Sorry for the silence; been busy. After my Hey, hey! incident, I tried to work within the new confines of that to find a way to wrap up EC. I found a way out via Faustina’s fast ride from Vicksburg to Birmingham and onto Huntsville. We’ve seen from way back that she is attracted to the 32-year-old mayor of that town, so I decided to have her push her feelings to see what happens. While not completely happy with the end, it is at least an end. I’ll be able to think about it better as a make my editing pass before farming it out to a copyeditor. I’m leaning toward re-using Stephen Zimmer, as he copyedited “Princess’ Crusade” and has knowledge of the characters and plot.
With that being checked, I have spent some money, read, and watched many videos on how to narrate audiobooks. Once my wife gets the basement un-wrecked from her current project, I’ll carve out a space, hang some blankets, and see what I can do. However, if that gets delayed, I will have to at least start notes and plans for the final book of this trilogy, “Goddess’ Crusade.”
Below the fold, rather than the entirety of Part IV of EC, is just a snippet from toward the end, showcasing Faustina and Mayor Robert Wade.
With no fog the following morning, she and her other riders set out north from Birmingham with only a touch of color in the eastern sky; her eyes were good enough to keep them moving. As the construction on the rail line was mostly parallel to the old highway, playing “meet-and-greet” with her boys was simplified. Where the railroad wasn’t, Faustina led their horses off the road to make sure she missed as few centuries as possible. Dinner with the eighth cohort followed by an overnight at the tiny town of Cullman had them riding north again the next day.
At just after noon Faustina’s troopers were taking their lunch in Rhodes Ferry Park while she looked north at the Tennessee River. To her left was the recently rebuilt rail bridge. To her right were the ruins of the dual highway bridges.
Aunt Lily, along with grandpa and godmother came this way, so long ago, she thought, staring at the downed spans. Most of Decatur was deserted but some outside the deserted city were already farming. Some others had taken to ferrying people across from right where I am standing, including that odd threesome and their pony, Clyde.
“And ten miles on, in Huntsville,” Faustina said softly to the river’s wind from east to west, “they ran into some people they never expected to meet: the Knoxville Society, installing a small fission reactor. Two of the combat techs were mom and dad… and even I was there, only weeks old in mom’s tummy.”
“And will I find what I want in Huntsville, too?” she whispered.
Lunch over, the General and her fifty troopers cantered and trotted the ten miles to their destination. She released her men and only kept her four personal aides with her as she drew up at the relatively new city office complex. Back on its feet a generation after the Breakup, there had been little to no need to have a mayor and his staff in the old downtown. Ten years ago a new, smaller collection of offices was made at the crossing of Patton and Drake Avenues, halfway between the old city center and Chibi, the fission reactor in Redstone Arsenal.
Coming into signal two miles from Huntsville, Faustina had checked in with Fourth Legion in Vicksburg and was briefed not only on their progress but also the departure of the rest of her army to the east. Another quick conversation with First Councilman MacRae in Knoxville had her ready, politically at least, for what came next.
She was swinging down from her horse just as the office doors opened. A half-dozen people came out, led by the Mayor, Robert Wade. In the late-spring heat, he had cut his sandy hair a little shorter and wasn’t wearing a suit coat. Seeing his well-muscled arms wave to her while smiling beneath his gray eyes, Faustina was well aware of the swirling, giddy feeling between her stomach and heart. Please let this work! She also smiled and strode to meet him.
“Empress Faustina!” he called first, hand out to take hers. They shook while some of his people took pictures.
“Mayor Wade! I apologize for taking you away from your hard work, but great things are a-foot!” she said clearly enough for all to hear. “Great things both for the imperium and all in it! May we use your offices?”
“Of course,” he replied, letting go of her hand, which she did not like, looking at his hand. Perhaps aware of her stare, Wade leaned a little to speak so she alone would hear him: “And happy birthday, Empress!”
“A first-floor office! And a swamp cooler! Reminds me of someone!” Faustina exclaimed once they were in the building. “No top floor suite with air conditioning?”
“The lower floors are cooler,” Wade explained, guiding her not to his desk but a sofa against the wall across from a coffee table and two chairs, “and even with our two reactors, electricity is still a premium. Wouldn’t do for the people’s elected representative to have such luxury!”
“Good politics,” she agreed. “But what if you were more than the people’s rep?”
Huntsville’s mayor noted that none of the empress’s aides had come with her into his office. He looked her a very pointed question.
“Yes,” she read his face, “please dismiss yours.”
With a wave, the two men and one woman exited, pulling the door shut behind them. Faustina pulled off her riding boots and put her feet up onto the sofa while Wade poured ice water into two glasses. These were set onto the table.
“Don’t sit there,” she said just as he was about to ease into one of the chairs opposite her. “Sit next to me. Here. Please.”
“Will you move your feet?” he asked with a smile that tugged at her heart, coming around.
“Not really. Would you rub them for me? It’s been a long way from Vicksburg.” Faustina took great care to leech the eagerness from her voice while trying to be formal.
“Am I,” he pulled her socks off without being asked, “a subject of yours to do as bidden? Wow! You were right about a long way: you smell like a horse!”
As he had set about rubbing her feet in his lap with his strong hands, Faustina was quite willing to let that comment past. He paused a moment to discover the place where she was missing two toes on her left foot. She sat up just a little to take off her jacket and toss it to the floor, then leaned back.
“Yes, you are. A subject, that is,” she purred. “Even MacRae is. We just don’t speak of it openly. It keeps things… simpler. I shall allow some local autonomy and even elections, but my rule shall be absolute. Ummm!”
He switched from her left foot to her right.
“Even here on what had been the frontier of the Tennessee Valley city-states,” Wade observed as he moved his hands to her calves, “there is an ornery streak of self-reliance that might not take well to a monarchy. Speaking of which, Empress Faustina…”
He smiled as he squeezed both of her lower legs.
“Monarchy implies a royal, or imperial family. As you are something of a celebrity,” he used that odd, old word, “here, going back to before you were born, those of us who pay attention know that your parents and older brother want nothing to do with politics. So how – ”
“You,” Faustina flexed her legs out of his grasp and pushed her toes into his chest, “will quicken me and be Prince Consort. Unless you’re sterile; then I’ll find someone else. Grandpa was sterile. I always wondered if that prayed on his mind.”
She watched Robert Wade stare at her. The play of emotions about his face was complex and she wished she could have passed it onto her other family for analysis, but this was her time. He stood, jerking his glass of ice water up as he did and made for the window just past his desk.
“That…” he took a drink and tried again, not looking at her. “That might have been the oddest proposition in human history!”
“Demi-human. I am setting the precedents, you know.”