When I stumbled into DayJob at 1300 yesterday, half in Faustina’s world and half in this (notice how carefully I don’t define what’s real?), a young colleague asked what was wrong. Startling him, I described Fussy’s concern as to whether Gen’l Willis can keep control of his own left brigade. After a minute of pharmacists and techs looking at one another with uncomfortable looks that said, “this is Clayton we’re dealing with,” the young colleague said, “I think he can’t.”
He was wrong. Who knew?
The chance of a battle now less but certainly not gone, Faustina sent messages for those non-visible parts of Second Legion to start on a marching fort about one mile due east. Having rapidly dictated the details of a treaty the day before to one of her assistants, the one with the best penmanship, it would just be a matter of signatures. She would have liked to have legate Gibson be one of the witnesses but would not put two commanders at risk at the same time. So, an hour and fifty-five minutes later…
“You think me expendable?” Centurion Chesney asked with a smile as they rode out to where she had met Willis before with the rest of her retinue.
“Please. You know I value you,” Faustina replied, eyes dancing.
“You didn’t answer my question, General,” he pushed.
“That’s because – ” They both pulled up their horses to a halt as they heard scattered pistol and rifle fire to the north.
“He still doesn’t have his army under control?” Faustina asked with an unbelieving tone. “How is that possible?”
“From what you have taught all of us about HBD…” Chesney trailed off when the shooting abruptly ended.
“Empress?” one of her aides asked. “Shouldn’t we be getting’ you back to your lines?”
“There is a line that separates bravery and foolishness,” she answered ambiguously. “I’m pushing that now.”
“Geez,” her centurion laughed softly, his eyes alert to all about them.
“Ah,” she said, her eyes better, “here they come.”
Halting again about thirty feet apart, Faustina, Chesney, and another dismounted as Willis and two of his did, as well.
“Things under control,” she tossed her head to the right, “over there?”
“Yes, General, thanks for asking,” he paused with his salute at his head.
“This is a political discussion over a treaty. Therefore I am here in my capacity as Empress Faustina,” she explained. “There are two copies of the treaty, one for each of us. Would you like to read it or shall I sum up?”
Chesney walked over and passed a copy to one of Willis’s aides while she was speaking.
“So it’s true,” Willis shook his head just a little. “You do call yourself that.”
“I was hailed as imperator by my men after our victory against the Chinese army in Savannah, nearly five hundred miles east of here,” Faustina took a moment to clarify her position. “My relationship with the city-state of Knoxville… changed after that.”
“So what’s in all this?” Willis asked, flipping his left hand at the four sheets of paper held by his staffer. “Our capitulation?”
“Why, General Willis!” she pretended surprise. “There has never been a state of hostilities between Memphis and my imperium! I have assumed that some poor compass readings had you and your men this far south!”
“That… could well have been the case,” he allowed himself to be led toward what he hoped was a peaceful conclusion.
“As Empress, I confess no interest in your city-state. So long as does not present a threat and so long as it maintains peace within its borders, there shall be peace,” she began. “You will also note that I allow trade between Memphis and Tupelo to continue. All other trade into the imperium is suspended until review by my commissioners. Anyone caught violating that shall be treated as spies and killed.”
“Look, Miss…” he began.
“This is a formal negotiation and you shall address me as Empress Faustina.”
“Empress,” he tried again. She could hear his teeth grind together as she watched him change his mind about his question. “How shall we keep official channels between our countries open?”
“Excellent question! Messengers from Memphis, riding no more than in pairs, are permitted to Huntsville and Jackson-Vicksburg.” Faustina took a moment to smile. “Speaking of which, if you have gunboats on the Mississippi, moving any of them south will be considered by me to be an act of war. Your real foe is to your north.”
She could see that got a barb under his skin but he also, surprisingly, had the self-control to say nothing.
“So long as these papers reflect what you have said,” he spoke carefully, “I will sign.”
“Excellent! Now, on a more tactical matter, speaking as General Hartmann, your army must be out of the imperium by nightfall tomorrow.”
“But…! That’s over forty miles!” Willis sputtered.
“My legions can cover twice that,” her smile faded, “and fight a battle at the end of their march. Would you like a demonstration at the gates of Memphis tomorrow?”
“That will not be necessary. Empress Faustina.” She watched his deep breath. “Thank you for your understanding of this… unfortunate situation.”
She waited for his salute which she acknowledged a nod
“Think they’ll keep the treaty?” Chesney asked as they walked back to their horses.
“For a time. So long as it buys me even just six months, that gives me freedom to move,” she replied, swinging up into her saddle. “I’m recalling Owens from his hidden position to their north. I’ll have strong pickets out all night and a double guard on the fort’s walls in case of any… stupidity. Otherwise, we’ll watch them march off north tomorrow morning. The following day, we move south to Samson. Three days later will see us back in Vicksburg.”
“For a well-deserved rest!” her centurion laughed.
“I doubt it,” Faustina said quietly.
Which is why, she wrote the next afternoon to Councilman Klimt, my legionaries are enjoying this day and a half off. Had we marched as soon as the Memphis army was passed, what would have prevented them from turning about against me or making their way east to renew their temporary alliance with Tupelo? Knowing that we are here is a tactical insurance policy to get them home.
My boys, if you’ll forgive the informality, are enjoying their little vacation while they can. They know that I want to be back in Vicksburg soonest. From here that’s four days; I’d like to do it in three. I’ll sound my junior centurions about it while we march.
Today I’ve scouting troopers out in all directions as well as some foraging parties. Any of the local farms that are uni-racial are left alone. Any with slaves have all foodstuffs taken; it’s a taste and a warning of what life will be like under my rule. I tolerate slavery only so long until I can stamp it out.
What’s that you ask? What to do about what some called “the Original Sin of the United States”? Slavery, and the aftermath of what to do with these Blacks? While you are aware of the accommodation I made with those along the Savannah River, these here will be evacuated.
Did you just spit your sweet tea all over my letter, Councilman? No, I was not channeling my grandfather right then: I mean it in the more traditional sense in that they will be rounded up and shipped north; at least to Memphis if not further. Very small racial enclaves I can tolerate, but there will be no foederati in my imperium.
From a team of troopers I had officially-unofficially on leave in Tupelo, I have a much clearer idea of that city’s politics. The mayor-general who led men against me, Forrester, was disliked by most of the city council because of his expansionist ideas. Seems everyone else was content to be let alone but they allowed themselves to be talked into letting him make war at the interlopers from points east. I anticipate trouble when I parole he and those men and send them back – without their firearms, of course – but I made sure that those same “on-leave” troopers stressed my family, uniqueness, and instability when it comes to crucifixions.
If you want, I’ll wait until your blood pressure comes down… better now? Perhaps you should go for a walk? Fine. Allow me to wrap up.
My post riders tell me that my newest legate, Peterman, is leading those green legionaries of Fifth Legion from Chattanooga to Huntsville as I write this. I’ve ordered him to alternately drill half of them until they drop while the other half works on the railroad and telecom lines. We’ve no rail foundries yet, so they will cannibalize other, unused lines to do the job. If I can find colonists I would dearly love to reopen the old foundries in Birmingham!
One last thing: I hear your colleague, Greene, is opposing my recruiting an auxiliary legion from Chattanooga-Huntsville. They seem interested and I need the men. This is not costing Knoxville a copper and is entirely to their benefit. If you cannot find a way to shut him up, I will.
Feeling better for that, Faustina raised her eyes to look northeast where several wagons, laden carrying corn, wheat, and some tobacco from the nearby slaver farms slowly rattled toward her fort, escorted by her legionaries.
Such good boys! she thought