Gotta love them lampshades!

A good weekend:  no one died, in the story or in RealLife, and I was able to lay down 4k words.  Wish my tanjed DayJob boss would get her shit straight with Madam Clio and find another job!  Not one of any of the other pharmacists I work with have issues such as hers; “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”  We’d one dog from southern Indiana; a Westie, so pre-crazy.  Everyone else I’ve known from Indiana seems deranged, just like her.

Anyway.  Show’s over and the Nation is on the move!  A few, short, snapshots to get them over the pass and into the Centralia Valley.  I did get a little sidetracked – still working on it, in fact, but the lead combat force of the horsemen, basically 17,500 dragoons with 2,500 responsible for light to medium artillery, are bearing down on Napaville as we speak.  I allow Rhun a tell about how he plans to run the op against the cannibals, as well as letting you, the pre-readers, know how the turnabout against the City’s Regulars will happen, too.

Those of you that are of the faith, pray for me that I can keep this up all week; I know I cannot do this alone.  Deus Volt!

Their operational pause of a day had Rhun off with his command staff making final alternations in their deployment to cross the Cascade Range between Mount Rainier and Mount Adams, along old US 12. One major factor was they would be moving down two lanes instead of four. Another was the second split of their forces: most of the noncombatants and all the women would pace themselves behind the mounted assault force, to arrive three days after they did. This prompted Rhun’s early morning declaration to Nichole.

“You’re in the second group,” he said brusquely, walking quickly past.

“I,” she amplified, “am following the orders of my sergeant!”

Impossible to argue with a woman in front of his men, he stalked on, pretending he didn’t hear her.

With nothing in particular for her to do, she found her way to where the second group was marshalling. Rhun’s two wagons were near the front, one covered, one not, and that is where she spied Jenkins emerging from the covered. He saw her and leapt down.

“Perfect timing, Miss Clarke!” he called. “I need to stretch my legs.”

He waved left, away from the camp. She nodded and followed.

“How is the boy?” she asked softly.

“I don’t know what will kill him, but it won’t be this pneumonia!” he said with what was, for him, some force. Nichole was older that he took his profession very seriously.

“Good. And everyone else? I’ve overheard much talk about you among the leadership.”

“I just bet you have,” he said with a sidelong glance at her to his right. “That, and a few other minor illnesses and infections have been cleared up.”

He shook his head.

“How did they go so primitive so fast? Not my problem. Speaking of health,” he abruptly changed the subject by looking pointedly at her.

“I have one and a half of the City foods left,” she replied. Before they set out, they had agreed on a number of euphemisms for her and her equipment. Food for batteries, for example. “Plenty to see me over the mountains. If resistance is waiting for us, I can fall back on my own food.”

They turned right down an asphalt street now half broken and overgrown with weeds. A few gutted houses and storefronts stared blankly through windows of shattered glass.

“And if you are injured? You know that Brunelli acceded to their request that I move with the second group,” Jenkins said, his tone not approving. “What then?”

“With my medical kit in my saddlebags I can handle most anything!”

“Of course,” he said, shying a bit as the dry weeds he stepped over suddenly produced an irritated snake. “At what cost?”

By that she knew he meant others learning her secret.

“What happens, happens,” Nichole said with a small roll of her shoulders. “Maybe I just go AWOL for three days until you show up and save me again!”

“Sheesh.” He stopped and turned about, eyeing the brush a little more closely. “Let’s go back.”

Just at the edge of the camp she left Jenkins with a wave and continued east toward where the horses were kept to check on her mare. In a few minutes she heard Toast’s happy snort. Nichole rubbed her nose.

She’s positively glowing; I’ve never seen her looking so good! Certainly if there’s one thing these people are good at, it’s taking care of their animals!

She let her eyes roam north, toward the line of lifeless hills broken at Union Gap, where the Yakima River, little more than a stream right now, flowed through. There was what appeared to be a dirt road up the left hill. She longed to run up and look down into the empty city and west toward the mountains they would soon cross.

An unnecessary power expenditure. It would do me better to find a quiet place and remain still.

She compromised on walking back to the center of the Nation’s command. I will sit still, but listen! She was surprised to see the Great Lord himself: at lunch, apparently, with a handmade sandwich in his right. A small table before him held wine and water and a large, hardback book he was reading.

There were no guards posted that she could see or sense. Was his person so secure amongst his people? Even Her Majesty always had invisible security about her when she went out into the city…

She stopped five paces away, deliberately scuffing her riding boots as she did.

“Approach, Miss Clarke,” he said without looking up. She came just close enough to be in the shade.

“So you not think me a barbarian, let’s assume I offered you food and you politely declined,” he said, still not looking up and turning a page. Close enough now to see it, she considered the images and maps.

“Military history?” she asked.

“Yes. I’m particularly interested in cavalry, as you might expect.” He finally looked up at her. “Surprised I can read, Miss Clarke?”

“It’s not something you forget, Great Lord,” she said with a smile. “I imagine you can still ride a bicycle, too!”

“After all this time on horseback, I bet I’d let my legs just hang, waiting for my steed to move,” he said, returning her smile.

She let her eyes go back to the book.

“Any particular battle…?”

“Not really.” He poured a splash of wine into a cup followed by a stream of water. He picked it up and leaned back. “Looking more at Mongol strategy and tactics. The worst thing that can happen in the next month is the cannibals retreat into the suburbs and cities. A house-to-house fight would break the back of my army.”

So free with his plans!

“So,” he took a drink and set the cup down, “I want to make a feint of some kind, to let them think we’re panicked and in disarray.”

He looked at her for a moment before continuing.

“I want them to charge us.” He looked at the sky. “Ah. My lunch is about over and I’ve still much to do.”

He took a few steps, just out of the shade. The sun overhead reflected in his golden hair.

“We shall be making an early night of it; no performance tonight!” he said. “I leave two hours before dawn.”

“Thank you for sharing your mealtime with me, Great Lord,” she said, also avoiding the subject of where she would be: first group of second. They both knew, so why argue?

A servant had appeared from behind the tree and was cleaning up. About to take the book, she waved at him to stop long enough for her to look at the chapter title. “Adrianople.” I’ve never heard of it…

The sun was just down and the scattered clouds in the sky blood red. Far off she heard some of the Chieftains arguing with the Shamans about omens. The holy men will do what they’re told, if they want to see the other side of the mountains!

Brunelli, always the fastest eater, finished his MRE and was breaking down his trash as he muttered his way through the Rosary, something else he’d taken to do every evening, Nancy had told her. Reilly, true to his nature as a scout, kept looking about. He’d shared that the rest of their two cavalry detachments were already screening the pass. Nichole had not known that as was excited to see everyone again in a few days.

“How long to get across?” she had a guess from the map in her head, but these were the experts. John just looked to Reilly.

“As well organized as these people are,” he began, picking his words, “this is still a migration, not just troops on maneuver. So, tomorrow? Worse case: the foothills. Best case? Rimrock Lake. That’s fresh water for the horses and men.”

He didn’t bother adding an exception for Nichole. “PC” was as dead as the USA.

“And after?” she prompted.

“That,” he said after swallowing the last of his food, “will depend on the weather. First group is all troopers with some artillery in tow. If the clouds don’t open up on us, we could be on the outskirts of Randle the next day.”

“How many times have you done this, corporal?”

Reilly looked at Brunelli.

“He’s been this way twice; me, once,” John said before returning to his prayer.

“Such planning!” Nichole said, surprised. Reilly stared at her.

“Once this was decided, General Tessmer made it, ah,” again Reilly chose his words, “abundantly clear to the political leadership that the Regulars would not move an inch without proper recon and staff work.”

“Of course.” Nichole ducked her head. “My mistake; I’ll be quiet now.”

“Oh, please!” from John.

“After Randle, which only had about fifty people when I was there, and not allied or converted by the cannibals, we skirt north of Riffe Lake, cross the short bridge over Mayfield Lake…” he paused to drink the last of his tea. “And, we’re there.”

“Dangerous,” Brunelli rumbled, just after his fourth, ‘worlds without end, amen.’

Nichole tilted her head in a question.

“That will have these horse-guys coming into the plain in the late afternoon: with the sun in their eyes. Supposed there are twenty-five thousand cannibal soldiers, with nerve gas shells, waiting for them?”

“And,” he continued before she could talk, “if they pause, to wait until morning, to put the rising sun at their backs, that’s twelve hours of trying to maintain operational security in an enemy country! Good luck with that!”

John began the final decade as she looked to Reilly, who would only nod in agreement.

What were they going to do?

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