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Precious Metal

Ben Kane

Spartacus

Ben Kane Spartacus Rebellion
$16.09 New
 
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Excerpt from book:

I
 
 
A MONTH LATER …
THE APENNINE MOUNTAINS, NORTHEAST OF PISAE
Spartacus looked out over the flat ground at Gellius’ legions, and then back at his own. Even though he was some hundred paces from the center of his front ranks, he could feel his men’s confidence. It oozed from their very stance and the way their lines were swaying back and forth. Their weapons smacked off their shields, challenging the Romans to fight. They were eager, even desperate to begin the combat. It is a remarkable change. Until recently, his followers—the vast majority of them former slaves—had never fought a full-scale battle. Yes, they had defeated the forces of three praetors, but those clashes had been won in the main by subterfuge. They had never faced a large Roman army on open terrain, let alone a consular one of two legions. Two months previously, all that had changed when they had ambushed the consul Lentulus in a defile to the south of their present position.
Thanks to their succession of victories, the majority of his men were now as well equipped as the heavily armed legionaries. Pride filled him. How far they have come. He pictured the day a year and a half before when he’d been betrayed in his own village in Thrace and sold into slavery, his fate to die in an Italian gladiatorial arena. How far I have come. A Thracian warrior who fought for Rome, but who now leads an army of former slaves against it. It was ironic.
Striding closer to his soldiers, Spartacus caught the eye of a broad-shouldered man whose pleasant face was marred by a purple scar on his left cheek. One of the very first slaves to join us after we escaped from the ludus. “I see you, Aventianus! What hope have the Romans today, d’you think?”
Aventianus grinned. “Not a snowflake’s chance in Hades, sir.”
“That’s what I want to hear.” Spartacus had long since given up telling his men not to address him so. It made no difference. He scanned the faces of those nearest him. “Is Aventianus right, lads? Or will Gellius chase us home with our tails between our legs?”
“We have no homes!” roared Pulcher, Spartacus’ main armorer and one of his senior officers. A burst of ribald laughter met his comment. He waited until the noise died down. “But we have something far better than roofs over our heads. Something that no one can ever take away. Our freedom!”
“Free-dom! Free-dom! Free-dom!” the men yelled, stamping their feet and hammering their weapons off their shields again. It made a deafening, stirring rhythm. The clamor began to spread through Spartacus’ host. Most soldiers were too far away to know the reason for the uproar, but they didn’t care. Soon the din made speech impossible. “Free-dom! Free-dom! Free-dom!”
Relishing the cries of nearly fifty thousand men, and the fact that he was their leader, Spartacus encouraged them with great waves of his arms. The uproar would raise their morale even higher, and create unease in plenty of Roman bellies. He did not doubt that it would send a tickle of fear up the skin of Gellius’ wrinkled back. The consul was sixty-two years old, and reportedly had little experience of war.
“We’ll smash the bastards into little pieces,” cried Pulcher when the cheering had abated. “The same way we sent Lentulus and his lot packing!” Right on cue, the men holding the pair of silver eagles raised their wooden poles aloft. More shouting erupted.
Spartacus raised his hands, and a hush fell. “There are two more of those to be had today!” He drew his sica, a wickedly curved Thracian sword, and stabbed it at the places in Gellius’ forces where bright sunlight flashed off his legions’ metal standards. “Who wants to help me take them? Who wants the glory of saying that he took a Roman eagle in battle and, by doing so, shamed an entire legion?”
“Me!” roared Aventianus and a multitude of other voices.
“Are you sure?”
“YESSS!” they bellowed at him.
“You’d better be. Look at that lot.” Spartacus swept his blade first to the left, and then to the right. On both fringes of his army, hundreds of men on shaggy mountain horses could be seen. “You’d better be sure,” he repeated. “If we’re not careful, the cavalry might get there before us.” Part of Spartacus longed to be with them. He had been a cavalryman from the age of sixteen; he had also helped to train the horsemen, but he knew that his presence in the center of his host was vital. If his foot soldiers broke, complete defeat beckoned. Although his riders’ task was huge, they outnumbered the Roman horse at least four to one. Even if—by some misfortune—they failed to rout the enemy cavalry, his infantry could still win the battle. “Are you going to let that happen?”
“Never!” roared Pulcher, the veins standing out in his neck.
“Not if I have anything to do with it!” shouted Aventianus, jabbing his pilum back and forth.
“And me!” Carbo, who was Roman, was still surprised by the passion he felt when the Thracian spoke. About a year before, he had entered the gladiator school in Capua in a madcap attempt to pay off his family’s huge debts. In his desperation, he’d first tried to join the army, but had been turned down due to his youth. To Carbo’s surprise, he’d been accepted by the lanista as an auctoratus, a citizen who contracted to fight as a gladiator, but only after his courage had been tested by fighting Spartacus in a contest with wooden weapons.
Life in the ludus had been unbelievably tough, and not just because of the training. One man alone, especially a rookie, had little hope of surviving on his own. If Spartacus hadn’t taken him under his wing, Carbo’s career in the ludus would have been short indeed. When the chance came to escape soon afterward, he had followed his protector. Subsequently given the unthinkable choice between leaving the motley group of slaves and gladiators or staying to fight his own countrymen, Carbo had opted for the latter. He hadn’t known what else to do.
In the ensuing months, Spartacus’ actions had earned Carbo’s loyalty—and even love. The Thracian looked out for him. Cared for him. That was more than his own people had been prepared to do. This bitter pill had made it easier to fight against his own kind, but deep down, Carbo still felt some guilt at doing so. He regarded Gellius’ lines with a clenched jaw. It’s just another army to be swept aside, he told himself. Beyond them lie the Alps. Spartacus’ plan was to lead them over the mountains, away from the Republic’s influence. There any enemies they encountered would be foreign to him. And, if he had to admit it, easier to kill.
Before that, they had Gellius to defeat. He thought of Crassus, the man who had ruined his family and shattered his life. Hate surged through Carbo, made all the stronger by the knowledge that he’d never be revenged on the richest man in Rome. Instead he tried imagining that all the men opposite were related to the crafty politician. It helped.
His gaze was drawn back to the compact figure of Spartacus, clad in a polished mail shirt, gilded baldric and magnificent Phrygian helmet. To Carbo’s surprise, the Thracian’s piercing gray eyes caught his. Spartacus gave him a tiny nod, as if to say, “I’m glad that you’re here.” Carbo’s shoulders went back. I’ll do what I have to today.
Spartacus was making an appraisal of hi

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