I was doing some research recently into which historical fiction novels are recognized as being the best of all time – the books that every budding historical fiction author and reader should have read. Of course there is no definitive list – such a thing can and should only ever be a matter of opinion. I found lists on the Telegraph site, Publisher’s Weekly, and of course Goodreads has several reader-curated list- as well.
The most reference one however seemed to be a list published by the Guardian/Observer back in 2012. Here’s what they have:
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Romola by George Eliot
The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín
Pure by Andrew Miller
The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald
I, Claudius by Robert Graves
Property by Valerie Martin
The Regeneration Trilogy by Pat Barker
I have to confess that I have only read War and Peace, Wolf Hall, I, Claudius and the first of The Regeneration Trilogy – so no idea about the others. I think given that this is the Guardian its quite a literary fiction based list. I’d agree with these 4 titles that I know being on the list for sure, but I think for pure entertainment value I would have to add The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas well. But also what about Tale of Two Cities by Dickens?
What about you? What else should be on the list – please comment below – I’d love to hear what you think.
I think that I may have a problem as a writer. Hopefully not in the quality of what I do, but in the choice of one of the genres that I like to write in. I do write mostly historical or fantasy fiction, and quite often what I enjoy most is to write historical fantasy. However, I think there’s a problem with that.
The problem is that Historical Fantasy (note switch to capital letters – to provide some more gravitas) is a slippery genre to define. If you check out the listings at online retailers or on places like Goodreads – or reader discussions online – then you realise that Historical Fantasy means different things to different people – and don’t get me started on Wikipedia.
The issue is that my definition, I believe, doesn’t match with that of some others. For me Historical Fantasy should be a piece of fiction actually taking place in an historical setting. So for instance, for my Hell has its Demons story, the setting is Fourteenth Century England. I then add in fantastical elements – basically demons and magic in my story are real.
Yet it seems for other people – and for those genre listings on online retailers particularly – the genre is in fact anything that has a vague historical tinge to it. So you get books by Tad Williams, G R R Martin, Brent Weeks, Michael J Sullivan and Joe Abercrombrie all appearing. If you then look at the sub-genre of Medieval Fantasy – which I think I’m writing in, then you get pretty much the whole Epic Fantasy genre. I just can’t understand how those books muscle into my ghetto and claim historical/medieval definitions!
But another issue with the genre, even if you take a stricter view of it, is that it is a bit of a mash-up. There’s no Historical Fantasy section in traditional bookshops or libraries. There’s actually not that many well known authors/books in the genre. I would say a handful really still writing – Gabaldon, Novik. Susanna Clarke – who wrote what I would say is the defining book of recent Historical Fiction – doesn’t seem to be producing anything new at all, which is a great shame.
So in a sense I am writing in a genre without much of a real fan base. But hey, maybe that’s a good thing! I think there is a desire for this kind of fiction, and it would be great to see it better defined and promoted by the big retailers – kick out the second-world fantasy that includes armour and swords please!
“Raven Child” by Morgan Read Davidson is set during the time of Julius Caesar, and is about the migration of the great Helvetii tribe through the land that would one day be Switzerland—a migration that would bring them into conflict with the might of Rome’s legions.
You may know the story of the great migration of the Helvetii from the valley between the Jura Mountains and the great Lake Geneva. It is a story told around the hearth fire. “Do not covet the land of your neighbors,” the wise men proclaim. “Pride always collects its due,” the wise women warn, for the Helvetii boasted that they were the most valiant of warriors, favored above all by the thirty-three gods and goddesses. No matter that their crops suffered years of blight along the rocky slopes of that crystalline lake, or that they were forced to huddle along its shores by the ceaseless raids of the barbaric Germans. They were the children of Artio the Bear Goddess, and they would take what they deserved.
Many now spit at the mere mention of the Heveltii, doom of Gaul, for their march to the south rousted the eagle from its eerie, the terror that was Gaius Iulius Caesar. But in the downfall of that mighty tribe is nestled a tale of a boy with no name, a shifter the Helvetii called him, a sprite of the Horned One who snatches children who wander too far from their lodge. Fools they were, for as you will see, he could have been their savior.
He was no wood sprite, though he moved through the mountain forests like a furtive fox, a breath through the trees, having woven into his threadbare cloak ferns and twigs, moss and grass. To Old Maga, the German slave and maker of potions and salves, the boy was a kobold, with his twisted back that raised one shoulder, his tendency to appear out of the shadows in her hut, and his aptitude for discovering the most rare and hidden of herbs. It was while undertaking one of Old Maga’s missions for the deadly root of the Night Shade that the river of his life took a sudden and irreversible course.
The sun had reached its peak when he finally reached the small spring dripping through limestone. There in the deep glens of the forest was the hidden herb, and the shadows of the trees grew long as he painstakingly uncovered the earth over its roots, most desired by Old Maga. With his iron shard of a knife he trimmed the thin hair-like tendrils, enough to satisfy the cranky herb woman but not kill the plant. His frozen snake-spine hissed fire from being bent so long, and he stowed the wrapped roots deep in his satchel and made the torturous climb out of the moist basin.
It was as he was nearing the ancient shrine of Artio that he nearly stepped upon the fledgling crouched among the ferns. Its wing and tail feathers were newly sprung, dark harbingers of the raven it would soon become. The boy craned his rigid neck to peer up into the firs, searching for the fledgling’s parents that must be nearby, but no shadows flitted from branch to branch, no croaking auguries floated down from the canopy. He stooped, his knees popping, and stroked the charcoal down that covered the fledgling’s head and chest, and the bird clicked its beak, turning onto its back to reveal a leg twisted and deformed. A tingle rose up the boy’s neck and into his head, a shimmer like the silver leaves of a birch in the breeze. He lifted the fledgling and cradled it against his chest as he struggled to stand, his legs prickling with a thousand needles. Adjusting the satchel over his shoulder and pulling his forest cloak close about, he wound his way to the shrine of Artio and its roadside glade.
“What are you doing here, Toad?” The familiar screeching warble echoed through the trees, freezing the boy’s heart: Coros son of Orgetorix, and his ever-present companions. Too late to disappear like a wood sprite, the boy slipped the fledgling into his satchel and hunched his shoulders, for it was far safer to be Toad and suffer the bruises and insults that came with that guise than to raise his eyes and evoke the blood wrath of his tormentors.
“Got any mushrooms in that bag?” The lord’s son swaggered forward and grabbed at the satchel. He was twice the size of his two pimply friends, though not taller, his tunic of newly-died red and black crosshatch already stretching the limits of its seams, but the boy could not help pulling away.
The three boys burst into laughter.
“Did you hear him croak? N-n-n-n!”
“Croak again, Toad!”
The boy pressed his lips together, hot coals burning beneath his cheeks.
A horse’s whinny rang through the forest.
“Hide,” Coros grunted, pushing the boys into the undergrowth behind the shrine, and they all lay among the ferns and spiny goose berry bushes.
The racing drumbeat of hooves reverberated off the trees as a single rider appeared on the road, skidding to halt in the glade. He was oddly dressed in a short, rust-red cloak with a billowing hood, and fur leggings rather than trousers. For a long while he watched the road that led to the lake town, and then slid off his horse, turning it loose to graze while he paced back and forth like a hound awaiting its turn at the scrap heap.
The damp moss seeped through the boy’s smock, and he furtively tried to adjust his satchel where the fledgling squirmed inside. Then the clatter of horse hooves and the braying laughter of men announced a party of horse lords with grand mustaches and brilliant tartan tunics and great cloaks. Their leader, a lofty lord of lords, saw the single rider and jerked to a halt in surprise. The banter ceased, and the lord rode alone to where the rider paced.
“That is Dumnorix, prince of the Aedui,” Coros whispered. “He takes my sister back to Bibracte to become his wife.”
Sure enough, there among the horse lords sat a maiden with hair that fell in bronze waves across her embroidered cloak. Dumnorix dismounted and took the cowled rider’s arm, leading him to the shrine. His heart fluttering like a finch in the thorns, the boy pressed his face into the loamy soil and became the forest floor.
“It is done?” the rider said in a thick accent.
“The council has been notified of Orgetorix’s plot,” Dumnorix said. “They will arrest him this very night. Once his kingly designs have been exposed, the Helvetii will cease all talk of migration.”
“Of this you are sure?”
Dumnorix held out his hands. “Only the gods can be sure of anything.”
“The Proconsul wants assurance.”
“Tell Caesar he may rest easy. Orgetorix is the Fish Who Thought He Could Walk On Land.”
“Traitor,” Coros gasped, attracting the men’s eyes like beetles to the candle flame.
With the flick of a hand Dumnorix sent his men into the underbrush. Coros and his companions leapt to their feet in a mad attempt to flee, but the boy remained on the forest floor, a part of the ferns and moss and broken twigs. Sticks snapped and men cursed and the boys squealed like pigs under the butcher’s knife, but no rough hands jerked the boy to his feet. Only when he could hear their whimpering beyond the shrine did he venture a glance, no more than the shimmer of wind through grass.
“We must reach the camp by dark,” Dumnorix was telling his men. “Please take my lady ahead with all due haste. I will properly chastise the young scamps and catch up shortly.” He put a hand on the shoulder of Coros and his smile was the cheerful warmth of the hearth fire. When the last clomp of horse hooves faded among the tall trunks, the Aeduan prince turned his smile to the lord son.
“Artio did not hide you well today, did she?”
“My father will put your head on a bore spear.”
The smile remained as frozen as the visage of the goddess even as Dumnorix slid his dagger into the lord son’s gut. From beneath his short cloak the rider brandished a Roman blade and before they could even cry out had cut down the two trembling boys.
“Leave them to the wolves,” the prince commanded over his shoulder, wiping his blade as he strode to his horse. The rider snarled a curse and made a noisy business of dragging the three bodies into the thick undergrowth.
And then he too was gone and still the boy had not flexed a finger.
The trees groaned and creaked, conducting a curious conversation high above. Artio the Bear looked down upon the bloody grass with distant eyes blurred by moss and age. The fledgling ruffled its wings and the boy stroked its soft head and rose stiffly to his knees.
A moan rose from the ferns.
A small voice deep inside the boy’s chest screamed, Run! Run now and hide in your cave. You are no warrior. You are no druid. You are the wood sprite, the twisted kobold. You are the croaking Toad. The wind sighed a mournful tune and ran her slender fingers through his thin hair, and he raised his head to Artio. His legs wobbled as he followed the smears of blood to the two boys, their throats raw openings, eyes open in surprise. Beyond them, Coros lay curled like one of those white grubs in rotten logs.
The boy sliced a long strip from the rich red cloth of the lord son’s tunic. He avoided looking into the lord son’s eyes glazed with fear and pain, and balled the cloth up and pressed it beneath the hands clutching the oozing gut. Coros wheezed, whimpering like a pup and curled into himself even more. The boy slashed another long strip from the tunic hem and tied it around the compress to hold it in place even if the lord son lost consciousness.
The fledgling watched this all with a curious black eye, and then hopped upon one leg, fluttering its wings for balance. Twilight had crept into the woods like a sneak thief. The boy sat back, his chest tight and sweat dripping into his ear. He could still become the wood sprite, take his hidden trail and forget all he had heard and seen.
But the fledgling clicked its beak and cocked its head, and when the boy held out his hand it hopped aboard. He removed the cloaks of the two dead friends and placed them over Coros, who had begun to shiver, and then he turned to the road and broken into a lurching trot toward the lake town.
A chill spring breeze whistled off the crystalline waters of Geneva and between the lodges of stone and clay and timber, carrying the scent of hearth fires, the tanning vats, and the latrine trenches. At one time the town had been enclosed within the old dike and palisade walls, the ancient seat of the esteemed line of great lords from which Orgetorix descended. Now, however, the once pristine pasturelands along the lake shore were clogged with the hovels and swine sheds of the clans, driven from their lands in the foothills and northern vales of the Jura Mountains by German raiders. Blights had devastated the grain crops for three straight seasons, and the stores had run empty. The clan wives made sacrifices of trinkets and woven dolls to the goddess in the water, and blamed the curse of the tribe on the wastrels and derelicts—outcasts like the boy who limped through the gates wearing the forest floor and clutching a raven child beneath his smock.
He kept to the weedy allies between crofts and thatched lodges, his cloak pulled over his head. He was the beggar-boy now, a whimpering mutt unworthy of the scathing eyes of the townsfolk. An old woman spit at him between her remaining two teeth, but otherwise he was ignored.
The great hall loomed like a crouching giant in the center of town, and as the boy reached the threshold raucous laughter spilled forth from the smoky innards. His knees nearly buckled, and his throat felt stuffed with wool, but his feet kept moving forward past hulking men smelling of rancid milk and ale and sweat to the crackling hearth fire ring, around which sat the oathmen of the lord, all eating from a venison roast on a platter and dipping their horns into a breached barrel of ale. Orgetorix himself, tall and robust with a long black mustache that drooped past his chin, noticed the boy first.
The lord stood, firelight dancing beneath his black eyes, and the boy shrunk into his ragged cloak.
“What are you?”
“M-m-m-m-m-m—” The words would not come, and the boy’s face burned.
The oathmen laughed, turning back to their ale and meat, but Orgetorix’s bushy black brow came together.
“Are you the mummer?
“Oh, no,” the lord said, cocking his head. “You are the woodsman’s son.” He shrugged his eyebrows. “Still alive. Well, say what you must and be done with it.”
The boy nodded, his eyes on the floor of wood planks worn smooth, but his lips were numb, his throat tight. He shook his head in an attempt to clear the blockage, but could not even draw a breath. The undulating shadows of the hall closed in on him and his legs wobbled.
And then the raven pecked him, a sharp jab that sent a jolt through his chest, and the words burst forth.
“Coros,” he gasped. “Attacked. Sh-sh-sh-shrine of Artio.” And then he collapsed.
Morgan Read-Davidson grew up in rural Washington State before moving to Southern California to study film. In 2005 he was an Academy Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting, and worked as a screenwriter before becoming a professor of rhetoric and writing studies at Chapman University. He is an avid outdoorsman and traveler, an obsessive researcher of ancient cultures, and a champion of community writing programs. Currently he is in the final stages of completing a historical novel set in Gaul, 52 BCE.
It is a good mix of different stories and again a great opportunity to discover not only so well known but promising alternate history authors. It is also good opportunity for fans of Priya Sharma and Jonathan Doering to read more from these authors.
If you haven’t yet, don’t forget to get yourself a copy of Alt Hist Issue 7 soon!
Alt Hist returns with the seventh issue of the popular magazine of historical fiction and alternate history. This is the biggest issue of Alt Hist so far and this time we have seven wonderful short stories for you—including two parts of the popular Battalion 202 series and stories from Alt Hist favourites Priya Sharma and Andrew Knighton. If you like historical fiction, then you are sure to love this issue of Alt Hist.
Alt Hist Issue 7 features the following stories:
“The Vivisectionist’s Daughter” by Jason Kahn
“Cold Flesh” by Andrew Knighton
“The Independence Day” by Pavel Nikiforovitch
“Heff in Dearborn” by Michael Fertik
“Battalion 202: The Sheep and the Goats” by Jonathan Doering
As well as being able to subscribe to Alt Hist, and buy individual issues, you can now purchase all 5 back issues at a discount. The offer is for all 5 printed issues and includes free copies of the eBook for each issue as well as free shipping in the US – all this for only $44.95 (each print issue normally costs $9.99, so with free eBook and shipping taken into account that’s quite a good saving.
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Famous of course for creating the famous sleuth, Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle also had an interest in historical fiction. You can find the following story in the collection THE LAST GALLEY: IMPRESSIONS AND TALES at Gutenberg, which contains a number of historical short stories. “The Last Galley” itself imagines the fall of Carthage.
The Last Galley by Arthur Conan Doyle
“Mutato nomine, de te, Britannia, fabula narratur.”
It was a spring morning, one hundred and forty-six years before the coming of Christ. The North African Coast, with its broad hem of golden sand, its green belt of feathery palm trees, and its background of barren, red-scarped hills, shimmered like a dream country in the opal light. Save for a narrow edge of snow-white surf, the Mediterranean lay blue and serene as far as the eye could reach. In all its vast expanse there was no break but for a single galley, which was slowly making its way from the direction of Sicily and heading for the distant harbour of Carthage.
Seen from afar it was a stately and beautiful vessel, deep red in colour, double-banked with scarlet oars, its broad, flapping sail stained with Tyrian purple, its bulwarks gleaming with brass work. A brazen, three-pronged ram projected in front, and a high golden figure of Baal, the God of the Phoenicians, children of Canaan, shone upon the after deck. From the single high mast above the huge sail streamed the tiger-striped flag of Carthage. So, like some stately scarlet bird, with golden beak and wings of purple, she swam upon the face of the waters—a thing of might and of beauty as seen from the distant shore.
But approach and look at her now! What are these dark streaks which foul her white decks and dapple her brazen shields? Why do the long red oars move out of time, irregular, convulsive? Why are some missing from the staring portholes, some snapped with jagged, yellow edges, some trailing inert against the side? Why are two prongs of the brazen ram twisted and broken? See, even the high image of Baal is battered and disfigured! By every sign this ship has passed through some grievous trial, some day of terror, which has left its heavy marks upon her.
And now stand upon the deck itself, and see more closely the men who man her! There are two decks forward and aft, while in the open waist are the double banks of seats, above and below, where the rowers, two to an oar, tug and bend at their endless task. Down the centre is a narrow platform, along which pace a line of warders, lash in hand, who cut cruelly at the slave who pauses, be it only for an instant, to sweep the sweat from his dripping brow. But these slaves—look at them! Some are captured Romans, some Sicilians, many black Libyans, but all are in the last exhaustion, their weary eyelids drooped over their eyes, their lips thick with black crusts, and pink with bloody froth, their arms and backs moving mechanically to the hoarse chant of the overseer. Their bodies of all tints from ivory to jet, are stripped to the waist, and every glistening back shows the angry stripes of the warders. But it is not from these that the blood comes which reddens the seats and tints the salt water washing beneath their manacled feet. Great gaping wounds, the marks of sword slash and spear stab, show crimson upon their naked chests and shoulders, while many lie huddled and senseless athwart the benches, careless for ever of the whips which still hiss above them. Now we can understand those empty portholes and those trailing oars.
Nor were the crew in better case than their slaves. The decks were littered with wounded and dying men. It was but a remnant who still remained upon their feet. The most lay exhausted upon the fore-deck, while a few of the more zealous were mending their shattered armour, restringing their bows, or cleaning the deck from the marks of combat. Upon a raised platform at the base of the mast stood the sailing-master who conned the ship, his eyes fixed upon the distant point of Megara which screened the eastern side of the Bay of Carthage. On the after-deck were gathered a number of officers, silent and brooding, glancing from time to time at two of their own class who stood apart deep in conversation. The one, tall, dark, and wiry, with pure, Semitic features, and the limbs of a giant, was Magro, the famous Carthaginian captain, whose name was still a terror on every shore, from Gaul to the Euxine. The other, a white-bearded, swarthy man, with indomitable courage and energy stamped upon every eager line of his keen, aquiline face, was Gisco the politician, a man of the highest Punic blood, a Suffete of the purple robe, and the leader of that party in the State which had watched and striven amid the selfishness and slothfulness of his fellow-countrymen to rouse the public spirit and waken the public conscience to the ever-increasing danger from Rome. As they talked, the two men glanced continually, with earnest anxious faces, towards the northern skyline.
“It is certain,” said the older man, with gloom in his voice and bearing, “none have escaped save ourselves.”
“I did not leave the press of the battle whilst I saw one ship which I could succour,” Magro answered. “As it was, we came away, as you saw, like a wolf which has a hound hanging on to either haunch. The Roman dogs can show the wolf-bites which prove it. Had any other galley won clear, they would surely be with us by now, since they have no place of safety save Carthage.”
The younger warrior glanced keenly ahead to the distant point which marked his native city. Already the low, leafy hill could be seen, dotted with the white villas of the wealthy Phoenician merchants. Above them, a gleaming dot against the pale blue morning sky, shone the brazen roof of the citadel of Byrsa, which capped the sloping town.
“Already they can see us from the watch-towers,” he remarked. “Even from afar they may know the galley of Black Magro. But which of all of them will guess that we alone remain of all that goodly fleet which sailed out with blare of trumpet and roll of drum but one short month ago?”
The patrician smiled bitterly. “If it were not for our great ancestors and for our beloved country, the Queen of the Waters,” said he, “I could find it in my heart to be glad at this destruction which has come upon this vain and feeble generation. You have spent your life upon the seas, Magro. You do not know of know how it has been with us on the land. But I have seen this canker grow upon us which now leads us to our death. I and others have gone down into the market-place to plead with the people, and been pelted with mud for our pains. Many a time have I pointed to Rome, and said, ‘Behold these people, who bear arms themselves, each man for his own duty and pride. How can you who hide behind mercenaries hope to stand against them?’—a hundred times I have said it.”
“And had they no answer?” asked the Rover.
“Rome was far off and they could not see it, so to them it was nothing,” the old man answered. “Some thought of trade, and some of votes, and some of profits from the State, but none would see that the State itself, the mother of all things, was sinking to her end. So might the bees debate who should have wax or honey when the torch was blazing which would bring to ashes the hive and all therein. ‘Are we not rulers of the sea?’ ‘Was not Hannibal a great man?’ Such were their cries, living ever in the past and blind to the future. Before that sun sets there will be tearing of hair and rending of garments; what will that now avail us?”
“It is some sad comfort,” said Magro, “to know that what Rome holds she cannot keep.”
“Why say you that? When we go down, she is supreme in all the world.”
“For a time, and only for a time,” Magro answered, gravely. “Yet you will smile, perchance, when I tell you how it is that I know it. There was a wise woman who lived in that part of the Tin Islands which juts forth into the sea, and from her lips I have heard many things, but not one which has not come aright. Of the fall of our own country, and even of this battle, from which we now return, she told me clearly. There is much strange lore amongst these savage peoples in the west of the land of Tin.”
“What said she of Rome?”
“That she also would fall, even as we, weakened by her riches and her factions.”
Gisco rubbed his hands. “That at least makes our own fall less bitter,” said he. “But since we have fallen, and Rome will fall, who in turn may hope to be Queen of the Waters?”
“That also I asked her,” said Magro, “and gave her my Tyrian belt with the golden buckle as a guerdon for her answer. But, indeed, it was too high payment for the tale she told, which must be false if all else she said was true. She would have it that in coining days it was her own land, this fog-girt isle where painted savages can scarce row a wicker coracle from point to point, which shall at last take the trident which Carthage and Rome have dropped.”
The smile which flickered upon the old patrician’s keen features died away suddenly, and his fingers closed upon his companion’s wrist. The other had set rigid, his head advanced, his hawk eyes upon the northern skyline. Its straight, blue horizon was broken by two low black dots.
“Galleys!” whispered Gisco.
The whole crew had seen them. They clustered along the starboard bulwarks, pointing and chattering. For a moment the gloom of defeat was lifted, and a buzz of joy ran from group to group at the thought that they were not alone—that some one had escaped the great carnage as well as themselves.
“By the spirit of Baal,” said Black Magro, “I could not have believed that any could have fought clear from such a welter. Could it be young Hamilcar in the Africa, or is it Beneva in the blue Syrian ship? We three with others may form a squadron and make head against them yet. If we hold our course, they will join us ere we round the harbour mole.”
Slowly the injured galley toiled on her way, and more swiftly the two newcomers swept down from the north. Only a few miles off lay the green point and the white houses which flanked the great African city. Already, upon the headland, could be seen a dark group of waiting townsmen. Gisco and Magro were still watching with puckered gaze the approaching galleys, when the brown Libyan boatswain, with flashing teeth and gleaming eyes, rushed upon the poop, his long thin arm stabbing to the north.
“Romans!” he cried. “Romans!”
A hush had fallen over the great vessel. Only the wash of the water and the measured rattle and beat of the oars broke in upon the silence.
“By the horns of God’s altar, I believe the fellow is right!” cried old Gisco. “See how they swoop upon us like falcons. They are full-manned and full-oared.”
“Plain wood, unpainted,” said Magro. “See how it gleams yellow where the sun strikes it.”
“And yonder thing beneath the mast. Is it not the cursed bridge they use for boarding?”
“So they grudge us even one,” said Magro with a bitter laugh. “Not even one galley shall return to the old sea-mother. Well, for my part, I would as soon have it so. I am of a mind to stop the oars and await them.”
“It is a man’s thought,” answered old Gisco; “but the city will need us in the days to come. What shall it profit us to make the Roman victory complete? Nay, Magro, let the slaves row as they never rowed before, not for our own safety, but for the profit of the State.”
So the great red ship laboured and lurched onwards, like a weary panting stag which seeks shelter from his pursuers, while ever swifter and ever nearer sped the two lean fierce galleys from the north. Already the morning sun shone upon the lines of low Roman helmets above the bulwarks, and glistened on the silver wave where each sharp prow shot through the still blue water. Every moment the ships drew nearer, and the long thin scream of the Roman trumpets grew louder upon the ear.
Upon the high bluff of Megara there stood a great concourse of the people of Carthage who had hurried forth from the city upon the news that the galleys were in sight. They stood now, rich and poor, effete and plebeian, white Phoenician and dark Kabyle, gazing with breathless interest at the spectacle before them. Some hundreds of feet beneath them the Punic galley had drawn so close that with their naked eyes they could see those stains of battle which told their dismal tale. The Romans, too, were heading in such a way that it was before their very faces that their ship was about to be cut off; and yet of all this multitude not one could raise a hand in its defence. Some wept in impotent grief, some cursed with flashing eyes and knotted fists, some on their knees held up appealing hands to Baal; but neither prayer, tears, nor curses could undo the past nor mend the present. That broken, crawling galley meant that their fleet was gone. Those two fierce darting ships meant that the hands of Rome were already at their throat. Behind them would come others and others, the innumerable trained hosts of the great Republic, long mistress of the land, now dominant also upon the waters. In a month, two months, three at the most, their armies would be there, and what could all the untrained multitudes of Carthage do to stop them?
“Nay!” cried one, more hopeful than the rest, “at least we are brave men with arms in our hands.”
“Fool!” said another, “is it not such talk which has brought us to our ruin? What is the brave man untrained to the brave man trained? When you stand before the sweep and rush of a Roman legion you may learn the difference.”
“Then let us train!”
“Too late! A full year is needful to turn a man to a soldier. Where will you—where will your city be within the year? Nay, there is but one chance for us. If we give up our commerce and our colonies, if we strip ourselves of all that made us great, then perchance the Roman conqueror may hold his hand.”
And already the last sea-fight of Carthage was coming swiftly to an end before them. Under their very eyes the two Roman galleys had shot in, one on either side of the vessel of Black Magro. They had grappled with him, and he, desperate in his despair, had cast the crooked flukes of his anchors over their gunwales, and bound them to him in an iron grip, whilst with hammer and crowbar he burst great holes in his own sheathing. The last Punic galley should never be rowed into Ostia, a sight for the holiday-makers of Rome. She would lie in her own waters. And the fierce, dark soul of her rover captain glowed as he thought that not alone should she sink into the depths of the mother sea.
Too late did the Romans understand the man with whom they had to deal. Their boarders who had flooded the Punic decks felt the planking sink and sway beneath them. They rushed to gain their own vessels; but they, too, were being drawn downwards, held in the dying grip of the great red galley. Over they went and ever over. Now the deck of Magro’s ship is flush with the water, and the Romans, drawn towards it by the iron bonds which held them, are tilted downwards, one bulwark upon the waves, one reared high in the air. Madly they strain to cast off the death grip of the galley. She is under the surface now, and ever swifter, with the greater weight, the Roman ships heel after her. There is a rending crash. The wooden side is torn out of one, and mutilated, dismembered, she rights herself, and lies a helpless thing upon the water. But a last yellow gleam in the blue water shows where her consort has been dragged to her end in the iron death-grapple of her foemen. The tiger-striped flag of Carthage has sunk beneath the swirling surface, never more to be seen upon the face of the sea.
For in that year a great cloud hung for seventeen days over the African coast, a deep black cloud which was the dark shroud of the burning city. And when the seventeen days were over, Roman ploughs were driven from end to end of the charred ashes, and salt was scattered there as a sign that Carthage should be no more. And far off a huddle of naked, starving folk stood upon the distant mountains, and looked down upon the desolate plain which had once been the fairest and richest upon earth. And they understood too late that it is the law of heaven that the world is given to the hardy and to the self-denying, whilst he who would escape the duties of manhood will soon be stripped of the pride, the wealth, and the power, which are the prizes which manhood brings.
For those of you eagerly awaiting the 6th issue of Alt Hist, I have some news.
First off the good news is that it should be a bumper issue – we have more words and pages in the next issue than ever before. Secondly, it’s probably not going to be out before Christmas. Currently its in editing stage and I anticipate that process will take the rest of December. So its likely that Alt Hist Issue 6 will be out in early January to rid you of those post-Christmas blues!
Here’s a sneak peak of the stories that will appear in Alt Hist Issue 6 (in no particular order):
“Hitler is Coming” by Martin Hill (Alternate History – Hitler in America)
“When Shots Rang Out” by Lynda M. Vanderhoff (JFK)
“B-36” by Douglas W. Texter (Cold War alternate history)
“Battalion 202: Worm in the Apple” by Jonathan Doering (German invasion of Britain)
“The Iceberg” by Andrea Mullaney (First World War spies)
I have been wondering if Alt Hist should have it’s own discussion forum. The forum would be open to anyone interested in historical fiction and alternate history and would allow users to discuss any subject related to historical fiction as well as the stories that appear in Alt Hist. The forum would probably be hosted at http://www.althistpress.co.uk site as that site is a lot easier to customize than this one.
Alt Hist Issue 5 features stories covering a variety of historical periods from the 1800s to post-War USA.
This issue includes five new original works of fiction including stories about Al Capone and Italian Futurism, the aftermath of the American Civil War, the real Frankenstein, the Bridge that consumes the souls of men, and the latest instalment in a series of stories about a successful Nazi invasion of Britain.
Alt Hist is the magazine of Historical Fiction and Alternate History, published twice a year by Alt Hist Press.
You can read a free preview of each story by following the links below:
After Mary by Priya Sharma
AD 1929 by Douglas W. Texter
The Stiff Heart by Meredith Miller
The Bridge by Micah Hyatt
Battalion 202: Rotten Parchment Bonds by Jonathan Doering
Priya Sharma’s “After Mary”is set in the mid-1800s and is the story a scientist with dreams of greatness who lives alone in his country house with only his assistant, Isobel, and servant Myles. Then his friend comes to the house and leaves a copy of Frankenstein, which changes everything.
“AD 1929” by Douglas W. Texter is a story describing a meeting of artistic guile and criminal muscle. This is a tale of what might have happened if the Italian Futurist F.T. Marinetti had come to America and gone to work for Al Capone.
Meredith Miller is the author of “The Stiff Heart” which draws its title from a poem by Emily Dickinson. Meredith’s piece is a story about life under the surface, in New England in the 1870s where secrets and fears and desires sometimes refuse to behave properly. Not everyone joins in the self-satisfied complacency of this prosperous post-Civil War community.
Micah Hyatt is the author of “The Bridge”. Throughout history men have risked their lives to achieve great feats of engineering: The pyramids of Giza. The Empire State building. The Panama canal. But those who build The Bridge risk their very souls.
“Rotten Parchment Bonds”, the latest story in the Battalion 202 series by Jonathan Doering, features Harold Storey, a quiet man praying for a quiet life after the horror of the First World War trenches. But his prayers are cruelly crushed by the German Invasion of Britain in 1941. As a police officer he is forced to co-operate with Nazi officials and is thrown into moral turmoil by the accommodations that start to be made. But perhaps there is one good man amongst the enemy ranks?