The third installment in the serialized version of Tros of Samothrace is titled “Prisoners of War” and consists of what would become chapters 27 – 37 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 June 10, 1925 issue of Adventure magazine.
Tros has rescued his father from Roman captivity only to see the old man breathe his last after bequeathing his son a deathbed prophecy. It is a victory of sorts but one with a bitter cost: more than half of the men given him by King Caswallon are wounded or dead and Caesar has escaped. He knows that Caswallon is his friend, but he also knows that there will be an uproar against him, a foreigner, when they return with no loot and no Caesar but wounded who need tending and the dead who need burial. While working his leaking ship back to the Thames, Tros sees a small ship from Gaul that almost wrecks but manages to make it to shores of Britain. He knows that Caesar will have wasted no time in sending some of his agents to Britain to stir up trouble and those agents will reach Caswallon’s capital at Lunden on Thames before he can. More than ever, Tros sees the need for a power base of his own and hopes desperately for an opportunity to prove his value to the Britons as an ally. He gets his opportunity.
The two Northmen ships he had encountered in the Channel had turned and rowed up the Thames to raid the British villages along the river; even though he has only 30 men able to fight them, Tros is able to ride a rising tide up the river and wreak havoc on the raiders. He sinks one ship and manages to steal the other but the able-bodied Britons desert, more comfortable fighting on land than on a ship. Tros gives Orwic permission to go, leaving the defense of his leaking galley and the stolen long ship to Conops, a score of badly wounded Britons and himself. Tros wants that long ship; it is beautiful and whoever built that ship could help him build the ship of his dreams. When the surviving Northmen flee Caswallon’s forces and approach his ships in captured boats, Tros challenges their leader to single combat before any of the Northmen realize they’re only facing two defenders who can lift a weapon. This sets the stage for an epic duel between Tros and Olaf Sigurdsen, who towers over even the other Northmen:
Tros is the victor in this contest between sword and axe, and claims Sigurdsen and his men as his followers; what he doesn’t bargain for are the women who among the Northmen, one of whom is Helma, Sigurdsen’s sister. She speaks the language of the Gauls and acts as the interpreter between her people and their new lord; she is proud, beautiful, aggravating and more than a little distracting. Naturally, she and Tros get married.
While Tros has been fighting, gathering new followers and falling in love for the first time, the two Roman agents who landed on the British coast in that ship Tros had spied in the Channel have been at work. The first is Skell, who tried to steal some of Tros’s glory and wound up biting off more than he could chew. He has been ordered by Caesar to return to Britain and make trouble for Tros. The other agent is a woman, Cornelia, a Gaul who is Caesar’s slave; he has sent her to Britain to make trouble for everyone. She is an emissary, a dancer, a spy, an agent provocateur and an assassin of some skill; between the two of them, they manage to spark a rebellion by one of Caswallon’s political enemies. Short of able-bodied fighters, the king of the Catuvellauni needs Tros’s men and his keen wits to put down the rebellion before it can get out of hand and also to bag Caesar’s agents.
“Prisoners of War” is the shortest installment in the Tros saga (only eleven chapters) but an important one. It introduces the characters of Olaf Sigurdsen (referred to only as Sigurdsen from this point on) and his sister Helma. Sigurdsen is with Tros the rest of the way through Mundy’s Roman novels and is in many ways the brother that Tros never had. He is a dangerous opponent in any kind of fight, a master shipbuilder and grows to be completely loyal to his sister’s husband. Helma is Tros’s first love and his first wife; her influence on Tros is significant. This installment also introduces the spy Cornelia, who possesses an almost supernatural ability to lie, seduce and persuade, all in Caesar’s service. She is impervious to pain, bribes or threats but Tros is able to outwit her and drive her to the edge of panic-stricken hysteria by offering to give her to Conops as his wife.
I have said before that Conops is a vital part of Tros’s saga and that is never more true than in this installment. Watch Conops in “Prisoners of War”; he is Tros’s ever loyal henchman, but watch the interplay between Conops and Sigurdsen, Conops and Cornelia, Conops and Helma. Talbot Mundy uses Conops to excellent effect while imbuing the story with the author’s understated sense of humor.
Tros’s adventures continue in the next installment “Hostages to Luck”.
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