Cadets, 1/4

Yes, I went dark again. I re-listened to the six chapters of “Foes and Rivals” I recorded to try to get their voices back into my head. Then another movie started playing in my head. That what this is.

Set ten years before the action in my forthcoming novel, “Obligations of Rank,” we have two youngsters in Empress Faustina’s army, on the outskirts of St. Louis. For those who have been following along in the raws I posted of my next novel, this campaign does not end well.

I have DayJob this weekend but am off Monday. Unfortunately a friend asked me to put together a little precis of “creative writing” for, I think, upcoming NaNoWriMo season. So little time…

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The two figures were the same height, thus just a fraction shorter than an average legionary.  Helmet, face covering, uniform, gloves, battle gear, boots.  An M-1 carbine armed with 6.8mm rounds on a tactical sling across the chest.  But no legionary patch or indication of rank.  The names stenciled on the upper left chest of both was the same:  Hartmann.

It was this which had all the other legionaries in the century on edge.  The centurion for that detachment had asked them to leave and was refused.  He immediately radioed up for help.

“They are both worried for us and themselves, if something were to happen to us,” the one on the left noted in a boy’s voice just cracking to manhood as they splashed through the ankle-deep water of Powdermill Creek on the southern edge of the ridge called Fairview Heights, just across the great river and east-southeast of the city of St. Louis.  Their objective was only a few hundred feet ahead.

“Then we must show no fear and turn their worry into adoration for us and our family,” the other replied in an older girl’s voice.

For just a moment twelve-year-old Laszlo took his eyes from the trees ahead to glance right at his eighteen-year-old cousin, Aurelia, daughter of the Empress’s brother.  He was the Empress’s eldest male son and not sure how he got talked into this escapade. 

I was assigned cadet to the High Command staff, undoubtedly so Mother could keep an eye on me for this campaign, my first.  Cousin Aurelia, who had already been in both the Susquehanna and Delaware River campaigns while technically a cadet for this mission, assigned to legate Lee of Tenth Legion, but it was routine for her to lead not only patrols but also entire cohorts.  To be expected, I guess:  Mother led armies when she was eighteen.  And, my cousin’s changes are likely more extensive than those to the Empress and me.

At a trot, the two and the eighty men dispersed about them crossed two long-broken rail lines, then emerged through one more line of trees.  A cracked road led just a hundred feet to their objective:  the Shrine of Our Lady of the Snow.

The imperial army of five legions, three hundred horse cavalry, and now armored cars and motor-towed artillery mustered in what had once been Fort Campbell in what had been southwestern Kentucky.  We were to move north then northwest, in conjunction with our ally from the Republic of Texas.  They were in the northeast corner of their Oklahoma Province with scouts into Springfield.  Their army was smaller:  two infantry but – critically – one armored brigade, likely the only one in North America.  The center of gravity of the St. Louis government was on the west side of the river.  If they ran it would take a mobile force to hunt them down and kill them.

As the two youngsters, but not that much younger than the legionaries, walked north on the road, their eyes and ears took in the two additional centuries further up and along the ridgeline, screening any unlike move in their direction from the Second Brotherhood Army.  An army they had sparred with days ago and beaten yesterday.

“It’s kinda plain,” Laszlo said, looking at the pointy spire ringed by masonry walls.

“This is the back of it, little Les,” Aurie sighed, pointing left.  “Let’s walk around that way.  See?  It’s sort of an amphitheater.  Not in the best of shape, though.”

“Because of our enemy?” he asked.

“Mmm,” she agreed.  “Christianity in any form has been illegal in these lands since the Change.  Let’s pray here a minute before hitting some of the other shrines and grottos.  From the sun, we’ve about two hours.”

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