The second installment in the serialized version of Tros of Samothrace is titled “The Enemy of Rome” and consists of what would become chapters 15 – 26 of the novel published in 1934. Set in the late summer/early fall of the year 55 B.C., this story tells of the aftermath of Julius Caesar’s first invasion of Britain and was first published in the April 10, 1925 issue of Adventure magazine.
Tros has won his first skirmish with Caesar and Rome: he has Caesar’s ship, his pay chests, his seal of office and all of his correspondence (not just military intelligence but much of his foe’s schemes and ongoing plans). What he does not have is his father Perseus, who is Caesar’s prisoner and it will take luck, determination and the guile of Odysseus himself to win his father’s freedom. It is his wits, his ability to see the lies and traps of his enemies and turn them against his foes that sets Tros apart from almost every other hero in fantasy.
Mundy introduces a number of recurring elements in “The Enemy of Rome”, two of which are characters. One element is the first appearance of the Northmen, who look and act like Vikings. The first character is Skell, a Briton with some Northmen ancestry who attempts to steal the glory of Tros and instead finds himself a pawn in a deadly game. The second character is Orwic, a young Briton noble who is a dangerous swordsman but not all that sharp a thinker. Orwic is King Casswallon’s ally and the leader of the British fighters the king of the Catuvellauni gives Tros to help free his father.
Tros is able to rescue his father with the aid of a Phoenician trader who is a member of the same mystical fraternity as himself; Perseus has been tortured almost to the point of death and lives long enough to gift his son with a deathbed prophecy and say farewell. The prophecy offers Tros little comfort but does not bind him with promises Perseus knew his son would be loath to keep. He is free to choose his future, a future where he will serve Caesar and Caesar will serve him. Tros doesn’t understand this but since his father did not forbid vengeance, he decides to wreak what havoc he can on Caesar. Talbot Mundy chose this point in the story to embed some of his own thoughts regarding Theosophy and the ancient mysteries of Samothrace; readers will encounter this theme in all three of the author’s Roman novels.
It is here too that Julius Caesar comes into clear focus as the antagonist of the book and the most formidable enemy Tros will ever face. Caesar isn’t just brilliant, he is supremely confident, utterly fearless and as decisive as a lightning bolt. His luck in battle is legendary and he possesses the ability to imbue those he leads with some of his own confidence and lack of fear. Men led by Julius Caesar are capable of almost superhuman exertion and they do not break and run; they stand and fight until victory or death is theirs.
None of this matters to Tros; he taunts Rome’s general with a message he gives to a centurion who had been captured and who he sends to his enemy as an emissary. Then he lays a trap for Caesar knowing full well that his foe will attempt to trap him in turn; the result is a fierce ship to ship battle at night, followed by two boarding actions. The second attempt to board is made the next day in a heavy fog and is led by Caesar himself. The Britons have the advantage of numbers but the Romans have experience, discipline and better armor; it is Tros who turns the tide:
All of the Roman boarders are slain, but Caesar escapes by swimming; no arrow can seem to find him. He mocks Tros and threatens to crucify him, then vanishes into the mists. Tros is victorious but now the mask is off; Caesar has declared him the Enemy of Rome, and neither Rome nor Caesar forgive.
Tros’s adventures continue in the next installment “Prisoners of War”.
Previous posts on Tros:
John E. Boyle is the author of Queen’s Heir and Raven’s Blood, the first two books in the Children of Khetar fantasy series.