The fifth installment in the serialized version of Tros of Samothrace is titled “Admiral of Caesar’s Fleet” and consists of what would become chapters 52 – 66 of the novel published in 1934. Set in the spring of the year 54 B.C., this story tells of the aftermath of Julius Caesar’s first invasion of Britain and was first published in the October 10th 1925 issue of Adventure magazine. It is available in a number of editions in book form or you can read it here at the invaluable library of Roy Glashan.
This installment welcomes back a number of characters that we have seen before: Tros’s friends Orwic and King Caswallon and their enemy Julius Caesar, plus two more who are no one’s friends, Britomaris and the beautiful Gwenwhyfar. There are two new characters and the first of these is the Lord Rhys, a Briton noble whose cold-blooded greed and ambition have made him an enemy of his king and bring him head to head in conflict with Tros. The second character introduced is the more important of the two and not a Briton but the ship that Tros has spent the past winter and a sizeable fortune building: the Liafail, one of the greatest ships in fantasy literature.
In Irish and Scots lore, Lia Fail is the name of the Stone of Destiny, which shouted with joy when a true king sat upon it. In the Roman novels of Talbot Mundy, the Liafail is a great ship that combines the lines of a trireme and long ship but is much larger than either. Tros’s ship is more than 200 feet long and can carry more than 500 oarsmen and marines; while it has no ram, it is armed with four catapults and at least half a dozen arrow engines made from yew and capable of firing 12 arrows at a time! Although large wooden vessels were used by the navies of the Mediterranean for centuries before Caesar’s time, the Liafail is the product of Tros’s genius and in a class of its own. It has a bottom plated with tin, three masts, each with a topsail and it is lateen-rigged, enabling it to sail faster and closer to the wind than any other ship. It has purple sails and oars, vermillion topsides, a dragon prow with a tongue that moves as the ship moves and a figurehead carved in the semblance of Helma, Tros’s dead wife. With catapults that can hit targets half a mile away and lead balls that burn or explode for ammunition, the Liafail is an awe-inspiring combination of speed, power and beauty that is the equal of any ship found in fantasy.
With the launch of his beloved ship, the stage is set for the adventures that will span the remaining books of Talbot Mundy’s Roman novels and take him and his crew from Britain to Hispania to Rome itself and across the length of the Middle Sea to golden Egypt. It is with these adventures that Tros comes into his own as a Master of the Sea and one of the great captains of literature. I have family that have gone to sea; cousins who joined the Navy and the Marines, an uncle who served in the Merchant Marine before WW II and they all have two things in common in what they read: they love C.S. Forester’s Hornblower saga and they love Tros of Samothrace. For them, Talbot Mundy managed to touch part of what they love about the sea and put it on paper.
“Admiral of Caesar’s Fleet” is a fun read; it has politics, intrigue, and not one but two naval battles. The first is a running fight down the Thames and the second is an all-out engagement with one of Caesar’s squadrons. Take a look, you won’t be disappointed.
Tros’s adventures continue in the next installment “The Dancing Girl of Gades”.
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