Still managing to slip in a little writing time here and there. Off Thursday so likely back into the basement for more audiobook recording.
Below, it seems the Canadian Army has not learned what the imperium has. With only two exceptions I know, women have never served in Faustina’s legions.
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It was when he was under the second truck checking the exhaust system that the sound of boots rather than shoes became clear. Robert tilted his head further back on the asphalt to see five Canadian soldiers doing the same to their vehicles what the legionaries were. Their mottled uniforms were more green than the field green of the legions and they wore forest green berets rather than helmets. In the imperium, there was no head cover if one was not wearing their helmet.
As he wriggled out from under the truck, he saw the rest of the team had noticed them. And vice versa. If we all walk over to say hi, we’ll outnumber them. That will be unconsciously threatening.
“Hey, Mitch,” he said, “let’s go say hello. Maybe these guys know where the bars are!”
“Yeah. Didn’t see one on the way in. Hope this area ain’t dry!” Mitch responded.
“If it is,” Robert said, walking, “we did bring plenty of our own.”
The five waited until the two were about a dozen feet away. Robert gave a legionary salute then turned it into a wave.
“Hey, guys! I’m Bob Hardt, a lowly ranker in the legions. This here is Mitch Connell, same. How’s y’all doin’?” he asked, his voice a bit more southern than usual.
The large man on Robert’s left with two chevrons on his arms spoke up. I’d guess he’s four years older and spends his spare time in the weight rooms.
“You lads are a long way from home,” the man began, rudely without a salute or introduction. “Lost?”
Mitch’s teeth ground together just a little.
“Sorry,” Robert smiled, “didn’t catch your name?”
“Corporal Darcy,” the young prince echoed, with another salute, “we just go where we’re told. Maybe you-uns army gives better briefings than ours?”
“No doubt, Hardt.” Darcy finally walked over with his hand out. “And ranker is rude. Just Private Hardt?”
“Technically, but we’re trying to use the old words, so Hastatus Hardt,” Robert smiled, taking his hand before passing the corporal over to Mitch.
“And you really don’t know why you are here?” Darcy asked, returning to Hardt.
“I know we’re in eastern Kentucky,” he said with a shrug, confident Mitch wouldn’t blow it by laughing. “I’m sure our centurion does, though.”
“That being the case,” Robert continued, “why are you-un here? Canada’s a long ways north, isn’t it?”
“New Canada – ” Darcy began.
“Is not a topic of discussion, Corporal.” A woman’s voice.
Robert now looked right. From around their trucks came a woman about Robert’s height. But in her twenties and her face declared a mix of White and South Asian. From her first, short sentence, he detected only a Canadian accent with no sing-song traits of India. Nothing on her arms but there was a gold emblasion [no idea what this is called] on a white strip on her shoulder straps.
“Officer Cadet!” Robert saluted yet again, arm up, fingers just apart. “My apologies for not asking permission to speak with your men!”
“No worries,” she replied with their salute before also coming to shake his hand. “I’m Miss Eloise Patel, second in command. We are, like you, I’d wager, just having a look around.”
“Of course, Miss Patel.” Robert tried to be charming. She was certainly attractive but for a non-demi he could almost feel his mother’s eyes on him. “Since we crossed the border north, it seems that’s all our centurion wants to do.”
“Hestatus. Centurion.” She made a wry look. “You people are playing a strange game down south!”
“Have you ever been in the imperium, Miss Patel?”
“No. This, in fact, is as far south as I’ve ever been.”
“Has your service taken you west?” he asked, feigning innocence. “I’ve never even been to the Mississippi.”
“Just…once.” She looked away as her earlier good nature seemed leeched from her eyes. There were some sounds from the doors to the courthouse, but Robert wanted to push.
“Russians?” he barely said. Her near snarl was his answer.
“Heads up,” Mitch said in much the same tone.
The prince looked to see who had come out of the building. His centurion walked besides a Canadian Army second leftenant about the same age. Next to Hill was an old, crabbed man in a faded sky-blue suit. What little white hair he had on his wrinkled head was slicked back and he was supported on his right by a hatchet-faced young man likely in his mid-thirties. They shared just enough facial features that Robert knew the younger was the son of the older, and the older likely Carlyle. The effective Count of this entire area. He made a quick look over his shoulder to make sure the rest of the unit was behaving.
“Nice to see,” the younger Carlyle began as soon as they were at street level, “that you two aren’t shooting at one another!”
After playing with Patel, Robert knew to now keep his mouth shut.
“While not a Friend and Ally of the imperium,” Hill said, “we certainly see Canada as a friend.”
“Until your Empress decides to lob a nuke into one of their cities and we get squashed like a mouse between two elephants?” the younger laughed at him.
“I am glad,” ghosted the voice of the old man, “that we three peoples can meet as friends. You are too hasty, Mark, my son.”
“I apologize, father.” The younger sounded contrite but Robert knew better.
No one moved or spoke as the older, John Carlyle, took his time to look, one by one, at all of the men – and one woman – of the two armies, before him. It was lost on no one that his gaze lingered on Robert before moving on to the other legionaries.
“I am tired and must rest,” the old man breathed. “I would these two commanders join me for dinner at my home later.