The sea voyages soon restored Malchus to his accustomed health. Trained and disciplined as his body had been by constant exercise, his nerves were not easily shaken, and soon recovered their tone, and when, early in March, he rejoined his regiment, he was able to enter with zest and energy into the preparations which Hannibal was making for the siege of Saguntum. Difficult as this operation would be, the preparations which were being made appeared enormous. Every week ships brought over reinforcements of troops, and the Iberian contingents were largely increased.
One day Malchus entered an apartment where his father and Hannibal were talking earnestly together with a large map spread out before them. He would have retired at once, but Hannibal called him in.
“Come in, Malchus, I would have no secrets from you. Although you are young I know that you are devoted to Carthage, that you are brave and determined. I see in you what I was myself at your age, but nine years ago, and it may be that some day you will be destined to continue the work which I am beginning. You, too, have commenced early, your training has been severe. As your father’s son and my cousin your promotion will naturally be rapid. I will, therefore, tell you my plans. It is clear that Rome and Carthage cannot both exist — one or the other must be destroyed. It is useless to strike at extremities, the blow must be dealt at the heart. Unfortunately our fleet is no longer superior to that of Rome, and victories at sea, however important, only temporarily cripple an enemy.
“It is by land the blow must be struck. Were the sea ours, I should say, land troops in southern Italy, and continue to pour over reinforcements until all the fighting men of North Africa are at the gates of Rome. But without the absolute command of the sea this cannot be done. Therefore I intend to make Spain our base, and to march through Southern Gaul over the Alps into Italy, and there to fight the Romans on their own ground. Already I have agents at work among the Gauls and the northern tribes of Italy, who will, I trust, join me in the war against our common enemy. The enterprise is a great one, but it is not impossible; if it succeeds, Rome will be destroyed and Carthage will reign, without a rival, mistress of the world. The plan was Hasdrubal’s, but it has fallen to me to carry it out.”
“It is a grand plan indeed,” Malchus exclaimed enthusiastically — “a glorious plan, but the difficulties seem tremendous.”
“Difficulties are made to be overcome by brave men,” Hannibal said. “The Alps are the greatest barrier, but my agents tell me that the difficulties are not insuperable even for elephants. But before we start we have Spain to subdue. Saguntum is under the protection of Rome, and must be crushed, and all the country north of the Ebro conquered and pacified. This done the passage of reinforcements to my army in Italy will be easy. The Gauls will favour us, the mountains tribes will be crushed or bought over, so that the route for the advance of reinforcements, or for our retreat, if too hardly pressed, will be always open. But all this is for yourself alone.