[Gaius Valerius Verrens 06] - Scourge of Rome

[Gaius Valerius Verrens 06] - Scourge of Rome by Douglas Jackson

Book: [Gaius Valerius Verrens 06] - Scourge of Rome by Douglas Jackson Read Free Book Online
Authors: Douglas Jackson
Tags: Historical
knocking the man backwards in a spray of red mist.
    ‘Another we don’t have to worry about.’ The words were innocuous enough, but Tiberius Alexander’s tone questioned why the commander of Rome’s Army of the East was wasting time over one dead rebel among the hundreds scattered along the road from Gadara.
    ‘Placidus knows his business.’ Titus ignored one minor provocation among many.
    ‘So he should,’ the chief of staff said. ‘He and his Phrygian barbarians have been slaughtering these vermin for close on five years.’
    ‘Who commands the infantry?’
    ‘Longinus. He has a cohort of Spaniards and another of Gauls with orders to press hard and keep them moving. I’ve ordered the flanking cohorts to force march until they reach the river. Our scouts report that the waters are high and continue to rise.’ The olive features split into a savage grin. ‘Don’t worry, lord, they won’t escape. It’s like herding sheep.’
    Titus turned in the saddle to face the older man. It was difficult to conceal his resentment at his father’s imposition of the Alexandrian – could one be a former Jew? – with twice his own military experience, who understood Judaea and the Judaeans better than any Roman. He felt his anger growing. Mentor or wet nurse, it didn’t matter. He was old enough to make his own decisions. He had commanded legions and he could command an army. ‘I don’t want any mistakes, Tiberius.’ He saw the other man flinch at the hardening of his tone. ‘This is one of the last rebel forces of any strength outside Jerusalem. I can’t afford to have them causing trouble at my rear while we’re taking the city. I want them destroyed.’
    The sound of a trumpet alerted him and he urged his horse to the top of a mound beside the road. Alexander and the rest of his staff rode in his wake to share the vantage point.
    As always, auxiliary light infantry made up the van of the marching column – a cohort each of Thracian spearmen and archers, ready to deploy into a skirmish line at the first enemy contact. In the far distance, Titus could see the dust of the legion’s cavalry contingent, scouting the vulnerable flanks and the route ahead. In the wake of the auxiliaries came the camp prefect, responsible for march discipline and accompanied by junior tribunes who weren’t much good for anything but carrying messages. Behind them followed the signallers with their curved trumpets.
    Titus’s heart beat a little faster as the eagle came into sight – the eagle of the Fifteenth Apollinaris – the golden wings raised and beak open in a scream of defiance. The eagle was a legion’s pride and a legion’s soul, presented personally by the Emperor and every man was oath-sworn to protect it. It was borne by the
aquilifer
, a veteran of twenty years’ service, sweating in the heat beneath his leopard skin, the face a snarling mask over his helmet. Eight men accompanied him, the eagle’s personal guard, the
phalerae
that proclaimed their valour on their breasts. A legion could experience no greater shame than to lose its eagle. Titus reflected that in a way it was the loss of an eagle that had brought him to this place and to this command.
    The revolt, now in its fifth year, had been sparked by Flacus’s foolish decision to loot the temple at Jerusalem in revenge for attacks on Roman citizens. Judaeans led by the fanatical Zealots responded by butchering the small Roman garrison in the city before the insurrection spread across the country. The growing threat forced Cestius Gallus, Syria’s legate, to march on Judaea with the Twelfth Fulminata, a highly experienced unit which had fought with success against the Parthians under Corbulo. The campaign had begun well, but Gallus became convinced that the enemy forces were too strong to be defeated by a single legion and retreated towards the coast and reinforcements. Instead, the idiot had walked into a trap. The Twelfth was ambushed on the march,

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