In the five days that Faustina ran around former northern State of Mississippi with two legions, her boys from Fourth have not been idle.
I’ve DayJob this weekend and Monday so am not sure about another update. I’ve seen how she gets her army back to Vicksburg and did a little research about what comes next. But that “what comes next” will be another 15k word arc. Before I do that, I must sit down and make a complete re-assessment of the staff of the 4+1 legions she has at her disposal. My clutch of hand-written notes scattered over five pages just is not holding up anymore.
“Such good boys!” Faustina whispered late the next afternoon, looking at the improvements Samson and Fourth Legion had made to their fort in a mere five days.
A thousand feet on a side with the usual twelve-foot wall behind an eight-foot trench, they had built towers for observation and machine guns every one hundred feet. The timber had come from the nearby forest which was now chopped flat for a half-mile in every direction, providing a clear field of fire. What wood they had not yet used was stripped and stacked inside the fort, where, she noted, there were already some permanent structures constructed: a command post and a makeshift hospital.
“Planning on staying, Samson?” she asked with an honest smile, taking his hand after returning his salute.
“Truth be told, General, depending on the summers here, if you see fit to grant me title, maybe I will!” he agreed with her. “Don’t think for a minute this was all my idea: now that they think they’re badass veterans, the junior centurions got it into their heads to show First and Second what they could do.”
She considered the daylight left in the sky.
“Can you call your men together before sunset, that I may praise them?” she asked, leaning in close to him. Faustina watched him think that over for less than three seconds before turning to his staff and issuing a string of orders.
“Except for those on patrol or guarding the POW, they’ll be here,” he announced.
“Here’s a partial fix, legate: draw them up near the POW camp. That way, only the patrollers miss out.” She paused. “I’ll make it up to them later.”
She watched him mentally kick himself for not thinking of that before issuing more orders.
“And speaking of which, I’d like to see what you have done for the former Army of Tupelo.” Faustina waved at the east gate. “Is it as impressive as what you have done here?”
“Heaven’s, Empress,” Samson almost smiled, “we don’t want them that comfortable!”
The wooden palisade was such that a full-grown man could have squeezed between the posts. That wasn’t the point. The gaps made it easier for her men to shoot in if the prisoners failed in preventing any of their fellows from trying to escape.
“Have there been any escapes or attempts?” she asked, pausing about a hundred yards from the camp.
“Just on the second night after you left,” Samson admitted. “They didn’t make it. Rather than randomly firing into their mass, I told Forrester to give me ten men who knew about their attempt. Once he did, I had them executed by firing squad in clear view of the rest of the prisoners. Forgive me for exercising my latitude.”
“Legate Samson! I reward my men who can improve my ideas!” she said louder than necessary. “When I discharge you from my legions you shall be baronet of Jackson, the gateway to Vicksburg! I hope to visit your grandchildren on your estates someday!”
“Empress!” he cried with a bow. She was more interested to see the reactions of the rest of her men. Yeah, they got the point: they can be peers, too, if they serve me with distinction. Fourth Legion is going to kill themselves to impress me.
“Let me know, legate, when the Fourth is assembled where they can hear me, I’ll,” she sighed, “be doing paperwork.”
Yet another tribute to her faith in Samson, he sent a runner to her just two hours later. Faustina took nearly another half-hour to walk through their ranks to the small dais which had been quickly constructed for her. She saluted them then waited with inhuman stillness for the cheering to stop.
“Men of Legion Four!” she shouted. “No! My veterans of Fourth Legion!”
More cheering mixed with what she expected.
“What was that? What did you say?” she yelled back at them, grinning. “Why, thank you for correcting me!”
Faustina took a huge breath.
“My Boys! I am so proud of y’all!” she whooped.
“That,” Arpad observed over their sparse dinner of bean and bacon soup with crusty fresh bread made by Fourth’s kitchen, “was about the best motivational exhortation I have heard in my entire military career.”
“Oh, please, Dad,” Ryland sighed, rolling her eyes to the top of the tent.
“You know,” he replied to his early teen daughter with some anger in his voice, “we don’t lie to family, New Princess.”
“Please don’t call me that,” her head dramatically swiveled to hang over her bowl.
“Now with her silent,” Faustina said with a smile for her uncle and looking about the small table at those two and her three legates, “we have one more guest.”
The tent flap opened. Flanked by two legionaries, captured Brigadier Cal Forrester stood in the opening. While all were surprised, she saw in Rigó’s eyes understanding. To be expected of a diplomat!
“Former General Forrester,” she waved to the far left end of the table, “please join us for dinner.”
“I was,” he said, settling his overweight bulk onto a stool, “unaware I’d been relieved. Thank you.”
The last said to the man who placed a bowl of soup and cup of water before him.
“Your city signed a treaty with me and are now a part of the imperium. Even had your Council not already thrown you under the bus,” a look to Gibson, “I would have ended your command. I do not deprive you of your mayoral rank; you can sort that out for yourself.”
“I see,” he replied.
Faustina was pleased to see her cousin’s head come up and pay close attention to the proceedings before her. She wants to be older!
They ate in silence for several minutes. When Ryland began to ask a question it was easy for Faustina to hear her father’s boot tap hers to be quiet. Although busy shoveling the soup into his maw, Forrester looked up, too.
“So you and the Texans are allies?” he asked, dabbing at his chin with a cloth rag they used for napkins.
“May I, Colonel Rigó?” Faustina asked politely. At his nod, she continued. “The Republic of Texas and the city-state of Knoxville have an economic agreement. From that, they commissioned General Hartmann to lead Empress Faustina’s legions to secure a route through the Old South for rail transit.”
“Interesting way to go about puttin’ that, Miss, er, Empress,” Forrester observed.
“Laws are important for humans, machines, and demi-humans, alike,” she replied after taking a drink of water. “Otherwise, there is only tyranny. How my distant cousin, Reina, Prime Minister of the Russian Empire, has avoided this, I cannot say.”
Understanding now that this was yet another show being put on by their commander, her three legates glanced at one another and resolved to speak only if spoken to.
“Y’all seems to be related to just abouts anyone that matters!” their POW guest allowed before taking a drink of water. “If you’s don’t mind me askin’, y’all got any beer or whiskey about?”
“I do not disallow alcohol on rare occasions in my command, Mayor, but… this is not one of those occasions,” she replied, spooning up the last of her soup.
“Just askin’! So. What happens to me and my men?” he asked.
“All of you will be paroled and sent home to Tupelo by foot tomorrow. If any are too stupid to not make that short march, then they die.” She dabbed at the corners of her mouth with her rough napkin. “They may return to their homes, farms, businesses. You might have your hands full with your City Council.”
“Don’ you worry you’uns pretty little head ‘bout that!” Forrester laughed. There was an odd sound from next to him as Ryland held her hand over her face. “Forgive me! Just who is this other cute lil’ lady next to me! I’m Mayor Gil Forrester of Tupelo!”
Faustina saw her gifted normie cousin blush but turn to her left and offer her hand.
“Seaman Third Class Ryland Rigó, Texas Navy,” she introduced herself. Forrester took her hand and held it.
“Texas,” he leaned into her, “must have great dreams if they’s sendin’ their navy this far up the Mississippi!”
“I… I am here as an observer!” Faustina and Arpad were both interested in how she would handle this. “And… and I hated seeing those burned men!”
“Little miss,” Forrester let go her hand to point at Faustina. “A good commander will do anything to win. Anything at all. Isn’t that right?”
“Anything,” Faustina agreed, hating herself for liking him.
“But! But… that’s…!” Ryland was too young and lost.
“People,” Owens suddenly spoke up, “who think that ‘all is fair in love and war’ have never had a soldier bleed out in their arms. But sometimes, better atomics than invasion.”
Faustina stiffened. She’d not used that euphemism in years, thinking it too dangerous. They remembered! What? Even Uncle Rigó was looking shocky! What nerve was just hit?
“Gentlemen, and lady,” she said, standing. “Thank you for joining me at table. Legates and guests? We’ve an early start tomorrow. Mayor Forrester? Expect an Imperial Commission in less than six months to incorporate Tupelo into my imperium. Until then, and all of you…”
Faustina raised her right hand to nearly touch the tent.
“Deus vult. Good night.”
Her three legates returned her imperial salute. Those two from her family were traditional. Forrester was still trying to wave in the air as Faustina walked quickly out of the tent.