Which, for my overseas readers, is an actual river and city in the State of Mississippi. Faustina has to move fast: both to prove herself as a legionary commander and to show that she’s better than humans. In this segment, the first of two before the Battle of Winona (there will finally be shooting, I promise), she schools her distant relations on strategy and tactics in the former US as well as that attacking the enemy’s mind is always more effective than attacking their body.
I am also older that to write a campaign, you have to plan a campaign. A visual example of that is at the very end of this entry.
At just after four PM the next day, Colonel Rigó was professionally surprised to watch what was in effect a small town be built from almost nothing. With what he saw was about twenty percent of his niece’s men on patrol and guard, the rest set about with spades and axes to throw up a twelve-foot wooden palisade behind an eight-foot deep ditch, one thousand feet per side. Given the swampland of the local area around former Yazoo City, there was about a foot of stagnant water pooled in the bottom.
“If we were staying more than a night,” Faustina said, abruptly appearing behind his left shoulder as was her wont, “I’d have towers for the machine guns, too. Half and half, really: don’t want an old RPG to try to take out my boys!”
“To be quite frank, General Hartmann,” Rigó admitted, nodding at the nominally allied commander, “even after reading the reports of Augusta and Savannah, I thought you were just a gifted amateur.”
“This,” he waved about, “is something we don’t even do in Texas. It is not something we did in the Empire.”
“Europe and Texas are different,” Faustina gave a toss of her head for him to follow. Her dark hair was just long enough to sway as she did. “Here we are in the badlands and must assume every hand in opposition. If the Empire were ever to move north or west, they would fortify every night, too. By the by, where’s the only other woman in my command?”
“Knowing Ryland,” Arpad said with a smile, “she’s badgering your men about one thing or another to, as you people say, be older.”
The stairs to the north rampart were just up. Rigó climbed with her, looking out at the woods to their east.
“Fantastic ambush country,” he noted.
“Yup. Got my boys all over it, until tonight. My riders say the main enemy is still about eighty miles northeast, coming down the old Natchez Trace Road, but my men on watch will keep us safe.”
“My daughter,” Arpad said, going off on a tangent, “is a medical doctor at fourteen. She wants to go to sea. I get genius. What I don’t get is how you learned to do this. You use the term ‘demi-human’ – ”
“For good reason,” she smiled.
“But,” he carried on, “you have nine as your immediate staff! You… let your brigadiers, sorry, legates, have latitude that I cannot fathom, and somehow you have lead this army hundreds of miles into the wilds and are about to take these unseasoned young men – ”
“First and Second fought in my Savannah crusade.”
“ – fine! Take these young men into a battle against a foe we know almost nothing about!” He looked about before continuing. “My wife’s sister’s child, how do you do this?”
“Shall I tell you stories about what the machine, Ventidio, taught me?” she laughed at her uncle, drawing looks from the hard-working legionaries about them. “Shall I try to show that I do not think as you humans do? No. Instead, know this, Colonel Rigó: my people are here for one reason. To change the world.”
“Your people?” he reflected, looking out at the riders galloping toward the now-closed north gate.
“Rodgers!” she abruptly shouted down to a Centurion below. “I’ll be down in a moment for their report. My silly cousin is playing in the mud around the left corner. Detail someone to get her inside, now, please!”
“You didn’t answer my question,” Rigó said, following as she ran down the steps.
“I don’t have to.”
Her man Rodgers was taking the initial report from the troop’s lead when he turned about making a small motion with his left hand. Faustina had just flinched at the metallic squeak at her upper left and dropped to a casual walk so quickly her uncle nearly ran into her.
“Let me,” she said just as abruptly turning about, “make sure there are no flaws in my main gate!”
She ignored the snort from the non-combatant craftsman at her right.
“Any reason we are – ” Rigó began to ask.
“You’ll see. Jimmy! You call that an oiled hinge?” she asked in a displeased but soft tone.
“My apologies, Empress,” the man replied, moving his ladder and climbing another five feet to the offending metal.
“Your non-combatants only wear a knife and sidearm,” Rigó observed as that legionary, Rodgers, stopped just behind them.
“General,” he started but stopped.
“Colonel Rigó is allowed to hear all but my closest secrets. Speak freely.”
“Miss! The troop has two captured horse scouts with them, kept a little further back. Per your orders, I didn’t want you immediately exposed.”
“Excellent! One grade of rank promotion when we are back in Vicksburg! Or wherever our next few good night’s sleep is! Colonel, with me, please.”
This time, the gate swung open just a little, but in complete silence. Once inside, away from outsiders, she sent for her oldest legate, Gibson, from First. His appearance would carry the most weight with any POWs. Just as she caught sight of her legate, a ranker appeared with a somewhat breathless Ryland in tow.
“Do you people run everywhere?” the girl asked without preamble to the knot of commanders.
“We all like to see her at a trot,” Gibson answered, acknowledging Rigó’s salute with a wave. “If she’s running we’d all best be at top speed in the same direction. It just when she’s walking…”
“Yes?” their inexperienced guest demanded.
“That’s when we know she’s thinking particular devilish and all make ourselves scarce. I’m guessing, General,” he turned to Faustina, “we’re playing pretend again?”
“Huh?” Ryland asked again. This time, her father gently took her left forearm and shook his head just a fraction.
“Yup! That witch-girl, with all the rumors around her, was too scared to leave Vicksburg with her three legions. She cowardly sent this one, inexperienced legion north to see just what the heck is coming for her. Now that we have touched scouts, well,” he raised her arms in question, “there’s just no room in this little marching camp to take prisoners, is there? Since they look like good lads, will they accept parole back to their homes? Promising to never fight us again?”
In the corner of her eye, Faustina watched her cousin’s jaw fall open in disbelief. Ignoring that, she returned Gibson’s salute before he secured his helmet onto his head and waved for the gate to open and let him and his two aides pass.
“Humans see and believe what they want to, cousin,” Faustina said softly without turning, praying for this to work. She waved at her aide for her own helmet, holding it before her a moment. “Will those captured scouts believe that? Enough. Will they ride straight and fast, back to their commander? You bet! I after all certainly am.”
“I will lead my men out at oh-four-hundred in the AM. Battle formations, artillery limbered but ready to deploy at a moment’s notice.” Now she turned and faced her family, settling her helmet. “I want to cover just over fifty miles tomorrow and be building a fort just behind the Tupelo army’s right before they twig to where we are. They’ll turn to face us, figuring to crush us between them and the Memphis army the next day.”
“But that’s not going to happen, is it,” Rigó said, enjoying himself immensely.
“Heh,” she smiled. “Of course not. You will forgive me, uncle, if I stop there?”
“Security is security,” he nodded.
“I will tell you this, as you’ll see it anyway and put it into your report to Austin: from what I learned along the Savannah, the sky will be pocked with my drones, pouring information into me, who will crush the Tupelo force and Memphis force, in turn!”
“Prisoners?” Rigó asked in professional curiosity.
“Will remain under my guard until I extract a treaty and concessions from the cities,” she concluded, waving at a centurion who seemed to be in charge of at least the main gate. “Neither of my guests is allowed up on the wall; too many potential prying eyes. Colonel? You may observe my staff tomorrow if you’d care to come.”
“Wouldn’t miss this for the world,” her uncle smiled at her. “My daughter?”
“Will be perfectly safe first in the heart of my army with the guns, then later in camp with my non-combatants and a three-century defensive detachment.” Faustina turned slightly to ascend the stairs and check on Gibson. “I promise!”
“Why can’t I observe, too? I’ll be a naval officer someday!” Ryland asked a bit too loud.
“Because to observe a battle is to be in it, Cousin. And human female breeders are too important to risk in battle. Arpad? I want no trouble.”
Taking his recalcitrant daughter’s arm again, he not-quite jerked her back toward the center of the legionary camp.
“Come on. Let’s see where they’ve hidden our dinner.” His tone kept her mouth shut for once.
Faustina was still and patient looking north from the twelve-foot wall, staring out at the group of her horse troopers. The two-hundred-year-old color of the butternut uniforms of the two enemy horse scouts were obvious to her eyes. Without any salutes she watched her legate turn about and walk unhurriedly back. Good, she thought, don’t let them think you learned anything useful. You are, after all, just leading one inexperienced legion.
She saw he saw her. No reason for a commander to take note of a lone legionary on the wall so she continued her exercise in self-control until he stood to her right. Having waved at her staff when he began the walk back – and for them to stay out of sight – she, as said lone legionary, offered him a mug of coffee, visible to all, in or outside.
“I know it’s a game but there are times, General, this is uncomfortable,” Gibson admitted, blowing across the top to cool it.
“It reminds me you’re a little girl. Sorry, but you did ask.”
“And I thank you for your candor,” she replied, taking out some field glasses to look about. “So, what’s up?”
“That twenty-thousand number was not quite correct,” he began his report, taking a sip and making a moue. No one had had real coffee since Chattanooga. “Of that number, one quarter are black slaves. Seems they use them for menial work like entrenchments and repairing roads.”
“Menial!” his Empress hissed under her lenses. “Yes, our first job is to fight… but… but…!”
They all knew, and they all appreciated, how highly their commander and Empress held good, hard work in high esteem. “Infrastructure is the backbone of the civilization we are building here!” she had shouted at them, over a year ago. Gibson also knew that as a Catholic, to denigrate work was to denigrate the bread and wine in their worship service.
“Good,” she was instantly calmer, likely once again her thoughts running far ahead of anyone… human. “So fifteen thousand spoiled landowners, who now think they outnumber a green brigade by three to one.”
Faustina lowered her glasses but kept her eyes forward.
“Command won’t sleep much, if at all, tonight. We’re still out the gates at oh-four-hundred. But, Gibson?” He looked to her even if she kept her eyes ahead. The westering sun caught in the edges and made them sparkle light blue. “This is going to be fun!”