Had a co-worker over for cocktails yesterday afternoon. Ohio allows personal interaction and we’re both “vital medical personnel” *snort* so we do what we want in the Dark Age of BatAIDS. He’s one of the folks who encouraged me to think seriously about making audiobooks. We covered that subject and several others. While mildly lef of center, we discovered that we’re shoulder-to-shoulder on issues such as private property and firearms. He’s not particularly religious and was surprised to find out I’m Catholic. I stared at him over the rim of my Martini and asked, “You’ve read three of my books. Did you think those elements fell in there by accident?” All in all, an excellent Saturday afternoon.
Below the fold, anxious for her men and wanting to reunite her army, Faustina thinks of ways to bluff her next opponent rather than fighting a battle. Which is a polite way of saying I don’t want to throw away another week thinking about it.
To her inward irritation, the last gate did not swing shut until an hour after sunset. Exhausted herself, Faustina still took another hour to walk the watch on the walls and speak softly with the ground patrols, careful to not disturb her boys asleep in their tents.
If we march tomorrow at dawn for the Memphis army, it’s even money we lose, she thought. I’m going to have to wait another hour until the last report from Samson arrives before making up my mind, but I am hardening toward the idea we must rest; maybe not an entire day, but perhaps a move of only ten miles west tomorrow.
She busied herself with paperwork until said riders from Fourth Legion arrived with mixed news. The remaining enemy had stopped early, just shy of the village of Grenada, about twenty-five miles north of Samson’s fort. Interesting that their composition seemed to be almost entirely black. Why would they fight with white slavers in Tupelo? Her legate also wrote that his scouts were able to convey to the Memphis army that the Tupelo army was no more and they were on their own.
“I let it out, and if you want to reprimand me for this, fine, that it is not just one legion here, that the Empress herself has her entire army in northern former MS. It was right after that when they went to ground. I think they are confused if not outright scared,” he wrote.
Good! Either way that buys us time! She looked up as an aide rapped on the central pole of her command tent’s front flaps.
“They’re here, Empress,” he said before withdrawing.
Yawning and standing in her normal BDUs, the dressy ones would look silly right now, she walked into the darkness lit only by a few torches and made her way to another larger tent erected just inside the north gate. A century provided security for them and her legates and staff. The double flaps were tied back and open so she took a moment to stare into the lamp-lit interior.
Why did they settle on five men, just like Knoxville? Is it something innate to humans or just particular to the old American South? I’ve heard that the dictator of Memphis is just called The Big Boss with no council at all. I wonder if I’ll get to see how Gulfport-Mobile is governed? Faustina shook her head to try to wake up and get in character before stepping to the entrance.
Expecting her, Gibson and Owens turned and saluted, their fingers just touching the fabric over their heads. There in a political capacity as sovereign, Faustina nodded rather than saluting. This being the first time so close to her, she read in the Tupelo men’s eyes the surprise that she was just a little girl.
“You have read the treaty,” she began in a neutral voice, “and now you will sign. Following that, I shall, witnessed by my legates. I will now briefly entertain questions but no proposals.”
“I think all is in order,” the older man who spoke yesterday evening, Brown, said. “Empress.”
“Are you going to change our laws?” the weaselly fellow asked. As the question was not germane to the treaty, she allowed it.
“As I see fit, yes,” she replied. “You are?”
“Councilman Jacob Malchus.”
“Interesting Old Testament name,” Faustina replied, looking at his black, curly hair. “As a part of my regulation of these lands, I shall send a commission to meet with all of you. I firmly believe in the principle of subsidiarity – letting local communities handle their affairs – but there are some practices which are not allowed in the imperium.”
“You mean slavery,” Malchus accused.
“I may mean many things. Legate Gibson, is the treaty ready?” she asked.
“Already dated it, Empress, March twenty-first,” he replied. “Just needs signatures.”
“Gentlemen,” Faustina said to the five, making a slight motion of her right hand to the little table with the paper and a candle. It interested her that while he was the second closest to the table, the troublemaker, Malchus, waited to go last. But sign he did.
“You have made a wise, correct choice, my subjects,” another almost imperceptible nod. “Welcome to the imperium. Good morning to you all. Owens? See them out, please.”
Faustina remembered walking back to the command tent and looking at her cot in the curtained off area in its rear. How the sunlight was now streaming in through the opening, though the flap held open by Owens, was a mystery.
“I got your note,” he said with a sympathetic smile, “to let the men sleep in. I used my initiative you let our commander sleep as well.”
“Thank you, legate,” Faustina said, sitting up and carefully rubbing her eyes. The scratchy woolen blanket fell off of her, revealing her black tee shirt. “Where’s the Memphis army?”
“Moving north-northeast,” Owens said, watching his general sag in relief, “not headed home. Probably to intercept us.”
“We,” she said, tossing the blanket aside and standing up in her panties, “are not being intercepted. This is our music; this is our dance. Tell my boys we’re moving out in ninety minutes.”
“Thought you might say that, General,” now Owens let a smile onto his face but hoping she’d wait to strip until he left, “and they’ll be ready in sixty!”
She smiled back while hooking her thumbs into the sides of her panties and waited. Her legate flung the flap closed without properly excusing himself.
Prepared to only take them ten miles, Faustina let herself be talked into fifteen by her junior centurions as she ambled through the two legions as they marched. Her boys seemed fine with it, wanting to break the back of the other army and get back to what was important: improving the logistics from Vicksburg to Huntsville. Everyone with a loved one back in greater Knoxville could not forget for a moment their primary mission: getting uranium ore by rail to their home. As such, at three in the afternoon, having made their way up the cracked and broken old Interstate-22, they stopped to build their marching fort just short of a tiny village called New Albany.
Quieter than normal, Faustina put off her usual briefings and walked about. No, it was not a matter of being tired or anxious but more a “get it over with” feeling she took away from chatting with her boys. Out of morbid curiosity, knowing the enemy army was still at least thirty miles to her west, she mounted a horse and chose to take a look about.
Cotton, rice, a little tobacco, she noted, looking at the nearby fields, and black slaves everywhere. Disgusting. And double difficult: how to convince the locals to do their own labor and evacuate the blacks outside of the imperium? No matter how fast she thought, nothing came to mind. Seeing some of her scouts coming back from the west, she turned herself back to the half-built fort to receive their report. Ten minutes later, the lead scout was a little surprised to see his general bring her mount up next to his.
“Trooper Smith,” she smiled, “what can you tell me?”
“Genpress! Emper…dang it!” he coughed and tried again. “The enemy general, name’s Willis, wants to talk.”
“After you and your men take thirty minutes, ride back and tell him, no,” she directed.
“No, General?” Smith asked.
“Very good of you to see clarification of my orders, trooper! But no means no,” Faustina smiled again. “Now, if totally off the record, you were to shake in fear of the evil woman who drove you to service in the legions and sputter out that I’m going to kill them all then burn Memphis to the ground? That might be better than just a “no.””
Smith saluted and waved his men to follow him just behind the nearly completed fort to King Creek to rest and water their horses.