Last we’d left off, Belisarius had finally broken the siege of Rome. Reinforcements had arrived. The Ostrogoths had fallen back to Northern Italy to prepare a last defense for Ravenna, the capital of the late Western empire. It looked like soon, Italy, the birthplace of Scipio, Caesar, and Augustus, would be back in Roman hands. But, with new forces came new commanders. One of these commanders was Narses, the eunuch who had helped Justinian suppress the Nika revolt. Another commander who had just started coming to the fore, was a man named John, who led the main cavalry detachment. When these reinforcements arrived, Belisarius ordered John to range north, to raid, and loot, and capture what he could and to leave no enemy behind him, lest he be cut off. John flew north with a speed and fury unmatched. He ravaged the countryside and scattered armies before him. Then, he came to Auximus. Here, there was a strong garrison of Ostrogoths, well armed and ready for war. He decided that his cavalry was not the proper tool for such a siege, and passed by this city on his way north. Then again, at Urbinas, he did the same. But when he came to Ariminum, the Roman population threw open the gates, and seeing their defense lost, the Ostrogothic garrison fled. So John, knowing that Ariminum lay only a day’s march from Ravenna, seized the opportunity, and took the town, hoping that it would force much of the Ostrogothic army in the field to withdraw to their capital. And this it did. For the most part. But as the Ostrogothic forces retreated north, they strengthened their garrisons at the towns that John had left behind. So Belisarius sent swift messengers with word to John to abandon the town of Ariminum, and rejoin the main Byzantine force. But John refused. And by twice not heeding Belisarius’ orders, first by leaving uncaptured towns behind him and then, again, by refusing Belisarius’ direct order now, he found himself cut off, surrounded, and besieged. At Firmum, Belisarius called a council of war. All his generals assembled. He laid out his plan.. They would take a cautious approach north. It was tragic, but he would not risk the whole army to save John from his insubordination. For the most part, the generals murmured in agreement. But then, in the back, Narses stood up. With a wave of his hand, he said that John could be dealt with later if they were to relieve the city, but the loss of 2000 of their best cavalry without a fight would be an unconscionable failure of command. Just then, a ragged horseman burst into the council tent. Having clearly ridden hours on end, he unsteadily stumbled toward Belisarius, and handed him a letter. It was from John. His forces were on the brink of starvation. They could last seven more days, and then they would have to surrender. Reluctantly, Belisarius agreed to Narses’ plan. They would relieve Ariminum. The eunuch smiled. John was his friend, or, at least, his political ally. Wheels were turning out of Belisarius’ control. So Belisarius drew up a new plan. He would relieve Ariminum, but, as was always his method, if he could, he would do it without having to fight. So, he split his armies into three sections: One which would head to Ariminum by sea one which would march up the coast and another which would descend upon it from the mountain passes to the northwest. But the force that was to head up the coast wasn’t to engage. It was simply to approach the Ostrogoths, and then at night light many, many fires, so that they appeared to be a massive horde. And then, the next morning, the sails of the fleet would appear on the ocean and the banners of the remaining force would appear from the mountains and the Ostrogoths, seeing that they were surrounded, would flee. And, unlike most things in military planning it worked EXACTLY as planned. As soon as the ship’s sails appeared on the horizon, the Ostrogoths besieging Ariminum broke and ran. Had John’s cavalry not be so depleted by hunger and exhaustion, they might have been able to end the war right there. But instead, a gaunt and haggard John stumbled out of Ariminum to be greeted by Belisarius, who suggested that he thank the commander of the seabound forces for his rescue. Instead, John answered that his thanks were to Narses And the cracks began to spread. Narses and Belisarius disagreed on the strategy. Much of the original army was loyal to Belisarius, as he had seen them through so much, but a great number of the new troops saw Narses as their commander. After all, as they saw it, without him, they would have lost Ariminum, John, and the 2,000 men with him, when instead, they had easily driven the Ostrogoths back without a fight. Didn’t this clearly show that Narses knew what he was doing? Besides, Narses controlled their pay. All of this finally came to a head around Mediolanum. Mediolanum was the second-richest city in Italy. It had supported the Roman cause, and now it was under siege by the nephew of Vitiges. Bellisarius wanted to focus much of the Byzantine efforts on relieving it. Narses said that this was inefficient, and he would take his forces elsewhere while Bellisarius handled Mediolanum. But this was it. Bellisarius was putting his foot down. He cracked out a letter that Justinian had sent that read, “In sending Narses, our purser, to Italy,” “we do not invest him with the command of the army.” “It is our wish that Bellisarius alone shall lead the whole army as seems good to him,” “and it behooves you all to obey him in the interest of our state.” But Narses, being well-practiced in the ways of the court, seized on this last sentence and proclaimed, “Your plan is not in the interests of the state.” Bellisarius had no answer to this. He would not risk open conflict with the second-most senior commander, so, he consented to march with Narses and John to take Urbinus and secure the road to Urinium before relieving Mediolanum. And so, the three armies marched, theoretically united, but very much a tripartite force with different commanders at its head, and when they finally got to Urbinus, they set up three separate camps. Shortly after reaching Urbinus, even though coming here had been Narses’ idea in the first place, both John and Narses decided that, eh, it was impregnable, and took off. Narses headed to Ariminum to threaten the Ostragothic capital, and John charged off into the countryside to make short work of Forum Cornelii and collapse another Ostragothic province. But Bellisarius stayed, and with that remarkable, Bellisarian luck, in this town which every other commander had said was impregnable, a town that was so well-supplied and so well-defended, suddenly, and for no explicable reason, the town’s spring, their only source of water, ran dry. Without water, the defenders surrendered to Bellisarius in a matter of days. But the siege of Mediolanum was getting worse, a force of 10,000 Burgundian warriors had crossed the Alps to join the Ostrogoths. This was far too much for the beleaguered Byzantine garrison to handle. Belisarius sent out a force to relieve the garrison, but when they saw the size of the opposing army, they stopped in their tracks and just stayed there outside the city. One night, a messenger from the commander in Mediolanum braved enemy lines and reached the relieving force, asking for help, which they promised right away, but still, they didn’t move. Finally, the relieving army asked for reinforcements. They asked that they be sent John’s forces, which were in a neighboring province. Belisarius agreed, and sent the order to John right away, telling him to come assist the relieving army in repelling the siege. But John refused, he would not obey the order unless it was countersigned by Narses. So, exasperated, Belisarius wrote to Narses to sign the order. Which, he did, without hesitation, as clearly Mediolanum needed to be relieved. But then, John fell ill, or at least appeared to, and the relief effort was delayed again. Reduced to eating dogs and mice, the forces of Mediolanum were in dire straits. The Ostrogoths offered the troops honorable captivity, with their life and their status as free men intact, IF they would open the town to them. The Roman commander in Mediolanum replied that he would accept, so long as the people of Mediolanum weren’t harmed. But the Ostrogoths made no secret of the savage vengeance they wished to wreak on this town that had so quickly embraced the Romans. Inside the Roman commander tried to rally his forces for one last desperate sally against the forcer right outside their walls. But hunger and fear had taken their toll, and so, with outside help apparently not coming, the garrison, at last, surrendered. Days later, the relief force finally arrived; they had seen dark smoke from the road. As they approached all was quiet, except for the crows. The walls were rubble in places; the great gate stood open. As they walked through, they were greeted with a sight of horror. Bodies and ash as far as the eye can see. Bodies in numbers unfathomable. Tens, maybe hundreds, of thousands laying in the black soot. Every man in the city had been slaughtered. Every woman and child had been dragged off as a slave. Then the Ostrogoths had put the town to the torch, and nothing of it remained. Amongst the rubble, they found the body of Raparatus, the Praetorian prefect of Italy and the brother of the Pope. He was barely recognizable. His limbs chopped into pieces; his body savaged by dogs. This was the first sign that the Romans might not be able to protect the people of Italy, and things were only about to get worse.