In the Service of the Republic Chapter 1
By Tillman Oxendine
The sentry recognized General Flavius Pius and Colonel Harrington-what soldier of the Toran Republic did not, after the past months of hard campaigning alongside the Jowston City-States against the forces of the Kingdom of Highland, during which General Flavius had made such a name for himself?
Still remembering his duty, however, the sentry gave the proper challenge, in order to prove that he was alert and prepared. "I've missed my girl in Banner for a long time now," he called to Flavius and Harrington in the early morning mist.
Flavius smiled at the clever insertion of the codeword time in the sentry's challenge; he responded with "Then you'd better hurry back to her as soon as this is all over."
The sentry, recognizing the proper response codeword, hurry, gave the signal for the barricade into the camp to be removed, allowing Flavius Pius and his aide to enter. Flavius thought about the soldier's challenge; maybe he really had a girl in Banner
which was the destination of the majority of Pannu Yakuta's garrison, on the orders of its commander, Valeria, one of the Toran's Republic's Six Great Generals. At its head was Major Flavius Pius, the garrison Intelligence and Operations officer. Two infantry battalions, an artillery battalion, and one support battalion were in their proper orders of march in front of the great fortress, moving to their departure point.
Flavius was reviewing the troops from the back of his horse, a fine white charger named Sica, which he had brought with him from his native country, Altinum. The livery and armor of the soldiers were similar to those of the Romanoi, the militaristic inhabitants of Altinum. As the guidons and standards fluttered by, decorated with the flaming sword of the old Liberation Army, Flavius was reminded of the farewell parades given to the Legiones Altinum as they departed the capital city of Alba, as they conquered ever more lands for the Romanoi Emperor. Flavius was touched with a twinge of homesickness.
I wonder what lands we will be called upon to visit, he thought.
Finally, Flavius joined the troops at the head of the column and gave the signal to proceed, with a majestic (and somewhat theatrical) wave of his hand. He had intended to stay in the middle of the formation in order to maintain better control of it, but decided to place a subordinate there and go to the front of the formation himself. After all, he thought, I may not get to lead such forces again. Command would go to one of the battalion commanders on arrival in Banner, surely.
Fifes wailed and drums beat out a slow, steady march cadence. Flavius heard the gruff voices of the non-commissioned officers as they called the time: "YOUR LEFT, YOUR LEFT, YOUR LEFT RIGHT OR LEFT RIGHT OR LEFT RIGHT LEEFFFTTT!"
Nearly three thousand men moved as one along the path that led into the Great Forest.
They traveled through the Great Forest, past the ruined home of the Elves, devastated during the Gate Rune War by the Burning Mirror, that horrendous superweapon used by Kwanda Rossman while under the influence of the witch Windy; and through the village of the Kobolds, who greeted the soldiers with cheers and lots of their spicy foods.
Several days later they camped by the shores of Lake Toran. As the soldiers set up their bivouac site, Flavius and his aide, Captain Harrington, looked across the lake, where Old Toran Fortress, site of the Liberation Army's headquarters during the Gate Rune War, still stood, a great imposing stone sentinel.
"What stories could those walls tell, Major Flavius, if they could speak?" asked Harrington.
"From the ancient past, I don't know," Flavius replied. "From the Liberation Army's time there, well, I suppose I could tell a tale or two." He smiled wistfully.
Harrington was surprised. "You served in the War, sir? I didn't know."
"Oh, yes. News of the War reached Altinum, and several of my friends and I decided to volunteer our services to the Liberation Army. I served in Valeria's cavalry regiment." He sighed. "One of my friends was killed in the war. The others went back home after the fall of Gregminster. I've stayed on-the place grew on me, I guess," he joked blandly.
"That's not really why you stayed," said Harrington.
"No, it's not. And I'd rather not reveal why." Harrington seemed stung by the rather sharp tone of Flavius's voice. "I'm sorry. It's just a very personal reason."
Harrington rose and turned to leave. "Yes, sir, I understand. Will there be anything else you need before I bed down?"
"No thank you, Captain Harrington. I appreciate your efforts so far."
"I do what I can, sir. Good night."
As Harrington walked away back towards camp, Flavius remembered good times at the castle with his comrades, and the terrible battle fought on these very shores. Teo McDohl's armored cavalry regiment was laying siege to the fortress, and was only broken by the power of the Fire Spears. After the bloody, horrific battle, Flavius was one of the soldiers who viewed the duel between the Imperial General Teo McDohl and his son Tir, the rebel.
Finally, remembering he had some staff work to complete before he went to sleep, Flavius got up, brushed the sand from his trousers, and returned to camp.
The force reached Gregminster a couple of days later. Rather than stopping in the "Glorious Golden Capital", Flavius marched his troops onward, knowing that the difficult Banner Pass would be tough to negotiate. And indeed it was, with the pack animals barely able to get down the narrow paths. Equipment had to be disassembled and hauled by soldiers, taking up further time and effort. Still, it was done as efficiently as possible, and thirty-six hours out from Gregminster, the Toran troops reached Banner Town. Flavius gave directions to Harrington to set up camp outside town, and decided to go see Valeria and give his report.
Banner was a small town with a modest port, but Flavius was surprised to see tons of supplies gathered on the docks. Crates containing rations, weapons, and spare parts for the wagons and artillery were being loaded onto ships. Flavius recognized the soldiers guarding the stores. They wore the unique scarlet livery of Valeria's cavalry squadron. Flavius asked one of the soldiers where Valeria had her headquarters set up, and the soldier gave him directions to the Banner Inn.
The Inn was a quaint building, not very large. Its wooden structure gave it a rustic look, and Flavius was reminded of similar places that were scattered along the roads in rural Altinum. The sentries outside made way for him as he entered the structure.
In the lobby of the Inn, Ellie, the innkeeper, served food and refreshments to the soldiers, and officers of the General Staff from Gregminster were milling about, filling out various reports, and sending their runners on various errands. A young boy named Ko bumped into Flavius and mumbled a hurried apology before running out the door. The lobby was so busy it took Flavius a few moments to find Valeria in the crowd, poring over a map.
Valeria wore her old Imperial Officer's Armor, colored deep scarlet and brown and inlaid with gold filigree. Underneath the armor she wore a modest red tunic. Her flowing auburn hair came down past her shoulders, and long bangs framed her oval face. At her side hung the Conqueror Star Sword, the blade that drew so much blood in the Gate Rune War and the later action against Jowston. Embedded in her right hand was the Falcon Rune; Valeria was a potent Swordmistress with her training alone, but the Falcon Rune's power allowed her to wield her sword with the speed of the wind and the fury of the ages.
When she looked up and saw Flavius across the lobby, her usually stern features softened, and she waved to him to join her. He made his way over to the table and gave a smart salute. "Major Flavius Pius reporting, ma'am."
"At ease." Valeria smiled and invited him to sit down. "Welcome, Theophilus Flavius Pius Vindex," she said.
"You honor me by using my full name in the old Romanoi tradition, ma'am. Why, I've only brought three thousand men across the length and breadth of the country," Flavius joked.
Valeria offered him a glass of wine. "And in superb time, I might add. You must have marched almost immediately after receiving my message. I suspect Colonel Degas wasn't too happy with my choice of commanders?"
Flavius laughed as he remembered the old officer's outburst. "No ma'am, he wasn't. I may well add that the battalion commanders weren't happy either. They're probably quite eager for me to turn over the reins to one of them."
"Well," Valeria began as she looked down at the map, "they'll just have to get used to it. You'll be my second-in-command for the duration."
Flavius nearly choked on a gulp of wine.
"I told President Lepant I needed a capable man as my second-in-command on this mission. Degas was right out, and all the battalion commanders are capable men, but only at their level. I need someone who can lead men beyond that.
"So, after much consideration, I chose you. You served with me all over this country during the Liberation, and in the police action afterward. I've seen examples of your bravery and prowess enough times to realize that you are the man I'd like to lead these brave soldiers, should I fall."
Flavius was shocked. "Ma'am, I I accept this responsibility humbly." He swallowed hard, and said, "Forgive me, General Valeria, but what is the mission itself? I'm afraid your dispatch was less than forthcoming with the details."
Valeria directed his attention to the map. "Yes, of course. Now, here we are at Banner Town. And we will end up here, in Radat, the day after tomorrow." She moved her finger up the river, in a northern direction into the territory of the Jowston City-States.
"Into Jowston?" Flavius thought. "Some sort of expedition to take advantage of their war with Highland?" News of Highland's ruthless invasion of the Jowston City-States had begun to filter into Toran. But it was unlike President Lepant to take advantage of such a situation; Flavius did not know the man personally, but knew enough from his reputation that this sort of move was out of character.
"No, we're going to help them," Valeria said.
The day is full of surprises, thought Flavius. "I'm sure there's a good reason why, Ma'am, but helping the very people who've been our enemies since the days of the Scarlet Moon Empire "
Valeria raised her hand to interrupt him. "Their leader arrived in Gregminster a week ago with the President's son Sheena. He made a very impassioned appeal for aid. I was there, as you recall, meeting with General-in-Chief Rossman, and I met this leader of the Jowston resistance, the Dunan Unification Army.
"His name is Riou, and he is the son of Genkaku, one of the heroes of Jowston."
Flavius recalled the stories about Genkaku, of his disgrace. He did not know he had a son, though. "What made this boy the leader of the Jowston Army?"
"Good question," Valeria continued. "I was skeptical of this boy until he showed us what could be called the insignia of his office-the Bright Shield rune! And he spoke in such convincing tones as if this boy was a born leader of men."
"Just like the last boy who had a rune and a dream," Flavius smiled.
"Yes, Tir McDohl," replied Valeria. "And it seems just as farfetched now as it did then. But what did our trust in the boy gain us? Our freedom, at a very bloody cost, yes, but we are free nonetheless because of Tir's effort. I think this boy is cut from the same cloth. Besides, Sheena claims that the boy's gathered a considerable force already, and has rebuilt and substantially reinforced Northwindow Fortress."
Valeria walked to the window, and looked over to the busy docks. "Believe me, President Lepant wouldn't take such a decision lightly with my own cavalry squadron, and the two battalions from Rockland joining the troops you brought from Pannu Yakuta, this force comes out to nearly five thousand men. That's a lot of troops to commit without some reasonable chance of success but I tell you, Flavius, when you look into that boy's eyes like I did, I think you'll understand that we're doing something noble here. And think of it this way as well-if Jowston falls, who'll be next? I think you know the answer to that. Highland's mad prince Luca Blight seems bent on nothing less than total domination. Or maybe he's just killing for its own sake." She turned back to Flavius. "Well, I suppose I've kept you long enough. Talk to Master Sergeant Han at the docks, he'll give you a copy of the manifest and show you the ships that are assigned to you. However, I want you to take something before you go."
She snapped her long, delicate fingers and an orderly brought a small oak box over. Valeria took the box and handed it to Flavius, who opened it, and was surprised by what it contained.
It was a set of epaulets for a full Colonel. Valeria pinned them on Flavius herself.
"By the authority of the President of the Toran Republic, I advance you, Flavius Pius, to the rank of Colonel, effective immediately. If you're going to be my second-in-command, I suppose you'll need the rank." Valeria smiled and clapped a hand on Flavius's shoulder. "You'll rise to the challenge, I'm sure."
The gold epaulets shone brightly. Flavius, wide-eyed, sputtered, "Yes, ah, yes Ma'am! I'll just be on my way now." He saluted, did an about face and made his way to the door. As he left the Inn, Flavius thought, How much more excitement can I handle in one day?
When Flavius returned to camp, the senior battalion commander was waiting for him at the gate. He expected Flavius to bring news of his advancement to second-in-command.
Flavius asked in a stern voice, "What are you doing here, Lieutenant Colonel Carroll? I thought I had word passed to all of the unit commanders to get the bivouac set up."
Jones's face went red with fury, and was about to hurl a string of abuse at the impertinent major when he discovered by looking at Flavius's epaulets that he wasn't a major anymore, but a full colonel-which also meant that he was outranked.
"I-I'll see to it immediately, sir." Carroll stalked off, embarrassed and angry.
Flavius sighed. It's going to take some time to get the trust of this lot, he thought, but I'd better do it quick, because if I don't have it during the fighting ahead I might as well cut my own throat right now. And if Highland's really advancing as far and as fast as the news indicates, Luca Blight himself could be at the docks ready to welcome us
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