Been chewing on the legionary awards ceremony for days. This morning – sober, even! – I saw the answer: my typical terse style. Rather than put the reader through the hundred or so men coming forward for awards and promotions, all that happens “off stage” as it were. What we see is Faustina’s address, where she at last pulls back the curtain on what sort of political arrangement she has in mind for the territory she considers to be her own by right of conquest. This is going to have ramification back in Knoxville I cannot begin to see.
This marks the end of the raw manuscript that will either be Part One or Book One, at just over 56k words. Right now I must devote the coming weekend to implementing the copyedit changes proposed by Stephen Zimmer for my short story collection. And it still needs a cover. Busy, busy…
The sun was an hour from its zenith and the gentle breeze that blew off the Atlantic Ocean inland from east to west merely rendered the warm air moist. An hour ago into the presentation one of her aides had placed a small, low table with a pitcher of water and glass just behind her left where she was standing on the raised platform before her two legions. As none of her boys had water during the ceremony Faustina had contemptuously ignored it. Until she found her vision blurring and Gibson forcing the glass into her hand.
“Stop being stupid, Miss Hartmann!” he hissed at her, deliberately not addressing her rank. She finished that cup and the one immediately refilled afterward. Scanning the ranks of her boys, none of them seemed to resent her for it.
Father and stupid big brother always tried to show me my physical limitations, she thought while smiling, saluting, and shaking the hand of the next decorated legionary. It was her directive that all but the highest awards were to be given by her cohort centurions. Faustina and her two legates were there to oversee and honor the brave men. Someday I shall show them, both of my families, just what I can do!
Legate Gibson concluded the first part of the ceremony by reading out the names of those awarded decorations and promotions but could otherwise not attend, being either on duty or in the hospital. The over ten thousand present applauded and yelled their approval as he finished and stepped back.
Showtime, Faustina thought.
She looked out at them all, arrayed by cohorts with First Legion on her right, Second, left. Faustina tried to look at as many of her boys in their eyes as she could while a technical aide set a microphone on a stand before her. In an amphitheater or concert hall, she could have reached them with her own voice. Here on the flat grassland next to the Army Airfield’s single runway? Impossible. It went to a few loudspeakers placed alongside their ranks. A last was positioned so the Chinese PLA prisoners of war could hear, too. She took one step forward to the mike as the roll of their voices by the thousands came to her ears.
She quickly made a change to her planned speech, first raising her right hand high in salute then gesturing with both of them to be silent.
“A general,” Faustina said clearly, “is no better than their men. But those men are nothing without their general! You have publicly hailed me as imperator! Allow me to publicly call you what many have heard in private: you are now and always shall be my boys!”
While they cheered again she returned to searching their faces. Some of the younger ones took that very emotionally…
“And as my boys, it will be my honor to lead you to protect our homes! To the four corners of the Earth and beyond if need be!” Before they could think about that too much, she pressed on.
“I am aware that most all of you want to go back to those homes; I do, too! But we cannot leave things here in chaos. The repair of the Port. Drydocks improved… I’m going to need a navy, too!” More cheering. “And most importantly, a new government. Centurion Ansel, step out!”
From the fourth cohort of Second, an older man moved into the open space between the two legions and saluted.
“You are discharged from my legions! You and your family shall settle here and govern Greater Savannah in my name! You are Count Ansel and you and your heirs shall keep that title so long as you loyally serve me! Congratulations, Count!”
There was confused applause but Faustina had carefully spoken with those men who had an eye both to settle in their new lands and to make a name for themselves and their posterity. Having just been discharged, Ansel bowed rather than saluted and made his way to stand at the podium at the foot of Faustina, looking back at the men.
“Further! Underofficers Blaine and Ryder! Fall out!” Once they had, she pressed on. “Discharged! Blaine! You are my viscount of Augusta! Ryder! You are my viscount of Greenville! Hold them in my name and bring peace to these lands! May your grandsons serve proudly with my sons!”
She took a breath and wagered upon their earlier acclamation. Faustina thought of the book she had re-read while in the hospital back home… a new, organic, meta-consciousness…
“In my Imperium!” Faustina’s smile went on and on. “God wills it!”
Shaking again, she stepped back a pace as the cheers of her boys were enough to nearly blow her off of the stage.
I’m on my way!