PASSAGE: 218 BC
Trago mounted a small rise in
the valley floor and scanned the riverbed and surrounding slopes,
studying the topography. His troops came up behind him. They too
strained to take in every bend in the stream, every change in slope,
looking for three scouts who formed the vanguard of their reconnaissance
squadron. Trago looked at his men and could see fear in their eyes,
fear from the unexplained absence of his scouts and fear of the
high peaks, which rose up to meet Baal, the great Carthaginian God.
Trago took one last wide look at the valley. He was
about to motion his men forward when he caught a reflection from
the slopes to the north, a brief streak of light brought about by
the slow rise of the sun on metal. Trago motioned his men to advance
cautiously and took the lead, guiding his horse along a terrace
in the direction of the reflection. A clear form took shape, a body
lying ahead with a javelin clear through the torso.
Looking about this unfamiliar terrain, Trago spurred
his mount forward in unison with the rest of his men. Dismounting,
he could see Vero, one of his ablest scouts dead, pierced through
with a Gallic spear. Not wishing to be surprised by the Gauls he
motioned his men to spread out in a defensive perimeter. He said
nothing, eye contact being sufficient for his men to know what to
do. He led his horse to a stand of trees where he tethered the animal
to a tall pine. His dark eyes grew hard and steely, sunken in a
deeply tanned face, his skin stretched tightly over narrow cheekbones.
He had a hard face, one few men would dare affront, which contrasted
with a calmness borne of self-assurance. He scanned the surrounding
hills looking for an enemy that had faded into the wilds and noted
his men were now well positioned to ward off any attack.
Vero, a competent battle-hardened veteran of Hannibal’s
army, was a man not easily tricked. Yet, he had been ambushed, and
the two men with him likely taken prisoner by these wily Gauls,
who had shadowed his party for days.
Hannibal had been right, Trago thought. These mountain
people, like their lowland cousins, would prove tricky, even deceitful
in their dealings with foreigners. Like the Celtic lowlanders and
their Celtiberian relatives to the south, one had to watch them
for they lived only to plunder and rob.
Behind him a young cavalryman, Trago’s courier
and bodyguard, eased out of the trees wearing an oiled deerskin
jacket and pants. Watching Trago stare at his fallen comrade for
what seemed like a minute, the young soldier turned to scan, the
surrounding hills for sign of the enemy and trouble. Sensing none,
the soldier voiced his concern.
“Most probably. We’ll soon find
The bodyguard watched Trago’s face slowly harden,
his sunburned creased skin folding into alternating lines deepened
by light to dark tonal contrasts. He had seen his general deep in
thought before but never with a countenance that seemed to indicate
he was fighting to control his rage. Vero was Trago’s ‘right
hand’ countless times, on missions involved with training
or reconnaissance deep in enemy territory. And now he had been ambushed
while leading scouts ahead of the main party.
Revenge will likely top the agenda now, he thought.
But to his amazement Trago seemed to fall into a momentary trance
slowly regaining his usual non-committal expression.
After watching the surrounding hills for sign of movement,
Trago sat down next to his fallen comrade and looked at him for
several minutes. He loosened the javelin in Vero’s chest.
And pulled it free. While his courier listened, Trago talked to
his fallen companion, more or less as if he were still alive, recounting
many experiences they had shared over the years. Abruptly, Trago
rose and pulled his sword, saluted his fallen companion and thrust
the weapon deep into the soil.
“You’ll be avenged, my friend as
soon as we find your comrades.”
The cavalrymen gathered round Trago and Vero and
gazed across the rolling hills where the serpentine river stretched
ever upwards, reaching toward the divide that separated waters flowing
into Italia from southern Gaul.
Staring at Vero’s corpse, Trago suddenly sensed
movement in the grass and noticed a marmot. The animal was standing
erect, every bit at attention, watching him and his men. He watched
the marmot for what seemed a long time and noticed his men had turned
to watch the animal.
Finally, cocking his head, Trago thought, what are
you doing up here?
The marmot cocked his head as if to ask the same question
and scampered away, weaving and dodging around tufts of tall grass.
Trago watched as the furry creature disappeared into a hole. He
smiled and looked again at his fallen comrade. He would bury Vero
near the marmot hole in the same terrace where the marmot lived.
Wild animals held a special place in the pantheon of life and even
Carthaginian priests would not offer them up for sacrifice, preferring
humans instead. The marmot would guard Vero and guide him to the
The courier didn’t say anything and Trago didn’t
wait. He picked Vero’s still warm body up in his arms and
carried him along the terrace to a place where beds of coarse sand
and gravel would make it easier to dig a grave. Using his knife,
he whittled a crude shovel out of a tree branch. Rather satisfied
with his tool making, he looked at his fallen trooper with somber
eyes. Vero lay face up on the flat expanse of ground, still neatly
dressed in his cuirass, his scabbard empty, eyes wide open. The
Gauls had taken his sword and dagger as spoils of battle and without
doubt Vero saw the lance coming that would kill him. He may have
taken it to shield his men. Such was the way in which Carthaginian
soldiers protected one another.
Without proper tools, a grave could only be dug with
crudely fashioned sticks and by hand, with the aid of a short sword
and crude shovel that Trago had whittled from a fallen branch. It
took a couple of hours to dig a shallow grave and perform a short
service allowing Vero entrance into the afterlife. In Numidia he
would have been buried in the crest of a massive dune to reflect
his station in life and to assist his passage to meet his ancestors.
Trago only hoped Baal would speed his journey to the outer world,
a place where they were all destined to reside for eternity. Soon,
his scouts returned and reported finding tracks, which led along
the high ridges to the south. Reading the trail they realized the
two missing men had been taken prisoner and dragged through the
Not wishing to leave their comrades to a horrible
fate, Trago led his men up-valley intending to catch the fleeing
Gauls. Following spoor deliberately left behind by the captive Carthaginians,
Trago and his troopers tracked the Gauls and captive troopers higher
into the tundra. They entered a world unlike any they had seen before,
complete with short, gnarled pines, abundant herbs and wild flowers.
In a short time the Carthaginian scouts dismounted
within sight of a small Gallic encampment, a seasonal habitation
used by shepherds and hunters. Taking stock of the situation they
could see their two scouts tied to posts in the center of the camp.
The men were being prodded and whipped as the Gauls tormented them,
a long process that most certainly would end in their deaths. In
the center of the Gallic camp three wolves roamed a small cage,
snarling and whining, most likely sensing the coming slaughter.
As Trago watched the scene unfolding he wondered if
the Gauls intended on feeding the dying Carthaginians to the caged
animals. Whatever the Gauls had in mind he had no intention of leaving
his men alive to face an ignominious death of slow torture.
Thirty-five Carthaginians, even battle tested troops,
could not rush and take this hamlet no matter what tactical surprise
was in their favor. Trago motioned to his best archers and indicated
they would kill the two scouts rather than leave them to a slow
death by torture. At his signal the group mounted and rode along
the crest of the ridge, distracting the Gauls below, causing them
to stand bewildered at the sudden appearance of foreigners.
All the Carthaginians let loose a fusillade of arrows;
the two best archers killing their comrades instantly, while the
others scattered the Gallic warriors, wounding and killing some
in the process.
Trago quickly ordered a fallback out the same way
they had come in. He had seen enough and it was time to beat a hasty
retreat to Iberia to report to Hannibal. The invasion route to Italia
would not be easy but it could be done. It should be done to bring
the thieving Romans to heel and allow Carthage to assume its rightful
place in the Mediterranean. The Gauls, however, were another matter
and their presence would require a change in tactical planning to
effect passage into northern Italia.