Or more appropriately, a triumph. Faustina has assembled as many as she can from the Savannah campaign to show them off to the civilians of greater Knoxville. In a traditional, Roman, triumph, a slave would accompany the triumphator in their chariot and occasionally say, “remember: thou art but mortal.” Faustina would turn around with a look of incredulousness and say “no, I’m not!”
I’m not entirely happy with her speech and it will likely evolve by the time this gets edited into a book. What’s shaping up to be a very large book.
What to an outsider looked like a mass of over ten thousand uniformed men milling about just south of Sharp Gap, the notch in the ridge on Knoxville’s northern edge through which road and rail lines crossed, was to Faustina’s eyes coming together well. She had left all but a few details of the triumphal parade of her legionaries to her two – now three – legates, giving them the barest outline of what she wanted. Let them amaze me with their creativity, she thought.
The largely Scots-Irish of greater Knoxville were not Romans, no matter what she called her military units. So this was more a traditional former-American parade than a triumph that would have been recognized by a citizen of Latium. Faustina, walking around, had seen a few of the flatbed trailers to be pulled by their mules – no wasting precious gasoline or diesel – with the dioramas of her meeting with Mayor McGhee of Asheville, the battle of Augusta (she didn’t want to think about that), and the main engagement of the city of Savannah itself.
Personally, I like the mural which shows my brother and silly sister-in-law rescuing me. I think the focus is a little too much on me, but I understand we are still recruiting and need any boost we can get toward those last eight cohorts. At a series of trumpet blasts, she turned sharply and made her way quickly to the front of the column.
“Gonna be a hot day, boys!” she shouted, passing through them. “After I show off how hard y’all fought for me, we can all go swimming in the river!”
“We-uns get to see you-uns in your swimsuit? Never did make it to the beach in Savannah!” someone yelled from the ranks of First Legion.
“I ain’t exactly sexy with hair like a boy right now,” she yelled back in the local dialect, “but if y’all’s pervy like that…!”
Hundreds laughed along with her. At the head of the men, Gibson stood with two men holding horses. On for each of them. Without a word, she made her first change: Faustina walked right to him and shook her head no.
“Everyone will see you better if you’re mounted. Good optics for recruiting,” he said so only she could hear her.
“My boys walk, I walk. No.”
The legate of First nodded and waved the horses away. With a quick look back to the ranks of eight men, shoulder to shoulder, stretching back along the old highway, she turned south. She detected some boots running from behind her but disregarded it as likely a messenger with some last-minute changes… what was that pushed onto my head?!
Faustina reached up and felt leaves. A wreath? Her fingers told her oak leaves. Oh, no! She whirled about to see a grinning Centurion Chesney of sixth cohort. He spoke, well, shouted, before she could.
“For saving the army! Hail, Empress!” he yelled. A moment later echoed by the entire army, “Hail, Empress!”
Faustina quickly overrode her tears.
“It sounds better in Latin, Ches,” she whispered. “But thank you!”
“Not just me. Everyone, Empress,” he smiled, saluting her.
She returned it and turned back to the south, seeing Gibson smiling at her.
“Move them out, legate,” she ordered.
Cheering over, they marched south in complete silence. Only the tramp of their boots and the occasional bray of a mule to indicate their passing. The smattering of a few civilians along the sides of the roads grew steadily thicker. By the time the highway narrowed to Henley Street, the onlookers were continuous. Just before the bridge over the river they turned right and made their way down to the river drive that would take them to the old Neyland Stadium, where they had taken their somewhat flexible oath of the civilian leaders of Knoxville.
“Princess!” a little girl’s voice yelled. The timbre of it was not that of a normal human. Not wanting to break character by waving, Faustina instead glanced to where her brother and his family were standing, just in front of their townhome. Her breath caught to see her mother, father, and little brother with them.
Thank you for coming out to see my boys! she said to the minds of three of them, knowing they would pass it along. This is for them, not me!
Pooh, Princess! Aurelia thought back. Everyone loves you so much! Come visit, soon!
Past them, her eyes returned to the stadium before her.
They entered under the huge structure from the south but did not pass into the grass of the stadium, proper. Sounds like more than the barely twenty thousand last time, she thought as they executed their planned pause to build anticipation in the crowd, let me see… Faustina looked though the cameras which still were operating in Neyland. Oh!
“Empress?” Gibson asked, seeing her tiny shudder.
“The stadium is nearly half full! Just over fifty thousand!” she said in some surprise. “Even on a Sunday after church, that is almost every adult from the city proper!”
“A testament to how much they appreciate what you have done for them, Miss,” he mused. “And how much they love you.”
“I’m just a little girl,” she lied. “This is for my boys!”
The murmur of the assembled host became a roar as they heard First Councilman MacRae make a short statement about why they were there.
“Showtime, General,” Gibson said, making a quick look back at the serried ranks behind them.
“You really need to settle on what you call me,” she said, striding forward into the light and sound.
Too long a line to coil into the stadium eight abreast, once onto the field the cohorts arranged themselves one next to another. That allowed just enough room for Faustina to lead them all the way about the perimeter of the field, showing off her boys and the dioramas they had made to all sides of the cheering spectators. With that loop complete, they peeled off into their proper places, First Legion behind her right and Second her left, facing the raised stage to the southwest, crowded with VIPs from the city and its surrounds. Her eyes picked out the Mayors of Chattanooga and Huntsville. She would speak with the latter later.
Unlike when they took their oath those months ago, there was a microphone for her. She took the few steps to it. It was her responsibility to speak first. Faustina waited and waited for the cheering to, not really stop, but die down.
“Council of Five of the City of Knoxville! On behalf of the Knoxville Expeditionary Force, I am pleased to report total victory!” The cheering was ramping back up so she quickly pressed on. “Our foes are ejected and the port of Savannah is ours!”
Mine, really, she thought, remaining perfectly still while the people in the stands went wild. She noted MacRae waving them to quiet.
“Thank you, General Hartmann,” he began. “The bravery and sacrifice of your men will stand forever as an example to us all.” More cheering. “And! While many have heard rumors, I would like you to tell everyone here that you have volunteered to take on another difficult mission for the great people of Knoxville!”
At this, the cheers devolved to muttering.
“First Councilman MacRae and all citizens here! I was informed that in some years our reactors in Oak Ridge will need fuel. Uranium. The closest source for that ore is our friends in the Republic of Texas. A long way away! Across bandit country! No place for a little girl like me!” she addressed them. The last got laughter and applause.
“But I love all of you! As much as you should love my legionaries! And in weeks there will be more of them to love! I am doubling their number to four! At which point we shall take our leave from the city of Huntsville,” she nodded in the direction of their Mayor, “to take and hold the lands we need from here to the Mississippi River! Almost five hundred miles!”
In post-Breakup terms, that was akin to proposing a trip to the Moon. The people murmured, unsure. Even far from her on the stage, MacRae caught the blue flash of the young woman’s eyes.
“I, demi-human Faustina do this! Because I love all of you and will care for you as a mother does her children!” she yelled into the microphone. “I have been hailed imperator by my men and shall be Empress of, first, all that comes under my dominion, and later, all that I survey!”
She could sense the confusion of the masses through their applause, but that last paragraph was aimed at those on the stage ahead of her and her boys behind her.
“It has been my pleasure to work with you as a general,” MacRae said, visibly shaken. “I… we look forward to working with you in future capacities, as well. Thank you, again. God bless you and your men for all you have done for this city and our allies!”
With the crowd able to cheer at something they understood, Faustina turned about and raised her arm in salute. Once all of her boys returned it, she windmilled both arms, ending with her fingers pointing to the north and south. In an instant, the dressed lines of the cohorts and centuries vanished as they all ran to find their families. Gibson and Owens ambled over to where she stood.