them word I will receive them in two hours.” That was barely enough time to get cleaned up and presentable, and barely enough time to consider the situation. It did not take much imagination to work out what a Roman delegation was doing here in Qart Hadasht. The quarrels with Zakantha – which the Romans named Saguntum – had escalated over the previous year, as they all had known they must, and the situation had quickly come to the attention of the senate. This, too, had been plain from the start.
“Two hours?” Hasdrubal asked, his eyebrows raised. “They’ll think it another slight.”
“The alternative is receiving them in arms and smelling of horseshit. We’d have a war before dinner.”
The Romans did not appreciate the long wait after Hannibal’s arrival, but Qarthalo had finally made them see that the strategos wished to receive his guests in a state that would not cause an international incident all by itself.
Two hours later, Hannibal entered the council room, together with his brothers Hasdrubal and Mago, Qarthalo, who spoke Latin as well as Greek and Punic, and Sosylos, Hannibal’s former tutor and present advisor. The Roman delegation had been studying a large wall painting of the map if Iberia, and turned at their arrival.
Yes, thought Hannibal bitterly, look at it closely. I don’t know about map-makers in Rome, but in Iberia, we know that Zakantha is south of the Ebro. Does that surprise you?
There were four of them; two consuls of the previous two years, Marcus Claudius Marcellus, and Marcus Minucius Rufus, as well as two praetors, Gnaeus Servilius Geminus and Quintus Fulvius Curvus. Fulvius Curvus had lived in Qart Hadasht for ten years as a prisoner during the Roman War and acted as translator for the Romans when needed. Marcellus, a powerful, fleshy man around his fiftieth year, spoke Greek well enough to make translators unnecessary for the most part. He still used Latin names in his speech, pasting the Greek inflections to the Latin words, and Hannibal, deciding to give a little show of education, stuck to Greek. He noted Sosylos hiding a grin as he caught the strategos’ intention. Hannibal wasn’t sure the Romans did, but it was worth it just as a private joke.
“Our allies,“ said Marcellus, after the niceties had been observed, “are worried about your… ah, activities around their territories.”
“I understand,” Hannibal replied, not batting an eye. “And your allies would be in…?”
“Saguntum,” supplied Rufus. “As you very well know.” He managed to make his Greek sound even harsher than Latin, if that was possible.
“May I remind you, Minucius Rufus,” Hannibal answered, “that Saguntum, or Zakantha, is south of the Ebro. Within the limits your senate so graciously granted my predecessor Hasdrubal.”
“It is a friend of Rome,” said Geminus.
“Is that why Zakantha has attacked my allies this past autumn?” Hannibal demanded. “Because it is a friend of Rome, and feels bolstered by its protection? Or are they so emboldened by the fact that Rome has executed members of the Karchedon-friendly party in the city?”
“Saguntum has reacted to transgressions on the part of Torboletes,” Marcellus said sharply. “The Senate has been called to help settle a dispute in Saguntum. Would Carthago have acted otherwise?”
There it is, Hannibal thought. A second Messana. As we knew it would be when it became clear Rome had suddenly found a new friend south of the Ebro. And just like Messana, Zakantha will be made a bone of contention first and a bridgehead into Iberia second, unless I prevent it.
“Karchedon aids its allies,” Hannibal said pointedly. “Zakantha has moved against my allies, in my territory. I would be a faithless strategos indeed if I left my friends to their fate.”
“Rome will not tolerate it if you threaten one of her friends.”
There, finally. Plain words. He had half-hoped for them. Ten years of Roman interference in Iberia; they had put up with it. His father had reacted with smugness, his brother-in-law with diplomacy. Both had been men over forty; in the eyes of the Romans, equals in terms of age. Here he stood, barely twenty-seven, most of his staff twenty to thirty years younger than the toga-clad dignity on the other side of the room, and they obviously felt he would watch helplessly as they slowly wrested Iberia from his grasp.
Enough was enough. No more smugness, no more diplomacy. “And I will not tolerate it if you threaten mine.”
There was a drawn-out silence in the room, as both sides assessed the meaning of those words.
“You would risk Rome’s goodwill so easily?” Marcellus finally said.
Hannibal head Mago’s sharp intake of breath behind him.
“Rome’s goodwill?” the strategos repeated, very slowly. “Tell me, Marcellus, what exactly constitutes Rome’s goodwill? Is it the theft of foreign colonies, the continued interference in foreign territory, the execution of people supporting Karchedon, or the instigation of aggression against me under my very nose?”
Both Geminus and Rufus looked to be on the verge of angry words, but Marcellus stayed their retorts with a hand. “Are these the words of Hannibal, or of Carthago?” he asked, his mouth a thin hard line.
There’s the catch. As he very well knows. “In this case, the two are the same.”
Marcellus nodded. “Then Rome will hear the answer of Carthago.”
As soon as they had left the room, Rufus gave an incredulous snort. “The whelp thinks himself a conqueror,” he said, immediately reverting to Latin.
Geminus raised an eyebrow. “The whelp has conquered a larger portion of Iberia in less than two years than his predecessor did in eight. If he thinks himself a conqueror, he has good reason for it.”
“Don’t quarrel,” said Marcellus, cutting short Rufus’ reply. “He is young and imprudent; the impetuousness of youth. He will soon find that Rome will not be cowed as easily as Iberian tribes. But it does not do to underestimate him.”
Gnaeus Servilius Geminus, Consul 217 BC. Died fighting Hannibal at Cannae in 216 BC.
Marcus Minucius Rufus, Consul 221 BC, magister equitum 217 BC. Died fighting Hannibal at Cannae in 216 BC.
Marcus Claudius Marcellus, Consul 222, 214, 210, and 208 BC. Nicknamed “The Sword of Rome”, fought Hannibal in Italy for several years and conquered Syracuse before he fell in a skirmish against Hannibal’s troops at Venusia in 208.
Some sketches of Roman togas from several views:
Togas are cool. Sorry Hannibal, but… togas are cool.
I’ve done it. Written my first Silmarillion fanfic in seventeen years. O_o
Maedhros upon Thangorodrim. Warning: Disturbing themes. Injury, torture, madness.
This probably won’t be easy to understand unless you’ve read the Silmarillion.
Disclaimer: I don’t own the character, though I promise to return him in good condition. As far as text-faithfulness is concerned. Maedhros was already in bad condition when I got him, so that’s not my fault.
Language is more reminiscent of DeLillo than Tolkien, but that was on purpose. Very suited to disturbing descents into despair.
Read the whole story here.