Mundy Monday: “Messenger of Destiny”


The seventh and final installment in the serialized version of Tros of Samothrace is titled “Messenger of Destinyand 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. 

He dodged between them as a hare slips in between the hounds, made time to lash one charioteer across the face with the butt end of his whip and, striking the other’s wheel with his own hub, spilled him, hardly seeming to have lost speed…

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:

Bleeding from a claw-wound, stepping forward with his buckler raised, Tros drove his longsword through a lion’s heart and turned to face another, stooping to entice the brute to spring, then straightening himself suddenly and thrusting upward.

Then the Numidians:

Their leader, a lean Titan of oil-polished ebony with a leopard-skin over his shoulder, yelled, chose Tros as his own objective—And in a second they engaged, on-rushing like a windstorm of their native desert—fierce as fire—undisciplined as animals.  Their leader leaped, down-stabbing with his spear—Tros’s longsword took him in the throat.  Crashing above the tumult, he heard the crowd roar “Habet!”…

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.

Glaucus reached Tros, sprang at him from behind a gladiator whom Tros slew with a lunging thrust that bent his buckler and went past it deep into the man’s breast.  That mighty blow left Tros extended, with his buckler useless on his left arm and his sword point in a man’s ribs.  Glaucus sprang to stab him between neck and shoulder.


The crowd roared too soon.  Orwic’s buckler intervened.  Glaucus, springing backwards to avoid the Briton’s swiping scimitar, tripped over a dead gladiator.


But the crowd was wrong again; Glaucus was uninjured—instantly on his feet.

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:

“Tros of Samothrace”

“The Enemy of Rome”

“Prisoners of War”

“Hostages to Luck”

“Admiral of Caesar’s Fleet”

“The Dancing Girl of Gades”

Leiber’s “The Glory of Tros”

Forefathers of Sword and Sorcery: Talbot Mundy 

The Caesar Controversy

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.