That’s about all I can do for the war-war stuff. Now we get to what’s called mop-up, although there are going to be two parts of it, lest I subject my long-suffering readers to a 2500-word installment. Sure, I know I’m an asshole, but I try to not be that big an asshole.
There was still enough random rifle fire from the remaining southern wing that this was not an overall surrender. Two of the four artillery tubes fell silent as Faustina continued to direct HE, high explosive, shells into their mass. Hearing the first rifles to her two o’clock informed her that Filks had at least made contact. Ah! From Seeker Two she watched as the remainder of the Tupelo army tossed their weapons and knelt or lay down on the ground. She silenced her guns and hoped Owens and Gibson would quickly figure out what had happened.
Things still too uncertain for horseback, she and her staff proceeded at a walk behind a screen of her legionaries. In addition to the non-combatant medics embedded in the centuries, additional corpsmen and medicals were running out of the fort to see to the wounded. Another look back saw a group of them rushing toward the still-burning woods. God! Let them be okay!
A runner wearing the patch of Second came before her and nodded, no salute.
“Legate Owens reports few casualties,” he knew she would want to know that first, “and the rout of the enemy. Estimate their right wing at thirty percent casualties. The rest are surrendering or running.”
“Anyone with a weapon is assumed hostile and to be treated accordingly,” she shouted back at him, over patches of rifle fire. “Pass on to Gibson to detail some cohorts to take their non-combatants, if possible. Go!”
The man turned and ran off. Coming to the low rise where she had begun the battle, Faustina looked out into a kind of ordered chaos, her now-veteran demi-human mind getting older by the second. Far ahead she could see that the legate of First had anticipated her request and two cohorts were moving at a trot to the east. Just now emerging from the woods ahead and right was Filks’s contingent.
From what I can see of the mass of kneeling or prone men, it looks as if their left wing has few casualties… Ah, hah! Looking through Seeker Two’s optics as if moved above the surrendered, she picked out their command staff. That slightly fat guy is their general, I bet!
“Send to Legate Two: get a century in there and extract their commander. Bring him up here to me,” Faustina ordered, continuing for her staff’s benefit. “We need this wrapped up fast! The sun is going to set and we move on to Phase Two first thing in the morning!”
Issuing a steady stream of orders to runners, riders, and radiomen, Faustina took the time to eat some jerky and hard cheese from a pouch on her belt, washed down with a couple splashes of water from her canteen.
“Empress? About that water?” Poul asked, pointing at her face while holding out a cloth.
“Right! Gotta look the part, don’t I?” she grinned, taking the cloth and moistening it. Her staff paused in their frenetic activity as she first picked the dried blood off before vigorously scrubbing at her face.
“Better?” she asked. “Good! Looks like my opposite is about here! Let’s look smart, team!”
As the enemy general was brought just to within voice distance, she continued rattling off orders, occasionally freezing when receiving or sending information through her lines. Out of the corner of her right eye she watched as understanding dawned on this man: that little fellow was in fact the commander. And that meant that he was a she. Faustina acknowledged the last update from Gibson before turning suddenly to the captured general.
“I am General Hartmann, Imperial Army. We’ll start with your name and rank, please,” she elevated her voice and did a superlative job not to grin.
“Cal Forrester, Brigadier. I also kinda run things up in my town,” he replied with a typical Southern drawl. Faustina assessed him quickly: just shy of six feet, a reddish face under buzz-cut brownish hair and unremarkable blue eyes. As she had seen through the drone, he was at least twenty pounds overweight and did not look to be in good physical condition.
“Your town? Tupelo?”
“Sure. Town council voted me mayor, fair and square,” he replied. “If you don’t mind me askin’, just what happens next?”
“You and your men will be under guard this night. Your wounded will be attended to as soon as we can spare our medics,” she began ticking off the points on the fingers of her left hand. “Tomorrow, construction of a POW camp will be begun and completed. While I see to other matters, your men will be safe here. Unless any try to flee. Those will be shot.”
“Ain’t ‘xactly part of the laws of war – ” he began, trying to bluff her.
“The only law,” she talked over him, “in my lands is my word. And it is my word to shoot escaped prisoners. I do hope you convey this properly, Brigadier Forrester.”
“And just who,” he asked with a smirk, “made these your lands?”
“I just did, when you lost.” Faustina looked to the maniple who had escorted him to her. “Take him back. Thank you.”
They gave a proper legionary salute which she returned, noting the surprise in Forrester’s eyes. Arrogant slaver asshole… but I think I can work with him.
With the dark coming on fast, the torrent of orders resumed. Another long night, not just for her command but for exhausted, victorious boys.
Given what First and Second would be doing in the morning, it fell to Fourth, combatants and non-combatants alike to see to the wounded, post guards at the fort, and keep a cordon about their estimated twelve-thousand prisoners. Faustina set aside two hours of her time to see her casualties, praising their bravery and telling them to get better.
Until she got to the burn victims. She would speak to the others later, for now she went to the back of the medical tent and passed around the curtain there. The man whose screams could be heard all through the fort kept on: his burnt-off face allowing him no way to know she was there. The chief surgeon in her army pulled her to a corner and spoke in a loud whisper over the cries.
“This is with a fentanyl drip wide open, Empress,” he explained. “And, if I keep this rate up, he’ll exhaust our stock in a day.”
“I see,” Faustina said coolly. “There are two things I could do for him but one needs good signal, which we do not have. Therefore I must do the other. Have you an injection ready?”
The man was a little surprised to see her come to that conclusion so quickly. He pulled a vial from his lab coat pocket and nodded.
“I can – ” he began.
“You may hand it to me. Now.” She commanded, which he did. From a temporary tray top she grabbed a needle and syringe and drew out the vial’s contents. Twisting the needle back off, she connected the syringe to the IV line.
“Thank you,” they heard her mutter, pushing the plunger down. The man’s cries stopped with his breathing. After his last, Faustina stood.
“Thank you for your hard work, doctor,” she said, still cool and toneless. Only her crying eyes betrayed her. “I’ll check back before we leave in the dawn.”
She paused at the curtain to wipe her face on her sleeve before pulling her lips back to smile at her other boys.
“Looks like some you are going to look like me!” she said, walking toward their cots and pointing at the visible left side of her neck. “Your grandkids are not going to believe your stories!”
Later, outside, she could tell some of her staff was about to speak.
“Not a word. Let’s get back to the command tent. I want to be finished by oh-one-hundred to sleep until oh-four-hundred,” Faustina ordered, moving at a quick walk in the torchlight.