A warm spring wind blew in off the Spanish plain. Titus Labienus’s horse pawed the ground as he watched Caesar’s legions approaching. The armour and helmets gleamed in the sunlight. Tall shields formed a wall in front of them.
“This is it,” said Gnaeus Pompeius, sat on the horse next to him. Both men wore the armour and tunic worthy of a commander in the legions of Rome. “The last chance for the republic.”
“The last chance for your father’s legacy,” Titus said, resting his hand on the shoulder of the younger man. “Fight well.”
“I will,” Gnaeus said. “Whatever happens, I thank you for your guidance through these years.”
“No need to get maudlin,” Titus said. “We have greater numbers. We have the better position.”
“But he is Julius Caesar,” Gnaeus said. “What else has ever mattered in four long years?”
Putting his heels to his horse’s flanks, he rode off to take his position commanding the centre of the army. Titus stayed where he was, the cavalry behind him ready for action.
At last the moment came. Two lines of men bearing the same armour, the same weapons, some even from the same clans. At the same moment, a cloud of javelins was flung from each side. Then there was a roar and a crash as the lines met.
For hours the fighting went on. Caesar’s legions fought with the determination of men who knew that this could end the war and see them return home. Titus and his brothers in arms fought with desperation, knowing that if they lost there could be no safe surrender and reconciliation. They had burned that bridge long ago. It was victory or death, in battle or from an executioner’s blade.
Sweat soaked his tunic as he galloped up and down the line, leading his men to plug gaps, fend off advances, and guard the flanks. Blood stained their blades and soaked the dirt. As the sun reached its zenith they were already exhausted, men flagging and horses foaming at the mouth.
He paused at the top of the hill, looking at the fight below. It was still a close thing. Caesar himself was leading the fight near the centre. Victory was possible, but far from certain.
Turning his gaze briefly back toward the town of Munda, Titus saw a sight that filled him with dread.
Enemy cavalry galloping up the road toward them.
No-one else would have seen them yet. He had to act quickly before his side were attacked in the rear.
“All of you,” he bellowed, signaling to the cavalry commanders. “Quick, onto the road to town!”
The order was passed from unit to unit. Soon thousands of cavalry were streaming away from the main lines, racing to intercept the attackers.
As the horsemen peeled away from the flanks, legionaries turned their heads, looking on in confusion and then fear as they struggled to fill the gaps.
“The cavalry are fleeing!” someone shouted.
“We’ve lost!” another voice cried out.
Dozens more were shouting similar things up and down the line.
“No!” Titus shouted, struggling to be heard above the noise of battle and cries of panic. “There are enemies to the rear. We had to-”
It was too late. Panic was spreading, men turning and running back up the hill, away from the only enemies they could see. A whole side of the line collapsed and Caesar’s troops advanced, hacking down those who ran too slowly, pressing against those who remained.
Titus stared in horror. It was too late to turn his men around. Even if he could, the enemy cavalry were still coming. The army was collapsing before his eyes.
The last hope for the republic.
The last of Pompey’s legacy.
The last remnant of what he had spent four years fighting for.
There had been two ways this could go – victory or death. Now only one remained, and the question was how he would face it.
Drawing his sword, Titus Labienus set his heels to his horse’s flanks. He galloped down the hill and into his last battle.
* * *
So here he is one last time, Titus Labienus. If you missed my previous stories about this real figure from Roman history, you can find them here:
Titus really did last to the final act of Caesar’s civil war, leading Pompeian forces in Spain and dying in battle at Munda. Having researched him for some of my non-fiction work, I’ve found that he really is a great symbol of the changes Rome was going through and the mixed motives of the participants. More on that to come in other venues…
If you’d like to read more military adventure set in ancient Rome then try Ocean Gods, Roman Blades, my historical fantasy novella.It’s only 99c on the Kindle for a thrilling story of high seas adventure and divine magic.