Wherein the speculatores discover that they are not the first to make contact with the fiefdom of John Carlyle of the great FLemingsburg valley.
In other news, RealLife is increasingly complicated. Daughter #2 has her last day of classes tomorrow then two days of finals. After that, her high school graduation is May 30th. The next day we depart for what may be the last family vacation for years, to get Daughter #1 to her internship in southern Utah. I’m bringing this laptop and hope to write while someone else is driving. Getting across the Great Plains takes forever.
Another ten miles had them out of the ridge of hills and back into low rolling countryside. Five miles from their destination, they passed an large abandoned quarry to their right. Just outside of the town, where the two-lane road they were on was crossed by a four-lane, they came across a surprise: a toll booth.
It wasn’t much; it didn’t have to be. If someone ran it, then entire town would have turned against them. Besides the little building was what might have once been a police car and a truck similar to the ones they rode in. There was not a barrier across the road but rather just a few very old orange barrels set out to slow any vehicular traffic. To judge by the frantic activity of the only two men they saw, traffic must not be much from the south.
“Come with me, Hardt,” Hill asked as he climbed out.
Robert suppressed a smile as one of the two presumed border guards suddenly put both hands onto his head and ran back inside for his hat. The two had only their sidearms but he had seen at least one scoped rifle in the little building. Perhaps they hunted when no one else was around?
“Morning!” his CO called with a smile, stopping about ten feet away. “How are you gentlemen? I’m Centurion Panck Hill. Second Cohort, Tenth Legion, in her Imperial Majesty Faustina’s service! This is some lovely countryside y’all have about here!”
Not so much his G-2 training but growing up as he had, Robert knew well the many tricks to seize the high ground in a conversation and keep it.
“Well, now,” the one who had forgotten his hat began. “Mister, no, Centurion Hill, was it? I’m Deputy Parsons. We, uh… what was I supposed to say? We welcome our friends from the south in the, uh, imperium.”
It was obvious that was not a word Parsons used often.
“Just, well,” he kept muttering, “didn’t expect y’all quite so soon…”
What did he mean by ‘expect,’ Robert wondered. Why are we expected?
“Quick action is something of a rule in the legions, Deputy Parsons, so here we are!” Robert knew Hill had no idea, either, but: the high ground. “Are y’all the welcoming committee or do we need to pay a toll?”
“No, no!” the poor man visibly shook. “Like you said, mores like a welcoming committee. Is, ah, is it just y’all’s three trucks?”
“Until we get the bridge south of here repaired? Sure,” Hill grossly exaggerated.
“That being the case, we’s to take you right into town. I know Mister Carlyle will want to see you straightaway.”
A report before this mission began indicated that John Carlyle had run the entire greater Flemingsburg valley, all the way to Maysville, as his personal fiefdom for the last thirty years, and seemed to be grooming his eldest son to replace him. Fitting perfectly into the new politics and culture of the imperium, what little relations there had been were always cordial.
“Then lead on, Deputy! Thank you for the escort!” Hill said with a wave before turning about.
“What did he mean?” the centurion asked the moment the door was shut. “Expected?”
“No idea, but I do have a conjecture.” Plans within plans were de rigueur in the imperial family.
“Which is?” Hill snorted a little as the two men came back not in the car or truck but astride two horses who must have been tied north of the toll building.
“I bet there is a team just like ours in this town. But their trucks have a red maple leaf on the side.”
Hill went so far as to turn about to look at his subordinate.
“God, but I hope you are wrong.”
There were two old deuce-and-a-half covered trucks with the Canadian flag painted onto their front doors parked directly in front of what had been the County Courthouse and was now the seat of power of John Carlyle, who so far had never bothered with any formal title.
“Well, crap,” Hill breathed, five minutes after their last conversation, “you were right.”
He turned about again.
“There is more to you than meets the eye, Mister Hardt.”
Their three trucks were directed into parking due south of the not particularly large building. Unlike many such courthouses in Kentucky, this one was built, likely rebuilt, less than a generation before the Change. Not seeing anyone about in a Canadian Army uniform, Hill waved his team together under some trees.
“One, we’re not at war. Relations between the imperium and Canada are formally fine,” he began, laying the ground rules. “Two, yes, there are tensions and we will not make them worse. Three, their team got here first and undoubtedly know we are here now, putting us on our back foot. Four, as we don’t know their military dispositions due north of us – ”
“There is a motorized company fifteen miles northeast of Maysville,” Robert interrupted. On the first hand, it was rude, on the second, it gave a little of his game away. But on the gripping hand it gave his superior information he had to know. “The next closest units are around Cincinnati.”
Hill gave him what was becoming one of those looks.
“Right. Legionary expeditions like ours are rare this far north but not unheard of,” Hill went on. “So we’re just fellow soldiers on some damn-fool job higher-up told us to do. We don’t know nothing, clear?”
Nods all about as there were locals close enough to hear them if they were too loud.
He walked them all around the trucks to where they looked at the building before them.
“The rest of this town seems in nice shape,” Rockford noted. “I wonder what they do here abouts?”
“You can find out later,” their CO said, seeing two men in suits hurrying down the courthouse steps and moving toward them. “For now, you’re with me, Jimmy. The rest of y’all: stick around and don’t start anything!”
When Hill and Rockford walked off, Robert was suddenly aware that all others in the team were looking at him. Imperium, auctoritas, and dignitas were three different things, he had learned early.
“Mitch? Keep an eye on our trade truck. Me and everyone else are going to do maintenance checks on the other two. We’re a long way from home and I don’t wanna be stuck here!”
With a laugh, everyone moved to follow what was not an order but more than a suggestion.
Take that, Liz, Les, and Ed! he thought.