The seventh and final installment in the serialized version of Tros of Samothrace is titled “Messenger of Destiny” and consists of what would become chapters 82 – 96 of the novel published in 1934. Set in the summer of the year 54 B.C., this story tells of the aftermath of Julius Caesar’s invasions of Britain and was first published in three parts in the February 10th, 20th and 28th 1926 issues 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.
With the exception of the very last scene, this final installment of Tros of Samothrace is set in or near Rome itself; that city where all roads lead and which has devoured kings and queens, proud nations and entire tribes, yet still its hunger grows. Here, Tros will have no allies except those he brings with him: Conops, his Northmen and Briton crew members, and Orwic, nephew of his friend King Caswallon and a first-class fighting man. Orwic is young and hot-headed but comes into his own when disaster strikes. A Celtic firebrand who would rather fight Romans than eat his breakfast, Orwic will do whatever it takes to turn Caesar away from his home and his family.
Almost everyone else in Rome is either Tros’s enemy or a neutral with their own plans for power and wealth. The beautiful Helene is the talk of Rome, an agent of Ptolemy the Piper, but even after she falls for Tros, who does she really serve? Zeuxis owes a debt of blood and honor to Tros but cares only for himself. Although only Pompey is actually present in Rome, the agents of all three Triumvirs are everywhere – plotting, bribing, conniving in an endless war for their masters’ advantage and their own gain. Only the Vestal Virgins (who favor Caesar) and old Nepos (the master of Rome’s civic dungeons and of the Circus Maximus) are willing to give Tros any help at all and they still see him as an outsider.
Tros needs all the help he can get because the only chance he has to draw Caesar away from Britain is to begin the process of turning his attention to Rome and the inevitable contest to become master of the known world. He must walk a knife’s edge in a game of intrigue that, win or lose, will consume tens of thousands of lives. If he fails, Caesar will crush and enslave Britain; if he succeeds, then the wolves of Rome will turn on each other in a civil war that will see fighting from the Pillars of Hercules to the Cilician Gates.
Tros is entangled in negotiations with the Vestal Virgins when disaster strikes: his loyal Northmen and his Briton followers are imprisoned and sentenced to die in the arena games, the victims of a betrayal so profound that it shocks the hardened Nepos. The only chance to get any of them out alive is an insane plan that requires that Orwic win the last quadriga race of the games and gain the crowd’s favor. Then he would have to join Tros in a fight to the death before Pompey the Great and the Vestal Virgins themselves; that fight would pit Orwic, Tros and his men against a horde of lions, then dozens of fearless Numidian spearmen and then finally two score gladiators.
This is the very sort of thing that Orwic was born for; a superb swordsman and a charioteer whose like has not been yet seen in Rome, he brings the crowd to its feet roaring time and again.
Then Orwic joins Tros and his men in the arena the next day, to win even more favor with the crowd with a sword that seems to flicker from one foe to another in the sunlight. Tros wins acclaim as well; lions, spearmen and gladiators, all see or sense that he is the leader and each in turn attempts to bring him down. First the lions:
Then the Numidians:
Finally, forty gladiators enter the arena to drive the surviving Numidians against the double line of Tros’s men; they are led by Glaucus, the undefeated favorite of all Rome and he clashes again and again with Tros as their men come to death grips beneath the seats of Pompey the Great and the Vestal Virgins.
It is there, with all their lives and all the machinations of Rome’s elite at stake that Fate takes a hand. One life, that of Julia, daughter to Caesar, wife to Pompey, comes to an end and the balance of power in Rome begins to shift as word begins to spread. Will the mad gamble on the sands of the Circus Maximus pay off? Who will become the Messenger of Destiny and determine the fate not only of Britain, but of the Roman Republic itself? Read the rousing conclusion of this epic tale and see for yourself.
This ends Talbot Mundy’s Tros of Samothrace, a classic story of adventure in the years before the fall of the Roman Republic. Next, we will continue our look at the Roman Novels of Talbot Mundy with the novel Queen Cleopatra.
Previous posts on Tros: