Mago turned and sped off behind the messenger, pushing his way through a growing, joyous crowd. He had to move quickly to slip between them. By the time the messenger slowed his pace and looked back at Mago, they had again dropped down to the base level of the city. They walked down a dark hallway. It was rank with moisture, cooler than the exposed air. Old hay had been swept out and piled along one side of the corridor. The acidic bite of urine made Mago walk with his head turned to one side. He was about to ask the messenger which this wasa joke or a mistakebut then caught sight of a head glancing out from a room toward the end of the hallway. A body emerged after it: his older brother, Hanno, the second after Hannibal. Mago pushed past the messenger and jogged toward him, arms upraised for the greeting he expected.
Hanno shot one arm out. His fingers clamped around his brother's bicep and squeezed a momentary greeting. But then that was done with. He pulled Mago's eyes to his own and fixed his lips in a stern line. "Romans," he said. "They arrived just before us. Not the homecoming we expected. Hannibal is just about to speak with them. Come."
Hanno motioned for his brother to enter the room behind him. Though swept clean of straw and filth, the room was simply a corridor, lined along one wall with stalls. It was lit by a mixture of torchlight and the slanting gray daylight from a passage that opened onto the horse-training fields. Several soldiers of the Sacred Band lined the walls. These were guards sworn to protect the nation's generals. Each was clean-shaven on the cheeks and upper lip, a carefully trimmed knob of whiskers at the base of his chin. They stood one before each stall, arms folded and gazes fixed forward.
In the center of the space, a chair had been set, by itself, straight-backed and tall, with wings coming out from either side that hid the profile of whoever resided in it. Which is what it did for the man now seated in it. His arms rested dead upon the armrests, the knuckles of his hands large and calloused, the brown skin stained still darker by some substance long dried and caked against it. Several figures bent close to him, speaking in hushed tones. One of themhalf hidden behind the body of the chair and visible only as a portion of the head and shoulderMago recognized. When this person looked up he saw the bulky, square-jawed face and the thickly ridged forehead, topped with a mass of wavy black hair. Though his face was grim, the man flashed a smile upon seeing the newcomers. It was Hasdrubal, the third of the Barca sons. As Mago had known from the start, the seated man was his eldest brother, Hannibal.
Mago stepped toward them, but Hanno caught him by the arm. He nodded toward the mouth of the passageway. Five men had appeared in the space. They seemed to stand considering the corridor, looking one to another and sharing thoughts on it. One of them shook his head and spat on the ground. Another made as if to stride away. But yet another stayed them all with a calming gesture of his hand. He pulled the crested helmet from his head and tucked it under his arm, then stepped forward into the passageway. The others fell in a few paces behind him, five silhouettes against the daylight.
"You and I will take a position to the right of him," Hanno whispered, "Hasdrubal and the translator to the left. This is a strange greeting, yes, but we want you to stand as one of us."
The two of them slipped into position. Mago still could not see his eldest brother's face, but Hasdrubal nodded at Mago and whispered something that he did not catch. Then they all turned toward the Romans in silence, still-faced and as empty of expression as possible.
The leader of the embassy halted a few strides from the chair and stood with his legs planted wide. Though he wore no sword, he was otherwise dressed for war. His skin tone was only a shade lighter than the Carthaginians', yet there was no mistaking the differences in their origins. He was half a head shorter than most Carthaginians, bulky in the shoulders and thick down through the torso. One edge of his lips twisted, an old scar, perhaps, a wound slow in healing and left imperfect. His eyes jumped from one to the other of the brothers, studying each and finally settling on the figure enclosed by the chair.
Excerpted from Pride of Carthage by David Anthony Durham Copyright © 2005 by David Durham. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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