Excerpt #4 From my Work in Progress, In the Wake of Hannibal

In order to save his infant son from being sacrificed as a burn offering, Gisco has fled to the Romans and has offered his services as a traitor:
After a few weeks I was summoned to the tablinum of the owner of the domus. Lucius was there and alongside him sat two stern-looking middle-aged men wearing togas. “Gisco, please sit here,” said Lucius in Greek.
I sat down. I didn’t know whether I should look at these men or avert my eyes. What do the Romans do? I decided to look directly at them because I didn’t want to give them the impression that I was a slave. I wanted them to see that I was high-born. Romans respect that. I waited for them to speak.
“I am Publius Cornelius Scipio,” said one of the men in Greek. “And this is my brother, Cneius Cornelius Scipio. We hold joint imperium here in Spain, but I will be the one to question you since my Greek much surpasses that of my brother.” He smiled slightly.
“You seem to have recovered well from your unfortunate encounter at Ticinus,” I said. “I watched the whole thing from a hill. You were unhorsed and appeared to be getting badly battered, but then a bold Roman soldier led a cavalry charge down the hill, and they snatched you up. It was incredible. Even we Carthaginians had to admire the man.”
“’That ‘bold Roman soldier’ was my son Publius,” said the Proconsul with undisguised pride. “You were at Ticinus?”
“Ticinus, Trebia, Trasimene and Cannae,” I said. “I came over the Alps with Hannibal. I returned to Carthage with Hannibal’s brother Mago.”
“So you were well placed. Certainly you have much to tell us. But what makes a man become a traitor to his country?”
I looked beseechingly at Lucius. “Lucius has given us his opinion,” Said Publius Scipio, “but we want to hear this from you.”
“I am trading my honor for the life of my son,” I said. “What would a Roman do if he were in my place?”
“A Roman would not have your problem,” He said “Romans seldom practice human sacrifice. It did happen just after Cannae when your Hannibal brought Rome to the brink of madness, but the victims were Greek and Gallic slaves, not our own children. Is that why you Carthaginians use mercenaries? Because you destroy too many of your own children to provide for an army?”
“I don’t think so,” I said. “Child sacrifice is not that common these days, but the practice persists in low numbers from ancient times. More enlightened leaders like the Barcas seek to discourage it, but they have not forbidden it altogether. I don’t know why the priest took it into his head to do this to my son. Carthaginians have a different attitude toward war than Romans. Most would rather not dirty their hands with it and would just as soon leave it to mercenaries.”
“That’s why you Carthaginians will lose this war,” said Proconsul Publius Scipio. “You really have only Hannibal, who, although a supremely able general, is just one man. Once he is killed, captured, dies a natural death or gives up out of sheer frustration, your mercenaries will be useless. Rome can wait him out. I may not live to see our victory, but my sons will. I have also heard that the government in Carthage is badly divided on whether to support this war. Is that not so?”
“I would not deny that, from what I’ve seen.” I said. “But what would you do if you were in my situation?”
“For either of my sons, Publius or Lucius, I would sacrifice my life,” admitted Publius Scipio.
“Sacrificing my life would not help Hanno,” I said. “It is my honor I am sacrificing.”
He turned to his brother Cneius and asked him something in Latin. He replied and Publius Scipio translated: “A difficult choice. A difficult choice, indeed. But we Scipios need not make that choice. You do and you have. There is no going back. Now we must discuss the consequences.”
“Very well,” I said. “What are the consequences?”
“We have spies in Mago’s camp and they verify your story,” said Publius Scipio. “It seems that it was a bit of a scandal, and Mago was enraged. Unfortunately, Carthaginian soldiers are no match for the priesthood.
“These are our terms. We will find you and your family a small domus in Tarraco. You will get a stipend on which to live comfortably. You and your family will be under our protection. In exchange you will answer any questions we have about Carthaginian military matters and political affairs to the best of your knowledge. You are not to leave Tarraco unless accompanied by our soldiers.”
“Your terms are merciful, and I accept them.” I said.
“Good,” said Publius Scipio. “We will let you rest for now. Lucius will have questions for you tomorrow.”

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