The Romans were waiting at the creek ranged in the triple line checkerboard pattern Malcom at least recognized from his reading as a standard legion formation. The campers checked sharply on the south side of the creek to stare. No question, but the legionaries were an intimidating looking bunch.
Most wore mail shirts and greaves of gray iron and helmets with big cheek-guards and a sort of flared back embossed in front with a skull and sword motif. The officers had Greek style helmets with horsehair crests and some wore glittering gold armor. They didn't have either their big shields or their heavy lances with them in fact they stood there at attention with hands hanging empty at their sides.
Malcolm had just enough time to wonder what in the gods' names they thought were doing when an officer at the far end of the line barked: "Draw!" and every one of the Romans pulled out a sword with their right hand and what looked like a gun with the left – in perfect unison. "Battle Stance!" the Roman officer roared. And all three rows struck the exact same stance at the exact same instant, gun extended sword held overhand, like they were automata or something.
Expecting the next command to be 'fire' the campers raised their shields and tightened their grips on sword and spear.
Instead the massed Romans cried "Twelfth Fulminata! In thunderous unison and then fired. Something like glass or brittle plastic balls shattered against the campers' shields. Acid sizzled as it burned through the bull hide and people screamed as it got to their hands hurling down their shields just as the Romans charged. Things sort of went downhill from there.
To start with phalanx tactics went out the window. Come to think of it they never had been able to hold formation against a determined attack as far as Malcolm could remember. Maybe they should work on that… anyway you can't form a shield wall with no shields. The Romans might fight en-mass like perfectly synchronized automata but the campers quickly learned they could think for themselves too. They advanced in waves, like Myrmeks or something. They didn't have it all their own way but if you managed to cut one down there was always another right behind him to get you.
A true son of Athena Malcolm didn't stop analyzing even while having his butt kicked. Roman sword work was a bit different from Greek he noted. They preferred a choppy, thrusting motion to the swinging strokes taught at Camp Half-Blood but the former suited their shorter straight blades with the tapering, needle sharp point. Other than that there were individual differences – just like with heroes. Some continued to use their acid-ball guns left handed while others dual wielded with a wide bladed dagger using it to block the campers' sword strokes. Three of the biggest legionaries were using their left fists to punch out opponents and at least four Romans were using daggers in preference to swords. Then Malcolm was tacked by one of the centurions, a very pretty blond girl with gray eyes like a daughter of Athena and a psycho-killer grin worthy of a daughter of Ares wielding both a gladius and a long sword, and he had to concentrate on survival.
He sure hoped Clarisse was doing better than they were!
Clarisse sure hoped Malcolm was doing better than the raiding party! It was down to just her and the two Stolls, the others having been noosed by trees, swallowed by pits, lamed by spikes or knocked cold by lead tipped arrows. The north forest was three deep in death traps and it felt like they'd tripped every single one of them. But at least they'd finally found the flag.
"Ho – kay," Travis Stoll conceded. "This may be a problem."
The flag was standing on a small raft in the middle of the Argo II's flooded dry dock.
"What? We can swim -" Clarisse began.
Travis picked up a pebble and tossed it into the water which immediately started boiling like a pot on the fire. Then the large and heavily fanged head of the orange Lake Serpent emerged, shedding water and glaring ferociously like it was in a really, really bad mood.
Clarisse remembered to close her mouth. "How the Hades did they -"
"No swimming," Connor said firmly at the exact same moment.
"Durned right," his brother agreed.
"Wrong," Clarisse corrected, hefting her spear. "I'll keep OJ busy while you two -" she seemed fated never to finish a sentence. There was a sharp crack as an arrow took off the head of her spear and a pair of Romans materialized out of the trees, armed with swords and small round shields.
To say Clarisse was annoyed would be a masterpiece of understatement: "Flaming Eyes Of Ares!" She howled; "Not Another Hades Be Cursed Spear!" and with that took Maimer's broken haft to the legionaries like a Fury.
She had them literally up against a wall – or rather a tree – when the Stolls suddenly grabbed her and dragged her back. "What the Hades do you think you're doing!" she raged. Then she heard it. The distant note of the conch, the game was over. The Romans had won.
"How's that feel?" Galen, the Fourth's chief medic, asked.
"Arrrr…" Clarisse mumbled into the towel covering the massage table.
"I'll take that as a 'good'."
Greeks and Romans alike were sautéing in the steamy warmth of the new tepidarium. Sitting or lying on the marble faced benches in an atmosphere of drowsy fellowship that had restored even Clarisse to good humor. Of course the massage was helping too.
"I may not slaughter you guys after all," she conceded sleepily.
"Betcha she could too," said Sharon, one of the two Flag guards. "Monty and I would be dead if the horn hadn't sounded just in the nick of time."
Turning her head Clarisse gave her erstwhile opponent a genuinely friendly grin. "I dunno, you were giving me a lot of trouble."
"Not enough!" Sharon and her partner Monty said in fervent unison.
Malcolm opened his eyes. "One on one, we're pretty evenly matched," he observed. "But you guys got us licked in the teamwork department."
"Like I said before, you Greeks are heroes," Kelly answered. "We Romans are soldiers. Discipline has always been our edge – all too often our only edge." Every legionary in the room grimaced remembering the Feast of Fortuna – and Mount Othrys.
Vicki, farther down the bench, leaned forward. "How did you guys manage to hold off Saturn's legions?"
It was the Greeks' turn to grimace. "Barely," Malcolm said grimly. "We bought time. Luckily it was enough time."
"Thermopylae," said Kelly.
"Pretty much," Malcolm agreed.
"Hey!" Clarisse sat up. "The Spartans lost at Thermopylae. We won!"
"I meant the strategic situation was comparable," Kelly said quickly, "Badly outnumbered, the enemy flanking you in all directions – that sort of thing."
"That pretty much describes it," Malcolm said even more grimly. "Doesn't it Clarisse?"
"Yeah," she let Galen press her back down on the table though she didn't seem to be enjoying the massage quite so much now.
"The baths are where we relax, Vicki," Felix complained. "Don't kill the mood."
"Sorry," she shrugged. "It's just I've been wondering ever since Percy told us about the Greek side of the war. Taking Mt. Othrys was almost more than even the legion could pull off. Your job had have been worse, even with the advantage of a defensive position, given your smaller numbers."
"I don't know about 'worse'," Malcolm said slowly. "Different sure, but assailing Kronos' stronghold had to have been pretty desperate even with two hundred of you."
"Desperate," Kelly echoed ruefully. "Good word for it. But we had more than two hundred. We had the Veterans with us, and we had Jason."
Unexpectedly Malcolm grinned. "We had the Party Ponies, Ares Cabin, Hades, Poseidon... Every time it looked like we were finished and about to go under somebody showed up to save the day.
"With us it was the enemy that kept getting reinforcements," said Felix and gave Kelly a broad wink. "Then we had a bit of luck."
"A lot of luck as it turned out," she agreed.
"Always be polite to strange ladies," Felix solemnly advised the Greeks and winked again. "You never know when she might be my Mom in disguise."
"I hate it when gods show up in disguise," Kelly grumbled. "It's worse than a pop quiz!"
"And the stakes are much higher," Vicki agreed.