SHORT STORIES AND NOVELS

03 April 2015

Zama

Tullius heard the noise of the galloping hooves at the last moment and turned at the moment when a horseman jumped out of the nearby dune. He was a Carthaginian. The rider stumbled and took out his sword and attacked the Roman immediately. Tullius jumped aside, cursed the loss of his horse, took out his spatha[1] and raised the oval shield. Pressed, he had no big chances against his enemy. He had to pull him down of the saddle. At the next attack, Tullius went down the horse itself and hit its snout with the shield. The surprised animal jumped aside, harshly stood on his back legs and the Carthaginian meltdown the ground in a cloud of ash sand. That was the perfect moment for the Roman but the smashing heat and his big tiredness said their word and he missed the instant to astound his enemy.
The horse had raced about twenty meters aside and then both of them were face to face. They were chasing each other behind the shields. The desert sun was heating the Roman’s helmet, his sandals were sinking into the soft sand, strong haze was blurring everything in front of his eyes, and some drops of sweat were pouring down his eyes. Tullius wiped them with a harsh movement and again held position.
Thoughts about that he would not be able to go back to the camp and worn his people were rolling into his head. And it was important! Hannibal had gotten reinforcement and his soldiery exceeded with about twenty thousand of people the Roman one. That fact, along with the war elephants he was about to use, gave him a big advantage.
He again remembered about the ridiculous accident that had left him without a horse: the animal had tripped over not a big sand pit and had broken its leg and there was more than a day of riding till the camp. He had to reach there by all means and to move faster. Tullius had given up the bigger part of his accoutrements and provisions but he advanced slowly. He had slipped the bellows of water over his shoulder and taken only the long sward and the big shield, provided for hits at the height of the saddle but they did not give him an advantage in the close handgrip. That would probably cost him his life but the thought he had fallen still at the first mission as a tracker was surging in his mind.
He was wondering what the Carthaginian was waiting for. He could overwhelm him with ease: the Roman was at the edge of his power, moving slowly and lamely. His enemy could see that but did not attack. Tullius gazed at him and noticed that his movements were also heavy. He made a step, a second one, rushed at him, their shields collided into each other with a muffled rumbling, the blades rang and the hit was weaned. A scuffled followed – the hits were running down but they did not cause damages. The thought that if he won, he would not only save his life but would gain horse too gave some power to Tullius. However his enemy did not give up although he was not able to prevail.
He did not how much time had passed. Their battle had continued for a long time, with short pauses which both of them gifted to each other with no words to restore their power but that time they were at the edge. Tullius was leaning on his big shield more than wearing it. The Carthaginian before him was also staggering. They wore the swords down. The heat was unbearable. They were watching each other. The Roman made a few steps back, put the bellows cautiously and took a few sips of hot, insipid, rewarding water. The Carthaginian kept watching him without moving. “A cursed land! It was far much better in Carthage, nearby the sea!” – Tullius was thinking but the campaign had led them to the South, to the draught, to the desert where Zama – the last bigger city under Hannibal’s ruling – was.
Suddenly he flinched. The Carthaginian dragged his feet to the horse that was sniffing the sand and the dry weeds down-in-the-mouth, keeping an eye on him. He had to stop him, he was lost without the horse, he did not have let him go. He raised his shield, clutched the handle of the sword and rushed forward cumbersome when, in his surprise, the Carthaginian raised his arm and pointed at him with his finger. The Roman stopped in a wonder – his enemy made a gesture as if he was drinking and at the next moment patted the back of the horse twice.
He did not understand what he was supposed to do but the Carthaginian repeated the gestures. Tullius made a step ahead, looked at the horse more carefully and saw the empty bellows which was hanging down the saddle. Suddenly he realized the meaning – the Carthaginian could not survive without water but was decisive to defend the horse and Tullius was lost without a horse. He tottered. The heat was incinerating him. He was wondering what to do but nothing came into his mind. Obviously their powers were equal and even if the fight continued it was not clear who would prevail. On the other hand, he had to reach the camp at any cost as well as the enemy his. He had no choice.
The Roman winked, approached carefully, raised his bellows and stretched it slowly. The dirty palm of the Carthaginian gripped the neck of the bellows, touched his sweat hand and Tullius loosened his fingers after a while of hesitation. The Carthaginian started pouring the contain in his throat devouringly holding the sword with his right hand and not losing sight of the Roman. When his enemy stopped drinking, Tullius sat up. He did know what the other one was about to do. He squeezed the handle of the sword harder while their eyes kept gazing at each other but the Carthaginian gave the bellows back. The tiredness was on their faces, the blades in their hands were hanging down the ground. The stranger slowly put the sword in his scabbard without letting the handle down watching the movements of the Roman. Tullius also took his sword back and the Carthaginian nodded, patting the horse.
Both of them had been riding for hours. The Carthaginian was leading the animal and Tullius who had already known the locality well enough knew they were going to the plane where the both armies would go into a battle. The hours were going by. The horse was hardly crawling and the Roman had lost hope that he would reach on time to give his information although they had been riding all the day and night. They met the sunrise in that way – a weird view of a legionary in a cuirass and a hermit in leather armor, riding one behind another on a half-dead horse among the sandy desert.
At about noon a far noise that became stronger and stronger growing to quiet reverberation reached their ears and when they climbed up a big eminence, the rumble of the starting battle hit them. Tullius was terrified. Aghast, he was looking at the chased into a trot dozens of martial elephants trained to cram, the bracelets with terrifying spikes on their feet, stepping against Scipio’s phalanx. He nearly cried when the centuries regrouped immediately forming corridors through which the monsters passed inflicting minimal damages. Some of the elephants had been slaughtered with the long pikes, others got frightened by the ensuing mess, rushed back and cannoned into Hannibal’s ranks. The cavalries mixed together on the far side, the first ranks clashed shields… it was not clear what the outcome would be hoping his failure not to bring doom to his people. The stranger by his side was watching tensely the mess of people, horses, vexillum[2].
Tullius could not stay anymore; he had to be down. He moved and the both strangers looked at each other – the one of them with a shield with red and black feathers and the other one with a weird leather headwear – tired, sweaty and dusty. They both could and had nothing to say to each other.
The Roman stretched his hand, the Carthaginian nodded as an answer and they separated. Rome and Carthage were holding the last battle near Zama under them.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Translated by: Vessislava Savova.


[1] Spatha – long, Roman cavalry sword, longer than the infantry gladius.
[2] Vexilluma military standard or flag carried by ancient Roman troops.

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2 comments:

novel said...

Interesting!It got my attention!Good Job!

Филип Данчев said...

Thank you. It's the beginning. Stay tuned, there will be more stories. :)