No, not Faustina; she’s too nice a girl for that… and she has more important things in her mind that dalliances with boys. “It is no small thing to make a new world.”
In the meantime, they are coming up on their first non-Knoxville population center and need to maintain operational security in what is essentially “Indian country.” I’ve actually written on a little as to what happens the next day but it was not a good fit for this little entry. Tomorrow.
It was the evening of their fifth day. All about them was the controlled chaos of a marching camp being thrown together at the base of the last line of hills between them and the valley containing the much-reduced town of Asheville. Faustina’s mother once told her the tale that it was an “arts community” – then had to explain what that meant. Now, it was the gateway to the mountain pass beyond which was the burgeoning Tennessee River Valley city-states. Mostly empty and purely agricultural after the Breakup, it was trying to find its new feet as a trade town.
“I have said before: I do not want this army remotely near a population center! Too many eyes! Too many questions!” she recapitulated to the twenty-four senior commanders about her.
“We’ve no choice, Miss! Those cows, as you put it, cannot take the guns over any of these hills. We have to take the flat way to and south of Asheville,” the centurion of first cohort of First Legion, Tapscott, said. “At least, being flat, we should have no problem making the twenty, twenty-two miles or so to the defunct airport for our next camp.”
He was thirty-one with non-descript brown hair and hazel eyes. There was something, she knew, in his genes that set the First Councilman’s teeth on edge. It was one of the reasons she planned to make him legate of the next legion she organized. That, plus he was a natural leader, even if something of a pushy jerk.
And, he had neatly pointed out what Faustina had intellectually understood but only know physically grasped: they were tied to roads in a way they had never been since she put together her very first practice muster. Her light infantry, who could do so much, so fast, with such flexibility, were tied hand and foot to their artillery.
“As God is my witness,” she fumed to the assembled, “my next campaign is for oil and a refinery to use it! I’ll never use these useless cows again!”
“In the meantime, Miss,” Owens said softly, “we still have to skirt Asheville. There’s no other way.”
“I’m aware,” Faustina replied, quickly getting herself back in full control, seeing a rider come up to the fringe of their gathering. “I just hope we can get past them before anyone takes an interest in us.”
“Too late,” the rider called, walking quickly into their midst. She knew he was in the Second Troop but could not recall his name.
“How’s that?” Faustina asked, returning his legionary salute.
“Chatting with some of the locals, just over the hills,” he jerked his right thumb over his shoulder as he spoke, “and they were askin’ me if I was a part of “the Knoxville army,” as he termed it.”
The group tensed.
“Wanting to know more, I got him talking. His words were “everybody knows they’re coming, but nobody knows why or where they’s going,” Miss,” he concluded.
After a pause, Tapscott began to speak. “If we – ”
“I want,” she cut him off, “everyone who can be bedded down soonest. We’ll be up at oh-three-thirty and on the march as quickly as we can. That should keep curious eyes to a minimum.”
“For tomorrow morning,” said Tapscott, again. “And when a hundred curious come south to our next camp?”
“As of right now, none of my boys are allowed to talk to civilians,” she said right back, thinking furiously, “under severe penalty if they do. All of you, the leadership, will speak for us, but in a babble of answers.”
“Miss?” Gibson asked for them all.
“You tell anyone who asks you we’re going to Charlotte. You,” she looked at Owens, “that we’re going to Columbia. These rest of you pick a city and work it out amongst yourselves: no duplicates! I want these locals and anyone they tell to be confused as hell!”
She could tell they saw the wisdom of that and liked it. Good. She relaxed just a little inside.
“Can I be the one who tells the truth? Savannah?” Tapscott asked with a grin.
“Absolutely,” she replied without hesitation. “It would be a stupid tell if we omitted it!”
“Then I’m saying we’re Wilmington-bound!” Cheney called, getting into the spirit of it. “May as well have both Chicom ports on the hop!”
Pleased, she saluted and walked to her staff. She picked one and told him to get horses for them both. While he did that, she dug a jacket and helmet out of her kit. In less than a minute, her long dark hair tucked away, looking like any other ranker, she swung up into the saddle, headed due east. The road barely two miles before leaving the road and making their way up the hill on the north, the taller side. After a ten minute search, with the sun slipping away and her second increasingly agitated about the general being along out here, she paused and took her field glasses from her belt, looking down into the greater Asheville area.
“Miss?” he asked after another two minutes, “we really need to get – ”
“Yep,” Faustina agreed, stowing the glasses. “Let’s go back. I need to walk our wall and get to bed!”