Faustina has a short meeting with her legates but makes time to be informal with her cousin, Ryland. For a kid genius, who usually are monomaniacs and burn out early, Ryland is surprisingly perceptive. I wonder if being a mutt is a factor? Or her mother’s close relationship with the machines of tribe Tohsaka? We’ll likely find out later or sooner.
I have written a little past this but have to go make an early dinner for my family. If not too drunk to write more, maybe I can get another update ready to later.
The next three days were a flurry of activity. Given that he was older, married, and usually had his cohort with the artillery in the middle of the line, Faustina assigned her cousin to senior Centurion Eigen of cohort six of Second Legion. While she was curious to be older about matters of naval warfare, there was too little time in Vicksburg. They could talk once on the road.
Which happened just before dawn on April first. With First and Second once again out the fort’s gate, Faustina waited and watched as Third Legion followed them. The newly blooded Fourth would take over engineering duties in Vicksburg from Third during this next, southern campaign.
From her cavalry scouts, she had determined that southwest former Mississippi was effectively empty. The locals had either died or left with the population pressure from former Louisiana being insufficient to recolonize the region. Faustina wanted to push fifty miles each day. However, her fan of long-range scout riders who went out three days ago was not due to start reporting back until late tomorrow. That fact, coupled with the messages sent across the river to the Texas Field Forces to be passed on south, meant that she would have to pace her army. At least until she was better informed.
In her command tent in the center of their marching camp on the southern edge of Fayette (which had turned out to not be barely populated, but empty), Faustina leaned back on her camp stool and stretched her arms over her head. Close to midnight. The first scouts had come back an hour overdue, just after dinner. Once she had their report she summoned her legates.
“Our next objective is per our plan in Vicksburg,” Faustina said, touching the map on the table before them, “McComb. A mere forty-five miles down another broken highway. I swear, these legionaries are going to think I’ve gone soft!”
“Third, perhaps,” Owens said with a grin to Tapscott. “We showed our worth against Tupelo. Your lads are just construction workers!”
“Good enough to board your mouth shut when you’re asleep, Owens!” Tapscott replied genially. So long as it was all good-natured, Faustina allowed such talk for better morale.
“Anyway, the report is about five hundred people living there. As it is along the major north-south rail line of old Mississippi, I’ll be curious to see if the line south to Louisiana is still in use. I hope so: that would mean my contact will be waiting for us,” Faustina went on. “I want better intel on the Gulf Shore States before I decide to cross the Pearl River at either Columbia, Bogalusa, or we ford it at some other point. Anyone got anything else?”
The three men shook their heads as she dismissed them while sending an aide for her cousin, who should be…
There was a knock on the outer tent pole. Faustina opened her eyes in mid-stretch to behold Ryland. “Come,” she said, sniffing the air. “You smell like the soup I just ate.”
The girl saluted, an imperial one, before replying.
“Never helped cook for fifteen thousand, General,” she said politely but with irritated undertones Faustina could hear, “and may have got some on me. I’ll do better next time.”
“I’m sure you will, Seaman. Sit please,” she waved at the stool opposite the map table and tossed a piece of paper across it. “This is what I saw on that Mark Six patrol boat. Its ensign you called it. Do you recognize it?”
Ryland picked up the standard size piece of paper and looked at the colored rectangle her commanding officer had drawn there. A narrow red band on the top with a blue along the bottom third, both on a white field. In the center of that field, coming up out of the blue was half a yellow disk with seven yellow rays radiating out from it.
“Definitely the Gulf Shore States,” she said, looking back up. “Oops. General. Sorry.”
“Interesting. So tell me what those three boats we saw mean?” Faustina gave a small tilt of her head to her right, holding Seaman Rigó’s eyes.
“That they are comfortable projecting power so far from home? That they… oh, my God!” Seeing realization dawn in Ryland’s eyes, Faustina nodded. “They… would have motored right past both New Orleans and Baton Rouge! Both of whom have shore batteries! That means… let me see… that means… that, that Louisiana is either cowed by them or allied to them!”
“An excellent analysis, Seaman, and one with which I concur,” Faustina said, lifting her head back up. “An analysis I hope to test tomorrow evening if things go as I hope.”
Wanting to ask, Ryland Rigó was older that is was not her place to. She merely nodded.
“Until you leave my tent, or if someone comes in, be at ease, cousin Ryland,” Faustina said, getting up to pour them both a little fruit juice from a corked bottle on a small table in the corner. She placed the plastic cups on the table. “Holding up okay?”
“I… I’ve never been much of a cook… Faustina,” she replied with a drink, a little unsure about the sudden role change.
“You have been of professional help to me twice,” Faustina thanked her, also taking a sip, “and it is a pleasant change to speak not only with family but a fellow girl!”
“A human girl,” Ryland’s smile was almost a smirk.
“True.” The dismissive agreement was worse for Ryland than if she had been yelled at.
“But,” getting more comfortable in her new but temporary role, “you have my other cousin’s wife, Henge, where you live, right? And she’s… different, like you. Don’t y’all talk?”
“Not much,” Faustina was a little surprised that young Ryland could find the chink in her armor so quickly. “Henge abandoned the ethereal for the mortal. I’m aiming the other direction so think she is an idiot. We quarrel more than we agree.”
“That’s sad,” Ryland whispered, setting her half-empty cup onto the table. “We are all family. And all so different. Can’t we try to love one another?”
Having tribe Tohsaka’s Fourth Law tossed at her like that was almost too much. Faustina began coughing badly on the last of her juice. Her cousin was off her stool and already around the table before she could discipline her lungs and throat to stop convulsing. She waved her cousin to not Heimlich her.
“I’m fine,” she rasped. Ryland nodded and walked back to the other side but did not sit.
“It’s late,” Ryland announced. “I should get to my bedroll.”
Faustina nodded while giving one more cough to clear her lungs.
“Ryland, my friend?”
“Yes. Friend?” she paused at the tent flap.
“I’ll need you for business tomorrow evening,” Faustina was back with her official voice. “But, after? I’d like to talk. Okay?”
“Of course. My mother’s best friend says loving someone means wanting to know them better. Right?”