Got the copyedit of “Princess’ Crusade” back with the typical thousand corrections. As always, a humbling experience. But this time, also a vital one.
After my little so-called vision as to where my current MS, “Empress’ Crusade” might be leading me, I was increasingly aware that I was having trouble keeping my future history dates in my head. When the PC edit came back and at three times pointed out and asked “is this date correct? is her age correct?” I realized that, even though I’ve been shown some very interesting things about Faustina and the young man who is the Mayor of Huntsville, I have to sit myself down and draw up a proper timeline of all primary and secondary characters, what has already happened, and what I think will happen. “EC” is going to unfold over two in-book years and I cannot have my readers jerked out of the story saying, “that makes no sense… the timing is all wrong!”
Below the fold is what I was able to get down following the triumph. A little politics, a little romance (maybe?), and a swim across the Tennessee River. Hope everyone who is sheltering in place has ordered copies of my books to keep them entertained!
“Judging by what I see up there,” Owens said with a grin, looking past her at the stage, “you scared the hell out of them.”
“Perhaps, as empress, I should inspire a little fear?” she mused, putting her index finger to her chin while tilting her head to the left. “I’ll make it up to them in my next iteration.”
“What?” her legates asked as one. She shook her head at them.
“Got to play politics now,” she said turning and walking toward the assembled politicians. “See everyone at our meeting at oh-eight-hundred tomorrow!”
Almost to the stage’s steps on the south side, her improved hearing picked up Greene railing at Klimt “…took her side! You are putting us under a tyrant!”
I’d rather he at least be a neutral if not an ally, Faustina thought, slowly taking the five steps, allowing them to become aware of her presence. I am not enthralled by the idea of leaving political enemies behind me.
With the crowd in the stands and now mixed with the men from the field, MacRae didn’t need to pretend and could focus on the person before him. He walked quickly to the General and took her extended hand while pointing at her head with his left.
“Your hat’s new,” he said with a smile not reaching his eyes.
“It was given to me by my legions just before this celebration,” she explained, noting most on the stage were now paying attention. “A visual symbol of what they acclaimed me, you might say.”
“We might say it’s a crown!” Greene yelled. “And last I looked, the Council of Five governed here!”
“Perhaps you should look again?” Faustina said demurely, easing past MacRae to place herself before the mayor of Huntsville, one Robert Wade, she had learned last night, serving his second four-year term. She got her hand out first. The look in his eyes was nothing short of astonishment. She liked that.
“Greetings, sir! While we must have a detailed meeting later, I wanted to present myself to you and make sure you understand that in a few weeks we’ll be passing through your town,” Faustina said by way of introduction. “I look forward to seeing it again!”
“I was unaware that such an important person such as you had visited us before,” Mayor Wade apologized with a genuine smile. “When was that?”
“Eighteen years ago,” she smiled right back, liking the sandy-haired man in his early-thirties already and not letting go of his hand. “I was still in my mom at the time. She and my father were part of the Society returning power to Huntsville.”
“Ah! Chibi! Our first reactor!” he exclaimed. “So your parents are Leslie and Callie, correct?”
“Yes!” she replied, surprised enough to drop her hand. “How in the world do you know that little tidbit?”
“The story of the installation of that reactor, and the people who did it, and those who they ran into, is an epic tale of local lore, General Hartmann,” he explained. “I was only fourteen at the time, but when the stories began to circulate about the Knoxville Society, Lily Barrett and her android companion, the ghost Dorina… well, having barely made it through the Breakup, it was like suddenly living in some adventure sci-fi novel!”
“And here now,” he went on, “I meet the girl who is the nexus of all of those people. And she’s planning on leading an army through my town!”
“Quite the coincidence, isn’t it?” Faustina teased him.
“Please! Part of our lore is that there is no such thing!” He put his hand out again, to hold not shake hers. Holding it, he concluded, “and I am very glad we were meant to meet, General.”
She ignored her heart flutter, he isn’t wearing a wedding band! and moved on to calm down the other members of Knoxville’s Council after her speech. Klimt seemed resigned to it all and the other two would tilt in whatever direction MacRae’s wind was blowing. Lastly, she spent a few words with Chattanooga’s mayor before returning to MacRae.
“Back to base?” he asked her, accompanying Faustina down the steps and across the field to the south. No one followed them.
“Not immediately,” she said, slipping out of her jacket uniform and tossing it to him. He was more surprised to see her suddenly pull her black tee-shirt up and over her head, carefully not dislodging her oak leaf crown. MacRae glanced about, hoping no one was taking pictures… oh.
“Going for a swim, then?” he asked, relieved to see her in a one-piece swimsuit with broad diagonal turquoise and white bands across it.
“Yup! I did once promise to go swimming with my boys in the Atlantic after we took Savannah, but…” he watched the smile drop off her young face, “that really didn’t work out. So, I thought a few laps across the river. Anyone who didn’t have a family to spend the afternoon with was invited.”
They drew up at the southern entrance to the field.
“You really do love them. Your boys as you call them?”
“They are mine. I am theirs. Soon, that will be true of all my subjects, too.”
“And free citizens?”
“Ask that again once you are elected for life in a few weeks.”
“Touché, General Hartmann,” he said with a small smile, handing her jacket back to her. “See you tomorrow afternoon? Unless I can swim, too…?”
“Nope!” she disagreed. “Legionaries only! See ya’!”
He watched her disappear into the group of ‘her boys’ who awaited her under the stands. Their looks of love and admiration for the more-than-human girl were obvious and genuine. MacRae turned about and waved for his staff to join him as he left.
The moment she had walked away from MacRae he was no longer a part of her mind. While her boys were happy to see her – happier with her top off – she knew that the one hundred and twenty there had no family or home to go to. The legion was their family and she must be their mother. Mom and Aunt Lily were adopted orphans, and Lily used to live and work at an orphanage. Come to think of it, didn’t Uncle Arpad’s parents leave him?
“C’mon boys!” Faustina smiled and waved. Quite unselfconsciously she would look at the face of a legionary she didn’t know and flick through personnel files through her lines. “Davies! I heard you grew up along the river! It’s only about seven hundred feet across at this point… you think you can beat me to the other side?”
“You’re my general and princess, Miss, oh!” Davis began to reply slowly, stopping completely when Faustina paused in the middle of the empty street to peel her trousers off. He shook his head. “But I ain’t lettin’ no girl out swum me!”
He and the rest, having already planned this before their triumph, stripped down to their swimsuits. The physical attraction of a few of them for their general was embarrassingly obvious. She saw the eyes of several of them linger on her left side and the burn scars there. Faustina called one of her aides over to gently hand hand him her crown of leaves.
“Anyone who beats me for the swim across, and the swim back, gets a kiss! And before you ask, it’s from me, not my legates!” She laughed, waving them forward. They paused on the little strand next to the river. “Let’s go!”
Running into the water then diving, Faustina had no intention of losing. Let all men love me and despair!