With my first podcast behind me – and already notes for the second – time to get back to what is happening in former Kentucky. The short answer is: quite a bit and very fast. I think these story notes will be the last or second-to-last chapter of this section.
It was, honestly, nice to get Sky off the stage. She tends to take over; like kudzu.
Robert knew he had work to do but also knew that after three pints of ale, now was not the time. He set his alarm for 0500 and fell into the bed provided for him and the other men.
At the first chime, he sat up. From the moonlight through the windows, he saw Mitch had come back at some point. Robert went outside into what felt like a dry, mid-fifties early morning. After some stretches and push- and sit-ups, he went for the showers. With electric power, hot water was available but it had already become a well-established legionary tradition to not use it in the field. Hell, even at her age, mother still will rinse off naked in a stream! Sister Caillie had almost died of embarrassment the first time she had seen an online picture of that.
I’d asked Liz about it, he thought, wandering back to the barracks to get his uniform and tablet. About what our dad felt when the Empress did things like that. She had laughed and told me they love each other and don’t mind little games. Sometimes, it seems the only person Mother loves is herself. And her empire.
There were only a few lights on in the Mess and he waved the non-combatant assigned there away, getting his own coffee. It might have been fresh at midnight. He sat at the corner of a table and mashed the power button. I need information about local politics and what Roland told me about –
Good morning, my little legionary! A messenger window popped open.
After I deal with Mother
Good morning, Empress. I am well. I have some work to do before my first meeting in 90 min.
Of course! Just wanted you to know that you, all of my children and relatives, are never far from my gaze!
What are you, Sauron? Why do you think I left the family for the legions?
I appreciate that, Empress. If I have questions of high politics, may I reach out to you?
I’d rather you managed it yourself, Bob Hardt. But if you need help, I’m here!
Then she turns around and reminds me why I left. I was just trying to be polite, dammit.
If that’s all, Empress…?
Jah neh! The message box closed.
She mentioned the whole family but not Roland directly. I’d like to know what’s going on but fear I never will.
With another pull at the awful coffee, Prince Robert set about pulling data and making notes for his unit’s morning briefing.
While not really on a secret mission, there was no good reason for anyone at the cohort fort to know more than they needed about their scouting. To that end, Centurion Hill led his on a walk about the perimeter of the little airstrip.
“I want to start by saying I’ve a meeting with this Deke Webb guy at ten hundred in an office at the Capital Building. My second and G-2 will be with me,” Hill began. “What else did everyone learn?”
Robert waited for everyone else’s reports first as his was likely the most germane, unless Mitch succeeded in whatever he was doing in the pub last night. Listening to the others, it appeared the locals broadly viewed the Canadians as unwelcome at best and meddlers at worse. That was to their favor.
“Last group, Bob and Mitch. You guys get anything?”
“I got laid, sir. That’s about all,” Mitch admitted to laughter.
“Did you, Mister Hardt, manage to do anything the legions pay you to do?” Hill asked with only barely faked exasperation.
“Yes, sir. Deke Webb is well regarded both at home in Winchester and throughout the Bluegrass region,” Robert spoke up just enough to be heard by the group. “There is talk of recreating a governor for the former State and making him it.”
Hill stopped. Everyone else did, too.
“Damn, Hardt!” Now his emotion was honest. “Just how good is this intel? From a local at the pub y’all went to? Any corroboration?”
This is going to be a tricky one. The only public record of Roland’s trip north said just that: “…and Prince Roland plans a medical review of the lands north of the imperium.” Telegraphing precise locations of the imperial family was stupid.
“The source who told me is not a local, but knows local politics, sir. In fact, he’s from our side.”
“Everyone else, dismissed. Rockford and Hardt? Walk some more with me,” Hill ordered. They rounded the west end of the airstrip when he spoke up again. “That wasn’t a lie, and thank you for that, Bob, but that wasn’t the full truth, either.”
“That is correct, sir.”
“But no corroboration?”
“Only backhandedly, sir. From our hitchhiker of yesterday,” Robert clarified. “You heard what she told us about the Canadians? She’s also a waitress in that pub, right down the road from the Capital Building. And, I came to learn last night, smarter than she looks.”
“Banged her did you?” Rockford smiled. “I best pay a visit to ‘The George and Dragon’ later today? Did you and Mitch leave any woman untapped?”
“I wish!” Robert laughed, too. “But Sky is spoken for. Very.”
“Okay,” Hill took a deep breath happy and not happy with the intel he had been given. “Let me get this together in a preliminary report. Y’all have any suggestions?”
“Cut the Canadian’s legs out from under them,” Robert said instantly. “Have the Empress make Webb a marquis.”
“I’ll pass that up,” he carefully replied. “You guys also should know, if you don’t already, that the tribune is joining us for the meeting.”
Both Robert and Mitch did not understand. Sure, the man had a senior rank, but this morning was politics, not command.
“I see you don’t! Read some legionary history, lads! Atkinson won ‘Hero of the Imperium’ right after St. Louis fell. He led an all-volunteer team into the still-radioactive rubble,” their centurion lectured them. “He’s about the only one not dead of radiation poisoning or cancer these ten years later.”
He paused then continued.
“The Empress herself pinned the medal on him.” Hill’s nearly black eyes went to the sunrise. “And, word is, he is her window in both Tenth Legion and Kentucky. The Tribune is well informed and well connected. Keep that in mind, lads. See y’all in a little over an hour!”
That surprised Prince Robert. He was well aware who was on the List of Friends, those his mother would always make time to see or listen to immediately after the concerns of her family, and did not recall a Kev Atkinson on it. Another informal arrangement or had Hill got it wrong? A quick message to the Empress would resolve the matter… which Robert refused to do.
“Did you ever get breakfast, Bob?” Jimmy asked.
“Nope. Just some coffee, earlier.”
“You drank their coffee!” The scrounger looked shocked. “I was warned back home Frankfort garrison has the worst in the legions! You’re just filled with surprises, ain’t you, Bob?”
Wouldn’t you love to know?