Research over. Back to the story.
It is a little surprising to me that coming from such a close, loving family, Aurelia is a hard person. From being a part of the imperial family? That didn’t seem to affect her parents or younger brother (who in Obligations of Rank left the imperium just to get away from the politics). Perhaps serving in the legions since she was seventeen and having to make hard, life-or-death decisions (such as helping use a fusion weapon on civilians in St Louis) did it? I’m finding out more about her just as y’all are.
A single rider late the next day had General Hartmann and her forty-five on horseback and headed north hours before the sun came up. Sticking where they could to the old, broken highway, it brought a curl of a smile to her face when they trotted across the bridge over Merrimack River: the Customs/Guard Post had a hand-painted sign out front declaring “Welcome to Arkham.” She dismounted to speak with the local in charge.
“No worries, General,” he said, sketching a salute. “We’d word you were coming. All we ask is a walk or trot past any inspection post.”
“We shall respect local customs,” Aurelia replied. “After all, someday one of my children might be attending Miskatonic University.”
The man’s weather-beaten, New England face lit up to see she got the joke.
Pushing their mounts the last bit, they arrived at Brunswick just before ten-hundred. Asking where to find the Council House, they continued.
“This place, like all we’ve just been through, survived the Change untouched,” she observed to the aide on her left and the junior centurion on her right. All of their horses were happy to be walking after their short gallop to make up time. “That’s a double-edged sword. They have had it easy, except for the first six months, and Boston. But that was nearly two generations ago. Look at that bay!”
She pointed right, southeast.
“Fishing boats everywhere! And ahead, on the, uh…” Without signal, she had to pull from memory. “The Androscoggin River; even more boats. A healthy, prosperous society.”
“Wonder why the Canuks left ‘em alone?” the centurion wondered.
“Mass killings of cities have a salutary effect on foreign policy, Centurion,” the princess said lightly. “These woodsmen and fishermen pushed a foreign invading army back into the sea then destroyed one of the oldest cities on this continent as an encore. No wonder my aunt, our Empress, wants to treat with them.”
“Ah,” she noted, “this would seem to be our destination. That old four-story, red brick building, backed up to the river. I see now. There is a little hydroelectric station behind it. Clever people.”
Being expected, they passed their horses off to some locals. Passing a faded sign which proclaimed “Nature Conservancy,” Aurelia went through the front door accompanied by her five aides and a tiny security detachment of five legionaries. A young man in a traditional business suit was just inside and escorted them left to what appeared to be a conference room. Two long tables. One with fifteen men and two women and smaller other with just three men. Their Council, she thought, and these are the leaders of it. Nice of them to sort themselves out; it would have taken me a few minutes to sus out who really matters. Even so, this could still be a feint. I must be cautious. And, my friend is nowhere to be seen. Curious.
She paused in the doorway.
“I am General Aurelia Hartmann of the imperium,” she announced, raising her right arm high in salute. “Know that I may speak upon the Empress’ behalf. It is our pleasure to at long last formally meet our brothers and sisters who not only survived the Change but have come to thrive in it. Let us have peace.”
All twenty stood and gave polite applause. The man at the center of the three indicated a place for her at their table.
Twenty against one. This isn’t fair. To them.