Work on “Goddess Crusade” is coming along very well. Over the three-day holiday in the US I was able to average 2500 per day. One issue was the little engagement below the fold. I still don’t do combat scenes very well and wanted to try something small before getting into a huge battle in another hundred pages.
I’m actually about 40 pages past where this happens but realized I had not tossed anything out in a while. Bad me. As I’ve hit another temporary stopping point, I thought taking a break on WordPress was in order. I’ll drink a little more and see what trouble I can get Faustina in later this afternoon. Cheers!
PS WP is using a new editor and I have not taken the time to fully understand it. Apologies if this post is chewed.
Sleeping in, Faustina justified it on medical grounds, they were still on their way by 0800. A few miles to the southwest had them at the causeway over Goose Pond Lake, the last long bridge before the old highway turned inland and northwest. For the exposed stretch of nearly two thousand feet, the troopers reformed into a column four across. Her uniform no different than any of theirs, Faustina was in the third line back.
Against the mostly cloudy sky, she saw the hillock ahead and to the left. Lowering her eyes, Faustina noted some riders on the opposite side of the road and a collection of three horse-drawn carts about three hundred feet ahead, likely merchants on their way to Huntsville, or further on, perhaps to new markets opened by her and her legions. She smiled at the thought.
“Shall we pass them?” the troop’s nominal commander asked over his shoulder. “There’s just room on the left.”
“That’s fine but at canter,” was her soft reply. “No reason to be a nuisance!”
From trot, the fifty picked up their pace. There were, to Faustina’s eyes, more people sitting in the back of the two leading wagons than she would have expected. Even more surprising was half of them were black. They were only twenty yards from the third cart when her improved mind picked up on their subtle motions…
“Halt!” she shouted, not caring if she was heard. “Enemies! To arms!”
Bringing their mounts to a stop took them even closer but the troopers were able to pull their rifles from next to their saddles or rotate them forward on their tactical slings. Perhaps realizing the game was up, six men in the second cart stood and lobbed –
“Grenades!” Faustina shouted.
Adrenalin pouring into her bloodstream, time seemed to slow for her demi-human nervous system. Those men are poorly trained! They threw the grenades as if they were balls… their first volley will land behind us! Most of her troopers were off their horses and prone, some already shooting. Raising her rifle, Faustina had to tilt left a little to avoid one of the grenades. She shot one of the six in the chest as she slid off her mount. When her boot hit the asphalt, she shot a second before falling to the road.
Sounding like a single large explosion, she was able to pick out all six. Wounded, some of the horses started to scream as they bolted in random directions, two running into the lake. Terribly exposed on the flat highway, her men fired as they rolled or crawled either left to the ditch between the roads or right to where the causeway dropped into the water. Faustina was closer to the left but noted two of the men in the second cart were about to throw another volley. She shot one in the chest – watching him drop his grenade – and crawled fast, enjoying the ensuing explosion on the middle cart.
Faustina quickly rolled four times to the bottom of the ditch, now out of line-of-sight to the carts but still in grenade range. She steadied herself to come up to a knee –
And was promptly pushed facedown into the grass.
“Don’t fucking dare, General!” Jones hissed at her. “Let us do our jobs!”
He came up to a kneel, tossed two smoke grenades, and began to crawl forward. Her stupid behavior in the town of Columbia still fresh in her mind, she stayed down and tried to understand what was going on through her ears. Almost all the rifle fire was from her boys and except for two explosions, one to her right an the other behind her, it seemed the situation was now more “frag out!”
“Hartmann!” one of the corporals shouted from just ahead of her. She lifted her mouth from the grass and dirt just enough to reply.
“Here! Uninjured!” she replied.
“Stay put! The CO’s trying to get things sorted as we’re still exposed here!”
“Understood!” Even so, Faustina still propped herself up just a little. The traffic that had been on the other side of the road was long gone: likely fleeing at the first signs of conflict. Ahead and right the smoke was just starting to dissipate, being blown by a light northwest breeze. From behind her came the cries of at least four horses and two men yelling for medics. My boys are wounded! Hearing galloping, she back in their original direction to see four of her troopers coming back from further on until they drew close enough to fall before what she could see out of the ditch.
A moment later those four, bearing another horse who was not her mare, came next to her in the ditch.
“Mount up, Hartmann, we’re getting you out of here,” the trooper ordered. Without a word she swung herself up and watched as they arrayed themselves around her. At a gallop, they took the other road, going against traffic, had there been any, to the southwest. Passing the carts of the enemy – who are they? – the middle and rear were blown in half with splatters of blood and bits of flesh. The lead cart had crashed into the right side guard rail and broken its front axle. Most of their horses were dead or wounded.
A few hundred feet had them clatter over a low bridge before they were off the causeway. The four slowed and moved down a small lane to their left. Faustina dismounted with three of them while the fourth rode back to the commander.
“Status?” she asked
“Enemy neutralized,” the young corporal said in a steady voice. “CO didn’t know what was ahead or behind so got you off that damned bridge first.”
“Three bad; we’re gonna have to get transport for ‘em. Five more but they can ride…er…” he trailed off and swallowed hard. “And one fatality, General.”
“Who?” her look never changed.
“Jones. Dove on a grenade at the end there. ‘Prolly saved a dozen of us.”
“He is a Hero of the imperium,” she continued calmly, crying inside. “I recall he is, er, was unmarried. Left his folk’s farm outside of Jefferson City to join up. His heroism will never be forgotten by me and my kind.”
“Yes’em,” the corporal muttered.
“And who was our enemy? I saw no uniforms!” she continued.
“Not totally sure yet, General.” He was more comfortable to stick to business. “Like’uns you said: no uniforms. I guess the CO will get things sorted later. I’d guess a bit more than half of them are dead or wounded.”
“There is no way highwaymen would assault imperial horse troopers. That means that at least this was a guerrilla ambush. At worst, they knew I was here.” She took a deep breath and let it out. “That would mean political assassination. If the former, shoot them and make all evidence of this disappear; their masters will wonder what happened. If the latter…”
“I will take far more drastic steps. Oh, look: the rider returns! Let’s hope with news!”
“Yeah,” the corporal agreed, still shaking from the odd, inhuman look in her eyes at “drastic steps.”
The rider was accompanied by eight more, two of whom were mildly wounded. Per orders, no one saluted.
“Commander’s compliment’s Officer Hartmann,” the messenger said. “He, ah, politely requests that while he figgurs out what the hell just happened back thar, you’un and these twelve ride like hell for the last thirty miles to Huntsville. Please.”
Faustina swung back up into her saddle, scowling.
“Tell him I agree, under protest. Also, tell him I want hourly updates if he can spare the riders. My men’s lives and health come first. Understood?”
She looked coldly at the corporal.
“Let’s move out.”