I’d seen the middle of this scene, where Faustina and Willis are talking, over the weekend but had no idea how they came to be standing there. Even with a little trouble at my DayJob, I was able to come home and write down how this parley came to happen. I remain concerned about the forces on Willis’s left, at the north end of his line. Are his conscripts riotous or are the Chekists stirring things up? Will Fussy present a treaty in two hours or start shelling them? I have no idea and, having to go back to work 2nd shift today, won’t know until, I hope, sometime Thursday.
They had moved out with the dawn. Faustina’s scouts kept both a close track of the enemy army’s position as well as screened her own from the other’s horse troopers. Not that there were all that many. Interestingly, there had been almost no exchange of fire between her men and theirs. It’s as if they realize their predicament and don’t want to make the crazy little witch mad.
Moving much faster, her two legions raced due west. From the maps in her mind, she thought there would be a meeting engagement somewhere around the northern end of Sardis Lake. But, since their commander, Willis, wanted to talk, perhaps I can save the lives of my boys. Just after crossing the Little Tallahatchie River, just a creek, the paved road ran out; that was her signal to deploy her two legions for battle as they moved into the bare trees that were just beginning to bud.
Two scouts came galloping down the dirt track where she walked just ahead of her artillery. They saluted but didn’t bother to dismount.
“Five and a half miles west-southwest, Empress,” the senior of the two called to her, “just shy of some ghost town called Abbeville.”
“Composition?” she asked.
“Looks like us: light infantry. Saw some mortar tubes but no guns. Their pace is maybe half of ours.” He turned his horse about and grinned at her. “Maybe!”
“Racial composition?” Faustina followed up.
“Looked like typical American-mix Blacks to me,” he replied. “Didn’t see a single white.”
“Any more messages?”
“Didn’t try to find out, beggin’ your pardon, Empress, I think Jones might be comin’ back with that news here in a bit.”
“Thank you,” she smiled, saluting. “You are my eyes and I rely completely on you!”
Another grin as he spurred his horse to a gallop back west.
“Think it will be our win, Empress?” Eigen asked her from opposite the pair of 37mm guns.
“Oh, certainly,” she replied with ease, making sure everyone heard her. “But I want to make sure none of my boys are hurt if I can. Talk-talk is usually better than war-war!”
“Usually?” was her centurion’s typical dour response.
“Sure! Some only understand raw power,” Faustina went on with her smile at odds with her words, “and I hope to never be put into that situation, ponder it though I have. Today, given what I have already learned, I hope to…”
She trailed off to see Trooper Jones and his second cantering toward her.
“Yes?” Eigen asked.
“I hope to bring peace,” she said, just so he could hear.
Jones drew up just ahead of them and slid out of his saddle, waiting for his commander to cover the thirty yards. It must be momentous or else he would have simply called it down from his saddle to me, as I prefer. One of her security detail took his horse while Jones fell in next to her.
“Their general, Willis, told me, personally, that this is a misunderstanding,” her man began. “He said this within earshot of his close aides, about five, but not the rest of his army.”
“I’ll concede that, as we’ve not yet fired shots at each other,” Faustina allowed, nodding for him to continue.
“He, for a black guy, was very well-spoken,” Jones went on, “a couple of verbal tics, but, honestly, Empress, I was impressed with the man.”
“Mid-thirties, tall and thin. Close-cropped hair. His old US Army uniform was impeccable! Spoke Broadcast English, not Southron,” Jones summed up succinctly.
“Mid-thirties?” Faustina mused. “That means he was a teen in the Breakup. I almost want to stop and fire up a generator for satellite-comm access, to ask my other family about him. But, I am older that to be in command is to be alone.”
“Miss? Sorry! Empress?” he asked.
“Just me musing out loud,” she placed her left hand onto his right shoulder. “Please go on, trooper!”
“To me, again, in front of the others, he said they are just headed back home to Memphis, but,” Jones smiled at her and that she had touched him: a rarity, “he wanted to talk to you.”
“It would,” Faustina looked up into the sky, letting her hand drop, “be simpler to kill them all. However, if these blacks have kept independent of both the Muslims in St. Louis and the slavers to their east, I think I can use them.”
They were all silent for another quarter-mile.
“You will ride back and tell General Willis that General Hartmann of the Imperial Army agrees to a parley…” her eyes flared light blue, “just to the east of Abbeville. The ground is low and the trees few. In sight of our armies, we shall talk.”
Jones couldn’t contain his snort.
“Y’all’s gonna get one helluva trap, ain’t you! Er, Empress!” he said, his scout’s hearing picking up her odd, metallic command voice from some of the radios nearest them.
“You will tell General Willis,” she continued, ignoring him, “that we, that is, I, shall support him were he to ever seek to be First Man in Memphis.”
“But their dictator…”
“Is called The Big Man, yes, I know, trooper,” Faustina gently chided him. “Even on the fringes of my imperium, I cannot permit such. Only a first among equals. A balance of power.”
“Understood, Empress!” he nodded vehemently without a salute. “I’m on my way!”
“As am I,” she whispered to the air at his retreating back. “Eigen! New orders! Staff! Prepare to send to my legates!”
The Memphis army was strung out from north to south along Graham Mill Creek. Just one thousand feet away what parts of First Legion she chose to expose were opposite them along Lee Creek and the scrub forest there. Second Legion was in motion to her right and her eyes were in the sky.
I should have let them attack Samson and the Fourth, she saw. He and they would have chewed them to pieces. Ah, well. This meeting was obviously supposed to happen, so here we are.
The knot of riders in the center of their line was obvious. From Jones’s simple description she picked out Willis on his pretty gray mare. Faustina thought of history.
“Poul! Get me a mule!” she hissed from her concealment.
Surprised that Gibson didn’t have one of his fits about her safety, she was proceeded into no man’s land by ten of her mounted bodyguard. She rode mixed with her staff. A kind of pretend. Her opposite number paused, probably counting, and came forward with the same number of men.
Scrub trees gave way to brush to a field. She saw the farmhouse off to her right and wondered if that family was hiding in their basement. A few hundred yards beyond that house, there was some turmoil in their left flank. As her embassage stopped, she watched as Willis spoke to one of his men who rode off north at a gallop. The rest of them came to within ten yards and halted their horses.
The blacks in uniform seem well comported, she thought. The ones in paramilitary uniforms and berets are arrogant and not very intelligent. Political officers?
She swung off the mule and walked forward, her men shifting their mounts to make a respectable but not dangerous hole for her. Faustina raised her arm to the sky.
“I am General Hartmann! Imperial Army! You wished to speak with me, General Willis?” she shouted.
The ones with berets immediately started to laugh. She heard Willis’s “Shut it!” clearly. Yes, there is more than one chain of command here. To his credit, she watched him dismount, as well.
“General Hartmann,” he called in good American English, “you are a long way from your home.”
“My home, General Willis, is wherever I am,” she called with a smile and, to her staff’s horror, walked forward alone for fifteen feet. She held her smile as he did the same, all the while watching the continuing turmoil behind his left.
“So this is the little lady who is starting a great big war?” Willis asked with a winning smile and his hand out to her.
“I would have us all at peace,” she said, taking his hand, “even if you are stealing quotes from the tyrant Lincoln.”
“And so well-read, too!” he held her hand for another moment before dropping it.
“Well read enough to know you are not in sole command here,” she let her smile fall. “Can you control your Chekists? Can you control your left at this moment?”
A human would not have seen the uncertainty in his eyes.
“I can…” he began.
“Are the ones in berets your men or from St. Louis?” she shot.
“You,” he tried, “are remarkable well informed in these times.”
Faustina paused to stare at him. And stare a little more. She didn’t move until she saw that he was becoming confused.
“Why did you bring your men against me? To aid the slavers?” she asked in a dull tone.
“Tearing a piece of old Mississippi off and adding it to ours would be nice,” he managed a smile over the slowly increasing chaos behind him.
“Do you know what I am?” Faustina asked with a toothless smile and tilt to her head.
“Rumors say witch; perhaps demon?” he rebutted.
“I say demi-human as I shall not deny that part of myself. But know this, General: white, black, Hispanic, Asian… I will exterminate everyone who takes up arms against me and what I stand for,” her smile and head-tilt were gone.
“And what is it you stand for, General Hartmann?” he asked.
“The future. A future you cannot see. Now,” she waved with her right arm, “shall I have my men obliterate your left wing or shall you walk in triumph back to Memphis bearing a treaty of Friend and Ally of the imperium, with fifteen thousand men at your back? As the new first among equals in that city?”
From what she saw through Arty 2, she had her artillery gunners loaded their tubes.
“You think you can beat us?” Willis tried to laugh. “We outnumber you two to one!”
“General,” her voice so low he had to lean in to listen, “I beat you when you asked for this parley. I don’t want the blood of another ten thousand on my hands today.”
Faustina watched him stand and stiffen. At just eight seconds he barked a series of orders that send more men riding off to his uproarious left.
“When may I see that treaty, General Hartmann?” he asked through gritted teeth.
“If you can control your army,” she said with a deliberately contemptuously sway to her hips, “in two hours. Any hint of aggression against me and mine will be a bloodbath for you and yours. If you know how, build a marching fort and go to ground for the rest of this day.”
“General,” he nodded to her.
“General,” she raised her arm to heaven before spinning about and returning to her lines.