No, no, not like one of those emotionally disturbed who should be looked after and prayed for rather than being pumped full of chemicals and abused by surgeons who were the second-to-last in medical school (last being abortionists, of course).
This transition is having had my moment of clarity mentioned in the last post and moving from the second day of the Battle of Opelika to its immediate aftermath. Rather than recapitulate the entire chapter, below the fold is the last third of it, featuring acting legate Chesney – Faustina’s ‘court jester’ – seguing into… a dream? A vision? Or is it real?
As acting legate of First Legion, Chesney was getting a crash course on what it meant to be in command. After his brevet promotion by Tapscott, while jogging back to his new command, his first thought was it would be similar to how he led cohort six, but bigger. When he arrived in First’s CP and told the injured and much-reduced staff there of his promotion, Chesney was immediately disabused of that notion.
No one cared about deployments or tactics. All questions were about getting the wounded out and getting supplies and men in. My yesterday-self thought only about how to take a bridge or a hill. My today-self is all about bullets and beans. And then having to continue the offensive in the face of a motorized regiment… I spend more time looking at maps and reports than the terrain or enemy lines!
He sighed in the twilight just as one of his runners came in from the north, bearing Tapscott’s summary of the other two regiment’s surrenders as well as his dispositions for the next twelve hours. Chesney paused his man’s verbal report to send another runner northeast to make sure the third cohort was in contact with Third Legion’s right, along the cleared corridor for the powerlines. He had already done the same for McFall’s ninth cohort on his own right and touching elements of Fifth Legion to the southwest.
Drinking plastic cup after cup of sweet tea, Chesney was only aware of the encroaching night as one of his aides put first one then another lantern onto the little folding table just outside the command tent. For having four legions, two surrendered and one mauled regiments in the immediate area, the night was surprisingly quiet.
“What’s the time?” he asked softly to no one in particular.
“A few minutes to midnight, sir,” a medic who was changing a bandage on one of his walking wounded staff replied. Made sense: medical staff had to keep close watch on time when it came to their specialty. In what he guessed was another two hours the stack of papers on his left was gone. Looking about, he sat back and closed his still working eye.
That last report from the rider from Owens is correct: these two days, well, the last two days now, were ours. How many more units are still in the enemy’s reserve? First didn’t take enough prisoners like the other two legions did, so I’ve no idea what might be south of us or across that litter river. And that is just for today’s dawn. God forbid we have to go house-to-house fighting in Columbus and on that old Army base! Even after that, what were the General’s plans for Atlanta?
At the thought of their commander, Chesney opened his eye to look up at the night sky, pocked with stars.
There’s been zero scuttlebutt about her death, so she must still be alive. He lowered his gaze and turned one of the lanterns out. Her body, that is. Her mind? She had always been giving us those odd hints about leaving mortal form… is that something she has already done? Those of us who think we know her best might be okay with that but how can you lead an army and an empire from a computer screen and radio?
He pushed those thoughts aside as a cavalry scout came to report that patrols to the south still found no trace of the enemy, even three or four miles ahead of their line. Chesney thanked him and told him to push out a little further and let him know the results by 0400.
Two hours. Do I have time to sleep just a little? He had lost track of how long he had been awake. If I don’t and zone out once the sun’s up, it could cost lives… He let his eyelid come down once again.
The blue sky was so perfect it hurt right through him. Looking about Chesney saw trees and bushes all about him except for the path where he stood. Peering closer, he realized the path seemed to be made of a black glass. The odd keening and screeching of the trees when the wind moved them made him realize that they were made of colored glass as well.
Not understanding, he began a slow, careful walk in the direction he was facing. The path took a few twists and turns before emerging into an open space about ten yards across. In the center was a concrete fountain but rather than water, it seemed to be spraying tiny diamonds into the air before they fell back into the basin surrounding it. Next to the fountain was a girl. No: two girls. One sat kneeling, resting on her calves. The other had her head in the first’s lap. Who are they?
“Hello, acting legate,” the sitting one said to him. Her eyes were turquoise and her smile blinding. “Hello, Friend Chesney!”
At his name he recognized her.
“Empress! Faustina!” he cried, taking a single step before realizing he could take no more.
“Yes. Thank you for reminding me. It is easy to be forgetful here,” the young woman, his General and Empress said. She looked down and brushed her left hand through the dark hair of the other in her lap. “This is my new Friend, Alexandra. I cannot introduce you two as she must sleep more to be older and healthy. I will speak on her behalf to those who were my enemy in Fort Benning. This war is over.”
Her bright eyes came back up to his. Her smile was killing him.
“We rejoice in our victory as we mourn our dead and pray for our wounded,” she continued. “I think you must go home now, Friend. It… it is good for me to see you!”
“G… General! We need you! Your legions – !” Chesney tried, suddenly afraid and not understanding why.
“I understand the needs of all my subjects. Some better than they do. Be at peace, my Friend,” she just narrowed her eyes at him, “but know I am with you!”
“Time to go, human.”
Chesney glanced at the other side of the fountain to find who spoke. He almost laughed to see some boy dressed up as a caricature of a Bolshevik secret policeman.
“Huh?” Chesney opened his eye. The stars were less bright.
“It’s 0400, sir! The scouts have come back,” his aide said.
“Right.” He stood. Wait. Something about their Empress…? Chesney shook his head as he picked up the now-ambient tea to listen to his scouts’ reports.