In the corner of a tavern, an old man is drinking alone. He is quietly sipping his beverage when a group of three sailor appears at the door. By the look of their clothes, they are probably merchants which just arrive at Cyrene. With great interest he starts analyzing them, trying to guess based on the way they act and what they command to drink which one of them is the richest. He also cannot prevent himself to remark that even though they all speak in Greek, none of them seems to come from the peninsula. But his linguistic consideration is quickly stopped when the taller of them, the one with the Latin accent, blurt suddenly:
“Speaking of rumors do you know that Rome is still thinking about Hannibal?”
“Really? Still ten years after his death? Do not tell me they’re still afraid of a ghost? “the prettiest one grin.
“To their defense, it’s not every day that you met a man crazy enough to cross the Alps with elephants!” reply the third man, the oldest one.
“Sure, enough but as crazy and talented that he was, even he cannot come back from the dead!’
‘The rumors says that he may not have killed himself… Or at least some of them are about that”
“The way he died was certainly quite mysterious, I’m not surprised some of them think that. “
“Really Dâriush, I didn’t think you were the type to believe in this sort of story.”
“And why is that Seoras? I know that you people of Syracuse are still angry at him for letting you down but that doesn’t give you the right to undermine the man’s genius. How many years did he survive them? How could it be not human to think that maybe this death wasn’t his end but only the last trick he pulled on the romans?”
“Exactly!” the first merchant interrupt. “Most of the people I talked to about it, had a similar opinion. And even you cannot disagree with that Seoras!”
“Ok maybe you’re right” Seoras groan. “But if it such common knowledge as you said it is why do you bother telling us? It’s not like we can’t heard this type or rumors as well.”
“Because that wasn’t what I wanted to tell you. There isn’t just one rumor about his death, there is almost as much as there is people living in Rome.”
“Then tell us” Dâriush insist. “Tell us everything about the stories you heard.”
“With pleasure. So, the one I’ve heard the most, is that he didn’t killed himself, but Carthaginian’s spy did it because they were afraid, he will tell some of their city secret.”
“This is stupid!” interrupt Seoras. “Even if he was not the most beloved person of Carthage, especially by their government, even them would have known that he would have prefer to die than say anything to the romans. Also, which secret? Rome is occupying Carthage since their defeat, what can they hide from them?!”
“I didn’t say they were all believable. But you’re right, anyone with a little bit of intelligence would understand that this story is full of flaw.”
“It is full of flaw” Dâriush admit. “However, it is also the perfect propaganda tale for the romans. What’s better story than the one who say the man who almost conquer Rome was betrayed by his own people? What better way to threaten everyone to even dare thinking about invading their city?! And it is not the first time that Carthage has been blamed for poisoning a strategist, Alexander’s death is still a mystery and there a lot of clues which point toward their involvement in that case.”
“Exactly, and that’s why this version is so popular in Rome. Also, even if its full of flaws it is way less crazy than most of the others. Like for example, some believe that Hannibal killed himself because his only goal in life now was to survive Scipio. They say that this two never ended up their fight and this was the mean that Hannibal used to win the last battle.”
“Ok, now I truly believe they have completely lost their common sense. Who in their right mind would believe that Hannibal Barca, the man who cross the Alps with elephants, the man who destroyed the roman army at Cannae, the man who took every chance he gets to destroy Rome will be satisfied by surviving his rival?”
“This time I agree with Seoras. Hannibal may be proud, but his pride never blinded him. Moreover, he and Scipio, despite being at complete opposite side in their battle, always had the most utter respect for each other.”
“Exactly, that why I said that this one was crazy. Especially because there is two version of this rumor. The first one is what I just told you, Hannibal was waiting for Scipio to die. But some people pointed out that Hannibal was certainly patient, but he was not a passive man. And based on that they invented a complete theory in which he had engaged a Greek scientist to seduce his enemy. And then when Scipio will have let his guard completely down, this man killed him.”
“Are you sure this one is an actual rumor and not some elaborate plot of Cato to ridicule the man he hated?” Dâriush ask.
“Probably because some of the people who recount this story also say that Hannibal didn’t kill himself. Despite his hatred of Scipio, he also knew he was the main reason for which he was still alive and then as soon as the new of his death arrived to him, he faked his death and disappeared.”
“Really some people have no boundaries when it comes to destroy their enemy” the Syracusan mutters. “I have long known the desire of Cato to destroy the man than most romans consider a hero, but I didn’t think that he wouldn’t stop after his death.”
“Jealousy is a dangerous thing” the older merchant concedes. “It’s crazy what people are able to do just because they feel inferior to someone else.”
“Also, the fact that Scipio died before coming to his trial probably pissed him off. Plus, Hannibal’s death… Everything could have been a triumph for him. Scipio would have lost his honor and he would have brought back Hannibal to be judged. But no, both just died. They escaped him forever.”
“As ever I’m impressed by your reflections Tarquin” Seoras compliments. “I fail to remember the specific meaning some romans give to the words of honor. Now that you said all of that it become quite obvious that both their disappearance must have feel like someone was slapping him.”
“Exactly, and while I don’t really believe in any of the stories that I told you. I do believe that in some way their deaths are linked to each other. After all, Scipio has always been the one protecting Hannibal in Rome. After his death, no one would have any desire to defend the one who almost conquer them! So, it’s logical that his next move was to disappear.”
“I agree with you” the Syracusan confess. “I think the only part where our opinion diverge is that you believe he faked his death and run away whereas for my part I think he killed himself. He was a prideful old man. I don’t see him trying to survive if it’s not for accomplish something after it. And first, it’s been ten years, and nothing happened. And second, I think he knew he couldn’t do much anymore.”
“That make sense” Tarquin admits after a few minutes of reflection. “I may be a bit too much of a dreamer. Him running away is such a better tale than just dying.”
“I don’t know. The romans never got him after all. He was the one who decided the end of the fantastic adventure that was his life. For me, it’s already enough to make people dream.”
Tarquin slowly nodded in agreement before both men started smiling at each other. They stay like that for a few second before remembering that a third person was with them. So they looked at the Persian and asked:
“And you Dâriush, what do you think?”
“Me?” answers Dâriush and immediately his eyes started sparkling. “Me I will never forget what I saw ten years ago on the border of Libyssa. I will never forget the two men which were crazy enough to sail a boat in the middle of the night. I will never forget the way they looked at each other. And since then, I do believe that men can invent whatever story they want, they can imagine the craziest story, but it will never be at the level of reality.”
And as soon as he finishes speaking, he gets up, let enough money on the table to pay for the three of them and start to leave slowly.
Immediately Seoras and Tarquin run after him. Both looking extremely confused and clearly needing a little bit more precision.
“What do you mean by that?”
“Just that in my opinion neither you nor me or even the romans will ever resolve the whole mystery surrounding their death. And that is not so bad. In my opinion, some truths are better when they stay hidden.”
As soon as his clients are out of sight, the owner of the tavern cannot prevent himself to look at the not-so-secret listener. His eyes are full of malice while he stares at this man which skin have been tamed by years in the sun, which hairs have started to whiten and which only eye is still as piercing as it was some thirties years before at the battle of Zama.
Hannibal feeling that he is being observed, look back at him. After a quick eye contact, he jokes:
“A Greek lover, really? I knew you were not against a bit of fun but that’s still a pretty dumb way to die. If that was the true reason of your death, I will have been pretty disappointed.”
“I mean they’re not completely wrong, before dying I did write quite a lot of letters in Greek. It’s not their fault, if they didn’t guess that the recipient of this letter wasn’t Greek.”
“Maybe I should have kidnap you, this would have made the situation clearer for everyone.”
“It’s not that enjoy disagreeing with you” Scipio says making Hannibal rolls his eye in front of such blatant lie. “But first I’m pretty sure you cannot kidnap someone who will follow you willingly. And two we both know that you’re too intelligent to even think this type of plan was a good idea.”
“Are you certain you don’t underestimate me?!”
“I don’t but to be fair, I’m even more certain that if anyone could successfully kidnap a roman hero despite being the number one enemy of Rome, it would be you.”
Facing this remark, Hannibal refrain a strong desire to roll his eye for a second time in such a short amount of time. He also does not say that he is the only number one enemy of Rome and instead use the occasion to mock a little bit his companion.
“With this ability to flatter I’m really surprised you didn’t manage to be a better politician.”
“Maybe because I’m only good at it when I have interest in what it could gain me.”
“And what do you win with this flattery?”
“I’m not sure. I think I’m going to trust you for this one.”
This time Hannibal cannot refrain anymore the huge smile which appear on his face.
“If that’s what you want… I may have some ideas.”
“Really. Except if you already have some regrets?”
“I don’t. Do you?”
Yes. So many. Often, he dreams of them. His father’s death. The days after the battle of Cannae. The battle of Zama. A kiss a bit too short in Ephesus. The decline of Carthage.
So many moments where the outcomes could have been improved. So many times, where maybe if he has been a bit braver, he could have done better.
The voice of Scipio is louder than before and surely enough when Hannibal raise his eyes, he sees that the younger man is now just in front of him. He must have been lost deeper in his thoughts that what he initially assumed.
“No. I don’t have any regrets.” he assures grabbing Scipio’s hand and holding them into his own. “Not for the last ten years.”
Because yes, he has a lot of regrets. But faking his death to run away with the man who defeated him was clearly not one of them. And it will never be, he is sure of that.