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Chapter 839: The Roman Soldiers Choice
Naturally, this deeply unsettled many plebeian soldiers who remained loyal to Rome. As a result, the antagonism and suspicion between the Roman n.o.bles and plebeians in the camp grew even stronger. Maecilius and the other loyal individuals also began to waver, but the ongoing battles prevented them from finding the opportunity to reflect on the future.
This morning, the Roman generals, unwilling to give up, dispatched several centuriae to search the city of Ostia, hoping to discover something.
Maecilius and the centuria to which he belongs were a.s.signed to the port.
Maecilius had gone to the port of Ostia many times in the past, but the sight of boats and people crowding the port no longer exists. Now, those crude houses and warehouses built on top of each other had been reduced to piles of burnt ruins, with black smoke rising everywhere and people crying about the tragic ending that this port suffered last night.
Sadness filled Maecilius as he looked at all of this, making him think of Rome, Veii, and himself…
“Captain, Lord Dictator told us before that we can force the Theonians to negotiate with us and regain the city of Rome as long as we can recapture Ostia… Now that we have recaptured Ostia, can we really negotiate with the Theonians?” The soldier beside him asked doubtfully.
Unfortunately, Maecilius couldn't answer him: The soldiers are not fools. With the two sides fighting fiercely these days, they suffered heavy casualties. If they were to follow their habits in their previous war, after gaining an advantage, they would definitely conquer their opponent and make them unable to confront Rome anymore. So, would the equally powerful Kingdom of Theonia easily let Rome go?
“What does it have to do with us whether the Theonians call for a truce? I have had enough of this endless fighting, and while Jupiter still protects me, I will get out of here and go back to Veii!” Another soldier said loudly.
Marcellus looked at him and said, “As long as the Theonians continue occupying Rome, Veii remains in danger as it isn't far from Rome. And we are fighting here for our own sake, and look at this place-” Maecilius said worriedly, pointing to the ruined port of Ostia, “We must not allow Veii to become like this!”
As soon as Maecilius spoke, everyone suddenly stopped talking and looked up to the northeast with worried expressions.
After a while, the soldier who had spoken before murmured, “Why don't we join Theonia? Not only can we safeguard Veii but also gain wealth…”
The other soldiers didn’t say anything; even Maecilius didn't scold him. Instead, they began looking at each other with a somewhat odd expression.
Suddenly, someone in front shouted, “Look! There's a boat coming!”
After entering the city of Ostia in the morning, the soldiers could see nothing but ruins, so many were curious about the boat and rushed towards the port's breakwater.
They saw the boat coming far from the north coast and headed towards the estuary of the Tiber. It first approached the north bank, then as if they saw the numerous Roman soldiers in the port, turned around and headed straight towards the port.
“Could that boat belong to the Etruscans?” Since the Tiber River's estuary spans over two hundred metres in width and with the morning mist shrouding its surface, numerous soldiers could only speculate since their vision is limited. Thus, they could only rely on judging based on where the boat had come from. Naturally, they also hold onto the hope that this was indeed the situation.
But soon, the soldiers became agitated and picked up their weapons after they saw the bident drawn on the sail.
This sailboat stopped and turned to the side when it was more than thirty metres from the breakwater, with several people aboard shouting something in Latin.
Since the squad led by Maecilius failed to squeeze towards the breakwater, they naturally couldn't hear what the men on the boat were shouting. However, they soon saw a commotion among the soldiers in front of them, followed by a loud discussion that went straight to their eardrums, “It can't be! They must be lying! There's no way for Caisra to also fall in the hands of the Theonians!”
“You are right! It's difficult to capture Caista built atop the hills! Moreover, Theonia's main force was fighting against us here, so how could they have enough troops to attack Caisra?! They are definitely lying!”
“The Theonians could even capture the large city of Rome in just one day, which already indicates their frightening ability to capture a city! Could Caisra be even more difficult to capture than Rome?! Moreover, as you can see, this boat had come from the north!”
“So what?! The cunning Theonians had likely used this boat to go around to deceive us!”
“Hey, you're solely focusing on Caisra! Didn’t you hear those people also claimed to have seized Veii? We worked hard for ten years to conquer Veii, so how could the Theonians have accomplished it so quickly? They're undoubtedly trying to deceive us!”
“If both Caisra and Veii have fallen, then our Sutrium is in danger! Regardless of whether they're deceiving us, I must return immediately to see the situation!”
“I'll go with you!”
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
With the Roman army suffering ma.s.sive casualties in the last few days of the siege, Camillus had taken this opportunity to reorganise his army by including citizens from the colonies with citizens from Rome, allowing for a smoother command during battle. Therefore, a Roman centuria often had Roman citizens from various places.
Maecilius' squad were all citizens from Veii, so their faces immediately turned pale upon hearing these words.
“Captain, what should we do?!” The soldiers looked at Maecilius in panic.
Maecilius was equally worried. But despite also thinking the Theonians were deceiving them, he could not tell his men to ignore them and stay and continue fighting. After hesitating for a while, he began remembering the sight of his wife and children at home when he bid goodbye to join the army, so he finally decided to say, “We will also leave! Let's return to camp immediately, pick up our baggage, and return to Veii!”
“What if…what if the Theonians had indeed occupied Veii?!” A soldier asked with a trembling voice.
“We'll…just surrender…to the Theonians,” Maecilius could only squeeze those sentences out of his mouth, feeling pained.
But instead of speaking against that, the soldiers' expressions relaxed.
It wasn't only Maecilius' squad but also several of the soldiers clamoured to rush back to the camp immediately, and no amount of persuasion or threat from the centurion from the city of Rome could stop them.
The sailboat from earlier then sailed to the north, but instead of anchoring on the opposite bank, for the estuary was too shoal-like, it went forward again and sailed for a while before it stopped. Then dozens of boat pullers got down from the boat and tied their ropes to it, and while the sailors rowed their oars, the boat puller pulled the boat and marched up the Tiber.
Not long after, a boat came from the north one after another, turned into the estuary of the Tiber River and sailed along the north bank towards the city of Rome to the east.
The Roman soldiers, still at the port, witnessed this scene, leaving no room for doubt about what the Theonians had earlier claimed. They swiftly exited Ostia and rushed back to the camp, which had already descended into chaos.
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
Upon learning from the physician that his father had woken up, Lucius immediately opened the tent and entered.
Lucius saw Camillus lying on a kline, eyes wide open as he stared straight at the tent’s canopy, without any clue what his father was thinking.
Lucius walked lightly to the bed and asked concernedly, “Father, are you feeling better?!”
“Cough…I'm fine.” Camillus replied with a hoa.r.s.e and weak voice, then immediately asked, “Now…how's the situation at the camp?”
“Um…nothing…nothing major; the order inside the camp remained stable,” Lucius said half-heartedly.
Camillus turned his head, although his face was still somewhat pale, his eyes focused on him, “You are my son, you cannot hide anything from me…and I can hear the noise coming from outside even as I lie…here, so it is…evident that something big has happened…tell me everything, I can bear with it.”
“Father, the physician said you should pay more attention to your health so that you can recover! You don't need to worry too much since t.i.tus, Quintus, and Aurus temporarily handle all the military matters!…” Lucius said to relieve him.
“I am the dictator of Rome! As long as I am alive…I am responsible for all Roman citizens! When I die…I will have plenty of time to rest…cough…” Camillus struck his kline and exclaimed anxiously.
Seeing him cough repeatedly, Lucius hurriedly and panickedly said, “Father, take your time! There's no need for you to hurry! Father, take a breath and listen to me slowly…when we sent the few Roman centuriae to search the burnt city of Ostia this morning, the soldiers had instead believed the rumours spread by the Theonians on that boat about them capturing both the cities of Caisra and Veii-”
“They had captured Caisra and Veii?!” Camillus' eyes widened in amazement.
“Father, I already told you it's just a rumour! Caisra and Veii's walls are strong, and with its dangerous terrain and Theonia's main force fighting us, how could they possibly capture these two city-states so quickly?!” Lucius then anxiously said, “But those foolish soldiers believed it and had even spread the rumour throughout the entire military camp. As a result, not only the soldiers of Veii but also those of our other colonies on the north bank of the Tiber, such as Sutrium and Cosa, fled the camp, and even the Etruscan armies demanded that we allow them to leave!”
Camillus couldn't expect the situation to become worse upon waking up. In his anxiety, he failed to come up with any good solutions and started having a splitting headache. He then used the bed as support as he tried to get up but couldn't exert any strength.
“Quick!…call some soldiers to carry me out…out here…I'll try to persuade the soldiers!” Camillus became anxious and wanted to speak loudly, but his voice was weak.