The wind began to pick up again, howling through the mountains and along the narrow pass, driving yet more snow before it. It was loud, almost enough to drown out the deafening sound of the war elephants’ discomfort. The leading beast reared up, bellowing such a trumpet as no man present had heard outside of battle, and all of them began to panic while their handlers tried to calm them down. With a mournful cry one of them lost its footing and tumbled down the mountainside, disappearing into the billowing snow.
“He is mad.”
Salicar tore his gaze from the ravine. It was a dangerous thing to say out loud, though many of the men had been thinking it. They had been winding their way through the Alps for days now and nobody really knew how much further there was to go, nor how many men they had already lost. It was Admago who had spoken, Salicar knew he had to shut this down before grumbling turned into mutiny.
“Who’s mad, Admago?”
He didn’t look up from the snow at his feet, from Salicar’s angle he looked like a mass of furs with a shield slung over it. Almost literally sheepish. He began to breath a sigh of relief, his breath misting in front of him, but then Admago looked up, looked him right in the eye. He’d had enough.
“You bloody well know who, sir. He’s thrown in with Mot and now he’s leading us all to our deaths while Baal hurls fresh suffering down from the sky. We’re all going to die here, sir, and even if we make it there won’t be enough of us left to fight the bastard Romans.”
This was bad, there were too many nodding heads around Admago. The men had been suffering this climb for a week and even reaching the base of the mountains had seen them fight off Gauls allied to Rome and insane mountain tribes. An avalanche had torn its way through a thousand good warriors. The cold was unbearable, the few allies they had found had sold them furs for the crossing but that was only doing so much good. Not to mention they had spent years, some of them almost a decade, conquering the entirety of Hispania. If Salicar never had to see another blood drenched, screaming Iberian charging at him again it would be too soon. It didn’t matter though, Rome had to be punished, they had all sworn an oath and they needed to be reminded.
“He’s not mad, they’ll never see us coming. All their best men are off fighting our boys elsewhere, can you imagine the booty? Not to mention we still owe the buggers a drubbing for last time, remember? Have you any idea how much tribute we have to give them every… oh, for the love of Tanit, won’t this wind ever BLOODY STOP?”
It had picked up again, that biting wind hammering at them all. The cold was bad enough but the wind, drying out eyes and mouths and carrying snow that caught up in beards and furs, was unbearable. The beasts trumpeted their displeasure into the sky. Admago started to shout back at him.
“He is mad! Barking mad! Crossing these mountains in winter’s impossible, we’ve been talking with the local lads and they all say the same thing, the only reason they’ve come along is because they want to see us make the effort! The cold’s going to kill us, or the ground’s going to give way, and we all saw Gisgo fall to his death yesterday and even if we make it we’re going to have to fight some more and I can’t even really work out why! What’s the point? We’ve conquered the whole of Hispania already, isn’t that… enough…”
Admago trailed off, distracted by something behind him, but Salicar didn’t notice. He was furious, these were warriors and they were whining like petulant children. He bared his teeth and put his hand on the hilt of his sword.
“Shut your mouth” he hissed, but Admago wasn’t looking at him any more. Salicar spun on his heel, his jaw dropped. The general himself was standing behind him.
“Do you remember when Hamilcar led you?”
The question had caught them all off guard, Admago opened his mouth a couple of times but said nothing, afraid of where it might lead. Salicar just stared.
“He was my father. But you knew that.”
A smile played across his face, predatory.
“He never lost against Rome. He fought but he never lost. And the old men of the senate back in Carthage just sent him on his way. They couldn’t pay him, you see, the Romans bankrupted the city with their demands for tribute after we lost the last war.”
The wind was dying down and the man had all stopped, the whole army, standing still on the freezing mountain side.
“He made me spill my blood on the altar of Baal Hammon when I was just a boy, made me swear on oath to never be a friend to Rome. He hated them. It wasn’t just because we had lost the war, or that he’d fought them and won but still come off worse, it was because he knew them for the jackals they are.”
He turned his back, fine furs wafting around him, looking across at the army he had inspired to attempt this madness.
“They are a hungry city. A greedy city. Carthage, for all its faults, just wants to trade. We need people who aren’t us. We need tribes and nations to keep the coin flowing. Rome, though, Rome wants the world to be Rome. They want to bleed them all white. For all our faults, for all the backsliding and corruption of our senate, we do not worship war. They have to be stopped.”
Admago couldn’t seem to find his tongue, the general turned back to face him and the gathering crowd.
“They have to be stopped. They have to be put down like the rabid, blood hungry dogs they are or they will burn Carthage to the ground. This is the only way in to Italy, in the south there are Greek cities who will help us, Sicily is still loyal to us. We will suffer and we will die in this crossing and we will repay them for our lost blood. We will tear down their city walls, we will crush their legions, we will loot their wealth and our names shall live forever. Look at us! Thousands of men and beasts making this crossing! They will never see us coming. They will never forget us.”
A quiet cheer began to rise along with the wind.
“Who do we fight for?”
The reply, hesitant but loud, echoed through the valley.
“Who do you fight for?”
The reply, clear and fierce, rose with the wind.
His smile flashed again, like a predator, battered by the snow.
It took Hannibal’s men 16 days to cross the Alps in winter. The conditions were appalling, the men were mostly from Iberia and North Africa,they had a large number of elephants with them and they had been marching for almost five months before they started ascending the mountains. Thousands died in the crossing, most of the elephants didn’t make it, the less experienced and committed men were dismissed before they even began and the rest had to fight through Rome’s allies most of the way there. Hannibal was cruel, as were all the rulers of the time, his men carted off thousands into slavery, it is possible (though disputed) that the native religion of Carthage involved mass child sacrifice by burning… and despite all that there is something extraordinary about Hannibal’s march across the Alps and the courage of these long dead men.