Gotta love “handwavium:” so, six hundred miles later… Does anyone really want to hear about their saddle sores? I cover that (so to speak) in “Goddess Crusade” when Faustina has her problems. Fussy being Fussy, she uses it to get her much-older boyfriend into bed
We meet Aurie’s father. From “Worlds Without End” on, he detests politics and just wants to be with his fiancee, later wife, Henge. But there is that old adage: “you may not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in you.”
“Late!” Aurelia fumed. “I hate being late! It reflects poorly on all of us.”
Colour pulled her eyes down from the Blue Ridge Mountains to her right. The sun was just at their tops.
“You had us across that river, the Potomac, before dawn,” she said. “And this beautiful valley makes for easy riding. Can’t speak to your troopers but my butt sure is thankful after these four days.”
“And it was all my fault, I know, Colour,” the general allowed. “We had to stop and help that lost family outside of Mechanicsburg. The kids had not eaten in over a day. How anyone can get lost this far into the Change is a mystery to me!”
“We cannot all be demi-human, Princess,” Colour teased a little before tossing her hand. “Some of these settlements look pretty new. From your imperium?”
“Yep. Discharged legionaries,” Aurelia agreed. “This area was nominally under control of the Satanists in old DC before the Empress exterminated them. This entire valley, the Shenandoah, has a nearly perfect climate, so land grants were made to our men. The entire area belongs to Viscount Murphy.”
“So he owns the land and leases it to the veterans?” Colour still had trouble with the imperium’s aristocracy and division of authority.
“No. Sure, he has his plot, too, but the men and their families have ownership. It is their loyalty that is Murphy’s. If he needs to call them up for some emergency, they must obey, just as he must if the empress gives him an order.”
“There’s so much I still do not understand,” Jansen sighed.
“You’ll be older soon enough,” Hartmann laughed, stretching in her saddle. “One day you must go home – even if for a bit! – and tell this story to your people. We must understand one another.”
“To make them part of your imperium?” Colour not quite teased.
“Of course. Hey, now!” Aurelia slowed to a trot and stood in her stirrups, looking ahead. “Looks as if someone was waiting for us. Centurion Gouma?”
The commander of their escort brought his horse next to his general’s.
“Looks as if us girls might be leaving you here,” she said, pointing at the small, dual-engine propeller aircraft parked on the old highway, maybe two miles ahead. “Let’s go see.”
At canter, with the sun now just behind the mountains, the fourteen halted about fifty yards from the airplane. There were two, the other obscured by the first. Their crews were drinking coffee and all but one smoking a cigar. Aching back and sore butt, Aurelia leaped from her saddle and sprinted, her arms wide.
“Daddy!” she yelled, throwing herself into the arms of a man, Colour saw, was about her age. Dismounting and walking closer, the family resemblance was obvious.
Business first, Aurelia placed both her hands on each side of her father’s face.
I’ve been out of signal for five days. Status? It was a trademark question of the Hartmann clan.
All’s well, my Best Girl. My sister left today and wanted you back before the day was out. She felt his sigh; her father hated politics. Didn’t want to make it look like we had no government, even for hours.
He blinked hard and she broke connexion but left her hands where they were.
“Speaking of: Regent? You have done well for yourself, princess,” he said with a sad smile.
“I know you hate it,” she replied softly, “but this must be. Where’s Cousin Ed?”
“Mobile. He flew there directly from Austin. No idea why.” He looked past his daughter and put his hand out. “Good evening. I am Gary Hartmann. You must be my girl’s new friend she gushed about in a message to us a month ago.”
“Daddy! Don’t embarrass me!”
That was too much for both of the older pair. Laughing, Colour took his hand.
“Colour Jansen,” she said. “Pleasure to meet you. I think at one point my friend mentioned you’re a doctor?”
“Doctor, surgeon, pharmacist. Overall genius,” his daughter bragged openly. “And specializing in people like us.”
“So,” Colour couldn’t help but let her eyes wander over him, “you are…?”
“Demi-human, as my sister insists we say,” he said with a shrug, letting go of her hand. “Husband and father is good enough for me.”
“And grandfather!” Aurie crowed, about her brother’s son.
“Yes, yes.” This Hartmann turned and waved at the two crews to get ready. “This will be short but still a night flight. Anyone from your troop beside you two?”
“Nope. I guess the second plane is both security and in case of emergency?” Aurelia’s change in tone to business was instant.
“Indeed. You see to your men while we turn the engines over. Miss Jansen? Get your things and please join me at the lead aircraft,” he replied.
Seeing the general sprinting back to her troopers, the best Colour could manage was a slow jog.
“Duke Hartmann will fly us the rest of the way, to Knoxville. You and your men can take it easy back to the army. Two weeks okay, Gouma?”
“Please, Gen’rl,” he said a little gruffly. “We’uns’ul get back in no time. Gonna suck for poor Baruch, here, not seein’ you nekkid.”
“War is hell,” she smiled and stepped back from his mount, raising her arm. “Deus vult!”
“Deus vult!” they all shouted in return with their salutes, the first of this trip, for security reasons. No one moved. They would not leave until their commanding general was airborne.
She saw the other plane had already turned about. Aurelia tossed her saddlebags onto Colour’s, next to her in the back. She climbed into the co-pilot’s seat on the right and put her headphones on, waving for her friend to do the same. Her father turned the starboard engine over.
“Receiving?” he asked.
“Five by five, Daddy.”
“Yes, Mister Hartmann.”
The port engine coughed to life.
“Let’s go home.”