Titus’s Battle – a flash historical story

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.

Titus’s War – a historical flash story

Picture by Gemma Amor via Flickr Creative Commons
Picture by Gemma Amor via Flickr Creative Commons

Legionaries marched along the dusty hillside road, spears and shields in hand, the studs of their sandals clattering on the stones. As they passed Titus Labienus, sitting astride his horse with his senior officers, they looked at their general with pride. Titus returned that look, even as he discussed their next move.
“Caesar has troops in the next valley over,” said Cnaeus, the cavalry commander. “If we can catch them by surprise-”

“We won’t surprise Caesar,” Titus said. He knew his former friend and commander too well to ever believe that. “But if we can attack from the heights then we may have a chance.”

His officers galloped off to pass the orders along, as Titus set his heels to his horse’s flanks and joined his men on the march.


Not all defeats were disasters. Titus pulled his men back before they were fully surrounded. Most of them made it back out of the valley.

Though their losses were far fewer than he had feared, it was a broken army that set up camp that night. Titus could readily understand their feelings. Soldiers of Rome were not used to defeat. They were even less used to fighting their comrades in arms. Until today, “civil War” had just been a phrase they muttered darkly. Now it was something they had experienced, a bitter struggle against men who wore the same uniforms as them, who they had once fought alongside. Win or lose, that was a gruelling thing.

“Up!” Titus snapped at a group of men sat by what would be the gateway into their overnight camp. “You know your orders – dig the ditch then pitch your tents. Rest comes later.”

Reluctantly, the men reached for their picks and shovels. The pride with which they had marched hours before was replaced by a weary resentment. He needed to say something to bolster their spirits, but what?

“General.” Cnaeus strode over, cloak flapping behind him. “Come quickly.”

With relief rather than disappointment, Titus abandoned thoughts of raising morale and followed Cnaeus across the camp.

“What is it?” he asked.

“Some men tried to desert,” Cnaeus replied. “My outriders caught them on the way down the valley.”

A dozen men stood at the edge of camp, watched over by a cavalry troop. They had abandoned their armour and weapons, but their belted tunics marked them out as legionaries.

“You men were leaving?” Titus asked.

“You left Caesar,” one of them replied, his arms folded across his chest, expression defiant. His accent was that of Rome’s southern farmlands.

“I chose to fight for the senate and the good of Rome,” Titus replied. “That is not the same as desertion in the face of the enemy.”

He turned to Cnaeus and his men.

“Execute them,” he said. “We can’t have this spreading.”

The cavalrymen shifted uncomfortably in their saddles. More Romans killing Romans. More divisions in the army. More blood for politics. There was hesitation in their faces.

“You hypocritical bastard,” the southern soldier snarled. “You aristocrats get to decide what to fight for. You get to give up on your duty when it serves you. But if we start thinking for ourselves we get killed.”

“I gave you a choice before,” Titus said, setting his hand on the pommel of his sword. “You could have left me at the start of all this.”

“I still want that choice,” the man replied. “If you give up, no-one’s going to execute you. Why should it be different for me?”

The cavalrymen glanced at each other, looking even more uncertain. One of them started to back his horse away.

Titus thought of all the arguments he could use. About patriotism and the public good. About choosing paths. About discipline and the military life. About what soldiers were paid to accept.

If words could decide these things, there would be no war.

Drawing his sword, Titus stepped forward and ran the man through. With his last breath, the soldier gasped in surprise. Then he fell, blood pouring across Titus’s sandals.

“I don’t ask you to do anything I won’t,” Titus said, looking again at the cavalrymen. “I don’t ask you to take any risks I won’t. But the legion stands together or it falls to pieces, even now.

“Execute them.”

The cavalrymen swung from their saddles, drew their swords and closed in on the deserters.


Legionaries marched along the dusty hillside road, spears and shields in hand, the studs of their sandals clattering on the stones. The uncertainties of the night before were gone. Discipline had returned and they marched with determination.

As they passed Titus Labienus, sitting astride his horse with his senior officers, they kept their eyes on the road.

Sadness weighed on Titus’s heart at the change in his men. But he had done what was needed. Setting his heels to his horse, he joined the column, marching on to the next battle.

* * *


This return to the story of Titus Labienus comes courtesy of Steve, who asked for more after previous Friday story “Titus’s Choice“.

If you’d like to receive more stories like this direct to your inbox every Friday, along with a free copy of one of my books, then please sign up for my mailing list. And if you’d like to read a more fantastical take on the Roman army, check out Ocean Gods, Roman Blades, my novella of divine magical and one legionary’s struggle to master himself in the face of death.