Stepping down from the train, Colonel Andrew Lawrence Keane looked about with an approving smile. "We've come a long way, colonel." Andrew looked over his shoulder and grinned at Hans Schuder, his old sergeant major with the 35th Maine and commander of the armies of the Republic of Rus.
That we have, Hans, that we indeed have." Just how far have we come? he wondered.
He found that his thoughts turned back to earth less frequently of late. If given the choice now of returning, he knew what the answer would be for himself, and that thought brought him a deep sense of satisfaction. It had been nearly a year and a half since victory over the Tugars---and what a world of change they had wrought since then! And thank God above all else there had been peace, the first he had really known in over five years.
Stepping back from the train, Andrew shaded his eyes from the red glare of the sun and looked back westward. Though he had never been out west, he imagined that this must be how it looked. The prairie grass was nearly waist-high, shifting and flowing like waves upon the sea as the warm summer breeze flowed across the endless steppe.
The air was awash with the scent of wildflowers, which slotted the rolling hills with exuberant splashes of lavender, yellow and brilliant reds. The warm breeze rippling past him was so fresh and pure that he felt that if there had ever been a Garden of Eden, this is what it must have been like.
Turning to look northward, he could see the rising fir-clad hills a dozen miles away, the southern edge of the great woods which he imagined must march off for thousands of miles to a mysterious land he knew he would never see. Chuck Ferguson, his ever-inventive engineer, had calculated several months back that the world they were on was nearly the same size as earth, some twenty-two thousand miles around. It had been an ingenious experiment. Using one of the new accurate clocks that they had recently started to turn out, he had measured the position of the noonday sun back in Suzdal, and with another clock set to the first one his assistant had measured the angle at precisely the same time here nearly five hundred miles east. Ferguson claimed he had learned the trick from an account of Eratosthenes, an ancient Greek who had done the same thing two thousand years ago.
But there was still the world straight ahead, and someday, maybe twenty years hence, the train line they were building would completely encircle the world. Andrew looked appraisingly at the steam engine Malady before him. It was named after yet another hero of the Tugar war. No finer tribute, he thought wistfully, looking at the Medal of Honor painted beneath the dead engineer's name.
If only Malady were here to appreciate all of this, Andrew thought wistfully. Malady and the two hundred other boys from the 35th Maine and 44th New York battery, and after all, most of them had only been boys, who had given their lives in the war to make Rus free from the Tugar scourge.
The engine was the best one built so far, on the larger three-and-a-half-foot gauge which they had decided would be the standard size for the rail line until the current frenzy of emergency development had passed. It was still smaller than the wider gauges back on earth, but there had to be a trade-off, given the limited resources available as of yet, and the need to have a lighter rail to conserve on iron.
How many tens of thousands of tons have we gone through so far on this insanely wonderful project? he wondered as he looked back westward to where the rails finally vanished on the far horizon. He knew if he shot the question to John Mina, his chief of industry, the man could give him the figures to the nearest pound. Smiling, he looked up to see Mina stepping down from the train. The stress of the war was long gone, and the colonel, being recently married to a cousin of Kal's, was already showing some additional weight from his wife's typical Rus cooking.
The car Mina was stepping down from reflected the usual superb woodworking skills of the Rus, unlike the slapdash flatcars and hoppers of military necessity. With the Suzdalian penchant for woodcarving not a single square inch of the car was left plain. This particular one was adorned with a panoramic scene of the Great Tugar War, as it was now called, showing the famed charge of the 35th Maine across the great square in the center of Suzdal at the climax of the battle. Andrew looked at the car with a touch of embarrassment, for at the head of the charge was a perfect likeness of himself, left sleeve empty, sword raised in right hand, the American flag behind him. Tugars, eyes wide with terror, were fleeing from his wrath; his own visage was grim, commanding. Is that how I looked? he wondered, for all he could recall of it now was the terrible sense of doom, and fear that all was lost.
It seemed like a different world, now that the constant nightmare dread no longer hung over him like a veil. A smile creased Andrew's features as he stepped back from the car and looked up.
Atop the car, at the front end, were four carved and painted figures, three of them Union soldiers, one holding ihe American flag, the other two the standards of the 35th Maine Volunteer Infantry and the 44th New York Light Artillery, while the fourth figure in the middle of the group, depicted in the plain white tunic and crosshatched leggings of Rus infantry, held aloft the flag of the Rus Republic, a blue standard with a circle of ten white stars in the middle representing the ten cities of the Rus.
The other cars of the train showed various Rus regiments in action, the doomed stand of the 5th Suzdal and the fourth Nov-rod battery at the pass, the 1st Suzdal holding the ford, or the gallant action of the 17th Suzdal holding the southeast bastion to the last man. The next-to-the-last car on the train was one of his favorites, showing Vincent Hawthorne, crashed balloon behind him, blowing up the Vina Dam, the action which had saved all of them when the flood wiped out the Tugar host.
The very last car was adorned with a scene that reminded Andrew of Stuart's famous painting of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the carving depicting the formal signing of the Constitution of the Republic of Rus. The car was now the presidential carriage, and Andrew looked back at it and smiled, wondering how its most illustrious passenger was faring after the bouncing, swaying ride.
"Five hundred and eleven miles down, only twenty-one thousand and a half to go," Hans said, as if to himself, as he came up alongside Andrew.
"The first five hundred are more than enough for me, sergeant."
Andrew looked up to see Emil Weiss, the regimental surgeon, stepping down from the train, dusting himself off, with General Pat O'Donald, artillery commander of the old 44th New York, at his side. O'Donald, his red-bearded face aglow, staggered slightly, and it was obvious it was not from the effect of the swaying train ride.
"Our dear president sure has a bug under him about this Manifest Destiny and transcontinental rail project," Emil said with a laugh. "That's all he wanted to talk about for most of the day."
"How is our dear president?" Andrew said shaking his head.
"Just carsick, as usual. Give him a couple of minutes more and he should be ready."
"It was a bit rough at that," Hans mumbled, and looking over, Andrew could see that the sergeant was still a bit green around the gills, as he knew he was as well.
Ferguson had been at the throttle since they had pulled out of Suzdal the night before, and he had kept the engine wide open, pulling along at a good forty miles an hour, stopping only for water and wood. Though the new passenger cars had springs, the ride had been a jostling, bouncing affair. Andrew stepped back from the train as a vent of steam hissed out and looked at it appraisingly.
In the spring after the war, the new Senate had voted to approve the transcontinental rail project, something which all the men associated with the iron mill had lobbied hard for. Reconstruction after the devastation of the Tugar war had, of course, come first, and it hadn't been till early summer that the mills, wiped out when the dam was blown, had been replaced and expanded so that a surplus of metal could be allocated beyond the needs of replacing lost tools, military equipment, and farm machinery.
There had been a nearly overwhelming amount of work associated with rebuilding Suzdal and the entire realm of the
Rus, along with the ordering of a new republic. But Andrew could see that the rail line had helped to create a dream of exploration, trade, and expansion. Every society needed a frontier, Andrew realized, and though the rail line was consuming the labor of tens of thousands, the long-term benefits would be incalculable.
Besides that, there was above all else the military necessity as well. The population of Rus had been cut in half by the war and smallpox. If the southern hordes should ever turn their attention northward, alliances would be essential for survival.
"Colonel Keane, I wish to report that all is in order, sir."
Smiling, Andrew turned about to face Vincent Hawthorne, now a general in command of a brigade and also ambassador to their new ally.
The slight youngster—and Keane still could not help but see him that way—stood rigidly at attention, dressed in a plain white belted tunic, adorned with the shoulder stars of a Suzdalian general, his staff drawn up stiffly behind him. As one, Vincent and his staff saluted.
Andrew, drawing himself to attention, saluted in reply.
"Stand at ease, general," and he warmly grabbed Vincent's hand.
Not even twenty-one, Andrew thought, and already a holder of the Suzdalian Medal of Honor for saving all their hides by blowing the dam in the final battle of the war. He could see by gazing into the young man's eyes that the anguish had softened somewhat of late. His Quaker upbringing had created a terrible inner struggle over the slaughter he had wrought. There had been a period of several months when he had feared that Vincent would drift away into some inner darkness. Perhaps it was the birth of the twins that had finally pulled him back, giving to him a sense that without his sacrifice the new life he had helped to create would have never been born.
It was strange, Andrew realized, but that inner anguish was leaving him as well. Three years of war against the Confederacy at home and then another hard brutal war here on Valdennia had driven him near to the edge as well. There were still nights when the demon would return. It was no longer about his brother Johnnie—no, that had been laid to rest at last. Now it was that terrible moment when the Tugars were swarming over the wall, and the city was in
flames, the moment when he knew that they would lose and worse yet, that Kathleen would be lost as well at the very moment when their love was finally realized. It was still there, but the year and a half of peace had finally started to heal his soul at last.
"Your wife, sir, is she well?" Vincent asked eagerly, and a round of chuckles rose up from the group. Nervously, Andrew looked about.
"I think the father-to-be is having more difficult time than the mother," Emil growled.
"It's nothing, sir," Vincent replied. "You'll get used to it. The first one's always the toughest."
"Ah, the veteran speaks," 0'Donald retorted with a grin. "Good God, son, can't you give your poor wife a rest? Twins, no less, the second time around."
Vincent visibly blushed.
"Kathleen's fine, Vincent, and asked for you. Your Tanya is taking good care of her. She send her love as well and wanted me to tell you that young Andrew keeps asking for you."
Vincent looked about proudly at the mention of his son. "Everything in order, Vincent?" The delegation is ready, sir."
"Well, all we need is our president and we can get this show on the road," O'Donald growled. "Just where the hell is that man, anyhow?"
"Remember he is our president." Andrew replied evenly, with the slightest tone of reproach in his voice.
"President, is it, and a good thrashing it was I gave 'im one night, just before the war, and now himself that I gave the black eye to is the chief."
Startled, Andrew looked over at his slightly drunk artilleryman.
"Ah, it was nothing," 0'Donald said. "Just a little argument about a gambling debt."
"And if I heard it correctly," Emil interjected, "you came out of it with a lump on your head the size of an apple."
O'Donald rubbed his scalp and smiled.
"Hit me from behind, he did, with a chair leg."
"Like hell I did—it was my good drinking mug, and your thick skull broke it!"
"Gentlemen, attention!" Andrew growled.
Looking up at the train, Andrew snapped off a salute.
Kalencka, President Kal as everyone called him with affection, stood on the car platform looking down at them with an open grin, though it was evident that he was still a hit unsteady from the long train ride.
Andrew had difficulty restraining a smile at Kal's appearance. The near-mythical standing of Abraham Lincoln with the men from the Union Army had been conveyed to the Rus with endless anecdotes about the beloved president's wisdom, compassion, and style that bespoke an understanding of the common people from which he came. Kal stood before the group sporting the famed chin whiskers of Lincoln, cut back from the traditional flowing beard of the Rus. He had even adopted the rumpled black coat, pants, white shirt, and stovepipe hat, which Andrew suspected would forever be fixed now in the minds of the Rus as the proper uniform of a president. It was a somewhat ludicrous sight on Kal's rotund five-and-a-half-foot form, yet Andrew could not help but feel that if the real Abe should somehow ever cross to this strange world, he and Kal would easily sit down together and trade witticisms far into the night.
Andrew found his thoughts drifting to the day Lincoln had stood by his hospital bed and chatted so pleasantly, and with such heartfelt concern, after presenting him with the Medal of Honor for his action at Gettysburg. Absentmind-edly, Andrew touched his empty left sleeve, the ever-present reminder of that day at Gettysburg, as he looked up at Kal, whose own right sleeve was empty as well.
The impression of Lincoln had settled on Kal during the presidential campaign against Andrew the previous summer. Andrew knew the race was a foregone conclusion; he had run upon the insistence of his men, but realized from the beginning that he did not stand a ghost of a chance against the favorite-son candidate of Suzdal. If anything, his effort was more a civics lessor* in the multiparty system for the newly freed Rus than any serious bid for a job he did not want to have. He had even cherished a hope, a foolish one he knew, that he could retire and perhaps take the position of president of the small college the men had set up to teach engineering, agriculture, medicine, and metallurgy. Kal had insisted that he serve as vice-president and also wear the hat of secretary of war. The cabinet had been filled out with several other Maine men-—Bill Webster, the banker, was in charge of the treasury, Emil directed the department of
medicine and public health, Bob Fletcher, who had built the first grain mill, was now in charge of agriculture, and Mina held the post of secretary of industry.
"Stand at ease, my friends," Kal whispered self-consciously | as he stepped from the train. "You know I can't stand all this foolish ceremony."
Even as he spoke, the assembled band raggedly started into a dissonant version of "Hail to the Chief," yet another import from the world left behind. The 5th Suzdal, Haw-horne's Guards, as they were now affectionately known in spite of all his protests, arrayed in double rank behind Vincent, snapped to attention with the first note, their tattered battle standard dipping to the ground, while the new emblem of the Republic of Rus was held straight aloft.
"We must impress the others, Mr. President," Andrew j whispered, leaning over to speak to Kal as he stepped off j the train. "They put a lot of stock in such things." I
Kal nodded and stood self-consciously as the last notes of the piece drifted away. He was about to step forward when the band struck up "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," and with a bit of a self-conscious grin he came back to attention for the new national anthem.
The music finished, Kal relaxed and, extending his left hand, stepped forward to embrace Vincent, kissing him loudly on either cheek. Vincent, unable to relax, accepted the embrace woodenly.
"Come now, can't my own son-in-law give his father an embrace?"
"Father," Vincent whispered, "this is a diplomatic ceremony."
"I know, I know, and the mouse must look like a lion," Kal replied with a chuckle,
"Mr. President, the boy's right, you know," Andrew whispered. "Our friends on the other side are somewhat more stoic than we are."
"All right, then," Kal said, his features fixed with mock seriousness, "let's get started then."
Vincent stepped back and with a flourish pulled out his sword.
"Regiment, present arms."
As one the battle-hardened troops snapped their muskets up.
"This way, Mr. President," Vincent announced, and he started to walk down the hundred-yard front of line, with his father-in-law by his side, while Andrew and the rest of the delegation fell in behind him.
Kal scanned the regiment and nodded, the men in the ranks grinning back at him.
"Ah, Alexi Andreovich, your wife sends her greetings," Kal called out, stopping before a gray-bearded soldier.
"Did she?" Alexi asked incredulously, and a chuckle came up from the ranks. Vincent, standing behind Kal, gave a look of cold anger, and the laughter instantly died.
"She made me promise to tell you you're forgiven, but if she ever sees you with Tetyana again, she'll cut both your hearts out."
The men broke into laughter, unable to contain themselves. Kal drew closer and in a fatherly manner put his hand on Alexi's shoulder.
"She's a good wife and mother to your children, Alexi;" Kal whispered. "You and I both know that. By rights she should lock her door to you forever. When you get home, confess your sins to Father Casmar, make peace with her, and then light a candle to Kesus for forgiveness. Promise me that, my old friend—I want to see peace in your family." Alexi reddened, dropping his head in shame. "That's a good fellow. I didn't want to embarrass you here, but you needed to learn this. Forgive me that."
"There is nothing to forgive," Alexi whispered.
"Good then," Kal said gently, drawing back, as the men who had heard the exchange nodded to each other with approval and affection for their old friend who had not become like a haughty boyar.
Andrew smiled inwardly. It might not have fit the occasion, but it was by such things that Kal kept his touch with the people he now served.
"Shall we continue?" Vincent asked stiffly.
"Of course, son, we mustn't keep them waiting."
Kal continued down the regimental line, past the still-steaming engine. Fifty yards ahead of the engine the track came to a stop, the eastern edge of the MFL&S railroad, the end of the line marked by the fflag of Rus. Just on the other side the roadbed continued, crossing a high trestle bridge five hundred feet long across the Sangros River, which marked the western edge of cultivated land under the Roum. Looking across the river, Andrew could see the low walls of the border town and the irrigated fields beyond, cut
by the twin lines of the paved Appia Way and the roadbed of the railroad beside it, cutting through the low rolling hills on a southeasterly line to the capital city seventy miles away.
The area on the west side of the river was covered with the vast array of equipment marking the rail head of an advancing line—piles of fresh-cut stringers and bridging timbers still oozing tar, stacks of gleaming rails three days old out of the foundry back in Rus, barrels of spikes, footers to secure the rails, sidings filled with dormitory and kitchen cars, crane cars, flatcars, and even one of the new steam land locomotives used for moving earth. Swarming over the cars, jostling for the best view of the ceremony, were the three thousand men of the road gang, happy for this brief respite from the back-breaking round-the-clock schedule.
Coming up1 to the end of the track, the group came to a halt before the flag of Rus. A small pavilion was laid out before the collors, a simple rough-hewn table in the middle, and behind it there was another standard, this one a silver pole surmounted by a golden eagle with wings extended.
From across the bridge a flourish of drums sounded, counterpointeid by a high clarion cry of trumpets.
With steady measured step, a column of men started across the bridge and Andrew felt a cold thrill at the sight of them, as if he had somehow crossed through time to gaze at another age..
The first consul of Roum marched at the head of the column, his silver breastplate shining in the morning sun, his purple cape fluttering in the breeze. Behind him came two dozen toga-clad men bearing the traditional bundles of fasces, the mark <of the consul's rank.
"It looks straight out of the history books," Emil whis- j pered in fascination.
"Got here the same as we did," Andrew replied, "only two thousand years earlier. They kept the same traditions and customs as well."
"Castrated by the Tugars, nevertheless," O'Donald growled.
"They'll learn," Kal said evenly, looking back at O'Donald. "Remember they fought the remnant of the Tugar horde that drifted this way, and held them back."
"And they still have slaves. That Marcus fellow ain't none too pleased with our talk about freedom. They got the same I system the Rus did when we first got here."
"Give 'em time," Andrew said evenly. "Marcus wants trade and an alliance. We can show them a better way." The tone of his voice indicated that the debate was ended.
"It still sticks in my throat," O'Donald snapped in reply, unable to contain himself.
"They need us as much as we might need them," Kal said, looking back at O'Donald. "We still don't know where the Tugars drifted off to, and there are still the other hordes to the south. Our people need allies if we are to survive in this world."
Unable to respond to a logical military answer, O'Donald fell quiet.
The leader of the Roum strode forward, his sharply chiseled features set with an even expression. His eyes were deep-set, nearly hidden by a dark jutting brow and sharp aquiline nose. His bearing was erect, an outward expression of the rigid self-control and regal bearing of a man used to absolute obedience from all who served him. The only mark of emotion was in his gray hawklike eyes, which betrayed open curiosity at Kal's strange garb and appearance.
Behind Marcus the cohort of troops advanced at a steady rhythmic pace, a near mirror image of the 5th Suzdal, which fell in behind Kal in a regimental front by companies.
"Good-looking troops he's got," O'Donald said appraisingly. "I'll give the devil that at least."
"Roman tradition," Andrew replied, trying to contain his inner delight at this formation, which seemed to appear ghostlike out of the lost realm of history. The men were dressed in heavy leather tunics fronted with iron plate, their hronze helmets shining blood-red in the morning sun. Centurions, dressed in red cloaks, marked the pace, barking out commands, knowing they were on parade and ready to show the pride of the Roum off for the strangers who had come out of the west.
The drum cadence ruffled, and as if guided by a single hand the formation stopped before the standards. Behind Andrew, shouted commands echoed down the Suzdalian formation, which now as if in rivalry came to a halt and as one presented muskets in salute.
Vincent with sword drawn looked back at Kal, motioning for him to stay in place. He stepped forward and approached Marcus. Bringing his sword up, he saluted.
"Marcus Licinius Graca, it is my honor to present to you
President Kalencka of the Republic of Rus," he said in Latin.
Andrew smiled at Vincent's fair grasp of Latin, learned at his Quaker school and honed to the needs of his new job. It was one of the reasons he had been appointed ambassador, since besides Andrew and Emil there were only half a dozen other men in the regiment who knew the language at all. The Latin spoken by the Roum was, of course, not the standard textbook version learned out of Caesar's Gallic Wars, it was a far more vulgar form, but across two thousand years the language had changed surprisingly little except for the smattering of Tugar words which seemed to be common to all who lived under the horde.
He had sent the boy out here to provide military command for the work crew, which was also a fully armed brigade ready to fight at a moment's notice. But beyond all those other qualifications, Andrew realized that Vincent was imbued with the highest ideals of the republic, a fact which he wanted Marcus exposed to from one who held little if any guile in his soul. Perhaps guilelessness was not the best trait for an ambassador to have, but it was a risk worth taking in this delicate opening stage of development for Rus's first alliance.
Marcus, his features cold and fixed, eyed Kal appraisingly. The two were a marked contrast in rulers. Kal, obviously of peasant stock, his rotund form draped in a rumpled black suit and topped with the slightly ludicrous stovepipe hat, smiled openly at the Roum patrician, who stood before them like a statue come to life from a distant legendary age.
The two stood in silence for a moment until Kal, breaking the ice, stepped forward, extending his left hand.
Marcus looked at the empty sleeve, and his features lightened even as he took Kal's hand.
In Latin, he said, "Your arm—no one ever told me. It is gone, like Keane's," and as he spoke he looked over at Andrew and smiled.
Andrew and Marcus had met on several occasions, when negotiations for trade and military alliance between the two peoples had first started. Between them a friendship had started to form, the bond of two men who knew command.
"President Kalencka lost his arm defending Suzdal against the Tugars," Andrew interjected.
"Then he is a warrior like you," Marcus replied approvingly, looking at Kal with respect.
"Nothing like being a war hero to impress the people," Kal said openly, sensing the nature of the exchange between Marcus and Andrew.
"It helps," Andrew responded.
"Well, let's get on to the signing then," Kal interjected and with a smile motioned to the table set up on the roadbed.
The diminutive president and the consul walked over to the table, covered with purple cloth upon which were spread two documents, one in the Cyrillic script of the Rus, the other in Latin.
Marcus, taking a proffered quill from Vincent, signed his name across the bottom of each, and then Kal, a bit selfconsciously, simply drew his mark, a stylized mouse, an action Marcus watched with interest.
"You cannot write?" Marcus asked, again in Latin.
Again Kal, sensing the meaning of the Latin, looked up at the consul.
"I was merely a peasant before the coming of the Yankees. But they made me, made all of us, men who are free, equal, and no longer cattle of the Tugars. I am learning to write, but I still prefer the mark of my nickname—the Mouse."
Andrew quickly translated. It was not the most diplomatic ol replies, Andrew instantly realized. The Roum had successfully repulsed the tattered remnants of the Tugars without benefit of the social revolution the Rus had undergone first. Marcus, as a member of the ruling caste, though joyful at the overthrow of his old overlords, was evidently not pleased at what the broader social implications the Republic of Rus represented. It was an issue which Andrew had been forced to negotiate with finesse. The treaty just signed, he had to remember, was an agreement between two independent peoples, for mutual protection, the opening of free trade, and transit rights for the railroad to continue eastward. The agreement had been reached in a letter of protocol a year ago, but this day, when the first length of iron would be laid in Roum territory, was a fitting time to bring the leaders of both countries together for a more formal Mining. Andrew repeatedly had to emphasize to Marcus that it was not the harbinger of an ongoing revolution, which some of the more radical elements in the Rus Republican Party advocated in their call for a program of Manifest
Destiny. His concern was that Kal himself advocated such an ideal. In his heart he knew that Marcus realized that this over time would be a threat as perilous as the Tugars.
"If you lost your arm in fighting the Tugars, you are surely the equal of anyone," Marcus finally replied, looking down at Kal and smiling, and Andrew winced inwardly at the subtle implication.
Kal winked knowingly at Andrew as he translated, and not taking offense, he again offered his hand to Marcus, who, finally smiling at last, grasped it with both of his own and then held it aloft.
A wild shout went up from the Roum soldiers drawn up behind him.
"Run up those rails," Kal shouted, looking over at the work gang, who stood to one side, waiting expectantly.
With practiced skill a work team brought up four sections of rail and slapped them down on their stringers. Hammers rang out as spikes were driven into place. The first set of rails crossed onto the bridge, with two more laid out in front. A heavy two-handed sledge was brought to Kal, who awkwardly grabbed hold.
Following one of the workers' lead, Marcus stepped over to the track, where a spike was already set. With a powerful swing, Marcus brought the hammer up and slammed it down, driving the spike in nearly to its head with a single blow. An appreciative shout went up from the road crew. Kal, stepping up to Marcus's side, lifted his own hammer up, and an expectant hush came over the Rus workers. The hammer arced down, striking hard on the spike head, driving it the rest of the way in, and a wild flurry of shouts rose up.
"Regiment poise muskets!" Vincent shouted, and as one the five hundred men raised their pieces heavenward.
A perfectly timed volley snapped out, counterpointed by the blast of a dozen four-pounders from two Rus batteries fired in unison, while Ferguson cut loose with the Malady's shrill whistle. The Roum cohort broke ranks at the volley, the men drawing back, shouting with fear. Marcus, who Andrew had made sure had seen such a demonstration before, barely flinched, but the touch of fear was still evident. Thinking quickly, Andrew stepped forward and with a flourish unholstered his revolver, pointed it skyward, and handed it to Marcus.
The consul grasped the weapon and then, turning to face his command, fired off six shots into the air, and at the sight of their commander, the cohort first fell silent and then, cheering, broke ranks and rushed forward to surround their leader, while the Suzdalian regiment, breaking ranks as well, surged in.
"Good hammer swing, Kal," O'Donald shouted, pushing through the crowd.
"Been practicing for weeks," Kal replied, obviously pleased with himself, as the men from both sides intermingled, the railroad work gang surging in to join the celebration.
"This party's going to ruin the work schedule for the rest of the day," Vincent ventured glumly as he sheathed his sword and came up by his father-in-law's side.
"Relax, son," O'Donald shouted, trying to be heard above I he roaring crowd. "The boys need a day off."
"That Roum wine of theirs is near as bad as your damn-able vodka. The men will be useless tomorrow."
"Ah, still trying to be a temperance man, I see," O'Donald laughed. "And you the best killer and swearer of the lot."
Vincent looked at O'Donald coldly.
"It's all right, laddie, some of it you couldn't help. But don't worry about the boys—they'll be back on the line tomorrow."
"I was hoping to be into Hispania by this evening," Vincent said glumly. "Ferguson's got a little surprise cooked up for us."
Ferguson, the young engineering student who was the driving force behind so many of the technological innovations that had saved Rus, pushed his way through the crowd.
"Don't worry, sir, I had some of it brought here," Ferguson ventured, stepping forward, and with a smile he nodded to Marcus. The consul and the engineer stepped off to one side, chatting amiably in Latin, the consul obviously friendly to the young soldier, who must appear to the Roum to have the mind and spirit of a magician.
Marcus beckoned to one of his officers, who approached the table nervously, gingerly carrying a wooden board upon which rested a hammer and a small pile of white crystals.
The officer placed it on the table where the treaty had lust been signed and drew back hastily.
"All right, Ferguson, what've you been up to?" Andrew asked, knowing that another surprise was about to be sprung on all of them.
Ferguson, smiling as if he held a great secret, walked up to the table and took up the mallet.
"Just watch this!"
With a sharp quick movement, he snapped the hammer down onto the pile of crystals. A snap of light shot out with an explosive crack. With a yelp, Ferguson jumped back, madly patting at the smoldering flame which had ignited his jacket sleeve.
"Percussion explosives!" O'Donald roared with delight, rushing forward to help Ferguson put out the fire. "By God, we can finally put friction primers on our field pieces."
"And get rid of those damn flintlocks for percussion caps on the muskets," Hans growled.
Ferguson looked back at Andrew with obvious pleasure, just waiting for the questions.
"All right," Andrew finally ventured, "just how the hell did you come up with this one?"
"It's Marcus's silver mine above their town of Hispania," Ferguson replied. "Something in the back of my mind kept playing on how the old Romans, with their silver mines in Spain, also got quicksilver, mercury, from the same place.
"Well, that started me to thinking some more. So last time I was up here I spent a couple of days experimenting— that's how me and Marcus—excuse me, the consul and I—got to know each other," and as he spoke he looked over at Marcus, who smiled in agreement.
"He is a wizard," Marcus said in Latin with an evident note of respect.
"I didn't want to get anyone's hope up, so I kept it quiet. I knew our musket caps were made of fulminate of mercury—I it's just getting the fulminate part down so the stuff would explode when hit.
"Anyhow, I finally got it figured out. I think, sir, we could arrange a little trade agreement on their mercury ami in short order we can reconvert all our shoulder weapons."
"Well, thank heavens the Roum have copper and tin— you'll be able to make caps for the muskets," Hans stated, j full of enthusiasm. "The supply of caps left for our own Springfields and revolvers was damn near depleted as is."
"And metal for bronze guns," O'Donald said glowingly "Damn me, I always did prefer good bronze Napoleons to iron guns."
The mention of copper pulled Andrew's thoughts back from the delight of those around him. In the spring after the war trade ships had ventured out to make the first run down to Cartha, and they had not returned.
Throughout the summer, more ships had ventured forth, until finally in late autumn, one had returned, badly damaged, with word that they had been attacked by Cartha ram ships.
So apparently the sea power to the south had adopted a belligerent stance. He could see the logic to it. The southern horde would be approaching that city this coming fall, if reports were correct, and undoubtedly they had been ordered to cut all contact with the renegade Rus to the north.
That had been his one overriding concern. The Tugars, he felt, would not be back—they had tried to attack the Roum and were driven off, and all contact had been lost with them. But the southern horde, moving across the steppe over seven hundred miles to the south, was a potential threat if they should ever decide to turn north. The defensive lines he was laying out a hundred miles southwest of Roum would be ready by then, but without Roum manpower as a backup if the Merki horde should turn north, he knew the situation would be desperate.
But there had been something else to the tale the survivors of the Cartha attack brought back that was far more disturbing. They claimed to have seen, as darkness had fallen, a large three-masted ship on the horizon, trailing smoke. The Ogunquit.
Nothing had been heard of Tobias since his defection. Andrew had half hoped that the recalcitrant captain would return. There'd be a chewing-out to be sure, but in all honesty he couldn't blame him for running; the battle was lost, and aboard ship he had a means of escape.
That was the other thought that had bothered him ever since. If Tobias had not returned, then what exactly was he up to?
"Some wine?" Marcus asked in Latin, coming up beside Andrew and holding out a silver goblet.
Andrew took the drink and tried to force a smile.
The humiliation burned into his soul, tearing his heart, which he felt could not bear yet another pain. Muzta Qar Qarth, leader of the Tugar horde, stood alone upon the bow of the ship crossing the narrows of the inland sea.
Qar Qarth, he thought coldly, leader of a horde that is no more. Once his warriors were as numberless as the stars in the heavens, as powerful as the wind that flashed with the light of the everlasting fire of heaven, as terrifying in battle as Bugglaah, Goddess of Death, who did his bidding and slaughtered all who opposed him.
And now they were gone, the power, the majesty, of the Tugar horde, reduced to a starving, tattered remnant; reduced by cattle.
He turned to look back at the Merki escort who stood at the stern of the ship. The Horde of the Red Sun, across the endless generations the hated foe whom his father before him had bested at Orki, with Qubata at his side.
"My old friend Qubata, would you have counseled me to this path?" Muzta whispered.
"My lord, did you say something?"
Muzta looked over at the arrogant young Merki who came up to stand behind him.
With a growl, Muzta shook his head.
Others had noticed it, this talking to Qubata, as if his graying friend still rode by his side. In a way he did, Muzta thought, letting the faintest of smiles crease his feature What would Qubata now counsel in this final humiliation?
He would tell him to do this, for there was no other path to survival for now.
After the debacle before Rus, the fewer than thirty thousand warriors who had survived, with the vast numbers of women and children, who had providentially been out of the path of the flood, had moved east and south. He had agreed to let the healers of cattle, given by the Yankee Keane, to go beyond him, to stop the spread of the pox. But for the Tugars, starvation had dogged their tracks. Humiliation had been compounded when the Roum, having learned of the success of the Rus, blocked his advance beyond the realm's outlying villages, refusing even to barter for food. To continue on would be senseless; the taking of every people, the Roum, the Kan and Kathi, and the races beyond, would wear his people away to nothing. For the wanderers had gone ahead of them, spreading the word about the world how cattle had fought and won.
His only hope was to somehow find safe haven, to find a place where the children of the horde could come of age, to fill out again the empty ranks, to give unto his one surviving son a people who might one day be masters again.
And then had come the envoys of the Merki horde, appearing before him like gloating vultures. Telling him to appear at the cattle city of Cartha under the protection of blood bond to appear before Jubadi Qar Qarth. If he refused his people would be annihilated. His followers were now a thousand miles away, encamped in a circle of high hills living off their own horseflesh and cattle they could catch unaware, awaiting the return of their Qar Qarth with word either of haven or of death.
The boat continued to rock beneath his feet, and he felt a strange turning of his stomach. He had always hated water, the Tugars' march had carried them around the great waters, unlike the march of the southern hordes, who were forced at several points, such as this one, to rely on cattle to ferry them across.
It was the first time he had ever laid eyes upon the Cartha realm, and he could not conceal his admiration for the power of these cattle, their vast city making the Rus and the other realms of the Tugar march look small and weak by comparison.
This city was laid out along the banks of the sea for several miles, the limestone walls and vast towering temples
shining with a red brilliance by the light of the midmorning sun. Beyond the city he could see endless terraced fields, the hundreds of great water wheels that raised up the water from the sea forever turning by the strength of the tens of thousands who manned them.
Around him a hundred ships rode low in the water, the rowers keeping a steady rhythmic beat, the oars dipping and lowering, the blades dripping with red crystalline light. Looking over his shoulder, Muzta could see the bent backs of the rowers in his own ship glistening with sweat, their muscles rippling. The sight of them made his stomach growl with hunger.
"How many cattle in this realm?" he asked quietly.
"Of the Carthas it is believed there are over four million," the Merki guide said evenly, a note of pride in his voice. "How many were there of the Rus?"
Muzta looked at the warrior, who smiled evilly. Muzta turned away without comment.
The throaty roar of a hundred nargas rent the air. Roused from his thoughts, Muzta looked to the shore as they passed between twin moles that marked the outer harbor of the city. As they entered the center of the bay he saw a channel turning off to the right and disappear, a line of smoke plumes rising up beyond where the channel turned. Directly ahead, a thousand of the Vushka Hush, the elite umen of the Merki horde, were arrayed along the walls of the harbor, battle pennants snapping.
He felt cold inside, naked as he gazed upon their horsetail standards. They were here early, at least six months early, and it made him wonder if somehow the Bantag had been turned back and Jubadi now had strength to spare, to rush forward into this city. The small hope he held that perhaps the Carthai would rise up and give unto the Merki what he had received finally vanished. It was right to come here, he finally had to admit. For over a year he had evaded the searching probe! of Jubadi; now there would be no stopping him.
If I but still had such power, he thought sadly and then blocked the thoughts away.
The steady beat of the rowers ceased. Commands in the high guttural tongue of the Cartha cattle echoed across the water as the ship cut in through the inner mole. In the vast inner circle rode yet another hundred ships, and even to someone untutored in the ways of the sea, Muzta could see that the vessels were freshly made, while up on the shore gangs of laborers worked on yet more ram ships.
Curious, he looked about, but would not degrade himself further by asking yet another question. The purpose of the vessels was obvious, but against whom would they be used?
The gates of the city were flung open, and as the ship drifted into its slip a thunder of drums rolled and a column of warriors rode out.
Muzta gazed at them in silence with practiced eye, measuring their strength, sensing their power and arrogance.
The ship tied off, Muzta leaped onto the dock, and watched in silence as a mount was led up to him. Climbing into the saddle, he suddenly found that he felt better, as if the horse between his legs somehow returned his strength. Absently he leaned over and patted the mount as he watched more and yet more warriors pour out of the gateway, lining the dockside with their commanding presence.
"The Vushka Hush, hunting eagles of my lord Jubadi," the Merki officer announced with a growl of satisfaction, swinging his mount up alongside Muzta.
"I know," Muzta snapped, "for I saw their standard-bearer struck down by the great Qubata at the battle of Orki."
"And where is your Qubata, your Orkians, your score of umens now?" the Merki snarled back in reply. "What did the Yankees do to their bodies?" The Merki laughed, his features contorted with disdain.
Mutza felt his heart trembling with rage. If he was being brought here for the purpose of humiliation he might as well end this farce now.
I am still Qar Qarth of my people," Muzta roared, turning in his saddle, his sword snapping from its sheath.
The Merki warrior gazed at him with open hatred.
"You were respectful enough when you came into my tent, offering this parley," Muzta shouted. "And now that I have come with you under the blood pledge of your Qar Qarth for my safety, now you hide beneath the swords of your warriors, and taunt me."
I he officer with cruel kicks spurred his mount around, drawing his blade.
"Tugar, the cattle eat the flesh of your warriors. You are beneath my contempt. I soil my steel by drawing your blood."
"Nartan, drop your blade!"
Stunned, the Merki warrior looked away from Muzta, j who now stood in his stirrups ready to strike. Muzta, hesitating, followed the Merki's gaze.
Standing before the entry to the gate was a lone warrior, short in stature, his head barely reaching the shoulders of his nine-foot-high guards. His long arms rippled with power; his black shaggy hair glistened with a fresh coating of boiled cattle fat. Muzta knew without asking that before him was | Jubadi Qar Qarth, master of the Merki hordes.
Nartan, as if stricken, let the blade fall from his grasp, and it clattered on the stone dock, the high metallic ring the only sound to break the expectant hush that had fallen at the sight of the confrontation.
"Pick up your blade and come forward to me," Jubadi roared.
The warrior leaped from his saddle, scooped up his sword, and strode down the length of the dock, head high with defiance.
"My orders were," Jubadi said coldly, "to bring unto me Muzta, Qar Qarth of the Tugar horde, without insult or injury. I expected it done in a third of the year. You have taken four times as long. Beneath the very shadow of my tent, which I had pledged to him as a place of safety, you have seen fit to bring insult to him and to me."
Nartan stood silent.
"Kill yourself," Jubadi said coldly.
Nartan turned away and looked back at Muzta, icy hatred flashing in his eyes.
Kneeling, he braced the pommel of his sword on the ground, poising the point directly under his ribs.
"Tugar, watch how Merki obey and die," Nartan hissed, and without the briefest of hesitations he threw himself forward. Muzta, sword still in hand, watched, hiding his admiration, as the Merki continued to bear down, the gore-tipped blade punching through the back of his leather armor.
No cry escaped his lips, as farther and farther the blade slid in. A convulsive tremor coursed through the Merki's body as a great gout of frothy blood cascaded from his mouth. Ever so slowly his knees started to tremble as the blade continued to drive through. Without a sound the body slid forward, slamming into the sword's handguard. The warrior was dead before his anguish-contorted face touched the ground.
Without a glance to the still-trembling body before him, Jubadi rode past, coming up to the side of Muzta's mount.
"Debt is paid for the insult," Jubadi said evenly.
Muzta looked over at one whom he had once faced as an equal on the field of battle and now appeared before as a pauper.
Without comment, Muzta leaned over, touching the tip of his blade into the pool of blood coursing out from under Nartan's body. He ran the flat of the blade across his horsehide boots and then sheathed his sword.
"Though it has already been said," Jubadi announced with a high clear voice, "I ask you, Muzta Qar Qarth of the I'ugar horde, to accept my blood pledge while you repose in my tent. Within the limitless domain of the Merki horde no harm will come unto you."
"I come not with intent of death to you or to your people, as long as I tread beneath your pledge," Muzta announced, bristling inwardly at Jubadi's use of the word "limitless" in describing the Merki realms.
This was the first time he had ever set eyes upon the one who until a year and a half ago he would have called his equal in power. Jubadi was shorter than he, but he could sense at a glance that in a one-to-one match Jubadi might very well best him, so powerful were his arms. There was a sharp virility, a coiled strength that Muzta found to be unsettling. Muzta knew that his own experiences of the last year had changed him beyond measure as he looked from Jubadi's powerful arms to his own, which were now matted with graying hair. He looked back up into Jubadi's eyes and could sense the slightest of derisive thoughts, as if his rival could not take him all that seriously.
Let him think it, Muzta cursed inwardly. If it were he that had come by my command I would feel the same. And in that realization Muzta for the first time felt the first calming, the understanding of a potential not yet even formed in his mind.
Jubadi returned Muzta's gaze without comment. So this is the fool, he thought quietly. How one of the Chosen Race could have allowed such a disaster to befall him was beyond comprehension. For the briefest of moments he wished he could spit in Muzta's face for all that had happened. Yet without what had happened, Jubadi realized, the hope for the Merki to survive the advances of the Bantag horde would be nonexistent. The thinnest of smiles creased Jubadi's features.
Jubadi turned his mount and started back to the gate, Muzta falling in beside him. Pausing between the two ceremonial fires that flanked the entryway into Cartha, the two leaned over in their saddles, bowing first to the east, the place of the never-ending ride, the direction that while living all of the Tugar, the Merki, and the far southern hordes of Bantag and Tamak rode. Turning, they bowed westward, to the direction of rest, the ending of day and of time, the pathway to the stars. Muzta silently prayed that even now, Qubata and all those who had fallen were riding that endless steppe of night, looking down upon him, whispering to him as he dream-walked the eternal realms.
Crossing under the gate into the city, Muzta relaxed in the momentary coolness. These southern realms were too damn hot, and though the occasion demanded it, he wished he could have avoided wearing the heavy ceremonial armor, cattle-hide cape, and heavy war helmet adorned with four cattle skulls. The brief moment of coolness passed as they rode on into the city of cattle.
The stench of it was so overpowering that Muzta struggled to keep from gagging. How cattle could live in such places had always been a mystery to him. They seemed to prefer living in their own stink rather than in the freshness of the open steppe.
"How they can stand this smell is beyond me," Jubadi growled, wrinkling his nose with disdain.
"They are cattle—they know no better," Muzta replied.
As he looked about he saw no cattle present, and it stirred a thought.
"You are here earlier than expected," Muzta ventured. "Were these cattle ready to receive you?"
"They were ready, though I am here only with one umen of my guard. The rest of my horde still marches seven months away."
He paused for a moment.
"They knew as well what had been done up north."
Muzta had secretly hoped that the Carthas would rise against Jubadi, weakening him as he had been weakened. Could it be that Jubadi had hurried here to prevent such an action?
"I have granted all of them exemption, except for the moon feast," Jubadi said evenly.
Stunned, Muzta turned to look at his companion.
"How will you survive?"
"Better to tighten the belt than to see your host as corpses," Jubadi said coldly. "We eat horseflesh, I send raiding parlies ahead of the Bantag advance to harvest cattle, but for the Carthas there is exemption."
So there is something behind all of this, far more than I thought, Muzta mused. He knew that Jubadi would reveal the reasons soon enough, so he hid his curiosity behind a mask of indifference.
Muzta looked to either side of the street, which was lined with the warriors of the Vushka standing shoulder to shoulder with double-handed swords before them, points resting on the ground, hands resting upon the pommels. Muzta looked at them appraisingly. They were good, battle-hardened, tough, many showing scars on limbs and face.
"I hear your war with the Bantag goes poorly," Muzta ventured.
"You hear correctly," Jubadi retorted, his voice edged with bitterness.
"Such frankness surprises me," Muzta replied with a cold laugh.
"It is a time for frankness between Merki and Tugar if we are to survive."
So that's his game, Muzta thought, feeling the inner tension draining away at last. He needs me for something.
Muzta settled back, waiting for more, feeling that he was gaining control of this situation, but Jubadi was silent as they rode on through the city. Passing into the central square of the city, Muzta looked around with open wonder at the wealth of these cattle. All the buildings were of carved stone, temples rising to the sky, fires burning atop them with a strange oily smoke. From the high parapets of a vast columned edifice he could see anxious cattle faces peering out, but the square was empty, except for the endless ranks of the Vushka. Cutting across the square, the two turned to ride northward, following the lane marked by the ranks of the guard.
Panting for breath beneath the scorching heat, Muzta endured the ride in silence, as Jubadi led the way through narrow alleyways back again down toward the ocean.
Muzta looked around, realizing that there was much, new construction in this area, long shed structures of rough-cut stone and timber. From within came the sounds of incessant hammering. With a hissing roar a vast thundering column of sparks soared up out of an open-roofed building, and Muzta nervously reined his mount in. A heavy fetid smoke poured out of the building, and Muzta felt the hairs on the nape of his neck stand out.
Jubadi laughed darkly.
"Just a bit farther," he said.
Spurring his mount forward, Jubadi cantered down the length of the alleyway and disappeared around a bend in the road. Muzta could feel the sarcastic gaze of the Vushka warriors who still lined the road, and with a muffled curse he spurred his mount forward. Turning the bend in the road, he pulled his mount up beneath the gate out of the city and gasped out a startled cry.
The great ship of the Yankees rested in the dockyard before him.
Jubadi looked over as his companion leaned back and barked out a laugh.
"You want to ask how, but your pride prevents you," Jubadi roared.
Wordlessly Muzta slowly rode forward, guiding his nervous horse up onto the dockside. The ship looked different, lower in the water, its masts gone, but it was the damnable Yankee ship nevertheless. He was certain of it.
Drawing closer, he eyed the vessel carefully, comparing what he now saw to the memory of the year before.
The wooden sides of the ship had disappeared. In their place were black sheets of metal, skirting the sloping sides of the vessel from one end to the other. Small doors had been cut through the metal, and out of each opening a dark angry snout protruded—thundermakers of the Yankee warriors. But these were thundermakers beyond anything he had ever seen before. The opening in them was so big he could have slid his balled fist into it.
He did not know whether to curse or laugh with joy at the sight of this weapon in Merki hands.
"Muzta Qar Qarth, may I present the warrior of this ship," Jubadi announced, "and Hamilcar, ruler of the Carthas."
Muzta turned in his saddle and looked down at the two cattle who, coming out of an opening in the side of the ship, stepped up to stand by Jubadi's side.
The one man was not Keane, Muzta realized at a glance, and he felt a tug of regret. Keane was one he still wished to see again, though of late he found he could not decide what his reaction would be at that confrontation.
This one was shorter, fat almost, with a florid face running with sweat. The uniform was different as well. It was the same blue as the Yankees wore, but longer in cut, reaching to the man's knees and adorned with golden lace and twin rows of buttons.
The Cartha towered above the Yankee, his dark beard and hair oiled, his bare chest a mat of hair, almost like a Tugar's. Muzta could see the veiled caution in the eyes of the Cartha, but the Yankee seemed to have a smirking air of triumph.
"We have met before in battle," Tobias said, his words stumbling over the guttural intonations of the Merki tongue. The dialect was similar to Tugar, but to Muzta it sounded even stranger coming from the throat of a Yankee.
"Your ship looks different now," Muzta replied sharply.
"Now it is a true vessel of war," Tobias responded proudly.
"Show him how you did this," Jubadi ordered
Tobias led the way, pointing for Muzta to follow him down the dockside. Falling in behind the two cattle, Muzta looked over at Jubadi, who smiled openly.
"I would lie if I said otherwise," Muzta growled.
Doubling back up the path which led down to the northern harbor, Muzta rode in silence. The path they had followed through the city had been cleared of all cattle, but he could sense that just on the other side the buildings were a hive of activity. Cattle voices were shouting, strange hammering sounds echoed, sparks soared up out of buildings, and above the rooflines of the vast sheds he could see the tops of great wooden wheels turning.
Tobias and Hamilcar stopped before an arched doorway and beckoned for the two Qar Qarths to dismount. Muzta came down off his mount and drew up before the Yankee cattle, who looked up at him with that infuriating air of disdain.
The doorway swung open, and Muzta gasped for breath with the rush of scorching heat that flooded out to greet him. He felt a knot of fear but held it in check as he bent low and walked into the hellish scene before him.
The far side of the vast cavern was dominated by a high brick structure that filled one entire wall. The shed roof was open around it. A glaring red heat like the eye of the sun shimmered in the center of the wall.
"Our iron kiln," Tobias announced. "We're getting three tons a day out of it.
"Straight ahead is the furnace where we convert the pig iron into cast," and he pointed to where dozens of cattle, naked except for sweat-drenched loincloths, labored over a vast shimmering pit, stirring the molten metal with long metal rods.
"It is a Yankee building for the making of metal," Muzta whispered out loud.
Tobias looked back at him and smiled.
"His men made it for me," Jiubadi announced proudly.
A thundering boom started tto echo down the vast shed with a rumble like a thousand war drums, and Muzta looked around nervously.
"The tilt hammers," Tobias announced, and he continued down the vast length of the shed and stopped before a series of man-size hammers that slowly rose up and then dropped down, striking sheets of hot metal, sending out vast showers of red-hot sparks. Crews of Cartha laborers moved the metal with heavy tongs. As the group watched, a gang of workers lifted one sheet off, carried it over to a blazing kiln, and slid the metal inside, while another crew took a red-hot sheet and maneuvered it between two stone rollers. As if moved by unseen hands, the rollers started to turn. The red-hot iron passed between the rollers, flattening out into a long sheet. Tobias led the group around to the other side, where another team of workers stood ready, pulling the sheet over to a long table, where they started to trim the edges, squaring it off, while others, with heavy hammers and spikes, proceeded to punch holes around the sides of the glowing sheet.
"One-inch armor plating for the Ogunquit, and the other gunships," Tobias announced proudly.
"It is hellish, this Yankee creation," Muzta whispered, unable now to hide the fear.
"I thought the same," Jubadi replied, looking over at Muzta. "Yet it is now a hell I contrpl "
Tobias turned away from the rollers and continued on to where a vast bed of sand was laid out on the floor. To one
side a tower of dried clay rose up higher than Muzta could reach, its sides as thick as the body of a horse. Above the clay tower a dozen Cartha laborers stood on a platform maneuvering a heavy dark ladle into place. The ladle tipped over, and out poured a river of molten iron.
Muzta looked over at Tobias with an inquisitive gaze.
"Show him the result of this," Jubadi announced, and pointed to an open door flanked by half a dozen guards of Ihe Vushka.
Grateful to be escaping the scorching heat, Muzta went through the doorway, gasping for breath. The noonday heat ol Cartha now seemed cool by comparison.
He paused for a moment in wonder as he turned and looked at the long line of wooden wheels, each nearly twenty feet high, that lined the side of building. Inside each of the wheels, dozens of naked cattle walked endlessly, as if they were trying to climb the inside of the wheel, which kept turning, defeating them in their purpose. For a moment Muzta looked at the strange procession as if the men were mad. Why would anyone walk inside a wheel?
"We use manpower to turn the wheels that power our machinery," Tobias said. "We've got two thousand of them nt this day and night. Eventually I'll get steam to do it for us."
Muzta still did not understand, but he hid his confusion and turned away.
Walking down the length of the building, Muzta tried to block out the sour stench of the laboring cattle. The smell and desiccated look of his old food made his stomach want to rebel.
The courtyard outside the factory was aswarm with workers. A high earthen ramp led up one side of the building. An endless procession of laborers walked up the ramp with woven baskets on their shoulders. As each reached the top he handed the basket to another who emptied the contents into a smoking hole, which Muzta reasoned must be the top of the furnace out of which the iron came from.
"We have to ship in the charcoal from the southern forests, the ore from nearly a hundred miles away. I've got at least five thousand men working on this," and Tobias's voice was filled with pride.
Muzta looked around appraisingly. There was a lot here that was missing from the old Yankee factories which he
had surveyed after they surrounded Rus. Somehow the Rus works seemed more mysterious. There were no strips of iron laid on the ground here with the fire-breathing machines, the great water wheels were driven instead by sweating cattle, yet there was power here nevertheless.
"You are making thundermakers," Muzta announced, knowing he'd be a fool not to see the obvious.
"Let's go back to your ship, Tobias."
As they made their way back down to the dock, Muzta kept silent, cursing himself inwardly. If he had but known the true power of the Yankee weapons he would have done such as this. But damn them, all the Merki now had the advantage from his mistakes.
Reaching the ship, Tobias strode up the gangplank. A strange shrieking rent the air, and Muzta looked around suspiciously as he stepped aboard and saw the blue-clad cattle standing rigid before him, one with a curious pipe to his lips. Tobias saluted the red-and-white striped flag with a blue square filled with stars floating on a pole above the stern. But Muzta barely noticed that.
His eyes looked greedily at the long line of thundermakers lining the deck. Behind each of the weapons stood four cattle.
"Six-pound iron field pieces," Tobias announced. "Freshly made here by the Carthas," and he looked over at Hamil-car, who had been silent throughout the tour but now let a look of pride light his features.
"My Qarths," Hamilcar announced, pointing over the side of the ship. A small battered craft was anchored in the middle of the northern harbor, a hundred yards away.
A thunderous crack echoed down the ship. All the old horrors came rushing back, and Muzta recoiled with barely concealed terror, thankful for the cloud of sulfurous smoke that enveloped him to hide the fear in his eyes. As the smoke cleared he saw a geyser of spray kicking up around the vessel, showers of splinters boiling up into the air.
The smoke blew away, and the Cartha cattle around him cheered lustily. The small boat bobbed and swayed in the foaming water, and ever so slowly started to settle.
Muzta started to turn away.
"We are not done yet," Jubadi said calmly, nodding to Tobias. The Yankee nodded, and leaning over an open hatchway he waved his hand.
"Number one fire!" Tobias roared.
Stunned, Muzta grabbed hold of the ship's rail -
entire vessel seemed to surge as if a giant had strucic it with ii hammer. A fountain of smoke cascaded out from beneath Ins feet, illuminated by a slash of fire. An instant later the mrget ship seemed to lift into the air, its back broken.
"Numbers two and three fire!"
Two more shots screamed downrange. One of them ·.mashed through the vessel's stern, ripping it clean off in a shower of splinters. Muzta could see the other shot continue on, striking the water once and then again several hundred yards away, the ocean erupting from the impact, and then it disappeared from view.
"Such power," Jubadi whispered.
"The guns are the most powerful in the world, my lord," Tobias announced proudly. "Fifty-pounders. The four-pounders the Tugars faced are as nothing compared to what I have created."
"How many so far?" Jubadi asked.
"Fifteen, my lord. We'll have thirty by the time we sail. Along with two that can shoot a hundred-pound ball."
"What have you done to this ship?" Muzta asked, unable to hide his curiosity.
"We cut off the entire top deck and dropped the masts," Tobias said proudly, as if lecturing a group of admirers. "Beneath your feet is a gun deck running a hundred and thirty feet in length, sheathed with two inches of iron, backed by nearly two feet of wood. The ship will mount five guns on each broadside and one heavy gun forward and another aft. The sides, as you can see, are sloped to cause shot to rebound away, and up forward is a metal ram."
"Tell him of the other ships," Jubadi said proudly.
"I'm building eighteen gunboats. Each one will carry a single fifty-pound piece inside an armored housing, and there will be two boats that can carry heavy mortars."
"Mortars?" Muzta asked. It was hard enough to understand the Yankee's terrible accent; the strange words he said made it nearly impossible.
"Short fat cannons that will hurl hundred-pound balls filled with exploding powder up to four miles. We have a way to make exploding shells, like the ones you saw used by the guns the Yankees brought with them."
"The powder?" Muzta asked.
"The Yankees had traded some of it to us before the war started," Hamilcar announced. "We bribed a Suzdaiian merchant to reveal the secret to us and were already making it before the Namer of Time had even come."
Muzta looked over at Jubadi and allowed the slightest of smiles to cross his features. So the Carthas were thinking of fighting you as well, he thought with a certain satisfaction. Too bad they didn't have enough courage to do it.
"You have served me well," Juibadi said quietly. "All of you may go now. I want this ship to myself."
Tobias looked at the two for a moment, and Muzta could sense the slightest edge of resentment in this one. Hamilcar stood in silence and with a bow turned away, Tobias following in his wake. From below deck a swarm of Cartha gunners came up, looking at Jubadi and Muzta with outright awe as they filed off the vessel.
"You are too stiff-necked," Hamilcar whispered as he and Tobias alighted on the dock.
"Without us, the bastards would have none of this," Tobias hissed softly. "They should realize that."
"They know that. And I know that the Merki are not as foolish as the Tugars. They placed their best umen here to ensure we would not arm against them. We must play their game, and above all else not arouse their ire. Learn that, Tobias, if you wish to survive, for if you should turn them against us I'll kill you myself."
"I am under his protection," Tobias snapped.
"They will not be here forever," Hamilcar retorted as he stalked away.
"What the hell was that about?"
Tobias turned and smiled as Jim Hinsen, with Jamie swaggering by his side, came up to stand beside him.
Tobias looked over at the young infantryman, the only member of the 35th who had joined him when he fled Rus. The boy had proved himself well enough. The information he had gleaned about manufacturing of powder and guns had been invaluable. Tobias sensed from the beginning that this one had the instincts of a cat and would always land on his feet, no matter what the situation.
"That Hamilcar is running too scared of Jubadi, that's all." Tobias snorted.
"I still wouldn't cross either him or the Merki," Hinsen said.
"With the Ogunquit fully armed, I'll play the Tobias replied, "I'll play it just as he wants it, ^^
lorget we have our own plans as well."
Tobias looked back to the deck where Jubadi and Muzta stood alone.
"1 still don't trust the bastards," Tobias whispered.
"You shouldn't trust anyone," Jamie replied, the thinnest of smiles crossing his features. "Especially them man-eating devils. Come along—I've got a powerful thirst, and by God's hairy ass a need to sheathe myself as well."
Tobias looked over disdainfully at the pirate and walked away, Hinsen and Jamie following in his wake and laughing softly over some private joke.
He wanted to look back, to rebuke them, for he could sense they were laughing at him, but said nothing as he stalked away.
Muzta watched in silence as the cattle turned away from the dock and disappeared up the alleyway that led back to the foundry.
"Do you really trust them?*' Muzta asked as if to himself.
Jubadi laughed darkly. "About as much as I trust you," he said evenly.
Muzta did not reply. The reason why he had been summoned to this parley would now be revealed, but he wished not to divulge that he was in a hurry.
Turning away from Jubadi, he strode down the length of the ship, which was cut flat from bow to stern except for a single funnel for the steam engine, a small open pilot house, and half a dozen horn-shaped vents which forced air below. The deck was covered with iron plates like the one he had seen being forged in the mill. That in itself was a mystery. By what witchery could these Yankee cattle make a thing of iron float on water? The thundermakers along the deck were larger than the ones he remembered from the Yankees, and looking at them closely he saw that the metal-working was cruder, the barrels were rough-shaped, thicker. Going up to the edge of the railing, he looked over the side of the ship, which sloped outward as it reached the water. The sides were shrouded with the iron plates as well, and he realized at once that this vessel had been rebuilt to go against the Yankees—what other purpose could it possibly serve?—and his pulse quickened.
Going over to a hatchway, he scrambled down below and
felt a cold surge of uneasiness. The gun deck was gloomy, lil only by narrow shafts of sunlight coming down through the occasional breaks of open grating above his head. The heat was stifling, the stench of gunsmoke so heavy in the air bethought he would choke. Panting, he gasped for breath, his tongue lolling out in the boiling heat. The deck was made for cattle, not Tugars. He wanted to get out from the killing heat, but curiosity drove him into the darkness. Squatting down on his haunches Muzta crawled forward. The thunder-maker before him filled him with a near-reverent awe.
The barrel was of iron, and at a glance he estimated it must weigh twenty, maybe even fifty times as much as the thundermakers on deck. Round iron balls were lined up in a rack along the bulkhead. Crawling over, he hefted one up, and the muscles in his arm tightened.
"By Bugglaah," he whispered, "if such could have served me.
His imagination raced. With such weapons as these he could have smashed the Yankees down, rending their city to splinters. The thought of Jubadi's now possessing such power sickened him. He placed the cannonball back on the rack. Settling back, he looked down the length of the gun deck, his eyes growing accustomed to the gloom. There were ten such guns down here. Up forward he saw one nearly twice as big as the others, and he crawled up to the massive weapon and sat down beside it, his heart pounding. Is this what war has become? he wondered darkly. Buildings of cattle turning out things that could strike down a man at ten times the range of an arrow? It made him feel sick.
He sat in silence for long minutes, letting all that he had seen be absorbed. There were paths within paths here, plans weaving around yet other plans.
"So what would you now counsel, my good Qubata?" Muzta whispered, and a sad smile crossed his features as the first shadows of answers began at last to form.
Jubadi rose up with a languid air from where he had been leaning against the ship's railing as Muzta reemerged upon the deck. With a friendly gesture he beckoned for Muzta to join him under an awning at the stern of the ship, where a table had been set out. Taking off his helmet, Jubadi settled down on a saddlelike chair. Reaching over the side of the vessel, he pulled a line up, on the end of which dangled a heavy sealed crock. Pulling the lid open, Jubadi poured out
a long draft of fermented horse milk into two cattle-skull goblets.
With a sigh of relief, Muzta took the goblet, nodding to the west as he poured out a small libation. Raising the skull up without any hint of ceremony, he drained the contents off in a single gulp, absorbing the cooling draft with relish. Without hesitating he took the heavy crock and poured another drink.
"How you people stand this heat is beyond me," Muzta growled as he drained off the second drink with almost as much dispatch as the first.
"How you stand your damned frozen north is a mystery to me as well. Anyhow, it is better than the Bantag realms."
"Ah yes, the Bantag," Muzta said, looking over at his host. "I think in the end all of this revolves around the Bantag."
"Our sires, our grandsires unto countless generations, have fought," Jubadi said, the faintest of smiles lighting his features as if recounting a treasured memory.
"As it has always been, for what is the source of pride, the reason for our existing, but to show the strength of our arms?"
"And that strength is gone, my old enemy," Jubadi replied.
Muzta started to bristle, but he sensed no taunting in Jubadi's voice.
"For how else could we prove our valor, our strength, our pride," Jubadi continued, "but by the crossing of swords, of Tugar against Merki, of Merki against Bantag? For are we not of the same race? Has it not always been such even in the days of our father gods who walked between the stars?"
Muzta nodded slowly in agreement. Across the circling of his youth, and after the last great war, had not the nightly fire been kindled and burned to the singsong chant of the legend keepers, recounting the tales of valor? Had he not dreamed in his youth that when he too should fly westward, when he reposed in the heavens of the endless steppe, he would hear at night the chants of his people below, singing yet new songs of his own valor when he had walked among them as their Qar Qarth?
"We could crush you now," Jubadi said, his voice distant and cold. "You are burdened down. For every warrior you have, there are twenty children to be fed. Even your women now ride as hunters. I can send forth my Vushka Hush to
ride like the wind. Your people could not hide forever within a year we would find you and slay all that remained. I could send forth but two umens to range ahead, to sweep north and east, and in the end we would catch you in out net, for my warriors could cover in but a day what your yurts could travel in four.
"I need but to reach out my hand and the memory of the Tugar race will disappear forever. Your ancestors before you, their spirits would then disappear, for no more would the songs of their people rise up at night to give them renewed strength. So that even in the endless steppe of the western sky the name of the Tugars would be forgotten."
"Then why don't you?" Muzta growled. "Or do the Bantag to the south press you too hard?"
Jubadi looked over at Muzta with surprise, and the Qar Qarth of the Tugars smiled for the first time, knowing he had caught his rival off guard.
"I know that you lost against them early last spring near the crossing narrows of the salt sea far west of here and only by a ruse did you destroy their elite umen and force but a temporary withdrawal."
"Do the ears and eyes of Muzta have wings?" Jubadi asked.
"Remember always the cattle known as Wanderers," Muzta replied softly. "I have learned that they are more than just a nuisance, like flies buzzing about our ears. The word of what happens passes between their lips like the wind.
"Word of victory runs fast, but the news of defeat has wings," Muzta went on evenly. "We have both had troubles, Jubadi Qar Qarth."
"But my inconvenience was at the hands of the Chosen Race, not cattle," Jubadi snarled. "Remember, Muzta, you can be smashed by my merest whim."
"Then do it!" Muzta roared, coming to his feet. "I choose not to live by the mercy of a Merki. If it is the end of my people, I will face it with sword in hand. If the ancestor gods themselves will not help me, then they can burn in torment as far as I am concerned."
Jubadi threw back his head and barked out a laugh.
"Brave words, when you know by my pledge I cannot fight you now. Not until you have safely returned to your people."
"If you have not decided to slay us, then there is a reason," Muzta replied coldly. "Now speak it. I have ridden fifty days to stand thus before you. I have no desire to stay with you, your people, and these machines a moment longer than necessary."
At least you are not broken," Jubadi replied.
Muzta stood expressionless. If only his hated foe truly knew, he thought inwardly. But moments before as he had watched the Merki envoy die, he had felt envy for him, an inward wish that the burden of his responsibility and the humiliation of having been defeated by cattle could finally be washed away. But then he feared to face his father beyond, for all would know that he, Muzta, had allowed the lowest of races to best him. Death would be no escape. The burden that awaited him there was a terror that haunted him. There would be no escape in this world or the next, and that drove within him a torment that racked his sleep with terror dreams of loathing.
"Why did you summon me here?" Muzta asked, coming lit last to the heart of the matter.
It had been his hope that somehow the Merki horde would pass to the eastward without pursuing him, then after several years he could swing in behind them, perhaps to forage in their path, perhaps even to reach the Bantag horde. As sworn enemies of the Merki, perhaps the Bantag eould reach an understanding with the Tugars. The chant singers told how twenty-two circlings before, the Bantag and Tugars had united in such a way and driven the Merki to near extinction, until at last the two had fallen out over the spoils, with Merki and Bantag uniting against the Tugars to drive them back into their northern realms.
It was obvious that Jubadi had brought him here to show that the Tugars were trapped, and now lived merely by his whim. With the dreaded Yankee weapons in their hands, all hope was forever gone.
Jubadi reached out to refill Muzta's cup, and with his own he beckoned toward the row of guns lining the deck of the Ogunquit.
"With a hundred of those small weapons, you could have smashed the Yankee cattle as they smashed you."
Muzta sensed a tone of sympathy in Jubadi's voice and looked back at him.
"Your foolish pride," Jubadi said evenly, almost with a tone of understanding.
"You were not there,"
"But I received my reports."
Muzta gazed at his old rival sharply.
"Come now, we each have spies in the other's camp. We disdain them, we hate any that would betray his clan, but you use them too. One of them survived your debacle. You should have listened to your Qubata and not charged headlong, bleeding yourself white. These were not cattle you were fighting, these were men."
Muzta could not reply.
"And now I will give back to them a hundredfold what they have done to you," Jubadi snarled coldly. "You left me an ugly mess, Muzta. Think you that I could leave such as they to the north as we rode on eastward? When again we circled they would have armed all cattle, have made all of them into warriors. Remember we of the Chosen Race are few now. For every Merki there are a hundred times that number of cattle. Your Rus were but a minor herd compared to the Khita, the Constan, the Eptans. Think of them united against us. Have you not noticed that even as we devour their flesh, yet with every circling there are more of them, while our numbers stay the same?"
"It is obvious the pox did not come south."
"And you should have let it continue to spread!" Jubadi roared, his temper flaring out. "Instead you let the cattle healers move ahead of you. Think, damn you, if your Roum had been weakened you could have fed off them. But no, you could not see that! You let not just one thing spread before you but two, the end to the pox and the knowledge that we could be beaten."
"If the cattle died, then we would starve, all of us."
"Better to let them all die than to let them learn they could fight against us. This Yankee thinking is a threat far j beyond our empty stomachs. With these," Jubadi shouted, pointing at the guns, "they will finish us, not just Tugars, not just Merki, all of us, and this will be a world of cattle."
Muzta lowered his head.
"Then the old ways are finished."
"Only for the moment," Jubadi replied sharply.
"Is that it, then, is that why you brought me here, to simply show me the thundermakers and thus demand my obeisance to you?"
Jubadi laughed softly. "You are impetuous, Qar Qarth of
the Tugar horde. I would have expected less talk and more silence from you."
Muzta bristled inwardly. He knew Jubadi to be right. But all that he had carried had made him more brittle of late. A Qar Qarth must be silent, must spend his words as sparingly as the strength of his warriors. Must hear much and say little. Inwardly he cursed.
"I wish to make you an offer," Jubadi said quietly.
"Against the Bantag in exchange for the safety of my people," Muzta ventured. "Perhaps I should wait and see if Mangu Oar Qarth of the Bantag can make a better offer to me."
Muzta knew that his words held no weight, did not even begin to touch upon Jubadi's true intent. In his heart he realized that there was a chance in the offing for the Tugar horde after all. The Merki would not strike, at least not yet.
"Try it," Jubadi retorted sharply. "You would have to move your people more than two thousand miles to the south, across the narrows of the eastern sea, across the front of my realm. If you dared it, my umens would fall upon you and destroy you. Your agreement must be with me, Muzta of the Tugars, or not at all."
Muzta snarled darkly, outraged at the effrontery of Jubadi for not addressing him as Qar Qarth.
"I am offering the following," Jubadi retorted coldly. "The Bantag are but the threat of the moment, as has always been the nature of our wars."
"A war which I have already said you are losing," Muzta stabbed back.
Jubadi fell silent for a moment.
"I can still bring you down with me," he said coldly.
"You need me now, don't you, Jubadi of the Merki?" Muzta snapped.
Jubadi struggled to control his rage.
"You have fought with the Bantag for half a circling, and you are losing. This is no raid and counterraid, this is a war for survival. Something is driving them as well, making of this a war not just for sport or for some momentary advantage. They are pressing for some reason to the kill. We, the Tugar horde, gutted you at Orki. Now the Bantag are smelling blood and coming in to finish the kill we started."
"You do not understand," Jubadi roared, slamming the table with his fist.
"Oh, I do understand," Muzta growled in reply. "You will first use the cattle to fight the Yankee threat to the north, and at the same time learn their weapon skill. You will annihilate the Yankees using the Carthas. Then you will devour the Yankees and Carthas in turn, take the weapons that are needed, and turn them against the Bantag."
A thin smile creased Jubadi's features.
"So why tell me?" Muzta continued. "With that strength I don't see where Tugars fit into your plan."
"I pledge you freedom of your own realm, the great northern steppe, in return for your alliance now."
"And if I say no?"
Jubadi beckoned back to the factory.
"The power I am forging in there will be turned against you. Cattle have always made us what we desire, even our war bows. Let them now forge new weapons for a new task.
"They will forge five hundred of those thundermakers for me by the next spring," Jubadi announced proudly, beckoning back to the row of field pieces.
Stunned, Muzta looked at the guns with envy.
"And the powder?"
"More than I will ever need. Five hundred of those, and scores of the great guns you saw below the decks. That will be the new source of my power."
"The small weapons carried by men?"
"They are useless for my task," Jubadi replied. "Our great bows carry farther. Oh, we will make some for the cattle, to be sure, but not too many, for it will be easy for us to count, to control the great thundermakers, but the small ones are to be feared in the hands of cattle who serve us. That I shall not allow beyond a small force of several thousand.
"Those who make them, if they please us, we'll keep them; if not, we can still feast upon them later. You, on the other hand, you can starve or you can fight for me. There is no other choice."
Jubadi reached into a leather case resting against the side of the table and pulled out a map, which he unrolled across the table.
"You are a season's ride to the east and north of the Carthas," Jubadi started, pointing to an empty stretch of steppe astride what had been the old boundaries of their two realms.
"My horde is still a season away to the west, our south flank protected for now by the great stretch of high mountains which here runs west to east. The Bantag keep pressing at the passes and are already racing eastward, attempting to outpace me, to cross the inland sea to the south and then swing north, hoping to block my passage across the narrows. They will be here in a year's time."
"And you will want me to hold this side of the narrows open when they do so. You don't have enough warriors otherwise."
"Not if I am to guard the passes, occupy Cartha, and swing north to finish the Yankee city and end their scourge."
"That is my territory," Muzta said, knowing that his words were hollow.
Jubadi looked over at him with a sarcastic smile.
"And besides," Muzta added quickly, "you can send twenty umen against them and still I would not give you an even chance of success. Do you think they have stopped building since last year? Already it is known they have built their fire that rides upon iron strips all the way to the Roum."
"Remember I am arming cattle to fight cattle," Jubadi replied.
A madness that will come back to haunt us all, Muzta thought coldly.
"Within the month we will move against the Yankees and their allies, and not one Merki will need to fight. We have established contacts within the cities of the Rus—there are some who even now do not know that in fact they are serving our plans. The Yankee Tobias is ambitious—he is like the cattle we have always used to rule cattle. Without his kind the world created by our grandsires could not exist. If he succeeds, we will reward him as we always have those who rule in our name."
"And do you really expect that after we allow cattle to use these new weapons they will quietly give them back to us? Jubadi, remove the blinders of a horse from your eyes. The old ways are gone forever—cattle have slain us, and it will not be forgotten so easily."
Muzta grimaced inwardly at his own words, but he knew them to be the truth.
"How else do you propose to destroy those who destroyed you, and now threaten all of the Chosen Race?"
Muzta was silent. He could see that inwardly Jubadi was right; flame must be used to burn out the flame.
Muzta looked back down the length of the ship.
"One of these will not defeat the Yankees." Muzta snapped. "Their army in the fastness of Suzdal will not be reduced by this iron ship. You could land ten umens of cattle against them, all armed, and still the Yankees and their Rus would defeat them. I should know that more than anyone else, Jubadi."
"There will be more, Tobias told you that. The Yankees have these things that Tobias told me of and you have seen, these fire breathers that move upon iron strips. But we will control the waters. Tobias has devised a plan to use that to our advantage to drag out the Yankees from behind their fortresses and defeat them, perhaps without our even having to fight a battle."
"So you are offering me terms, then," Muzta replied suddenly, driving the issue to the main point of his concern.
"There is no choice for you," Jubadi replied. "Join under my banner. If not, despite all that is happening I will hunt the rest of your people down. For you know that I will defeat the Yankees, and then in turn will throw down the Bantag. When that is done, Muzta, I will turn my attention to you. Protect my eastern flank, or die. When the campaign begins against the cattle, I will expect one umen of your warriors to ride to the north upon the other side of the sea, while your other two umens protect the southward marches ahead of me. In return your people may graze upon my eastern lands, may even harvest my cattle to the number of one in twenty."
Muzta smiled inwardly. He had gotten more than he had ever hoped for. Reaching over to the half-empty jar, he poured the remaining contents into his goblet and Jubadi's. Standing up, he held his goblet high, raising it ceremoniously to the four winds. Jubadi with a fierce grin, stood and did the same. The two exchanged cups and then drained them.
The pact had been signed.
"I just wonder what Keane will do regarding all of this," Muzta said quietly as he sat back down.
"Someone you will find to be rather interesting, my ally," Muzta said with a smile.
"Sir, give my men three months and they can triple your iron production up to seven, maybe ten tons a day. Your big problem is fuel. Heavy stands of woods are nearly seventy miles from here, and we haven't found any good coal."
Vincent looked over at Marcus, who shook his head in confusion.
"Maybe the best bet, once the line gets here, is simply to bring the coke up from Suzdal. It'd cost a bit, but it'd still be cheaper to make the rails here, where you've got good ore, rather than haul them in five hundred miles as we're doing right now. Once we get rail production going here I'd be tempted to run a spur line north to the forests. We could use the lumber for building material and rail ties, as well as for fuel for the foundry and for our locomotives."
"And for us?" Marcus asked suspiciously.
"Well, figure out a trade for the rails and other material that'll be fair to both sides. By our treaty, the rail line we are running through your territory is the property of the Maine, Fort Lincoln and Suzdal Railroad Company."
"Of course," Marcus said dryly.
"Now, don't quote me on this, sir," Vincent said in a conspiratorial whisper, "but if you and your people should form your own railroad charter and run that spur line up to the woods yourself, you'd have a damn nice profit out of it in no time. It'd be cheaper for the company to buy the lumber supplies from you rather than ship it across five hundred-odd miles of track.
"I'd suggest hiring away some of the Suzdalian road crew bosses to lay it out for you. They could train your people, and with a couple of thousand laborers the line could be surveyed, graded, and laid out before winter. Besides, once you have the skills you'll want to run connecting lines to your other cities and villages as well. Our rail line is already surveyed to continue a straight run toward Khitai, twelve hundred miles to the east. It'll be a project of a couple of years at least, maybe more with some of those high hills. That's all we're legally entitled to run in your territory. Your company could run connecting service out to the rest of your realm—that's quite a few hundred miles of track, but it'll link your territory together. Hook those lines into the MFL&S and trade will increase like anything.
"You've got copper deposits and tin for bronze, zinc, some excellent wine, and exquisite glassworks, and that oil that you told me bubbles out of the ground near your city of Brindusia has some great potential. We've already tried it as a lubricant on the engines, and some of the boys are already boiling it into kerosene. There's going to be a big market for that.
"Your people are far better weavers than the Rus. I could bring up a couple of the boys from the 35th who worked in a linen mill and they could help design machines that would give you a real export market in that area."
Vincent didn't mention the cotton plantations owned by Marcus and the other patricians. That issue was already a sore point between Roum and the Union men, since it was far too similar to the system they had fought a war against back home. It had already been decided by Kal and the members of his industrial committee to withhold information about the cotton gin for now, for with a such a machine the profitability of cotton would skyrocket and make any attempt at social change that much the harder.
"You certainly have plans for me," Marcus said evenly.
Vincent, deciding to ignore the sarcasm in Marcus's voice, continued, "Sir, it's a world of trade we're building with this railroad. I want to make sure you have certain advantages, because if you don't there's more than one young capitalist back in Rus who will take it himself."
Vincent had heard Andrew talk about the writings of Adam Smith, and wished that somehow a copy of the book had come through with them so that he could translate it for Marcus. There seemed to be just too many things to be done. Here he was a soldier, a political leader, an ambassador, and now an economics teacher.
"I'll try to explain that later, sir," Vincent said quietly, sensing he was getting too far ahead. "But remember, I didn't tell you any of this."
Vincent Hawthorne grimaced inwardly at what he had just done. If Ferguson, Mina, and the others ever heard that one of their own had suggested that the railroad's monopoly on construction be broken, there'd be hell to pay. As the first ambassador to the consul and Senate of Roum, he felt, however, that he was simply fulfilling his duty, at least the duty of a good Quaker ambassador who felt that the first formal allies of the Republic of Rus should not be exploited.
The railroad project had seized his old comrades and the
Kus with nothing short of a full-blown passion, which was already transforming all aspects of Rus life. The mandate of the railroad was to continue pushing eastward with the dream of uniting all the former subjects of the Tugar horde Into one vast alliance for trade and mutual protection. There was even talk of running another line westward when there was finally a pool of additional workers after the southwest fortifications and the military rail line in that direction had been completed, even though scouting reports indicated that for over a thousand miles the region to the west was nearly a ghost land, so devastating had been the effects of the Tugars and smallpox. Without the railroad and telegraph lines, Rus and all the other peoples of the endless northern steppes would be forever isolated and subject to attack.
Marcus and the Roum had yet to grasp the full import of what this strange machine would do for them. The sooner the Roum started building their own lines, Vincent now realized, and the sooner they gained control of internal trade as a result, the better off they'd be, and the better allies they'd be as well in the long run. It was something he had yet to discuss with Keane, but he had a gut feeling the colonel would agree.
"So I have not heard you suggest that I should start building my own railroads and become what you call a capitalist," Marcus replied with a shrewd smile.
Vincent did not reply and turned away to look at the work going on in the foundry. The laborers continued their toil as if their consul and the Yankee did not even exist, for to stop work in their presence would have the worst possible consequences. Vincent was repulsed by what he saw. There was no mechanization to speak of; all labor, right down to the manning of the bellows, was done by slaves. A contract had been let out to Marcus, who of course owned the foundry in his capital city, to supply spikes and tools for the line. Using slave labor to supply the railroad Vincent found to be morally objectionable, but he had to agree with Andrew that the first step was to make them part of the system, and then to work on changing what their system was.
Marcus looked over at Vincent and could see the look of disdain on his young open features as he watched the sweat-soaked laborers manning the bellows.
Everything was going far too fast for his liking. When the first Wanderers had come nearly two years earlier than usual, he had feared the worst, that the Tugars would soon be at his gates yet again. He had remembered their last visit and had ever since lived in dread of the return.
But the news the wanderers carried had been beyond belief. He had spurned at first the offering of the protection from the disfiguring pox, but when it was obvious that an epidemic was starting he had allowed the healers who had arrived from the land of the Rus to attempt a cure. Within weeks they had brought the epidemic under control. Hi-tried to block out the memory—if only they had arrived earlier, his only son and the wife whom he had loved for thirty years would still be alive.
That was the beginning. A contingent of two hundred Rus warriors had arrived, bringing with them several of the blue-clad men called Yankees, and with their aid the tattered remnants of the Tugars had been driven off when as one patricians, plebs, and slaves rose up and fought with fanatical fury for a dream of forever overthrowing their hated lords.
From that Marcus found as he rose out of the shadow of personal pain that he could dare to dream, that now he could live beyond the shadow of fear, and that as in the legends of old, he would as a true patrician rule, with no Tugars to dread.
"I've had reports about the conversations your soldiers who came with you have been engaging in about the city," Marcus said quietly, leading Vincent back out into the street and away from the din of the workshop.
Vincent grimaced inwardly. He had known this was coming. Since their arrival in Roum yesterday the city had been wild with celebration at the appearance of the 5th Suzdal and the 2nd and 3rd Novrod light batteries. He knew how his men, who but a few years before had been slaves under the boyars, would react to what they saw. The difficult times that Andrew had counseled him about were now here. He wished that somehow it was Andrew who would handle these problems and that when the train had left Hispania to return back to Suzdal he had been aboard. It had been nearly two months since he had last seen Tanya and the children, and the enforced absence, which would last at least another several months before the twins were old enough to travel safely, weighed heavily upon him.
"I would guess that it has something to do with our politics," Vincent said evenly, looking straight back at Marcus.
The consul smiled at the guileless approach of the young ambassador, a quality he found to be wonderfully refreshing.
"Our treaty agreement said that there would be open trade between us, consul. We both know that we need each other now."
"Oh, I fully agree with that," Marcus replied. "There is no telling who will come against us, Tugars or their rival hordes to the south. I want your weapons, and you need our metals."
"But you don't want what our men say about equality and freedom."
Marcus smiled and shook his head.
"Even though they don't speak our tongue, or my people your language, still their feelings are already understood concerning our way of living."
"You know how I understand your language?" Vincent replied.
"It does seem a bit strange."
"We, the Yankees, came through the gate of light, the same as your ancestors did over two thousand years ago. Marcus, back in our old world, your Roum became legendary for its form of government. That is what we Yankees modeled our own system on."
Vincent had let drop the later history of the Roman Empire completely. Though lying was still a sin to him, he saw no moral problem with simple avoidance, since the ancestors of these people had apparently crossed through sometime during the old Carthaginian wars. As near as he could figure out from their legends, they had been part of a Roman fleet in the First Punic War that had disappeared, and after arriving here they had been given this land and women from other tribes by the Tugars, who, as they had all others that had passed through the gate, allowed them to grow and then started to harvest their descendants for food. It explained as well the undying rivalry with the Carthas to the south, who had crossed from the old world to this in the same tunnel.
Before Muzta had released him he had explained these things, telling him how without any pattern it appeared as if humans from half a dozen points around the world would occasionally be swept up, disappearing forever from earth and arriving here. So it had been for the Roum and Carthas.
Unlike the Rus, neither had ever traded. The prevailing south and westerly winds had discouraged any maritime efforts on the part of the Roum, for they had to cross up the long narrow bay leading to the Inland Sea. The undying enmity between the two peoples had held as well, and thus the Roum had built only enough ships to protect the entryway into the bay and large vessels to move grain from outlying districts back to the city. As it was, a ship running down from Rus could make but one voyage in a season, so diffi cult was the return voyage against the wind. And galleys were just not practical as cargo ships. The Roum interaction with the Carthas was limited to occasional pirating and no more, when the Tugars or Merki were not around.
"When you speak to me of this old world of ours," Marcus finally ventured, interrupting Vincent's thought, "you are saying we've forgotten our old ways, is that it?"
Motioning for Vincent to join him, Marcus stepped into his chariot, and together they clattered down the dockside lane of the city. The waterfront area was bursting with activity. Until last fall the city of Roum had been cut from the bay, since the Tiber River, which flowed along the east side of town, dropped through a final series of rapids. All shipping had to be unloaded at Ostia five miles to the south and brought up by wagons. It was a system, he realized, that perfectly mimicked ancient Rome, built at a similar point to protect it from coastal pirates. Andrew had decided to allocate several tons of precious powder along with a couple of Ferguson's engineering assistants to cut a canal with a single lock to bypass the drop-off. It was a goodwill gesture that had delighted Marcus and was rapidly changing the commercial life of the town. It had made an enemy in the Senate as well, since the city of Ostia was owned by a Petronius Regulus, who had now made it a habit to denounce any help, even the weapons the Rus might offer.
Marcus nodded with approval as they cantered along the new wharfs going up, the docks already lined with ships. Reaching the base of the hill, he turned the chariot west and started the long climb up toward the forum.
For the moment Vincent forgot their debate as the two massive horses trotted along the cobblestone road past a columned temple and the communal baths.
His one and only experience there last night had shocked his Quaker sensibilities to the core. When first offered a hath he had rejoiced that at least the Roum, unlike his Rus friends, felt that regular bathing was a fundamental right that should be observed regularly.
But disrobing and lolling about with hundreds of naked men had left him uneasy. The worst shock, though, was when he saw several men in a darkened alcove engaging in activities that he did not even know existed until that moment.
For once he let his ambassadorial front drop. The matter was made worse when Marcus indicated that if he was interested Vincent would certainly be welcome to join the group. Such things simply didn't happen in God-fearing Maine!
From now on, local custom be damned, he'd bathe in private.
"You are still upset about the bath," Marcus ventured, looking over at Vincent, who was staring at the building as if he expected a horned satan to come leaping out of the door.
"It's your custom, but not mine," Vincent said coldly, leaving out the part about damnation he had sputtered out when he had stormed out of the room.
"The same stands in both directions," Marcus rejoined, as if he had won a telling point.
"Sir, your practices when you are alone should be no concern of mine."
"Even though you find them disgusting."
"I did not say that."
"But you're thinking it," Marcus replied with a laugh.
Vincent, feeling he was definitely losing this one, did not reply.
"Perhaps I am being a bit unfair," Marcus said after several moments of silence. "But what your men are spreading about in our taverns and in our public amusement houses is certainly my concern, and to my fellow patricians and our free class of merchants and skilled craftsmen it is equally disgusting to contemplate."
That was another thing that worried him, Vincent thought sharply. In his walks about the city since their arrival, he had seen a number of establishments that were obviously havens for soiled doves, and more than one of his men had quickly ducked the other way at his approach.
"These difficulties go both ways," Marcus continued. "When that train track of yours comes into the heart of my capital in another two months, thousands of your people and mine will make a journey that not a handful made in a year.
"Though I need what you have, I do not want what your people seem so eager to give."
"A free government and the end to slavery," Vincent replied. "Marcus, the world is different now. The Tugars wanted you to rule through slavery—they did the same with the Rus, and with all the peoples of thus world. But they are gone, and freedom is pushing in."
"And if I walked into my Senate right now and told the patricians, the estate owners, that their slaves could now vote, could now work as they pleased, I would not walk out of there alive."
Would it be this way with every city they came to? Vincent thought. Before, in Rus, it had .seemed so easy. The boyars wanted the Yankees dead. The rebellion had been forced on them when the peasants spontaneously rose up against their hated masters. Vincent could sense that hatred was here as well; already the slaves he passed, and the whole damn city seemed to be full of slaves, were looking upon him with outright awe. Could he be part of instigating a rebellion that would kill yet more? Would they have to fight a revolution in every city, to advance sword in hand in an unending series of wars? Thousands would die, and the thought made him sick; he had had enough of killing to last a lifetime. Perhaps this was why Andrew had appointed him ambassador and Kal had confirmed him when he had become president. As a Quaker he had to find a better way than the sword he had carried before.
"Then we are presenting you with an unsolvable problem," Vincent replied evenly, hanging off as Marcus maneuvered the chariot through a tangle of traffic which scattered in every direction at the approach of the first consul.
"It's your job to figure out that answer," Marcus said coldly as they burst out of the thoroughfare and into the open plaza of the forum. Vincent smiled in wonder at the sight. The buildings flanking the acre-size square were all of limestone. The forum was faced with fluted columns and surmounted by a dome atop which was the marble figure of Jove.
Marcus's palace across the square stood out brilliant white in the afternoon sun. The other sides of the square were laced by the smaller palaces of the twenty families that ruled ihe vast domain and nearly two million inhabitants of Roum. Unlike the Rus, the Roum had never fallen into an unending rivalry between boyars but had always stayed united under one consul, a position passed down unbroken from father to son for hundreds of years.
That alone had given Vincent pause in all his musings about the political job before him. At least among the boyars the rivalries had enabled the Yankees to survive at first and helped to set the seeds for the revolution. There were no such rivalries here to play on, nor was there a church; though at first the Rus church had been an enemy, it had now become a staunch ally of the republic. Beyond that the Roum simply outnumbered the Rus by more than three to one, since they had not suffered the ravages of the war.
If they should teach Roum how to arm and in the end it became a hostile power, the difficulties might be insurmountable. Vincent could sense they were in a delicate time, when the novelty of this new contact and the sense of freedom from the Tugars created an openness between the two countries. One wrong move could change all of that, setting a precedent that could doom forever the dream of unification and manifest destiny. There were seeds here for a serious problem in the future, offset for now by superior technology, but even that might be balanced out in time.
"I'm going in now to face my senators and listen to their ravings about your men inciting servile rebellion," Marcus said, in what to Vincent's surprise was an almost warm manner.
"Marcus, you've only seen the beginning of what free men can create," Vincent replied, taking hold of the consul's arm.
"Is that a threat?"
"No, sir, a promise of what Roum could be. Would you agree that slaves in general are a lazy, shiftless lot, ready to cheat, to steal, to do the least amount of work whenever possible?"
"Of course," Marcus laughed. "They are lower than scum and dumber than my horse."
Vincent winced inwardly, for the slaves who with wooden faces came forward to hold the chariot acted as if they had heard nothing.
"All of the Rus soldiers, you see, were slaves. The men building the railroad were slaves, our army that destroyed the Tugars were former slaves. Now you see the most industrious people on the face of this world. Every day in Rus, free man, a former slave, mind you, looks at how something is dome. He thinks of a better way of doing it, a new machine perhaps, and eagerly he sets out to improve something."
"Whatever for?" Marcus asked, unable to understand such thinking.
"Because he is a free man. If he makes something better he'll make money. Every time someone does that, it makes our people stronger, wealthier, all of us living better than before, Our government taxes little, it tries not to interfere in people's actions, for it knows that if it did that it would weaken itself as well. That is the secret of our strength, Marcus, and it could be the source of your strength as well. Think about that, Marcus. Your people could be that industrious."
Marcus paused for a moment and looked at Vincent as if he had spoken an impossibility.
"Your landholders could tax your people instead of taking from them. If people believed that they could work for what they owned, they'd produce three, four times as much, and you and your senators would not lose anything in the process-
"And if we allowed the mob to represent themselves their first act would be to drive us out," Marcus retorted.
"With our help you could draft laws that would allow your families certain rights to guarantee their wealth, in return for the freedom of everyone.
"As in your legendary Rome of the old world, or a country like our own called England, we could have two representative groups, one for the patricians and one for the common people. Both groups would have to agree upon a law before it could be passed. That would be fair to everybody. There could be two consuls as well, one from each group, who would act in agreement."
Vincent groaned inwardly at what he had just offered, a guarantee to a landed aristocracy to continue to exist. If Tom Jefferson were here, he thought sadly, the man would most likely tear him apart. Being an abolitionist was becoming far harder than he had ever imagined.
"We've got plenty of time to discuss this later," Marcus announced as the lictors, bearing their ceremonial bundles, came out of the Senate and lined the stairs for the consul. "For right now I've got more immediate concerns. We'll talk again tonight."
Turning away, Marcus started up the steps, then paused and looked back at Vincent.
"It's terribly hot out. Why don't you go to the baths?"
"I'd rather go to your palace," Vincent snapped back, unable to hide a tone of peevishness.
Laughing, Marcus continued on his way.
Shaking his head, Vincent jumped down from the chariot, and waving off the escort of a slave carrying an umbrella against the sun, he stalked across the square back toward his quarters in Marcus's palace.
Play the game out a card at a time, he thought. Let the aristocracy have their land. But it'll be industry that drives this economy in a couple of years. As the railroad pushes on eastward to the land of the Khitai, and Nippon beyond, Roum will be a major center for the new industries. The small group of plebs and eventually the freed slaves will flock to that, and they can build their power from there. Introducing farming machines will create a vast surplus of labor, the same as it has in Rus, freeing men to work in the new industries. The key trick is to let the nobles continue to view involvement with these new trades as beneath their dignity and they'll die on the vine like English nobility.
Relaxing a bit, Vincent started to smile. Suddenly he realized that there was a shadow around him, and looking to his side he saw that the slave had come up behind him still bearing the umbrella.
"Close that damn thing up," Vincent snapped, and the slave, obviously frightened, did as commanded.
Cursing again, he thought angrily. He had yet to shake that habit.
"What's your name?" Vincent asked, looking back at the slave.
"Julius, noble one," the slave stammered. "Household servant of my lord Marcus."
The man was nearly the same height as Vincent, something that made him feel comfortable, for nearly all of the Roum except for the patricians were of smaller stature and build than the Rus. Julius's hair was graying at the temples, and his face was tanned dark and craggy with lines. Hi arms were slender but knotted like stretched whipcord. Julius looked at him with awe, as if he were a god, and the gaze made Vincent uncomfortable.
"What do you know about me?" Vincent asked.
"That you are a Tugar-slayer, the new master of the Rus, most noble one."
Vincent leaned back and laughed, and Julius smiled nervously, obviously relieved that he had answered correctly.
"You have a family, Julius?"
"Yes, noble one. My wife, Calpurnia, and four children."
"I've just had twin girls," Vincent announced proudly, and reaching into his breast pocket he pulled out a miniature portrait of his family that Andrew had presented to him after the track-laying ceremony.
Julius looked at the portrait and smiled obediently.
"May the gods bless them and you," Julius said.
Vincent bristled inwardly. This man was so frightened of him that all he could do was grovel. Pulling out a handkerchief, he lifted his kepi and wiped the sweat from his brow, and then a thought formed.
Smiling, Vincent put his hand on Julius's shoulder.
"Come on, Julius, let's go back to the palace and we'll sit down and have a drink in my quarters."
"You'll have a drink of wine with me, noble one?" Julius asked, incredulous.
"Certainly. Why shouldn't I? You look like you could use one."
"I am your servant, to keep the sun from your brow and also to act as your bodyguard."
"Well, damn it all, man, where I come from that doesn't mean we can't have a good drink together. Tell me, does your Calpurnia cook a good meal?"
"The finest, noble sir. She works in the kitchen of my lord."
"Well, let's get a bit drunk, then see if we can persuade her to cook dinner for me and we'll sit down in the kitchen and eat it."
Julius looked at him in disbelief. "But noble sir, you are a guest of the noble Marcus—you should eat at his table, not in the quarters of slaves."
"Don't worry about that," Vincent replied, trying to keep
the exasperation out of his voice. Forcing a smile, he put his hand on Julius's shoulder.
Vincent noticed the beginning of a genuine smile lighting Julius's features.
He tried to argue with himself that this was after all an excellent means of finding out more about how the common people viewed the arrival of the Rus. But inwardly he knew he was failing again. He could stop the cursing someday, but damnit, ever since a round of evenings with Pat O'Donald, wine did have a certain appeal. The thought of his parents, let alone his church elders, seeing him breaking yet again the Temperance Pledge was enough to give him a wonderful sense of guilt. He could just imagine Elder Gates coming in and with a shout of outrage attempting to drag him out by his ear.
"Why are you laughing, noble sir?" Julius asked, unable to hide his curiosity.
"There's no way I could possibly explain it," Vincent said with a smile.
Reaching the steps of the palace, Vincent strode up the white limestone stairs. Pausing at the top, he looked back across the sunbaked square. It was nearly noon. A lazy sense of relaxation seemed to float in the air, the merchant stalls were closed, windows were shuttered to keep out the heat, and all, except for the ever-toiling slaves, had disappeared into their courtyards or baths until the coolness of late afternoon settled in.
Rubbing his hand against the back of his collar, he felt as if he were drenched clean through with sweat. Wrinkling his nose, he knew that there was a decidedly unpleasant odor around him.
"Yes, noble sir?"
"Before that drink and a meal, could I trouble you to arrange a bath, and maybe have my uniform cleaned?"
"Of course, noble sir," Julius snapped, and closing his umbrella he motioned for Vincent to follow him through the main doors into Marcus's palace.
The heavy bronze doors appeared to swing open as if by their own power as he approached, and the effect gave him a bit of a pleasant chill, even though he knew that two servants stood behind the barrier at all times, their sole job to open and close the doors. It was a terrible waste of labor, he felt.
Julius raced ahead and spoke quickly to the majordomo, who scurried off. The arched corridor into the courtyard was deliciously cool, and he took off his kepi and unbuttoned his collar.
Stepping into the inner courtyard, Vincent looked around at the opulent splendor. The garden was a good thirty yards square, filled with fragrant splashes of flowers, trees burdened with a delectable fruit, pinkish in hue and unique it seemed to this world. A light misty spray floated down over the garden, and walking into the courtyard he looked up at this unique marvel. A latticework of pipes filled the open space above the second floor. He knew that down in the basement a gang of slaves labored over pumps, forcing water through the pipes under pressure to jet out of thousands of tiny holes in a light spray to cool the air. Even as he enjoyed the effect he felt a touch of guilt knowing that men slaved to give him this momentary pleasure.
The noonday sun was blocked out by a vast awning raised up on poles like a giant sail reaching across the broad open space, the light filtering through, giving a soft diffused glow. The colonnaded walkways of the second floor were a perfect match of symmetry of marble and darkly polished wooden rails. All of this vast palace for but one man, he thought sadly. He could sense the emptiness of the house, the emptiness inside of Marcus, though more than a hundred labored here to fulfill his every wish.
Bowing low, the majordomo reappeared and whispered to Julius, who had stood respectfully to one side.
"Your bath is ready, noble sir," Julius announced. "I will go to the kitchen to see to your meal personally."
"You're joining me for it, of course, and the drinks as well?" Vincent asked.
The majordomo looked up in shock.
"If you so wish it, noble sir."
"Of course I do," Vincent said, trying to keep his temper in check, "and Julius, my name is Vincent, not noble sir."
Flustered, Julius bowed low and scurried away.
"This way, noble sir," the majordomo whispered.
Vincent was tempted to explain the rules of how to be addressed to this man as well, but gave it up with a sigh.
Going out the east side of the courtyard, Vincent followed the majordomo down an open corridor paved with an intricate display of colored tiles depicting what he thought might be a scene from the myth of Prometheus. Perhaps we nre the new Prometheus, he thought with a smile.
The servant opened the door before him, and Vincent stepped into a small chamber, dimly lit by a single window, covered with a heavy pane of amber glass. A small pool was in the middle of the room. The tiles on the floor and walls showed scenes of fish and undersea creatures.
"Your clothes, sir," the majordomo asked.
Feeling a bit self-conscious, Vincent disrobed, the servant helping him to pull off his boots, which he felt was a major source of embarrassment, the heavy wool socks giving off a decidedly gamey aroma. He hesitated as he got down to underwear, but the servant stood before him hand outstretched.
Dropping his eyes, Vincent pulled the garment off and handed it over.
"Fresh breeches and a shirt of silk in the style of your people await you over there, my lord," the servant announced, pointing to the change of clothes.
"Those aren't mine," Vincent replied lamely.
"They were cut to your size and sewn for you this morning, my lord, at the express orders of my master. You'll find them to be more comfortable for occasions when you do not need your uniform."
Vincent looked over at them and felt himself give way to the temptation. He had worn his officer's uniforms, made for him by Tanya, for months on end. It would be pleasant to get out of the heavy wool for a change.
The majordomo bowed and withdrew, and Vincent slipped into the cool bath with a sigh. He floated languidly for several minutes. Hell, back home the winter bath had been in a narrow tin tub set next to the kitchen stove, usually with a cold chill blowing in under the door. This was like paradise. Stretching out in the pool, he dipped under the water and came back up.
"May I scrub your back for you?"
With a start he looked over his shoulder and saw a slim, tall girl with long black hair standing behind him. Her almond-colored eyes looked at him with open amusement. Her lips were parted in a sensual smile, accentuated by the deep-set dimples in her ivory cheeks.
Stunned, Vincent could not help but stare at her for several seconds before his senses returned.
"Get out of here, woman!"
A flash of disappointment crossed her features. "You are not angry with me?" she whispered. "No, damnit, but please leave."
"This is my job," she whispered softly. "If you are unhappy with what I do and send me away, Antonius will beat me." "Antonius?"
"The head servant. He ordered me to attend to you." "I'm a married man," Vincent gasped. The girl laughed.
"I'll not violate you, if that is your concern," she said, "Just look straight ahead and let me wash your back. I'll use a brush and not even touch you. It will feel wonderful. Have you ever had it done before?"
"Actually, no," he whispered. The thought was certainly appealing, he tried to reason- Tanya, like most of the Rus, certainly did not take bathing as something that was altogether necessary, and having his back scrubbed was a temptation hard to resist.
"Nothing else, just my back," Vincent whispered, feeling guilty about it but reasoning that it would not harm his immortal soul or violate his Christian character in any serious way.
"Then sit up and move forward," the girl said with a laugh.
Moving to the edge of the pool, he sat on a narrow stone bench and leaned over to cover himself. There was a splash of water behind him, and pe held his breath as a gentle sponge ran up and down his back. The motion of the sponge was replaced by a soft bristlled brush, and he sighed with contentment as the girl worked it up over his shoulders and across his neck. For long minutes she continued to scrub him, and he felt as if the dirt of years were being pulled up out of his pores. His body tingled with this wonderful new sensation.
He barely noticed it when her hands began working the kinks out of his neck and shoulders, and then scrubbing his hair, the soapy water running down around him. All the time she kept up a light pratt le of talk that he barely paid attention to as he felt as if he would gradually melt away. "Shall I do the rest of you?'' she whispered. "Huh?" He roused himself out of the drifting sensation that had enveloped him.
"The rest of you, noble sir," and he suddenly realized that there was a wonderful scent around him, with long strands of wet dark hair cascading down around his shoulders.
Startled, he turned to look back.
She was kneeling behind him, her full naked breasts dancing before his eyes, the dark red nipples taut with excitement.
"My God in heaven," Vincent gasped, even as she nimbly moved forward, pressing his head into the soft ivory mounds.
He could feel a sudden surge of excitement grow inside him. It had been months since he had been with Tanya, and the inner tension was a near-constant torment. For a brief second he was tempted to let go, to press his arms around her and pull her into the pool.
And I'll betray her and burn in my own torment.
"I'm a happily married man," Vincent gasped, pulling back.
"So, all men have their consorts," the girl giggled.
"Not this one!" Vincent shouted, pulling back.
The girl looked at him in confusion.
Like Venus rising out of the ocean, she stood up, exposing her full charms.
"Don't you find me desirable?"
"I certainly do," he gasped, unable to lie.
She looked down into the water, and her eyes came up again to lock on his.
"I thought for a second maybe you preferred men, but I can see that I am exciting you."
Horrified, Vincent realized just how exposed he was as well, and he quickly backed out of the pool and grabbed a towel to wrap tightly around his waist.
"Look, I think you're beautiful. It's just that where I come from a man makes a vow to one woman and keeps it. If a man or woman breaks that vow it's terribly wrong."
She looked at him intently.
"Are you serious?"
"I love my wife. If I did something like this it'd break her heart and mine as well. I couldn't live with the shame of it."
He had learned how to drink, to swear, and to kill, and at the moment he felt a terrible tormenting drive to lie with this woman and the hell with what was left of his ethics. He kept trying to force up the image of Tanya in his mind, the look in her eyes if she ever found out. She trusted him more than anyone in the world. He could not break that trust.
"Please," Vincent whispered, "the temptation of yon driving me crazy."
The girl nodded and stepped out of the pool. She quickly slipped back into her robe, which clung provocatively to her wet body.
"Actually, noble sir, I think there's something wonderfully nice about your saying no like this," and with a graceful bow she left the room.
"Merciful God," Vincent gasped. He dropped the towel and leaped back into the pool, the cool water helping him to calm back down. He knew the damn girl was now going to haunt him.
"Tanya, I wish the hell you'd get here," he snapped, and climbing out of the water he toweled off and put on the new clothes.
They felt wonderfully soft, almost as if he were wearing nothing at all. He slipped on the sandals, which were a curious sensation, and left the room. Going back down the corridor, he turned for the kitchen area in the back of the palace, lured by the wonderful scents.
Opening the doors, he strode in. The servants looked up in startled surprise.
"Over here, noble sir," Julius said, proudly pointing to a set table.
"Ah yes, noble Vincent," the servant said.
Giving up, Vincent settled into the chair and poured his own wine before Julius had the chance. In the far corners the other servants looked over at this strange spectacle and whispered to themselves.
Raising his goblet, he looked over at Julius, who nervously returned the gesture.
"To the friendship between the common people of Rus and Roum," Vincent said loudly.
Julius, smiling openly, nodded in reply, and the two drained their cups.
He looked at the repast spread out before him. There were several dishes of baked fish, and another of thin strips of meat smothered in mushrooms.
"It all looks delightful."
"Go ahead and start, noble Vincent."
"Not until your wife joins us."
Julius looked at him curiously.
"Come on now, fetch her over here and then we can start."
Julius motioned to a heavyset woman standing nervously by an open oven. Cautiously, she approached the table.
"My name is Vincent Hawthorne. What's yours?"
"Calpurnia, noble sir," she whispered.
"Where I come from, a man and his wife eat together, especially when they have company. Please sit down and loin us."
He could see that she was almost shaking as she sat down on the opposite bench and looked back at her friends.
"How was your bath, noble Vincent?" Julius asked with a smile.
"Ah, different," Vincent replied woodenly.
Julius started to laugh softly.
"We already heard," and Calpurnia looked up at him and shook her head even as she smiled.
Vincent found he was starting to blush.
"I guess our customs are different from yours in more ways than one," Vincent said lamely.
"Yes. I think we will find that quite interesting," Julius replied, still smiling.
Vincent refilled his goblet and had started to take another drink when he felt something brush behind him.
"Ah, my daughter, Olivia," Julius said with a smile.
Vincent looked up and a second later felt as if he were choking, as he sprayed the contents of his goblet across the table.
"Your daughter?" Vincent gasped.
Julius leaned back and started to laugh as the girl, smiling innocently, sat down by Vincent, her dark hair still wet and shiny.
"Noble Vincent, you Yankees are certainly different," Julius said, wiping the tears from his eyes. "And I must say perhaps an interesting change."
Oh God, this job is going to be hell, Vincent thought, unable to reply.
Cromwell looked at the group and felt a ripple of apprehension. Of Jubadi and Muzta he already knew their intentions. If this campaign did not work as planned, the damned beasts would slaughter all of them. For that matter, he hall suspected they'd most likely slaughter them anyhow even if they won. Only a fool would trust Tugars, Merki, or whatever it was the beasts called themselves.
Looking over at Hamilcar, leader of the Carthas, he could sense an ally in that concern at least. They were playing for time and knew it. There had to be a chink in their system which he could exploit. If worst came to worst he could always take the Ogunquit the hell out of here along with Jamie and the others. He would lose his Suzdalian and Yankee crew, they were being left behind for this campaign, but that would be their problem, not his.
Hamilcar returned his gaze without comment. All that needed to be said between them had already been said. At least the Merki would not feed upon him this year, and for that he thanked Baalk, to whom he had offered his last-born son in tribute for the reprieve. Everything that could be learned would be learned.
"The plan, then, is simple," Cromwell began, pointing to the map spread out on the table before the group.
"Tomorrow our fleet sets sail, my Ogunquit, eighteen gunboats, two mortar boats, Jamie's ships, and over a hundred and fifty Cartha ships. Aboard will be over twenty thousand men, the ships' cannons, thirty field guns, and three thousand muskets. We should reach Roum within seven days. Taking the city with modem weapons should be not too difficult.
"But we will not, at least in the beginning."
Hamilcar shook his head with disdain.
"You do not agree with our plan," Jubadi said coldly. "We could take it with ease," Hamilcar replied.
"That is not what we want for the first several days. We are after bigger game," Tobias retorted. "Remember our goal is to bring Keane and his precious army out of the city. If Roum is under threat, they will rush to help. If the city lulls at once, especially after our people declare themselves, Keane will not drive straight in. I know Keane and how he thinks. He'll act with near-fanatical determination as long as the fall of the city is a threat and not an accomplished fact. Our goal is to bring him out into the steppe."
Tobias pointed to the town of Hispania and the marker indicating the farthest extent of the railroad.
"Bring him to here and a day's march beyond."
With a dramatic flourish, he slammed his fists down on cither side.
"And then cut him off. We'll show him how fragile a rail line really is. We'll strike first by burning their largest bridge. Five hundred raiders—that will be under Jamie and Hinsen. They can tear up track for miles behind him, leaving him stranded. The forces in Suzdal who are with us already know their parts. We'll force Roum over to our side just before he arrives, and then we will move out of Roum by ship, swing across, and take Rus behind him.
"Before he can return, Suzdal will be in our hands."
Jubadi nodded approvingly.
"There'll be some extra warriors going with you," Jubadi said quietly and looked over at Hulagar.
Tobias, unable to show his surprise, gazed suspiciously at Hulagar.
"I am sending Hulagar, my sons, some guards, and the Zan Qarth's shield-bearer along."
"My lord Jubadi," Tobias said quickly, "the key to our attempt is to not let anyone know that we are supported by you. The sight of a single Merki could change all of that."
"They will remain hidden throughout," Jubadi said sharply, his tone indicating that there would be no debate. "You have much to attend to before tomorrow morning, Tobini Cromwell. You and your men had best see to the final arrangements."
Tobias stood and looked nervously at Jubadi. The last minute addition was disquieting. He tried to look Jubadi in the eyes, but again, as always, there was that sense of a taunting gaze, a judgment. He looked away and without comment stalked out of the room.
"He is not pleased," Hulagar said, laughing softly.
"Did he actually expect that we would let him build those ships and then go sailing off? The contingent will stay aboaiil the Ogunquit at all times."
"It is worse than the lower regions of torment down there," Hulagar said, shaking his head and reaching over to fill his goblet with Cartha wine.
Hulagar hesitated for a moment.
"Something is bothering you," Jubadi asked softly.
"It is not your other two sons, my Qarth, it is the Zan, Vuka."
"I want you there to learn, to observe all that happens in this new way'of war. Vuka will someday be Qar Qarth. I want him to be there, to see how these cattle weapons can be fought."
"To send all three of your sons of the first consort," Hulagar said softly, "perhaps it is not the wisest to risk your lineage in such a manner."
Jubadi smiled and shook his head.
"I had three brothers. One died when thrown from his mount, the other two at Orki. It is the risk of all of us. I want all three of them there.
"And of course my shield-bearer, and the bearer of Vuka will be there as well."
"Vuka might not be easy with being trapped inside the furnace of that ship," Hulagar said, knowing he was pressing the argument.
"Then he must learn," Jubadi snapped impatiently.
Hulagar lowered his head in acknowledgment. He knew that in his position as shield-bearer he could perhaps force the argument, but the inner voice, the ka-tu known only to those who were shield-bearers of the Qarths, spoke differently. Perhaps it would be a testing for Vuka, to better learn endurance and, most important, patience.
"Just remember that Tamuka is his shield-bearer, not you," Jubadi said. "So do not interfere, my friend."
It was rare that Jubadi referred to him as a friend, and he could sense that the Qar Qarth was uneasy with his decision as well.
"Watch Tobias closely," Jubadi said, shifting the subject, he is a coward, as are most cattle, so I have no fear that he will turn. After all, he believes that if he wins he will rule Rus on his own."
"Perhaps we should have told him in the beginning that we would occupy the town after he has taken it, and that the Tugars if they live to their promise will close on the eastern flank of Roum."
Jubadi shook his head.
"He can still rule, as we have always had cattle rule over our subjects. But I sense that these northern cattle would light to the death if they knew we were coming as well. We must let them weaken each other first. Once they are under this Cromwell, and the buildings to make more weapons are secure, then we shall move in. He must not know. If he did, he might grow suspicious and perhaps even flee with the most dangerous weapon upon all the water of the sea. Let him finish this task first, and take control. By then my sons will know the ways of war and can take the ships to attack the Bantag on their own.
"Don't forget that when it comes to battle decisions, let him make them. He understands this new war better than I, and you, my friend, are a shield-bearer, not a warrior."
Hulagar nodded in reply, taking no offense, for Jubadi was right, he was not a warrior, he was far more, the controlling spirit of a Qar Qarth.
"Now send in the Zan Qarth. I must speak to my eldest son before he leaves."
Hulagar stood up, bowed low, and left the room. Had he heard the inner whispers correctly? he wondered. There was the faintest murmuring in his soul that the plan which had looked so flawless in all its complexities had somehow been altered onto a path he could not yet foresee.
"And I say that how you propose to spend this money is complete foolishness!"
Inwardly Andrew cursed the whole concept of democracy from top to bottom. It was bad enough that he had to appear before this Senate to argue the military side of the budget, but to take a grilling from the man across from him was almost more than he could stomach.
Mikhail, the senator from Psov, looked at him with open contempt.
"Senator," Andrew said evenly, trying to hide his buildng anger, "until such time as we are certain that the Tugar are truly gone and that the hordes to the south have swept eastward as well, we need to continue to arm, to improve our weapons, and to be ready for any and all possibilities."
"And bleed ourselves white in the process!"
"You forget, Mikhail Ivorovich, that it was the army under this man that saved us," Ilya of Suzdal growled, stepping forward from his desk to stand by Andrew's side. "But then again, you were serving on the other side."
"You bastard," Mikhail snarled.
Andrew slammed the gavel on his ornately carved table for attention. Ilya glared at Mikhail and returned to his desk.
"The issues of the war are past," Andrew said, as if lecturing to a roomful of children. "Remember, this is it Senate debate on the military budget, so let us please stick to the topic."
Sitting back down, Andrew looked about the room. This damn thing would have been a lot easier if Mikhail and the other boyars who had won election were simply dead, he thought grimly, regretting yet again his declaration of a complete amnesty for all those who took the oath of allegiance to the new Republic of Rus. He felt it to be a proper Lincolnesque gesture, which Kal, positioning himself to run for president, had fully agreed to. He knew that back home, once the war was over Lincoln would do the same, unlike so many heads of state who massacred the losing side and laid the groundwork of hatred for the next generation to fan into another conflagration. If the precedent was set now, it might very well help to hold the republic together long after they were all gone.
No one had expected that Mikhail, Boyar Ivor's hall brother, would still be alive. It was only after the amnesty had been offered that he had emerged from hiding. Worse yet, he then proceeded to carry the town of Psov as a senator in an election which had obviously been bought.
Of the thirty-eight senators in their single-house legislature, eight were former boyars. The more radical revolutionary zeal had firmly taken hold in Suzdal and the now partially rebuilt Novrod. In the remote districts of Rus the peasants who had survived the pox and Tugar occupation ad little understanding of their new government and thus simply voted in their old rulers. It would take the linking of these areas into the rail system, and a lot of education, Andrew realized, before they would understand just how badly they were now being served by representatives interested only in preserving some of their former power.
Andrew leaned back in his chair and surveyed the assembly. As vice-president under Kal he found himself in the curious position of running the Senate even as he testified, but the running was more like being a teacher, constantly interpreting and explaining the fundamental basics of a parliamentary system to men who had no tradition or knowledge of such a system. It had all sounded so idealistic and easy in theory but was sheer hell in practice. He found himself wondering what Tom Jefferson would say to all of this.
"I demand satisfaction for what Ilya said here. One such as he has no right. He is nothing but a peasant, as was his father and grandsire before him," Mikhail shouted, refusing to sit back down.
"But you are a bastard," Petrov, Kal's cousin and senator from one of the north wards of Suzdal, taunted in reply. "Your brother Ivor Weak Eyes, now he was born on the right side of the bed, but not you!"
"Senators!" Andrew brought the gavel down with such strength that the handle was sheared off, sending the hammer spinning out into the middle of the room.
The action at least brought a gale of laughter from the public gallery and a moment of silence on the floor.
"Senators," Andrew said softly as the laughter died away.
"Now first of all. The discussion of lineage as a means of insult is beneath the dignity of senators," Andrew stated with an admonishing tone.
Petrov looked at Andrew, his anger still showing, and sat back down.
"On the other side, everyone has a right to speak and say what he wants, outside the realm of personal insult. Station of birth no longer applies in this republic. One becomes a senator no matter who his father was."
Mikhail glared at Andrew and said nothing as a round of applause from the gallery, and from the common-born senators, thundered through the room.
"Next," Andrew said sharply, looking up at the gallery. "This is a meeting of your Senate and will not be interfered with. It is always open to the public, but if we allow you to shout and make comments, then in the end this room will be ruled by a mob. I will not tolerate such outbursts. If you have comments you may speak to your senators outside this room."
The citizens in the gallery looked at each other sheepishly and fell silent.
"Good. Does everyone understand the rules?" Andrew asked in his best professorial voice.
The men around him nodded their heads, some eagerly, like students excited with their subject, but the former boyars sitting around Mikhail simply looked about the room with open disdain.
"Fine. Now as secretary of war I was being questioned by Senator Mikhail of Psov about the proposed military budget for next year. Senator, do you wish to continue your questioning?"
"I think your idea for how much taxes are to be spent is nothing but lies."
Andrew bristled inside, fighting to control his temper, and he could see that Mikhail was truly enjoying taunting him like this.
"You say that it is lies. Would you care to explain," Andrew replied softly, looking over at Hans, who as general of the Suzdalian forces was white with anger.
"That President Kal is calling for what you call dollars, four million dollars in taxes."
"That is correct, President Kalencka has requested such a sum."
"Of which almost all of it, three out of four dollars, goes for your army and its projects."
"The army of the Republic of Rus," Andrew snapped coldly, "not my army, senator."
"Nearly two million of that sum goes for these factories, as you call them, to turn out yet more things, these rails and trains, which you also place with the army."
"That is correct. The rails will be so we can move men and weapons quickly if ever our borders are threatened. As you know, we now have a treaty with the Roum, which almost all of you agreed to. When the rail line is completed, entire armies can be moved hundreds of miles in a matter of days, outracing even the speed of the horse-mounted hordes."
"And remember Manifest Destiny," Vasilia interjected. "It is a good dream, to spread what we are around the world, uniting all men under one system, free of boyar and of Tugar."
"Vasilia, you are out of order," Andrew said, even as he was thankful to hear his support.
"He is always out of order," Gavelo, former boyar of Nizhil, snapped, looking to Mikhail like a servant to his master.
"It is a means for certain men to get rich while others suffer," Mikhail said coldly. "Your factories have driven almost all the old ironmakers, the swordmakers, out of business, and made them poor. Already we have heard how Roum merchants will travel here, selling their cheap trinkets and driving yet hundreds more into destitution. Hundreds of merchants now look upon empty shops. Yet the circle of Yankees who run these new businessess and those who are friends of Kalencka grow rich, not only from the tax money, but from the profits that come from these factories."
The tack of Mikhail's argument caught Andrew off-guard. Why was this man sounding like a champion for interests not directly related to boyar concerns?
"The factories and railroads are owned by everyone, all citizens of Rus. The men who design and work them, Rus and Yankee, are paid by the government. Remember as well that all who work there are part of the army as well, yet paid to do work we all need. As time passes and the threat of the hordes disappears, we will change this, and if anyone wishes to set up his own factories he may do so. Anyone may do so. In fact, if a group of Rus citizens wanted to make rails and sell them to the government for a rate cheaper than we can now make them, all of us would be happy."
"Rubbish. You are already too powerful. I am therefore proposing two things here. One, that the budget for your army be cut in half immediately. The Tugars are gone, and we have no need for these new weapons your factories make. Next I demand that you end at once the requirement that ail men must now drill one day of the week with weapons and for four weeks during the winter, for it is senseless to waste their effort. Finally, I demand that your government sell the factories to any who can bid the most for them."
"If you wish to do so," Andrew said coldly, "you may propose these changes at any time. First you must write what is called a bill and read it formally to all here."
"Another Yankee trick. Only they can read," Mikhail barked. "What need do boyars have of reading?"
"It is how the government runs," Andrew retorted. "Someday everyone will read. For those senators who cannot, we have scribes and readers. That is the law."
"The law you dictated when you set this government up."
Christ, I should have killed him, Andrew groaned inwardly.
"The Constitution and Bill of Rights cannot be changed," Andrew said evenly. "They shall always stand as they are."
That at least was one point he had lied about when he had sat down to frame the government charter. He realized from the beginning that he would have to create something absolute; otherwise, with the Rus's lack of experience, some strange monstrosity might evolve. Maybe on his deathbed he'd tell them about amendments, but not before. At least for now the bluff was working.
Mikhail looked around for support and saw that beyond his small circle there was none forthcoming.
"After you or your appointed scribe reads your proposal, copies will be given to all senators. For one month it will be debated, unless a majority wishes to make the debate longer. This will give time for all citizens to be informed so they can make comments to their senators."
That at least was working, Andrew thought with some satisfaction. In this first year of the government the senators felt they must talk to their people before voting on anything. He could only hope this old intent of representative government would last.
"After all of that, you senators will vote. Then President Kalencka will decide to sign the bill or not. If he refuses to sign, you must vote by a two-thirds majority to defeat him."
"See, it is stacked against us. This whole thing you call democracy is a sham to trick the peasants about who the new boyars are," Mikhail snapped, and with a snort of disdain he rose up and stormed out of the room, the other former boyars following.
Andrew waited for the assembly to settle down and then looked about the Senate floor. It was almost noon anyhow, and Mikhail was simply grandstanding again. It was obvious Mikhail had timed his walkout when there was only a brief time left for the session anyhow. He had made the mistake of storming out before an important vote on railroad appropriations and had learned from the mistake.
"Gentlemen, the Senate is adjourned until tomorrow morning."
Taking the handle of his gavel, he struck the edge of his table and then leaned back with a sigh.
"Son of a bitch, I should have shot him when I had the chance," Hans growled, as he leaned over the table and shot a spray of tobacco juice into the small spittoon he had brought in for the hearing.
"My sentiments as well," Andrew said. "Ah well, democracy in action. I bet Abe must have wished the same more than once.
"What's on for this afternoon?" Andrew sighed, looking back to John Bullfinch, former lieutenant of the Ogunquit and now his personal adjutant and secretary. The boy had turned into an excellent aide, the one crew member of Cromwell's who had refused to desert.
"Let's see," Bullfinch said in his high-pitched voice, Adam's apple bobbing up and down. "Sir, you have a meeting with President Kalencka at two. Then an inspection tour of the new musket rifling works at three. Next, sir—"
"Next he has time with his wife."
With a smile, Andrew looked up. Sweeping past Andrew, she leaned over Bullfinch's shoulder and with a flourish picked up his pen and drew a line through the page.
"Meetings canceled by order of myself and the president. Kal ordered you to take the afternoon off," Kathleen said, shaking her finger at Andrew. Her green eyes sparkled with a mischievous light as she stepped past Bullfinch and came up to put her arms around Andrew.
"If I were president I would have had that Mikhail arrested and hung from the gate," Kathleen said sharply, looking over to Hans for support.
"Kathleen, it is a republic we've got here."
"And you were military dictator for over a year before that."
"Not any longer," Andrew sighed.
"Well, if you had given women the right to vote from the start, he'd have never made office."
"I think it's time for me to leave," Hans replied, rising to his feet.
"Hans Schuder, I don't know why you don't agree with me on this. With your influence I might have been able to persuade my husband to put that into the Constitution."
"I'm just a soldier, ma'am. Politics ain't my business," Hans replied lamely.
"A likely excuse," Kathleen replied with a grin. "But anyhow, my dear," she continued to Andrew, "you promised me a jaunt out of town a week ago. I've got the carriage outside, and I'm not taking no for an answer."
Andrew stood and looked down at his wife's figure with concern.
"I'm still nearly two months away, and Emil said the fresh air would do me good."
"Well, it looks like I've got my marching orders," Andrew said with a mock sigh.
Extending his arm to Kathleen, he left the Senate chamber, and passing down the main corridor of the capitol he paused for a moment before the doorway into the presidential offices, but she pulled him away and out through the open doors onto the broad steps facing the great square.
Suzdal was vibrant with life. A summer shower had washed through the town early in the morning, and with its passing a cooling breeze had risen up from the northwest, bringing with it the tangy scent of the great woods beyond. Andrew paused and with a smile of satisfaction looked around.
It was hard to imagine that it was upon this square that the 35th Maine and 44th New York had fought their last desperate action against the Tugars. Behind him the ruins of the old palace had given way to the offices of the new government. The Senate chambers, Kal's offices, and the meeting room of the Supreme Court were now housed in a square whitewashed building of fresh logs, adorned as usual with the scrolling designs and carved adornments that were the delight of the Rus. Walking down the steps of the capitol, Andrew returned the salutes of the honor guard from the 1st Suzdal who stood at the base of the steps.
Smiling, Andrew stepped out into the square. Merchant stalls lined the square, selling the traditional wares of Rus along with the dozens of newer products introduced since the war.
The tolling of a church bell echoed across the square. The crowd packing the marketplace fell into an expectant hush and looked to the top of the cathedral in anticipation.
Suddenly there was a cacophony of bells as the minute hand on the new cathedral clock marked the arrival of noon. Side doors to the clock opened up and a wooden bear emerged carrying the standard of Rus, and the crowd broke into appreciative applause. Behind the bear came a procession of cubs, each bearing the flag of the ten city-states, Novrod, Vazima, Kev, Nizhil, Mosva, and the others, and with the appearance of each flag, the visiting citizens cheered. The last cub carried the red-and-gold standard of Suzdal, and an ovation swept the square.
The bear and its cubs disappeared, and then a lone figure appeared. An ugly hiss went up at the carved likeness of a Tugar. The figure stood before the clock, and then from a door directly beneath the clock emerged the images of a Rus soldier with gun raised, flanked by a Yankee, pushing a small cannon. Puffs of smoke shot out from the cannon and the musket, and the Tugar fell upon its back and disappeared while a wild cheer went up from the crowd. The two soldiers retreated back into their niches. Finally a robed form appeared wearing a halo, and the crowd blessed themselves as the figure of Perm turned to face them and then, following the path of the bear and its cubs, disappeared from view.
The crowd broke into applause and then slowly started to disperse.
"I don't think they'll ever grow tired of Vincent's creation," Kathleen said admiringly. "It's the pride of the town. Nadia, Vasilia's wife, told me that the town council of Novrod is planning one that's even better. Having a good clock is becoming a real point of civic pride."
"And it's getting everyone used to clocks as well," Andrew said, nodding toward the row of clock vendors, who always did a brisk business at noon.
The issue of time on this planet had been an intriguing one to settle. It had started when an apprentice under Vincent had taken upon himself the task of repairing Andrew's rusty pocket watch, damaged like all the others in the tunnel of light. The boy had finally succeeded, and became a master craftsman in his own right by doing it However, the day on Valennia seemed to be an hour shorter, a fact which Andrew found intriguing alongside the other curious point that a year was nearly forty days longer as well. There had been a lively debate on whether to have a twenty-three-hour or twenty-four-hour day. Vincent Hawthorne, who had first tinkered with clocks and introduced them to this world, finally won out for the twenty-four-hour system, arguing for the symmetry of it, and the fact that the gearing in clocks would be easier to calculate. Though Andrew realized it was not logical, he felt as if he were being cheated out of precious time in the one respect and getting it back on the other side.
Fumbling with his watch case, he went through the daily ritual of setting it ahead an hour and then slipped the cherished memento, a present back in '63 from the men of Company B, his first command with the regiment, into his vest pocket.
Leaving the steps, which had survived from the old palace, Andrew nodded his greetings to the throngs who called out good-naturedly to him, or in most cases still looked upon him with an admiration verging on awe. The giving of flowers was a Rus tradition he still was not used to, but Kathleen beamed happily as a group of children rushed up to her with excited giggles and presented her with a bouquet. Leaning over, she kissed the youngest on the cheek, and the blushing girl drew away.
Andrew stopped before the carriage and looked it over carefully before helping Kathleen climb up. It was almost as good as the carriages back home, with metal springs and light iron-shod wheels. Yet it was still more Rus than American and far heavier than what he was used to. It had an out-of-balance look with a former Tugar war-horse, larger than a Clydesdale, in the traces.
Driving a carriage with one hand still made Andrew nervous. He felt perfectly comfortable with his horsemanship when mounted. But then it seemed as if Mercury somehow sensed his master's disability.
Awkwardly taking the leads, Andrew swung the carriage around and started across the plaza. Reaching the middle of the square, he saw a line of stalls and eased the horse to a stop.
"I hope business is good for you today," Andrew called in Latin to a merchant wearing the long toga of the Roum.
A curious crowd was gathered around the row of half a dozen stalls, looking with wonder not only at the array of silver necklaces, bracelets, and embroidered linens, but also lit the mysterious shopkeepers.
"Good, very good," one of the merchants replied haltingly in broken Rus.
"He's only the first of many," Andrew announced to the curious crowd. "Trade between his people and ours will only make us all better off. Just remember it's going to take a while for them to accept paper money."
"And ruin our own silversmiths, by their being here," came an angry voice from the group. "His prices are cheaper."
"Yours are too high, Basil Andreovich," came a taunting reply.
The protest instantly triggered off a debate, and knowing if he stayed it would turn into another lecture on the free-market system, Andrew forced a smile and got the horse moving again.
"They came in on the train this morning," Kathleen said. "Now that must have been a sight, a group of merchants from the descendants of the Romans, taking an American train to trade in a medieval Russian city." Leaning back, she started to laugh.
"It's only the beginning," Andrew said quietly. "It's the ideas I'm even more interested in. Those Roum, or Romans, whatever you want to call them, will go back home in a couple of days having made far more than they hoped for. They'll also have seen how our country runs. Once the railhead reaches their city, hundreds of them will make the trip. It's only the beginning. I think Rus furs and woodcarv-ings will get a high price over there, and the Roum will pay in silver. Bill Webster's screaming all the time that we need more hard currency."
The young secretary of the treasury was a wonder to him. Somehow he had forged an economic system, based largely on paper currency, which was working.
The fact that his face was on the dollar bill was a constant source of amusement to Pat O'Donald, who by luck of the draw had pulled the ten-dollar slot, while Emil held the five and Hans, who he knew was secretly proud of it, had the twenty. Kal had argued vehemently against the fifty-dollar position but appeared on it anyhow, and Casmar in winning the hundred had diplomatically insisted that the largest denomination should carry the image of Perm and Kesus. The hard part of it all had been convincing the Rus that the money held real value.
What took even more doing was setting up the first bank of Rus, and showing the people that they could safely put paper money in, and later on get it back with a hefty five percent interest rate. It seemed like some sort of strange miracle to them, and once the novelty caught on the bank was flooded with business, a fact which Webster rejoiced over as he loaned the money back out at six and a half percent for the dozens of individuals who approached each week with new ideas for businesses.
His next big innovation had been the stock market, a concept which Andrew found to be a complete mystery. The men from Maine had started off the craze, once he gave them the right to form private businesses when the state of military emergency ended. Nearly every man was a shareholder now in one concern or another. Several had grown rich in the process and more than a few had gone bankrupt; it was a passion every bit as strong as the incessant gambling that had always been part and parcel of the old Union Army.
Andrew looked over at the Suzdalian boy running by his side.
He reined in the horse and nodded to Kathleen, who pulled out an iron penny and handed it down. The boy handed the paper up and looked at her with a wistful smile. Shaking her head, she pulled out two more pennies and tucked them into his hand.
"Perm bless you," the boy shouted and then ducked away into the crowd.
"Let's see what Gates has in his rag today," Andrew said, trying to take the single sheet out of her hand.
She looked at the paper and then quickly folded it.
"I guess what you expected, Andrew. He's screaming about the sewer-pipe controversy and denouncing Mina and the entire government."
Andrew groaned, shaking his head.
"Then there's the stock market prices," she said quickly, changing the subject, "and those disgusting advertisements of that Uri the undertaker—'We'll plant you on the road to heaven.' I tell you, those slogans are setting a real trend in poor taste."
Andrew laughed softly. Actually he rather looked forward to Uri's newest ditties and puns, as did the rest of the city. Gates's paper was turning out to be one of the best primers for reading in the entire republic, and Uri in the process had cornered the market on funerals.
"Come on, Andrew, let's get moving before someone finds a reason to call you back to work. I'll let you read the paper later."
He tried to read the headline, but she shook her head, folded the paper, and tucked it into her purse. With a snap of the reins he urged the horse back into a canter.
Leaving the great square, they made their way down the eastern thoroughfare, and passing through the gate of the inner wall, Andrew reined the horse back in.
A steam whistle cut the air, and through the outer gate of the earthen walls a train emerged trailing its billowing cloud of white smoke. The broad area between the old city walls and the outer earthworks had been cleared of the vast wreckage of the war and was now the main terminal of the MFL&S railroad. The northern battlements, wiped clear by the floodwaters which had broken the Tugar attack, had been rebuilt and strengthened. The ground between the earthworks and the old inner walls was now covered with a dozen lines of track for the city's growing shipping yards.
The train swung through a curve and glided into the open platform station with whistle shrieking and bells ringing.
"The twelve-o'clock express arriving from Novrod, Nizhil, Vazima, Siberia, and points east to Hispania now arriving track one," the stationmaster announced as he walked down the length of the platform, wearing a gray frock coat and top hat which somehow had become the standard garb of conductors and stationmasters. It was another incongruity which Andrew found touching.
Andrew reined in for a moment to watch the unusual spectacle. Dozens of workers arriving back from the railhead on their monthly leave came clamoring off the train shouting joyfully as their families rushed to greet them, while local travelers alighted, many of them looking about in wonder at the sights or nervously back at the train, which for nearly all the Rus was still a wondrous invention.
Andrew was delighted to see two Roum merchants climb down from the train, carrying heavy packs, both of them surrounded by curious citizens eagerly shouting questions to the confused pair.
"So unlike an American train station," Kathleen said with a smile.
"Just a bit," Andrew replied, looking at the strange collection of people who now swirled past him, more than one doffing his cap in respect and offering a sweeping bow with right hand touching the ground (a habit he had yet to successfully discourage), or if in the uniform of the Suzdalian army, snapping off a sharp salute. A contingent of half a dozen men wearing the Union-blue uniform of the 44th New York came past, and after the formal salutes to Andrew the men tipped their hats to Kathleen and passed on.
"It's more than just the people," Kathleen said, "there's a wonderful vibrancy to what we've helped to create here. You can sense it. These people have been held down for a thousand years, and though they drive you near insane at times, there's a childlike wonder to them. They actually believe that the world is now limitless, that nothing can stop them."
"All aboard, all aboard. The twelve-fifteen local now departing track one for all points east!"
"It is limitless," Andrew replied, his voice almost wistful. "Let's just hope that Mikhail and those who think like him don't somehow find a way to subvert it all. That's the problem with a democracy. It's great in theory but hell in practice. I could have held power, but in the end it would have simply created a new boyar, or worse a Czar."
"Let's not talk politics, or I'll counter with my suffrage work," Kathleen said, leaning into Andrew's arm and by her look making it quite clear that the topic was closed.
The train whistle shrieked, and with the harmonic cacophony of half a dozen bells mounted up front—a very Rus touch, Andrew thought as they played against each other— the train eased out of the platform, and coming through the switching yard gained steam on its run out the east drawbridge gate.
Easing his horse into a trot, Andrew guided the carriage on down the road and out through the massive earth-banked positions of the outer wall. With a practiced military eye he surveyed the dead field beyond the earthen embankments that protected Suzdal with a vast array of deadfalls, sharpened stakes, and brush entanglements.
Already there were some who were stating that the maintenance of such vast fortifications around the capital city of Rus was now a wasted effort. But for at least the next several years he wanted them in place. Similar fortifications were going up around the rebuilding cities to the east as well. To the southwest, a hundred miles of fortifications were going up along the banks of what was now called the Potomac River. It was a barrier line that stretched from the Inland Sea all the way up to the Great Forest, a line of nearly ninety miles across the great steppe, the forward defense system to be ready by fall if the Merki should plan to come. Next time, if there was a next time, it was his hope to hold all the major towns and meet whatever enemy approached on the border of Rus territory. To abandon everything and just hold the city was once acceptable, since the revolution had only taken hold in Suzdal and Novrod. Even then, Novrod had been abandoned, since it was obvious that the defenses could not be divided. But if there was a next time, the country would disintegrate if he tried that expedient again.
The people of Rus had suffered horribly in the war. Over half had lost their lives from the pox or at the hands of the Tugars, and every city had been devastated either by the Tugar occupation or in the final stand at Suzdal. The southern half of the city of Suzdal was the only urban area of importance to stay intact.
The Rus in the past had been used to disaster; their old cities burned of their own accord every generation or so. The rebuilding of homes this time had happened rather quickly, but rebuilding all that had been created since would be a heartbreaking task. To lose the vast factory complex would be a catastrophe.
Crossing through what had once been the Tugar lines, he silently looked at the great earthen mounds where tens of thousands of the enemy lay buried. Atop each of the mounds a tattered horsetail standard fluttered in the breeze.
Looking back to the city, he felt a surge of pride. The northern half of the town, wiped clean in the flood, was still being rebuilt, but along more modern lines, with broad open streets paved with stone. The Rus architecture was still evident with ornately carved structures of logs, but in an area now called the Yankee Quarter his men had laid out half a dozen blocks in a more New England style, with whitewashed clapboard houses and a small town green flanked by several churches, a meeting and armory hall, and barracks for the men of the regiment and battery who were single or, still being married to someone back in the old world, continued to honor their vows. He felt a deep respect for those unfortunate men. To him the marriage vow was sacred and unbreakable and he had always despised someone who took it casually, yet he could understand their current situation and respected those who had decided to remarry here. Some of them, however, had never adjusted. There had been half a dozen suicides since the war, and more than a score of men were now trapped in a tragic cycle of drinking or blinding melancholia.
He felt that it was a real strength of his comrades that they had stuck together in this new world, choosing to settle in the same area of town, still bonded together by the work and military drill.
Yet in most of the men he sensed a growing acceptance of their situation. Many had come to realize that here in Rus, they had skills that instantly catapulted them to positions of authority, offering opportunities unheard of back home.
Vincent at twenty was a general, Ferguson at twenty-six was the chief engineer of a transglobal railroad. Webster, the financial wizard, at twenty-one was secretary of the treasury and would, Andrew suspected, be another millionaire like Commodore Vanderbilt.
Even Emil Weiss had become somewhat less irascible, since there was no one to disagree with his theories of medicine. Emil's pet project had been a wonder to the Rus. While still serving as military dictator, Andrew had rushed through a host of ordinances, the key one being a system of sanitation following Dr. Weiss's recommendations. Water now came in through the aqueduct that drew its source from the rebuilt dam. For right now, water was still being drawn from common cisterns fed by the aqueduct, but in another couple of years Emil hoped to have every home in the entire city fitted with wooden pipes and a remarkable innovation of water-flushing privies. Sewer and storm-drain lines were being laid, the progress coming most swiftly in the northern half of the city scoured clean by the flood.
The first completed section emptied into the Neiper just beyond the northwest bastion. Gates had been screaming in his paper, and rightfully so Andrew had to admit, over the fact that the hundred-and-fifty-yard section of bronze pipe designed to take the sewage out into the middle of the river had yet to be installed, and the waste thus was pouring straight out along the bank and floating down through the dock area.
Emil had become nearly apoplectic when Mina had refused to manufacture the section, claiming a severe shortage of the precious metal. He was glad he had not run into Emil since yesterday's announcement of that decision. In fact, he realized a bit sheepishly that he had actually been dodging the good doctor.
Cresting the low rise, Andrew reined in the horse, and alighting from the carriage, he offered his hand to Kathleen.
"This is your favorite spot, isn't it?" she said almost chidingly.
"Well, it does offer the best view."
"I was hoping for a place just a little more secluded for our picnic."
"In a moment, my dear," Andrew said, stretching and looking about. Below him, a mile away, the city of Suzdal was spread out on the bluffs rising up from the river. Turning to his right, he gazed with open affection at the base of power for all that had been created. The old dam had been replaced, and half a dozen factories were now laid out beneath it. Showers of sparks rose heavenward from the iron and steel mill, which was working at full blast, day and night, to meet the insatiable need for rails, forty tons a day for the drive eastward alone. The old emergency system of simply laying iron strips on top of wooden rails had been abandoned, once the rolling mill for proper rails had gone on line. Beyond the need for rails, there were the myriad requirements for farm implements, tools, rolling stock, the new rifled muskets, and the heavier twelve-pounder artillery which O'Donald insisted upon.
Above the foundries were the four blast furnaces, where over a hundred tons of ore and another hundred tons of coke and limestone flux were cooked down every day to meet the insatiable need for metal and yet more metal. Alongside the foundry the railroad workhouse was a bustle of activity. Boilermakers, working under Yankee engineers, were turning out ever more powerful locomotives, along with all the required rolling stock of flatcars, boxcars, ore and coal hoppers, and passenger cars. Various smaller buildings were located around the foundry where an endless variety of specialized items were made, including a number of private enterprises that consumed the five tons of iron a day Mina had allocated for commercial interests. Safely removed by several hundred yards was the powder mill and ammunition depot. The stockpile of ammunition expended in the war had been replaced, but the supply of lead and copper had dried up when all contact with Cartha was lost the previous year. Fortunately the copper would start coming in from the Roum for more telegraph wire, and only the previous month a prospecting team had reported the location of a supply of lead a hundred miles to the west of the ford, in the direction of the Maya.
He was tempted to start running a rail line in that direction, but they did not have the resources to go both ways as yet, and if the Tugars ever posed another threat, at least for the next several years it would come back out of the east and not from the west, where embassy and scouting parties reported a realm that was nearly desolate and empty from the plague and Tugar occupation.
From down the river he could see a vast raft floating into the dockyards, where a train with a long row of flatcars awaited the cargo. North of town up by the ford a giant sawmill operation was booming, drawing power from the river, cutting the two thousand ties needed every day along with the millions of board feet of lumber required for rebuilding the cities.
Above old Fort Lincoln, their first outpost on this world, was yet another factory complex. The original grist mill and sawmill were still running, along with the smaller foundry that turned out several tons a day, all of it spikes and footers for the rail line, while farther up were the mines for coal and ore.
Between the mills, the mines, the factories, and the rail-laying crews, nearly thirty thousand men were working. It was an impossible expenditure of labor in any normal sense, but labor had been squandered under the old boyars, and with the new farming mechanization it was possible to keep such a number employed and fed. All the men were actually part of the regular army of thirty thousand, and one day a week was devoted to drill as well. It was a system which Andrew found helped to keep a unit cohesiveness, rather than simply waste manpower in garrison life, at a time when an entire nation needed to be rebuilt and entirely restructured.
"What next?" Andrew whispered, looking with pleasure at all that had been created so far.
"Still dreaming more plans," Kathleen asked, pulling out the picnic basket and settling down by Andrew's side, conceding that their lunch was going to be on the hill.
"It's just that I've never been so happy before," he said quietly, looking over at her. "I thought the fighting would never end, either back in our old world or here. It was eating into my soul, the killing, the endless killing. At least I've lived long enough to see that the price might have been worth it in the end."
He looked over at her and smiled.
"I used to think that somehow I was a sacrifice for others, there was nothing in my life anymore. That maybe after me, there would be people who would live better, live in peace. Now I'm actually starting to believe some of it is meant for me as well."
Almost shyly, he reached out and placed his hand over her stomach, then with a start pulled back.
"Does she always kick that hard?"
"He wants to see his father," Kathleen said with a shy grin lighting her features.
"Maybe both, like Tanya and Vincent."
"God help me," Andrew whispered.
"No, God help me. Remember, I'm the one that'll have them. You'll just get to pace around in the next room."
He gave her a worried look, and, smiling, she leaned over and kissed him lightly on the lips.
Laughing, he shifted position to find a way that he could comfortably embrace her, oblivious of the fact that atop the hill they were visible to any curious onlookers.
For the moment at least, he felt safe.
The water swirled in a raging torrent, plucking with a greedy power, drawing him into its vortex with a hideous strength that could not be resisted. It was the same, always the same, and though his mind screamed to fight, his body would not.
He let go and the blackened flood pulled him under.
Oh dear God, how many times, how many times. This time he would let go. This time he would drown. And then the fire built within, the choking terror as the darkness washed around him.
Gasping, he kicked his way up, the air in his lungs like fire, ready to explode, to shatter him into riven sparks of dying flame. With a shriek he reached the surface, thrashing, fighting. Kicking, he fought against the flood. The bottom, he could feel the bottom again. Splashing through the darkness, he floundered, fell, and as if running in mud, his mind numb with panic, he struggled toward the flame-engulfed shore.
The hands clasped around his legs.
God, make it stop! The shriek tried to burst out, but was silent, caught in his throat, as if his words were useless and would not be heard.
The hands grasped and pulled, grabbing his waist, dragging him back. Again they had him.
As if his eyes contained a will beyond his control, they looked down. Woodenly he turned and gazed back out the torrent.
It was a river of Tugar corpses, flowing into the darkness. Bloated bodies swirled past, pale and ghostly in the firelight. Bodies that writhed in agony, reaching out to him with taloned hands. Human bodies rolled by, with bloated stomachs, swollen features of the drowned. All of them, all that he had ever killed, all the tens of thousands, tumbled past him, gazing upon him with sightless eyes. The hands reached higher, pulling him down, dragging him back into their fetid embrace.
A graying corpse of a Tugar rose up out of the maelstrom clutching at him, pulling him back into the flood.
The blackened flood sucked him into the darkness, the hands grasped him, pulling him into their sodden flesh reeking of death.
"God, God forgive me!"
"General, for Kesus's sake, general, wake up!"
Vincent felt a slap across his face. The world returned.
He struggled for control, and this time he simply could not. A shuttering sob escaped him.
"My God, I'm in hell."
Gentle hands came around his shoulder. He could feel the bristle of a flowing beard against his cheek; it flashed memories of his father holding him when fear took hold of him in the night. Always his father would be there by the side of the bed, to scoop him up, to hold him and whisper the fear away.
"I'm in hell," he gasped, struggling for control.
"It's all right, son. You've done nothing wrong. It was only the dream again."
Shaking, Vincent struggled. He was the strength, the one they looked to. It was always the same now. God, could he never be the frightened boy again? Because in his heart that was how he felt all the time. To all of them he was the general, or the ambassador, and most of all the hero, the one who had slain tens of thousands and saved them all.
"It's all right, son, I understand," the old man whispered.
How he wanted to break down, to sob, to pour out all the terror within to this old man who held him. Just for once to let go and retreat back. On rare nights, all so precious they were, there would be the one other dream. It would be years ago, long before all this had ever happened. He was still a student at the Oak Grove Quaker school in Vassalboro. The scent of apple blossoms drifted in the air, and lazily he would look out the window to the beautiful sweep of the
Kennebec Valley. The dream was laden with a bittersweet dreaminess, a longing back to an innocent lost time so long ago, of running through the high grass of summer, his dog bounding joyfully by his side. Oh, God, to somehow be there again, to smell the breeze and feel the lazy peace. Before he had gone off to war and lost his innocence forever.
The old man was rocking him gently, and his thoughts returned. The old man could sense the coming back from the terror, and gently he let go and sat back.
"It's all right, son," Dimitri whispered, "I understand. I've heard you before but knew you would not want me to know. I'm glad, though, that I finally acted."
Embarrassed, Vincent tried to look away, but Dimitri grabbed hold of him and forced him to turn back.
"Out there," Dimitri whispered, nodding toward the door, "it'll always be the same. I will be your adjutant, old Dimitri, and you will be the famous general. But you are only human, son. I know the burden. A man cannot be human if the killing does not haunt him.
"Old Dimitri will keep the secret of his young hero." He smiled. "And I think you even more a man for knowing this of you."
Vincent struggled to hold the tears back, which burned hot at what he had just heard.
Unable to speak, he could merely nod his head in thanks.
"Come, general," Dimitri said, his voice changing. "I had to wake you anyhow."
"What's wrong?" He felt himself instantly awake, the nightmare disappearing, coiling within to come back later.
"Roum is under attack, my general. I think we have a war on our hands. Marcus wants you at once."
"Jesus Christ, not again."
He clambered out of the bed, even as Dimitri shouted for the orderlies.
"What the hell is going on?" Vincent snapped, the nightmare forgotten, impatient now with even a moment's delay as Dimitri and two assistants helped him to get dressed.
"A messenger came in to Marcus about half an hour ago. Raiders hit the port of Ostia shortly after midnight."
"That puts them about five miles away," Vincent replied, even as he looked over at the clock ticking on the mantel. It was nearly three. Whoever they were, they could have done a lot of damage by now, or worse, could be moving inland.
"They're not Tugar?"
"Human, that's all we know."
At least that was a relief. During the winter, scattered bands had hit the southern and eastern frontiers of Roum, several hundred miles to the southeast. Several thousand had been taken, but then the feared enemy had seemed to disappear off the face of Valennia.
Vincent buckled on his sword and turned to look in the brass mirror. Even at three in the morning an ambassador had to look calm and collected, the perfect warrior-statesman—even if he was only twenty. Reaching down, he unsnapped his holster, drew out the revolver, and checked that the caps and load were all right. The precious weapon had been a present from Emil. It was a light .36 Colt, intended more to impress than protect and one of only a handful of revolvers on the entire world. He spun the cylinders and holstered the weapon.
"Have the regiment and batteries formed in front of Marcus's palace."
"I've already had the alarm sounded," Dimitri replied.
Vincent looked over and smiled.
"Good. We've got an alliance with Marcus, and I want him to know right now that we plan to stand by it. We don't know what the situation is yet—it might be some damn pirate raid. Something's been brewing with those Carthas. Maybe this is it."
He stepped out into the darkened hallway, and the guards by his door snapped to attention. Vincent looked at them for a moment, they nodded, and his gaze shifted to Dimitri. Turning, he pressed on, Dimitri by his side. He was curious but did not want to ask.
"The men think you are refighting the old battles, soldier's dreams, nothing more."
Soldier's dreams. God, he was a soldier. O'Donald had called him one of the best killing machines on this planet.
"Let's go see if we need to practice our craft again," Vincent said, as if to himself, and leaving the palace they headed into the forum, which was already aswarm with men. To the south he could see the horizon glowing red. Again he was about to go into battle, and his stomach tightened with excitement and fear.
Squinting, he looked across the water as the mist took on a flat opaque light, breaking and swirling. The small port of Ostia was before him, resting on the shores on the Inland Sea, the River Tiber forming its northeasterly edge after tumbling down through the final cataracts and proceeding to the coast.
Most of the city was shielded from view by a low ridgeline half a mile out from town. All he could see was the flames leaping into the air, and beyond that, out in the misty bay, half a hundred galleys moving in toward the city. It was going to need a lot of rebuilding after this experience, Vincent realized, watching glumly as flames engulfed the small port from one end to the other.
Vincent lowered his field glasses and offered them to Marcus, who looked at them with curiosity.
"It will enable you to see objects far away," Vincent said.
Marcus raised the glasses and gasped as he pointed them out to sea.
"Carthas," he hissed angrily.
"What the hell for?" Vincent said as if to himself. "If reports are right, they'll have their own horde arriving in another six to eight months. There's no sense to this."
Vincent looked back over his shoulder. The paved road leading down from the city and across the broad open valley behind him was covered with a long serpentine column of men, the city reserves, mostly armed slaves. The first and only legion of Roum, which had been drilling since the Tugars had been repulsed, was deploying out on the slope behind him, forming a battle front of nearly a thousand yards. Directly behind him stood the men of the 5th Suzdal, with the Novrod light batteries beside them.
Their advance out of the city had been covered by a hundred mounted warriors, who had pushed back the thin screen of archers sent out to meet them. So far Vincent fell it was going to plan, with his deployment concealed from the enemy. The only problem was that the next line of hills, a half mile forward, was acting as a screen for the Carthas as well. A long line of men occupied the crest, armed with spears and bows, but what they had hidden directly behind that low ridge was a mystery.
The Carthas had done a clean job of it, he thought with grudging admiration. They had cut the town off, and not a single inhabitant had gotten back to the city to tell them what was actually going on.
"This doesn't seem right," Marcus said coldly, still gazing through the field glasses.
"If this was a pirating raid, they'd be pulling out by now. They'd be fools not to know your regiment of Rus infantry and two batteries of artillery are here. With those weapons you can slaughter them like pigs and destroy their ships."
Vincent grimaced with a sudden memory.
"Maybe they have such weapons too," he said quietly.
"What?" Marcus asked coldly.
"Before the Tugars came, we traded some muskets, powder, and a field piece for copper, lead, and zinc."
"Were you mad?" Marcus snapped.
"No, just desperate."
With a snort of disdain, Marcus looked at Vincent coldly.
"We needed the metal if we were going to win. It's possible they figured out how to make more."
Vincent beckoned for the glasses, which Marcus returned. For several long minutes he scanned the crest of the hill, but all he could see was pikemen with a thin line of archers deployed halfway down the slope.
"Nothing, not a damn thing. They have every intention of staying, though—they're unloading troops as fast as those ships can beach."
"We're hitting them now," Marcus growled angrily. "Hit them while only part of their force has landed."
"Could it be that's exactly what they want us to do," Vincent replied, suddenly feeling very cautious.
"The longer we wait, the stronger they'll be," Marcus snapped.
"My plantations are down there. In another hour they'll spread down the coast and destroy the rest of my estates," 1'etronius, oldest of all the senators, shouted angrily. "I want action now."
"Gentlemen, it's too easy," Vincent replied. "They're sitting there almost begging us to attack. Let's wait until that fog lifts a bit more and we can see what we're up against. In the meantime we can send forward a screen of skirmishers to probe their line and try to figure out what they really have." "I thought he was your ally," Petronius retorted. "I think he's just a boy afraid of a good fight."
Vincent looked over coldly at Petronius. The old man sat astride a horse, his heavy belly resting on the mare's back. His skin had a pale sickly hue to it, pockmarked from the smallpox, giving his features a hard, almost expressionless appearance, as if he were wearing a mask made out of old wax. He looked back at Vincent as if he were nothing more than the lowest of servants.
Vincent looked back at Marcus calmly.
"I'll not argue with you," Vincent said. "I've seen a long hard campaign against the Tugars, and got my rank through battlefield promotions, rising up from a private."
"A former slave, like the rest of his troops," Petronius said haughtily, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
"A free man, like my troops," Vincent snapped, looking back angrily at Petronius, regretting his statement, since it was diverting attention from what he wanted to say.
"All the same nevertheless," Petronius sneered.
Vincent looked back to Marcus.
"Let the fog lift off the ocean, see what's out there, and then attack."
Vincent could see a moment's hesitation on Marcus's part, and then he turned away.
"We attack at once. The longer we wait the more damage they will do."
Marcus looked back at Vincent.
"And what do you plan to do, my noble ally?" he said, the challenge in his voice obvious.
Vincent bristled at the cold disdainful looks of the patricians arrayed behind Marcus.
"The alliance stands, Marcus. My men will advance with you," Vincent replied stiffly. "I only hope for all our sakci you are right."
Trying to conceal his nervousness, Tobias Cromwell paced the deck of the Ogunquit, peering through the fog, which was brightening.
A small cutter appeared out of the mist, shooting acr the flat calm water as the dozen rowers strained at the oa
"They're getting set to advance," a messenger shouted the cutter swung in beneath the heavy battery of guns.
"Damn this fog," Tobias hissed impatiently. And yet the same time he found himself chuckling inside. Hamilcar had seized on the advantage at once, advising Tobias to lie out in the mist along with the rest of his gunboats and Jamie's ships until the battle was joined. The additional surprise it might offer could have a telling effect, and he had realized the possibility. It was just the waiting that was so unnerving.
A low flat boom echoed across the water, and he instantly recognized the sound as a battery firing in volley.
It was almost time, and a smile crossed his features. The captives had revealed that it was only one regiment facing him, the 5th Suzdal, under that young Hawthorne. Damn it all, it would have to be him, Tobias thought grimly. Out of all the lot he had developed something of an admiration for the boy.
"Let's get some steam up," Tobias shouted. "We're moving in."
"Shake out that line there," Vincent shouted. "You look like a bunch of amateurs!"
The 2nd Novrod battery, a hundred yards away on his lift, snapped off with another volley. Turning, Vincent watched as the shots hit into the Cartha ranks over on the next ridge. The enemy line wavered under the pounding.
Damn them, why couldn't they just break and run? But it was all too obvious they had seen gunfire before. He could remember the first time O'Donald had fired a Napoleon over the heads of the Rus when they had first arrived on this planet. The entire horde of them had broken and run. These men were used to what guns could do.
Vincent could feel the trembling inside. Is this how An-ilrew felt, standing thus before a regiment under fire, waiting to go in? But Andrew wasn't here now; this battle was going to be his and his alone. Success or failure was his responsibility, and the deaths, God help him, his as well.
The regiment was drawn up in perfect order, a battle front two hundred yards wide, a double rank of seven companies forward with three companies in column as reserve, five hundred and twenty men. To either flank Marcus had deployed his forces, nearly ten thousand men of Roum. Vincent looked at them critically as well. There were no fabled legions of Caesar here such as he had read of in the Gallic Wars. That was hoping for far too much.
Two thousand years of Tugar rule would never have tolerated
such a thing. The Roum had become as servile as the Rus across that time.
At best they were an armed mob, carrying pikes, shields, clubs. The only disciplined formation was the imperial guard of the first legion, and even they left something to be desired as the ten block formations fifty men across and ten deep came up over the crest of the hill and started into their advance.
Vincent silently cursed as Marcus rode past him on the right, leading the advance, surrounded by his patricians. The best troops should have been kept in reserve—he should have sent the militia in first to probe the enemy and committed the best units for the kill.
Better to lose untrained militia than the few professionals on this field, he thought grimly. Turning his mount about, he looked back at his regiment again. It was madness to commit them like this, but it was politics now, not sound military sense, that had to guide him. In this first action he had to show Marcus the alliance was committed, an action that would kill more than one of his men in the next couple of minutes.
"We'd better get this moving!" Vincent shouted. He looked down at Dimitri, and at Yurgenin, who directly commanded the 5th, and at Major Velnikov, who commanded the 2nd battery
"Velnikov, advance with my regiment and deploy at one hundred yards. Bugarin, your battery stays on the hill and will fire in support."
Velnikov looked over at his cousin and smiled.
"The glory goes to me, my friend," he laughed.
"Goddammit, we're not after glory here," Vincent snapped,
Velnikov fell silent.
Vincent looked down the line. The legion was up over the crest now, the first line sweeping past the regiment to either side.
"All right, men. These people are counting on us. Show them how free men from Rus can fight!"
Steel rattled on steel as razor-sharp blades were locked into position.
With a deep-throated roar, muskets were dropped to the level, the sunlight gleaming on the burnished blades.
Turning, he pointed his sword down the hill. The color bearers and guards stepped in front of the line.
"The 5th will advance!"
The drummers picked up the beat, and with parade-ground precision the regiment stepped off, flags snapping in the late-morning breeze. Spurring his mount, Vincent rode forward, Dimitri and Yurgenin riding by his side.
Onward they marched, the drum cadence marking the step, trampling through the high grass, crossing over low stone walls, aligning to the center, the line a precision cut across the open fields.
Forward the Carthas held their serried ranks along the Crest of the hill, a wall of pikemen a quarter mile across, their leveled blades poised and waiting.
The range closed to four hundred yards, and inwardly Vincent prayed that somehow they'd break. The thought of stopping at one hundred yards and pouring measured volleys into their defenseless ranks left him cold and filled with loathing.
Yet as he looked over his shoulder he was swept up by the beautiful terrible power of men advancing with chilling precision, as if on parade.
"As terrible as an army with banners," he whispered, awestruck that all of this was his, the men looking at him as if he were the center actor on the stage, sword held high, pointed forward.
Through three hundred yards, and then two hundred, the measured tramp of the men thundered across the field, counteroointed by the shrieking of artillery rounds arcing overhead, plowing into the Cartha lines with deadly effect.
To his left he heard a wild shout, and looking over, he saw Velnikov galloping down the slope, waving his hat, racing ahead of the line, his six limbered guns bouncing and careening.
"Goddammit, Velnikov, stay with the formation!" Vincent roared, but he knew he wouldn't be heard. The damned artilleryman was after glory. The guns swung out not a hundred yards in front of the Carthas, the crews leaping off the limbers, untrailing the weapons, and swinging them around.
And in that moment the center of the enemy formation suddenly melted away, the pikemen casting weapons aside, streaming to the rear in what appeared to be a mad panic before a single shot had even been fired. A wild shout went up from behind, and looking back,
Vincent could see his ranks starting to break, ready to surge forward.
With a roar of anger, he stood tall in the stirrups and held his sword straight out to one side, motioning for the men to hold, to keep formation.
The discipline held; the outward surge eased back.
Something was wrong now. It was too easy. Anxious, he looked down the line and saw the discipline break away as the legion broke into a ragged charge, Marcus and his patricians swept along by the weight of their own men pressing in from behind. Coming out of the low ground between the two ridges, the legion swarmed up the slope, cheering, waving their spears, disintegrating into the mad rush of a mob eager for blood, closing the last hundred yards to the crest.
The top of the hill was empty for but a moment. As If rising out of the grass, teams of men pushing wheeled carts crested the hill flanked by a double rank of infantry armed with muskets.
"Merciful God in heaven," Vincent whispered.
He could still get out, pull back. But he couldn't leave Marcus's people out here to be slaughtered. There was only one thing to do.
"Fifth Suzdal at the double!"
The first puff of smoke appeared from the cannon farthest down on the right and in an instant ripped down the entire length of the Cartha line, as forty guns opened up on the advancing army.
A slash of iron hail slammed into the 5th. Men dropped, tumbled into the grass, screaming in pain, as the canister cut bloody swaths through the ranks.
Yurgenin spun his horse around, tumbled from the saddle, and was still. Vincent looked back for a second, but the men were still coming on.
"We've got to get into range," Vincent roared. "Their gunners aren't that good."
Velnikov's battery kicked off its first salvo, and he could see great slashes cut into the lines of musketmen and gunners poised on the hill.
The range closed to one hundred and fifty yards, the regiment surging forward, battle flags forward, the men shouting hoarsely.
"A hundred yards, almost there," Vincent roared, and
then in a numbing flash that ripped down the entire Cartha line another volley slammed out.
His mount surged upward, screaming in anguish, rolling over. Scrambling madly, Vincent jumped clear as the one-ton animal slammed into the ground, kicking and screaming.
Shaken, he stood up and held his sword aloft.
"Come on 5th, forward!"
Dimitri, leaping from his mount, fell in by Vincent's side as their line closed in.
"Just a bit more! Come on, men, come on!"
The left flank passed Velnikov's battery as the six guns leaped backward. A Cartha field piece flipped into the air, tumbling over, and the 5th shouted with triumphant rage.
Sprinting hard, Vincent dashed ahead of the line, sword held high, as another hail of canister swept past, cutting down the regimental flag-bearer into a bloody heap. Instantly a color guard swept up the cherished emblem and pushed on.
Turning, Vincent looked back, and holding his sword aloft, he pointed it straight out to the side.
"Regiment, halt! Halt, dammit!"
Panting, the men drew up, the line holding firm, and he felt his heart swelling with a dark consuming pride. He had drilled them, taught them before the Tugars, and had trained them even for this, the day when they might have to face weapons like their own. "Regiment, take aim!"
"Aim low, boys—remember, aim low!" Dimitri roared. Vincent and Dimitri stepped back behind the ranks.
A sharp volley ripped down the line, and through the smoke he could see dozens of the enemy go down. "Independent fire at will!"
A blast of canister cut through the rank next to him, stopping half a dozen men. A young Suzdalian boy staggered out of the line, shrieking hysterically, holding his hands to his face as blood spurted out, running down his arms like a river.
Unflinching, Vincent turned away from him. "Faster! Load faster!"The first musket was shouldered and fired, followed within seconds by hundreds more.
"Pour it into them! Break them up, break them up!"
Stepping behind the ranks, Vincent walked down the line, shouting encouragement, pointing forward, peering through the smoke to see the effect. The enemy were still firing, the canister cutting out, slashing holes through his lines, his precious ranks of men. The flat hum of canister and musket rounds snapped through the air, counterpointed by the deadly return fire of the Suzdalian rifled muskets.
A deep throaty roar echoed from the left, and in the smoky gloom he could see Velnikov's guns engaged in then deadly work, pounding in solid shot topped with canistri against the enemy artillery. But the damage was coming back out as well, for even as he watched, one of the guns spun around on its mount, a wheel careening into the air( sliced clean away from the barrel. In the milling confusion to either flank he could not see if the Roum were advancing or retreating; the mob was simply surging about.
Looking back, he saw the three reserve companies holding formation fifty yards back, the men standing ready.
"Here, sir," and the old man came up by his side.
"When I give the word, I want the three reserve companies to go in at the double, moving them up directly behind the volley line. We'll volley-fire, and when the flags start forward, push them through."
With a salute, Dimitri ran down the hill, waving for reserves to come forward. Vincent stalked back down line to the center, positioning himself next to the flags.
"Hold for volley fire!" Vincent roared, and the or raced down the line. The men loaded and brought their red-hot weapons up to signal they were ready. The smoke lifted briefly, and he could see that the enemy had staggered; gunners were down, the fire was ragged, were punched into the ranks of musketmen between cannons.
"Companies A through G will fire and reload!"
"Volley fire present!"
A snapping thunder leaped out
"Reload! Now, Dimitri, charge 'em!"
With a wild shout the three reserve companies shouldered their way through the line at the run, bayonets leveled, Dimitri at the fore, sweeping up the regimental flag and pushing him forward with the tide.
"Charge, charge!" The cry roared down the line at the sight of their comrades rushing in.
Vincent stepped forward, waiting the last precious seconds, making sure the men were reloaded. If there were any more surprises beyond that hill he wanted them ready.
Turning, he held his sword on high.
Even as he screamed the command he heard the tearing roar of a heavy musket volley slashing out from just beyond the ridge. Forward, through the smoke, he could see the regimental flag go down. Like an ocean his command surged forward, caught now in the wild fervor of battle. He felt himself out of control, swept along by a tide he could not Hop. There was nothing he could do now but run. The last ynrds seemed like an eternity.
The enemy gunners were starting to break, but some held grimly to their posts, their guns leaping into the air, the deadly canister cutting gapping holes in the line.
But it was too late, all too late. Before him he could see the reserve enemy ranks, hidden beyond the low fold of ground, rising up with muskets poised.
The three companies forward came staggering back screaming their rage, unwilling to break, yet forced, as if by some unseen hand, to fall away.
Another sheet of flame licked out, musket balls snicking past, filling the air with their deadly hum.
The 5th slowed, stunned, and then singly and then by the hundreds the men, no longer commanded, but guided now by the darker instincts of war, raised their muskets and fired back.
Dimitri appeared, staggering out of the smoke, dragging the wounded flag-bearer with him.
"It's a slaughter!" Dimitri roared. "They had a damn reserve in the high grass four ranks thick!"
"Pour it in!" Vincent screamed. "Pour it into those bastards!"
The two lines stood poised not thirty yards apart, firing blindly into the smoke, the only sight of the enemy the perpetual sheets of flame erupting from the other side.
Stunned, Vincent stepped back from the line.
I'm a field commander, he screamed to himself. What the hell do I do now? What the hell would Andrew do?
Taking a deep breath, he struggled for control, and gradually the clarity of thought returned.
A quick look down the line and he could see that though stunned, the regiment was holding, either through pride or in the shock of the surprise—they could not think of anything else but to stand and fire back. Andrew had told him how green regiments would stand out of sheer ignorance when veterans who knew better would turn tail and run. Whatever the reason, the 5th was holding for the moment
He could see that Velnikov's guns were still in action, but the battery was now firing off to the flank, and in that instant he realized all was lost. The enemy muskets were not just arrayed against him. The sheets of fire from muskets and cannons were extending all up and down the line along a front of nearly six hundred yards. The Roum had already broken, and by the thousands were running to the rear. He could see that nothing would stop their panic until they were inside the city walls.
"Dimitri. Pass the word. Get our wounded out of here. Detail one man to each wounded who needs help. We're not leaving our people behind!
"Tell Velnikov to get the hell back up to the next ridge!" Vincent shouted to a trembling orderly, who saluted and raced down the line.
"Dimitri, the regiment will retreat by line," Vincent shouted. "First line to retire ten paces and reload. Second line will fire, then fall back twenty paces. We'll leapfrog back up to the ridge."
It was an unorthodox maneuver they had never drilled lot,
Dimitri saluted, and, shouting commands, he started to race down the line.
The first rank started to fall back, and the Carthas, seeing the pullout, began to push forward.
"Second line, volley fire present!"
Muskets were leveled into the faces of the advancing foe.
It seemed as if a shot couldn't miss, so close were the enemy.
"Retire twenty paces and reload!"
The discipline was still holding, but he could sense a near panic starting to build as the men turned and ran. For a moment, Vincent feared that they would simply keep on going. The men broke through the line behind them and continued. Vincent stopped with the first rank, praying the company officers could maintain control behind him.
Turning, he looked back, and a moment of pure terror seized him. The Carthas were charging.
"Volley fire, present, fire!"
The enemy not a dozen paces away seemed to go down into a tangled mass, and the charge ground to a halt.
"Retire twenty paces and reload!"
The man next to him staggered backward with a grunt, holding his stomach and falling to his knees. Vincent reached down to pull him up.
"Leave me, goddammit!" the man shrieked.
The moment seemed to stretch into an eternity. He could feel his arms already going around his comrade, trying to null him to his feet. From out of the smoke he saw a broken line of Carthas coming forward, bayonets leveled.
"Dammit, sir, leave me!"
I le looked around wildly. The line was already disappearing back. He had to stay with his regiment. An anguish of self-loathing filled his heart as he let his hands slip away and the man slumped down out of his grasp. With a bitter curse, Vincent ran for his line, even as they presented muskets inward.
A sharp volley punched out as he dived into the ranks for protection. Coming up to his knees, he saw the wounded soldier still kneeling, and through the swirl of smoke a Cartha appeared, with bayonet leveled, and drove the blade into the man's back.
"You bastards!" Vincent screamed. For the first time he unholstered his gun, aimed it at the enemy soldier, and started to snap off rounds. The soldier's face exploded with blood as he staggered over backward and fell.
"Come on, sir, come on!" Someone was grabbing him by his shoulders, pulling him back. Still cursing, Vincent retreated with the line, following it back through the next
Another volley snapped out.
The pressure was easing off, the enemy advance in front of the regiment breaking apart under the cadence of volley fire.
Vincent went back up the hill, getting behind his regiment as it retreated, the men working with deadly efficiency. The Carthas forward were no longer pressing in; their attack was stalled now in the bottom of the valley. He looked to his flanks, and his gut tightened.
The legion was gone from the field, and already the Cartha lines were lapping around the edges, the enemy leery of advancing, holding back, but nevertheless firing with ever increasing effect. And then over the steady roar of battle a deeper, rumbling shriek filled the air. Looking to his right, he saw the remnants of Velnikov's battery cresting the hill and falling in beside Bugarin's. A massive plume of dust lifted into the air directly in front of the cannons. The gunners ducked down, pointing excitedly back out to sea.
Racing up the ridge for a better view, Vincent turned out to face the ocean, and his heart felt as if it had been stabbed. The fog had lifted, and there upon the waters was a dark low craft, smoke pouring from a single stack. The vessel was squat and ugly, like a metal shed floating on the placid sea.
"Where in the name of God . . ." Vincent whispered.
A flash of light snapped from the side of the craft, instantly obscured by smoke. Long seconds passed, and then he heard the round shrieking in, its voice low and full of death, the sound sliding up higher and yet higher. The banshee roar ripped overhead, and for a brief instant he saw the round coming in. A blinding flash filled the sky just beyond his battery, and a thunderclap detonation ripped across the landscape.
Stunned, he looked back at the ship, riding with terrible menace, out of reach on the ocean nearly two miles away.
It had to be Tobias, he thought grimly. Somehow the bastard had made an ironclad and armed it with guns far more powerful than anything in the Rus arsenal. A sense of forlorn despair filled his heart. A flag was flying from the stern of the vessel, and disgust filled him when he recognized it as the national colors.
"Better a rebel flag, you traitor," Vincent whispered, his voice filled with loathing.
Numb, Vincent stood on the crest looking at the fleet while the battle disintegrated around him. The legion was gone, streaming back to the city in mad panic. The Carthai were advancing all along the front, and the Rus units were the only organized formations left on the field.
"It's lost," a voice shouted behind him.
Marcus, oblivious of the death snapping around him, reined in his mount, and Vincent could not help but feel an admiration for this man, under fire for the first time, and yet showing all the calm detachment of a veteran Union officer. The sight of him reminded Vincent of what he was, and what still had to be done. He forced the ship out of his mind.
"It's lost," Marcus said evenly, his features pale. "Get your people out of here."
"We'll hold them for a couple of minutes more on this hill. It's going to be hell at your gates with that panic." Vincent pointed to the terrified mob rushing back to the city. "My people are the only disciplined forces left."
"I'll not forget this," Marcus said, and leaning over, he gripped Vincent's arm tightly.
"I want you to see how free men can fight, even when it's someone else's war," Vincent retorted sharply.
Marcus drew his hand away as he gazed at Vincent.
"It's a different world now, Marcus, and you'd better realize it," Vincent shouted, pointing back to the advancing enemy and the ironclad ships beyond. "Now go over to Velnikov. Tell that old bastard to pull his guns up, to, position two of them by each of the gates back into the city and put his last gun in reserve in the forum. I want Bugarian to split his battery, three guns on either flank of the 5th. After that, try to round up some of your cavalry to help screen our flanks, and see if you can dig up a horse for me as well. I'll see you back in the city. Now move it!"
Marcus looked down at Vincent, a smile crossing his features.
In a gesture that Vincent found to be almost amusing, Marcus saluted him, and then with a vicious tug he pulled his mount around and galloped off.
"It's not looking good," Dimitri cried, coming up out of the smoke, a retreating line of men behind him.
Vincent didn't respond. The enemy forward were now a good two hundred yards back, holding at extreme range. At least the pressure was off there. To his right, several hundred yards away he saw a column of Cartha troops cresting the ridge and starting to swing their line about for a flanking action. In a couple of moments they would be on him.
A thin smile crossed his features. Andrew had faced the same situation at Gettysburg, when the 35th had stayed behind to stem the rebel advance while the rest of I Corps retreated. Could he do as well?
"All right, Dimitri, we'll shake out into a long skirmish line, single-rank. I want the flanks bent back so the line is shaped like a horseshoe. Pull out Company A as a reserve in the center, artillery on the flanks. We'll pull back at a walk, wounded in the center."
Another shrieking howl tore across the sky, and not a dozen yards away a plume of dirt snapped up. Vincent held his breath waiting for the shell to explode and then ever so gradually exhaled.
"Fuses aren't that good. A dud," he laughed.
He looked back out at the ship again, There was nothing to be done about that now. But Andrew had to know what was happening here.
"I need a messenger!" Vincent shouted.
From out of the confusion a young Suzdalian came up to Vincent's side, his eyes wide with fear, a thin trickle of blood staining his blond hair.
"I'm a good runner, sir," the boy said, trying to control the fear in his voice.
"I want two of you!"
The boy beckoned for one of his friends to come over. The second one seemed younger than the first, Vincent thought, forgetting just how little difference there was between his age and theirs.
"Do you know where the telegraph station is in the city?"
"Yes, sir," the blond youth replied.
"All right, then. Have them send this message to headquarters back in Suzdal. 'Under attack by at least ten thousand Carthas, most likely far more, several thousand with muskets, thirty or more cannon. Led by Cromwell. Ogunquii converted to ironclad with very heavy artillery. Retreating to Roum. Expect siege within several hours."
"You got that, boy? Now repeat it."
The boy recited the message back.
"Good. Now both of you run like hell. If one of you gets hit, the other one has to get the message through."
The two saluted, turned and started off across the field.
With shouted commands, Dimitri pulled the lines in. It seemed to take an eternity. Behind the ridge, half of Bugarin's battery galloped across the back of the slope, the field pieces bouncing through the high grass. Velnikov's battery started out on its retreat, the drivers lashing their mounts, the gun crews running alongside.
Vincent felt a swelling of pride. By all rights the men should be in a blind panic, desperate to get the hell out and away from a fight that wasn't even theirs. The enemy formation on the right flank was starting to close in, a solid column of men advancing at the double. Bugarin swung his three guns around, and within seconds a sharp volley rang out, cutting a bloody swath through the formation.
"That's it!" Vincent roared. "Pour it into them!
"All right, at the walk, let's get the hell back to the city!" Vincent cried, and with a steady pace he started the regiment down off the ridge.
A thundering roar cut through the air, and with a soultearing shriek a heavy shell plowed into the ground directly in front of the line. Vincent held his breath, waiting for the detonation, as his men started to scramble away. Then ever so gradually he exhaled.
"Another dud," he laughed softly.
A thunderclap snapped out, cutting a bloody swath through his rank, bringing half a dozen men down.
"God damn you, Tobias," Vincent roared, looking back at the ship.
"A signal from Tobias. He's ordering us to break off the attack."
Hamilcar looked over at Hinsen, his eyes filled with rage.
"They're in a mad panic. We could be in their city before noon," he snarled darkly.
"It's not part of the plan," a voice growled behind him.
Hamilcar turned and looked back into the tent where the Merki had been concealed since landing under cover of darkness.
If only I could put you in front of a gun, he thought coldly, even as he washed all emotion from his features.
"Remember this is but the opening move," the Merki said sharply. "Maybe you could take the city, but once inside, your muskets could be overwhelmed in the narrow streets, and your artillery would be useless. Our purpose is a siege, not a storming."
"It was a good slaughter," Vuka laughed, shading his eyes to gaze across the field of battle. "But a waste of good meat," he whispered softly in Merki. Hulagar looked over at him coldly.
"Were those Yankees?" Hulagar asked, lowering the telescope provided by Cromwell and pointing to where the last of the 5th had disappeared but moments before.
"They were Rus infantry," Hinsen replied. "Prisoners report that Hawthorne is the ambassador. If that's the case, I'll bet they're his regiment, one of the best in the army."
"You know this Hawthorne?"
Hinsen's features hardened. The pet of Keane and Schuder, while everyone cursed at him. Everyone else got promoted, like Vincent, and until the last he was still a lowly private in the 35th, still kicked around by mick sergeants who wouldn't let him shit without permission. Well, it was the infantry and artillery he had trained that had smashed that goddam Quaker. Inwardly he hoped that afterward he'd find him dead on the field.
"I know him," Hinsen replied coldly.
"And you do not like him," Hulagar ventured.
"It was a pleasure to beat him today."
"His troops were good. Yours still need practice in this new war before you can match them on equal terms."
Hinsen suppressed an angry retort.
Hulagar looked back across the field. He had learned much in the last hour. The Roum were cattle; the fact that they had repulsed thirty thousand Tugars left him with even more contempt than before for Muzta's tattered horde. The Carthas had fought well enough for their first action. But the Rus had shown him something that would bear remembering. They fought as well as any of the Merki horde.
"I can see now why the Tugars were defeated by the Rus and Yankees," Hulagar said, looking over at Vuka and speaking in Merki.
Vuka gave a snort of disdain.
"They are still cattle."
Hulagar shot a quick look over at Hamilcar, who stood in silence, watching the exchange with a look of incomprehension.
"We will stand by Cromwell's plan," Hulagar said, turning away from Vuka to again face Hamilcar and Hinsen. "Order the men to advance slowly and keep the pressure on, but they are forbidden to break into the city."
With a nod from Hamilcar, the couriers galloped off.
"It is a good start," Hulagar announced. "Now let us see if they take the bait."
" 'Have retreated to the city. Cartha advancing to surround city for siege. Count three thousand plus muskets, at least forty field pieces. Twenty thousand or more infantry. Two heavy guns, at least fifty-pounders, repeat fifty-pounders, are being moved up.' "
Andrew paused for moment, looking around the table. All of the military staff were present, along with Kal and Casmar, prelate of the church, who besides his other duties with the church and the Supreme Court had become a trusted adviser to Kal. The room was Spartan, containing a simple long table with straight-backed wooden chairs surrounding it. Three of the walls were adorned with a variety of maps and dozens of charts and graphs representing the myriad of tasks associated with running the army, the industries, and the railroad, which administratively was still under Andrew's control as secretary of war. Out in the street below he could hear the chatter of the crowds in the great square, going about their afternoon business, oblivious to ilie crisis that was upon all of them. Andrew sighed, looked back at the telegram, and continued to read.
" 'Situation extremely critical, food supply in city only sufficient for two weeks. Casualties to 5th and batteries three hundred dead and wounded. Battery commander Velnikov dead. Three guns lost. Telegraph line soon to be cut, will reposition station beyond city to update our situation. Marcus expecting aid. Might capitulate if none forthcoming. Will stay here in city with men and hold until relieved.'
"Signed, 'Hawthorne.' "
Sighing, Andrew took off his glasses and sat back.
"Why in hell would Cartha attack Roum?" Hans asked, looking around the table.
"Cromwell attack Roum, you should say," O'Donald said coldly.
"Well, at least we know what happened to him," Emil said evenly.
"Yeah, and I wish to hell he had simply drowned," O'Donald retorted angrily.
"1 suspect that there is a lot more to this than meets the eye," Kal said, finally stirring himself. "The Tugars came two years early on their march. They should in fact be arriving this fall, the same time that the Merki horde would arrive in Cartha. I suspect that there is a relationship between this attack and the Merki."
"In what way?" Andrew asked.
"I don't know yet," Kal said, extending his one hand in n gesture of confusion. "Undoubtedly they have heard by now what we have accomplished, and perhaps they are concerned "
"We are over seven hundred miles north of Cartha," Emil said, as if trying to reassure himself. "What concern should we be to them?"
"If a fox killed the hens in the next farm, maybe you would consider getting a club," Kal replied.
"So you believe there is a link here," Andrew said.
"I suspect it. Nothing more yet."
"Well, he would have needed a hell of a big works to convert the Ogunquit," John Mina stated, "if that ironclad is indeed the Ogunquit. And to cast heavy cannons—that takes a lot of skill and the factory to do it. He's made nn arrangement with the Cartha, that's for certain. It's the only way that ship could have been turned out."
"Remember we did trade some guns and a field piece them a couple of years back," Emil said. "It must have made them awful greedy for more."
"Could it be that the Carthas are preparing to fight t Merki?" Casmar asked hopefully.
"If they were, why waste their strength attacking Roum?" Kal replied. "None of our ambassadors to them has ever returned—we gave it up a year ago. If they wanted technical assistance we would have provided it."
"Then one possible assumption is that Cartha is attacking with the full knowledge of the Merki," Andrew said quietly.
"You mean that bastard Cromwell has thrown in with them heathens?" O'Donald snapped, his voice brimming with contempt.
"Their Namer of Time would have been there last fall," Kal said. "The Merki know what was happening."
"Then he might be supplying them as well," Andrew whispered, suddenly feeling sick with the thought. God, could it all be starting again? he wondered.
"We know so damn little," Andrew whispered, and he inwardly cursed himself for this lack of attention. Except for the fortification line to the southwest and the slow beginning of a rail line down to it, all their effort had been focused eastward, with the assumption that if the Merki were a threat, it would be next year at the earliest. Another year would give them an army with sixty thousand rifled percussion muskets and over four hundred field pieces, many of them the new and heavier bronze twelve-pounders. And more important, there would be the potential of Roum manpower to fill the ranks, along with the precious resources under their control. The thought of the Merki now having similar weapons was something he had never seriously entertained.
"Our last report from the forward scouting parties was that the Merki horde was still moving straight east, well over a thousand miles away along the shore of the inland seas," Hans said.
"How old is that report?"
"A week old."
At least they were finally getting copper from the Roum to start telegraph-wire production again. They had scraped the bottom just to string the line to Roum. He could see the next step would be an immediate running of line down to the watch posts on the southwestern frontier.
"Typical horde equipment, nothing out of the ordinary."
"This is curious," Andrew said, trying to relax, to focus his attention on what had to be done.
"The horde is still moving on its regular path and should be in Cartha sometime around midwinter. The Carthas mount a major expedition to attack Roum, led by Cromwell, and they're armed with modern weapons."
"Could it be the bastard is simply renegade?" O'Donald said hurriedly. "He somehow takes over Cartha for a while and gets metal and powder production going, maybe even thinks he can lead a rebellion against the Merki. Well, the damn thing blows up in his face and he, and those who want to follow him, get the hell out and move to set up someplace else."
"You know, there's something to that," Emil interjected. "He can't go south—there's more of them Tugar cousins farther south; hell, they're all over the place. Only here, up north, have we smashed them up. It's the only safe place for humans on this entire world. So he figures it's a safe bet."
"Damn fool," Andrew whispered. "We would have taken him back in."
"Not him," Casmar said softly. "He was always too pride-ful, and all could see that he and you did not get along. To come back after running away would have been beyond him."
"But his crew were mostly Suzdalians," Andrew replied.
"He could have always lied to them, kept them in the dark about what happened, and what you would do if they returned."
Andrew nodded sadly. He certainly could have used that ship, and even Cromwell, pain that he was.
"You know something?" Kal said with a sad chuckle "The Merki have to cross the Inland Sea in their migration, and there's only one place, at the narrows between the northern and southern halves of the ocean. He might have plans within plans."
"So if he builds a base up here, he could sally southward come winter, and with that one boat bottle up the entire Merki horde on the west bank," Andrew whispered. "That means ..."
"It means there's only one other path for the Merki to follow," O'Donald interjected, standing and going over to map of the Inland Sea.
"If they can't cross at the narrows, they have to come north to get around."
"Straight at us," Hans snapped. "That bastard's inviting them to take us out."
Andrew looked around the room, suddenly unsure. There were too many possibilities.
"To what purpose?" Casmar asked.
"Father, he'll hold the winning card that way. He's got control of the sea, he can jump back and forth. If Roum surrenders—and remember we've already started upgrading its iron industry—he'll have a whole fall and winter to build more weapons, and then he can jump back to Cartha, stay in Roum, or even pick up the pieces after the Merki move on."
"If Roum surrenders," Andrew said quietly. All looked over at him. He picked up the telegram again and looked it.
" 'Marcus expecting aid. Will capitulate if none forthcoming,' " Andrew said evenly.
"Look, we don't know what the plan is," Andrew said, rising to his feet. "He could be in the employ of the Merki, but even if he is he might have his own plan anyhow. We can speculate endlessly about what his real purpose is. Gentlemen, we have to deal with the concrete, the crisis as it is here and now, and leave the speculation until we have more facts."
"We've got to move quickly," Hans said, standing up to join O'Donald by the map.
"That Marcus is a tough nut," Kal interjected. "He wants our weapons and our knowledge, but the last thing he wants is our revolution."
"And Tobias might be willing to offer the first two without the third," Andrew replied.
"If Roum surrenders, it could change our position in a drastic way," Hans said, peering at the map. "We'll be blocked in our expansion to the east and lose valuable resources, especially the mercury for percussion weapons and copper, zinc and tin, which would cripple our telegraph and any hope of breech-loading weapons."
"The weapons are one thing," Casmar interjected softly. "It's the other considerations, my friends. Before we even have gotten fairly started, we'll have a hostile neighbor. I've prayed that all our dreams will work, that men and women around this world can be united in a common dream of prosperity and peace, that we'll stand together against the hordes, that never again will any of us be cattle."
"If it's a Merki plot, father, they'll have turned not just the
Cartha but also the Roum against us. If it's a plot of Tobias's, we could possibly be in their path," Andrew said forcefully.
Only this morning he and Kathleen had awaked together in a world that had promised a peaceful place for their child to be born. He cursed inwardly. Was it all to start yet again?
"Gentlemen, it's also a question of honor," Andrew said softly. "We have pledged our word to Marcus. You're right, Kal, he is a tough nut, and he is definitely not interested in our social revolution. But I'll say this for the man—I think he is honorable. We have an agreement, and he'll wait to see if we'll honor it."
"SO we go in," O'Donald said, his voice eager.
"Mr. President," Andrew said formally, looking down the table, "I'm recommending to you that we order a full mobi lization of the army and send out an expedition for the reliel of Roum."
"I've never had to face anything like this before," Kal said cautiously. "You handled it all last time."
"The procedure is simple, Mr. President," Andrew said, shifting to Kal's formal title. "As president you are empowered to mobilize the army pursuant to a treaty obligation and send the army out.
"And the Senate?"
"Watch out for that damned Mikhail," O'Donald said coldly.
"For now you could define this as a military expedition without a formal declaration of war. We are not invading anyone, or suffering direct attack. We're simply sending an expedition to relieve an ally."
Andrew paused for a moment and looked down to the fit i end of the table, where a gaunt, sad-faced officer had sat in silence.
"John, what will we need and how long would it take to get things moving?"
The group looked over at John Mina.
"What are you sending?"
"Twenty-five thousand men and a hundred artillery pieces," Andrew said sharply.
"Twenty-five thousand?" Hans interjected, "Sir, that's five divisions out of six, and the sixth has one brigade down on the frontier. You're stripping our defenses here to the bone."
"The Merki are no threat at the moment," Andrew replied. "The threat is to Roum. Hawthorne reports they've landed twenty thousand already."
"He's just a boy," O'Donald said. "He could be overexcited."
"I trust his judgment," Andrew replied. "He took a good drubbing today and still kept his head about him. I think he's got enough sense to realize the danger of exaggerating."
"I agree with Andrew on that," Kal replied, "all personal feelings aside," and the group, relaxing a bit, chuckled softly.
"There could be more coming in," Andrew continued. "Remember, this is just the first day. There are a lot of unknowns here, and I want the numbers on our side. This is a political situation as well—I want Marcus to see what our strength really is, just in case he's wavering. If the numbers are on our side it'll mean fewer casualties as well in the long run."
"There's good wisdom in that," Casmar interjected. "With luck, such a force might scare those scoundrels off without a fight."
"I still don't like it," Hans said coldly. "Remember, he could always move the Ogunquit this way and his men as well."
Andrew looked over at his old mentor and smiled.
"I've thought about that. Remember with the rail line we can move troops back within a couple of days, while it'll take him at least five days to get here and longer for the galleys! We'll have the advantage. Once we push him out of Roum, no matter which way he turns our army will be there. While I'm gone, get some additional people working on the southwest bastion guarding the river approach just to make sure."
"What about old Fort Lincoln?" Kal asked.
"It's nearly five miles south of the city," Hans replied. "If he ever did run the Ogunquit past it, the men inside would be cut off."
"Regarding Roum," Andrew interjected, dismissing the concern about a strike against Suzdal, "we're not there first, my friend, but I want us there with the most. Besides, you and O'Donald will be here, and that's worth an extra division in itself."
"Now wait a minute, colonel darling," O'Donald roared. "If there's going to be a fight, and it looks like it'll be slam-bang artillery duel, I plan to be there."
"I'm leaving the 44th behind for security with you two in charge, but the 35th Maine goes with me. I'll feel safer knowing that."
"And you running off to see the action," O'Donald said with a huff. "You're the secretary of war—it should be Hans and me that go."
"I'm going up with the army, I have to. But I want Kal here with some backing."
Andrew looked over at Kal, who hesitated for a moment and then nodded in agreement.
"Now Kal," O'Donald said, a note of pleading his voice.
"President Kalencka," Kal replied with a grin, "and commander in chief, according to the constitution, Pat."
"You dirty scoundrels," O'Donald groaned, and mumbling a curse he leaned back against the wall and fell silent.
"Back to you, John," Andrew said, his tone making it clear the debate was over. "What do we need to move the army?"
John, who had already started to scribble furiously with a pencil, looked up at Andrew with a grimace.
"It'll take us to the limit, beyond it. If we had made the rail line a four-and-a-half-foot gauge instead of three-and-a half, our rolling stock could have handled more. This is rough, mind you, but I figure we'll need over seven hundred cars and fifty locomotives to do the job. I'd suggest sending up twenty-five days' rations with the army. The men can pack eight days' rations each; the rest can be loaded in boxcars. Batteries you should strip down to one horse per gun and one caisson. It's moving the horses and feed that's the tough part. Moving one of those damn big horses and its feed is equal to moving twenty men."
"One horse per gun?" O'Donald interjected. "It'll slow us down."
"We did it in the last war," Mina replied. "That's the beauty of the old four-pounders—the men can man haul 'em if need be. Even stripping it all down it'll still come down to that number."
"Damn, that's a tall order," Andrew said quietly.
"We've got the locomotives, but a lot of them are older models, not able to haul much beyond fifty tons, five carloads. Ten out of our fifty engines are in for overhauls. We can cut that short and get maybe all back out in a couple of days. There are eleven engines on the line now hauling construction equipment east or heading back, along with the four engines working at the railhead. I can send up word for them to dump off their supplies, turn around, and head back. It's the rolling stock that's a problem. We've got just over sixty passenger cars for the entire line, and that's not even enough for one division. Boxcars and flats we've got just under two hundred of each. The one advantage you've got is that we've got over four thousand men working along the line. They're all regular army, their equipment is with them. Most of those are already at the railhead, so that'll cut things somewhat, but not enough."
"So we're short?"
"If we press in all the hopper cars and cabooses, and throw in the forty dormitory cars for the construction crews, along with crane cars, everything with wheels, and load them down to the maximum, we might barely squeeze it, though we'll still be a hundred cars short. We'll have to overload, it's that simple. But you won't get more than twelve, fifteen miles per hour at best with the engines hauling that much."
"Why not run half up and then come back and fetch the rest?" Kal asked.
"It'd be a logistical nightmare, sir. We can run fifty trains up that single track, that's the easy part. It's gonna be a hell of a sight, I tell you, damn near four miles of rolling stock and locomotives all on one line. Yes sir, a hell of a s:ght."
John fell quiet for a moment as if lost in a reverie, and the group waited patiently for him to continue.
"But try to start turning them around in that traffic," John said softly. "There's only a couple of sidings at the railhead and one turntable in Hispania. The next major siding and rail yard is at the Kennebec River crossing two hundred miles back. We'd have a real problem running them back through that snarl.
"There's another problem I'm not even sure we can handle. We're running three trains a day each way up that line. Our tank stops for water might run bone-dry. We're going to have to haul along all the buckets we can find. If need be we'll fetch water from the rivers and filter it with muslin.
"Fuel's another problem. We're going to run through a couple of thousand cord mighty quick. Just running up the line is going to damn near exhaust our stockpiles. Turning trains around, moving them back here, then running them up again would be out of the question. As it is, if I can scrape up a spare train, I might just load it up with firewood to be on the safe side. Remember as well, chances are at least one engine will act up, might even break down, especially some of the older models. We'll have to be ready for that. Otherwise it could tie up everything to beat hell."
"Can all this be done?" Andrew asked.
"How soon, sir?"
"Two days," Andrew said quietly.
Mina gave a sad exhausted smile. Andrew looked at his logistical chief closely. The preparations for the Tugar war had pushed him over the edge, but with his burden of responsibility he could understand how it had happened. John had never seemed to recover completely from the strain. Yet he was a genius in what he did, pulling together a vast industrial operation out of what had been a medieval agrarian society less than three years ago. All that had been accomplished, the arming of a modern force with thirty thousand men and two hundred field pieces, the building of nearly seven hundred miles of rail line, along with the myriad of other tasks, would most likely have been impossible without Mina's skills. Andrew just feared that he was using this man up too fast.
"I'd rather have a week," John said quietly.
"We don't have the time, John," Andrew said gently. "It'll take us two days to get to the railhead. We'll lose half a day unloading. Then it's still over forty miles of marching, another two days at least. That's over a week. Those fifty-pound guns will undoubtedly smash the city walls to dust by then."
"You know, this mobilization will shut down our industry for weeks," John said. "Everything will come to a halt, with all the men mobilized. We're way behind on threshing equipment for the fall harvest, along with pipes for the water supply. It's going to throw everything out of kilter. We might even lose part of the harvest as a result."
"We'll still have five thousand men here," O'Donald said glumly.
"He's got a point there," John replied. "The men of the first division are drawn from the ironmills and mines."
"They're our best division, all of them veterans of the Tugar war," Andrew replied.
"You're keeping me and Hans behind," O'Donald countered.
"Hell, three of the other divisions have a lot of Tugar fighters in them; it's just the fifth and sixth that are new."
"The first goes with me. I want the best troops in the army for this fight."
"At least leave the 11th Suzdal from the third division out," Mina pressed. "They're our locomotive and boiler makers for our new steam-powered sawmills and pumps."
Andrew hesitated for a moment. The request seemed logical, but some inner instinct, which had always guided him in the past, took hold.
"They come with us. I might need them," he said quietly.
John shook his head in disagreement but said nothing.
"Two days, John."
The major stood up wearily, taking his scraps of note paper.
"If you'll excuse me, sir, I'd better get things moving," and with a salute to Kal he walked out of the room.
"All right, then, gentlemen, I think we have a lot of work ahead of us," Andrew said, realizing that the power of the meeting had shifted completely out of Kal's hands and back to his. It was a strange feeling after a year, and he could not help but like the sensation again. Kal looked over at Andrew and smiled, as if reading his thoughts, and Andrew felt a momentary discomfort.
"In war a general must lead," Kal said, as if to convey that he understood.
"I'm sorry Mr. President," Andrew replied. "Does all this meet with your approval?"
"It's a bit like old times again," Kal replied. "I'm sure your Mr. Lincoln must have felt his generals were in charge at times."
"Oh, that McClellan, now there was a fine one for politics," O'Donald laughed. "Our little Napoleon."
Andrew remembered the rumors that had swept through the army after Lincoln had relieved McClellan after Antie-tam, suggesting the Army of Potomac might be instrumental in a coup. It had merely been a rumor, but it had made him decidedly uncomfortable with the political clique that had been in control of the army in '62.
"I'm your secretary of war," Andrew said, "and I never wanted the job of vice-president. But always remember, sir, we are a republic. Never let your generals tell you what to do."
"I stand corrected, then," Kal replied, still smiling. "I must remember we are setting precedents every day."
"The political situation," Casmar interjected. "We should address that."
"Well, for foreign policy I'll send a telegram to Marcus immediately, if the line is still up, letting him know what we're doing and that we will lift the siege in no more than eight days. That'll give him the backbone to stay with us."
Andrew smiled. Kal was showing his political abilities to the best with his statement. The note would be one of full support, but there would be a subtle threat as well not to change sides in it.
The two looked at each other and smiled.
"I think Andrew's suggestions are sound for our local politics as well," Kal replied. "Even a day is crucial. I think we'll have the necessary support. But for now this expedition is moving under a presidential proclamation of a military emergency—my scribe will figure out the necessary wording. Let us hope this affair will be wrapped up in a couple of weeks anyhow without any need for a full debate and a declaration of war."
Andrew was tempted to add a word of caution. Wars were always started with the promise they would end with just one battle. This campaign looked as if it just might turn out that way. But he had been fighting far too long ever to believe in optimism.
"Things never go according to plan," Hans growled from the corner of the room, "I hope all of you remember that in the weeks to come. I suspect what we're seeing now is the mask of something far more subtle."
Smiling, Mikhail Ivorovich looked over at his fellow boyars, Alexander and Petra. With a nod he dismissed the scribe who had just read the message. The three waited until the door closed.
"So he really has done it," Alexander said, a grin of delight crossing his features.
"How sure are you of this message?" Petra asked cautiously.
"All three came over that Yankee wire. The one that our dear president sent back," and Mikhail's lips curled with disdain, "went out not an hour ago. I've had my people in that telegraph machine office for some time. I pay them well for this information."
"I thought these plots of yours were only a dream," Petra said coldly. "I still find it hard to believe."
Mikhail bristled inwardly, struggling for control. Where was Petra when the boyars were overthrown? he was tempted to ask. The old man had pleaded illness and hidden away in Mosva. He was not there for the humiliation; he had evaded service with the Tugars and then reemerged after the revolution and amnesty of boyars offered by Kal.
"I have worked on this for over a year," Mikhail said quietly. "It is no dream anymore."
"And it's about time," Alexander said with a laugh, picking up a tankard and draining off the rest of the beer. With a cheery belch he leaned over and scooped up another drink out of the open barrel by the side of the table.
"I'm getting sick of this joke called a Senate," Alexander said. "By Kesus's hairy ass, I could see no sense in your counsel of cheating my way into this office. I'm ready to vomit with the babble of these goddam peasants who think themselves better than us."
"Why did you not send for the other boyars?" Petra said dryly. "Why did you bring just us two into this?"
"Because you have a small mouth," Mikhail growled. "When it comes time to make our move, then I will tell the rest, and not before. They only need to know enough to act out their parts for now. Their reason for acting will come soon enough."
"How can I believe the secrets you have revealed to me about your plots of the last year? What you have told is beyond incredible. How did you maintain contact with him when not even that damned peasant Kal could find out?"
"One of the Yankees was in the pay of our dear lamented prelate Rasnar," Mikhail said evenly. "After Rasnar died, this man was able to contact me and offer his services. I ordered him to leave the city at the end and to lay the groundwork for this plan. He has served me well. The agents have stayed in contact infiltrating in and out of Suzdal. It was far easier than any imagined."
"Lamented prelate, but not dear," Alexander retorted with a laugh. "He was as shrewd a bastard as I've ever seen. He'd steal the coppers from a dead peasant's eyes, he would. Too bad he didn't win. But I didn't trust him, the same way I don't trust you."
Mikhail laughed softly. "Spoken like a true boyar," he replied. "But at least we can trust each other more than these filthy peasants. How much longer do you think we can stand against them? Last year, before their railroads reached to our provinces, we could still exert some control on our people. Our old men at arms who survived the debacle of the Tugars were still our base of power. But now with these damnable steam machines, people from our provinces come daily to this filthy den of peasant revolt. I'm seeing it more every day. They come here, or go to work in those monstrosities called factories, and then go home strutting as if they were of noble birth."
"Last week I had some scum approach me in my palace and not ask to see me," Petra said coldly, "not ask to see me, but damn my eyes they demanded to see me. Told me they'd turn me out of the palace if I didn't do this voting thing the way they wanted. One of them said he was just as good as me, no less."
"The arrogance of 'em," Alexander said coldly. "I'd have killed him and hung his head from the city gate."
"And been up on murder charges," Petra retorted, anger rising in his voice. "Murder charges, can you imagine that? Us charged for killing some arrogant animal of mean birth."
"Poor Ivan," Alexander mumbled. "To think they actually arrested him. Hell, it's something that was our right. Why, in the old days there were no questions asked when we took a peasant girl for a little romp. Now they call it a crime and they're actually going to put him up on trial."
"He was a fool," Petra said with disdain. "Doing it like that in the middle of a tavern with his men-at-arms holding her down. Damn him, at least he could have done it back in his palace in private."
"And cut her throat afterward, so she couldn't tell about it," Alexander grumbled.
"Your plan had better work, Mikhail, or it's the end of us," Alexander snarled.
"They were fools enough to grant this amnesty."
"I doubt if they would have done it if they knew you were alive," Alexander replied with a chuckle. "If I had been them I would have cut your throat, amnesty or not."
"They're too weak," Petra retorted. "They think men must live by pieces of paper with rules written on them."
Such thinking was still a mystery to Mikhail. Every day he sat in their foolish Senate made it yet more of an intolerable mystery. He knew they were destroying him. The open smirks on the filthy peasants who sat around him when they voted against anything he tried were like a wasting cancer tearing into his guts, eating him alive.
Yet there was support. There were eight former boyars and half a dozen men from the old merchant guilds in the Senate. He could sense their growing feeling of betrayal. Oh, the merchants had embraced this republic idea fast enough in the beginning. But these Yankee industries were driving more than one of them out of business. The others could see the way the winds were shifting.
The Yankee called Webster had created a thing he called incorporating, or some such foolishness. That was yet another mystery, how hundreds of peasants could turn in pieces of paper they called money, then receive other pieces of paper in return, and then overnight a new business would spring up, with prices that undercut the old families. He had gone to the building where these papers were traded back and forth, and left disgusted at the sight of mere peasants shouting and trading, wearing clothes that would have caused their death but a few years before. He was still enraged over how a filthy peasant had given him money for his crops before they had even been harvested. He had thought the man mad. Only to discover the bastard and the several hundred scum he represented had made twice as much as he had by the time it was done.
The old fortunes outside of the boyars were dying away. It was these new peasant upstarts who were now starting to dress in finery beyond their station. It was creating discontent, which he knew would play into his hands when the time came.
"They will have their surprise soon enough," Mikhail said with a cold laugh. "Then let them see how much power can be found in a scrap of paper."
"The line just went down, sir."
Vincent turned to look at the messenger.
"Anything come through?"
"We got this in just before it went dead," and the boy handed him a sheet of paper.
Vincent unfolded the piece of paper, scanned it, and then looked over at Marcus and smiled.
"Go on, read it to me," Marcus said coldly.
" 'To Marcus Licinius Graca, first consul of the people of Roum,' " Vincent said formally as if reading a proclamation.
" 'In two days an army of twenty-five thousand men and one hundred field pieces will depart from Rus to support you in your hour of need. Within eight days our forces will be at your gates to aid you in the destruction of our common foe. When victory has been won we will offer whatever aid is required to repair the damage.
" 'We are enraged that you, our comrades in this crisis, have borne the brunt of such a brutal and vicious attack, and we will stand beside you in your hour of need. Know that when the people of Rus make an agreement they will live by it to the death.'
"Signed, 'President Kalencka.' "
"Eight days," Petronius retorted with a snort of disdain. "What will they do to us in eight days?" He pointed across the field to a line of earthworks going up half a mile away.
Vincent looked back out to the siege lines going up. Thousands of Carthas swarmed along the ever-encircling line, throwing up a continuous circle of entrenchments and gun emplacements. They were playing a cautious game. Some of their light field pieces had been run up, opening a smattering of fire against the south wall. But the two heavy fifty-pounders had been held back so far, resting on a low hill over a mile away, far out of range of his remaining battery of nine four-pounders. Tobias wasn't risking moving them up to effective battering range until they could be well protected.
Then again, the whole thing had seemed far too cautious. Less than seven hours ago the entire army had been in rout, with the Carthas pushing forward. And then without any sense of logic their attack had ground to a halt while still two miles out from the city wall. At the time he had thanked God for the respite, since the chaos around the gates had been a nightmare.
But now, it just didn't seem correct. He should have pressed the attack and slaughtered all of them as I would have, Vincent thought coldly. There was no military logic in this.
"I like that closing line," Marcus said quietly, interrupting Vincent's thoughts.
"The one about living by an agreement to death if need
"I know the president rather well, sir," Vincent said quietly. "He's a man of great honor when it comes to his word."
"Could he be saying something to us as well?" Petronius retorted coldly.
Caught off guard, Vincent struggled to catch Petronius's meaning.
"I think Senator Petronius is saying that there's a threat in that note to us as well," Marcus replied.
"I don't see it that way." Vincent replied.
"You are a rather guileless ambassador," Marcus said with a smile.
"It's their war far more than ours," Petronius interjected, the passion in his voice rising. "Those weapons they have are the same as yours. Without your deviltry my plantation would not be a smoking ruin. I for one think what is happening here is between you and them and we are innocents caught in the middle."
Petronius stepped before Marcus as if Vincent was not even present.
"Ask for terms," Petronius said. "We're all in agreement that we don't want the threat of what these Yankees bring. Now we know there is another source for their power. Their cannons are bigger—even that boy admits to it. Perhaps they will give us these things and the secrets of making them, and then we can say to hell with the Yankees and their peasants."
The half-dozen senators who stood behind Petronius nodded in agreement.
"They've given us nothing at all, except trouble," Catullus snapped.
"Today I lost three hundred men dead and wounded," Vincent retorted, his voice edged with a cold anger. "Those were the finest troops this world has ever seen. I trained them, and they were my friends and comrades, so don't any of you say we haven't given anything here. When I go home I'll have to see their families and try to tell them their husbands and sons died for something, and now you make a mockery of that."
Vincent knew his anger was taking control, but he had just about had enough. Dimitri, who was standing off to one side, though not understanding a word of what Vincent had said, could see his anger and made a subtle gesture for him to be silent, but Vincent ignored him.
"We broke the Tugars' back, we stopped the pestilence, and we paid the price. Half of our people died doing it."
"We didn't ask you to," Petronius retorted. "The world worked well enough before you came."
Vincent sensed all control slipping away. Part of his mind was screaming at him to remain silent, to remember what he was now, and to remember what he had once been. But the other part was driven by other memories. The thousands of dead in the streets of Rus, all the killing, the look in the soldier's eyes as he let go of him and ran only hours before. He wanted to kill Petronius, and the thought both terrified and excited him.
Marcus was looking straight at him, his back turned to the senators, and Vincent could see the look of warning in the first consul's eyes.
"When you took command on the field today," Marcus began softly, "you proved yourself far more of a man than I had first believed. I could not understand before that why you had been given this post other than for your knowledge of our language. I believed you were sent to us merely because you had married the daughter of your president."
Vincent felt himself bristling, but the look in Marcus's eyes were full of warning.
"I know better now," he said evenly, and then he turned to look back at Petronius.
"By the way, I never bothered to ask, but where were you when our men ran away?"
Petronius glared at Marcus with a cold rage.
"You ran. I saw you far ahead of all the others riding back to the city," Marcus said accusingly, and then pointed back to Vincent. "While this man and his Rus soldiers fought to protect our retreat. You are not fit to wear the toga of a senator. The god Cincinnatus must look down upon you with disgust."
"You have no right," Petronius retorted.
"I have every right," Marcus roared.
"Out on that field this man took over. Took over from me when I did not know what to do. He ordered me and I obeyed him, since I knew he was right. I told him then I would not forget what he did. 1 will honor that word." "The Senate will debate this," Petronius said coldly.
"Let them!" Marcus snapped. "But I plan to give them their eight days, and I'll crucify any man who dares to say either in the Senate chamber or the forum that we should seek peace with those people out there."
"We can bring you down," Petronius replied, his voice full of menace.
"The Licinius family has stood as first consul for four hundred years," Marcus snapped. "The legion will stand with me."
"The legion is a humiliated rabble tonight," Catullus hissed.
"My men aren't," Vincent replied, his rage having passed to a cold deadly calm.
"It's not your place," Petronius said tauntingly.
"Our treaty is with Marcus and then the Senate," Vincent replied. "We will not stand by while a revolution overthrows his government."
"Boy, you have no say in this," Catullus said. "You are nothing but an ambassador."
"I am a representative of my government," Vincent replied. "They'll back any decision I make here.
"And besides," he said, a thin smile lighting his features, "since I am married to the daughter of the president, he'll have to back me in anything I do, even shooting you as a traitor if I should feel like it."
His gaze locked on Catullus as he casually reached down and unsnapped his holster flap, exposing the butt of his pistol.
Stunned, Catullus looked around for support.
"This is an outrage against the body of the Senate," Petronius shouted.
"I see only six senators here," Marcus retorted. "Now if there is nothing else, I want you out of my sight."
The six looked at each other, as if something had yet to be done. Vincent stepped forward to stand by Marcus's side, hand still on his pistol. Dimitri came up to join him, leaning against the battlement wall with his musket pointed casually toward the ground.
"It's not finished," Petronius snarled, and turning, he stalked down the steps of the battlement, the others following behind him.
"I don't know a word of what you folks said," Dimitri drawled out with a smile, "but I think they were planning to kill Marcus."
"What did he say?" Marcus asked, exhaling slowly as he turned away.
"They wouldn't dare," Marcus said with a cold laugh.
"Et tu, Brutus," Vincent replied evenly.
"I'll tell you sometime," Vincent said. "is would finally break.
The damnable problem was that the walls of the city were designed without any thought to gunpowder. They were too high and too thin, and worse yet there were no sections of the battlement wide enough for his field pieces to be deployed with enough safe clearance for recoil. He had tried to lash a gun in with short ropes to stop the carriage from rolling back. On the fourth shot the gun cracked a trunnion, putting it permanently out of action.
Their only weapons with any range were the twenty double-torsion ballistae, with a range of four hundred yards, useless against the enemy entrenchments.
He looked back out to the enemy battery. If only he had a couple of squads of snipers armed with scope-mounted Whitworths, they could play hell with the gun crews. If I ever get out of this, he thought coldly, it's something I'm going to make sure gets done.
"Everybody down!" a lookout screamed.
The slaves dropped their tools, scrambling in every direction. Vincent felt exposed, naked, but like a proper officer he had to show disdain for fire. With a measured casualness he turned his back to the enemy battery and looked down at the breach.
A high piercing howl filled the air. Stunned, he felt a rush of air, and for a terrifying instant thought that he was finished. A gaping hole appeared in a house facing the breach, followed a second later by a thunderclap flash of light and smoke. A side wall of the house burst open, spilling the shattered wall into the street, crushing three men who had dived into the gutter for protection. Roofing tiles sickled through the air, shattering against the side of the building across the street.
Terrified screams rent the air. Men came to their feet and in panic started to rush down the street, away from the explosions of death.
Vincent watched as a squad of legionnaires rushed out, shields up, blocking the retreat. Metal snicked out and a slave staggered back screaming, holding his side. The mob stopped, and then sullenly gave back, cursing, returning to their labors.
"Can you keep ahead of the damage?"
Vincent turned to face Marcus, who had come up behind him.
"You know, sir, it really isn't too wise for both of us to be together like this under fire."
"What you're trying to say is that you want me hiding back at the forum."
"Sir, if you should get killed, I think you know what will happen."
"Catullus and Petronius would like nothing better," Marcus said with a smile. "Can you hold them off?"
"It's still five days till reinforcements arrive," Vincent said quietly. "If they keep this hammering up, they're going to have a hole in our lines a hundred yards across. My rifles couldn't possibly hold a breach that wide. I've already lost nearly half my men as is."
"That's what Petronius supposedly said last night."
"Can you hold him off?"
Marcus looked over his shoulder at Boris and the rest of his bodyguard.
"You were right about the assassination," Marcus said quietly.
"An hour ago," Boris said excitedly as he came up beside Marcus.
"Let him tell it—he saw it far better than I did," Marcus said with a smile, looking over at Boris and patting him on the shoulder.
"We was going down to the south wall. It was a crowded street, people milling about. Suddenly I saw this flash of metal. They were on him in no time. Well, Marcus here got the first one and no mistake. I got the second one with the bayonet," and he nodded to his blade, which was covered with dried blood.
"You never should have let them get that close!" Vincent roared angrily.
"If you're upset with him, don't be," Marcus replied soothingly, sensing the anger in Vincent's words. "He did a good job."
"They could have just been two madmen," Marcus said as if dismissing the subject.
"I doubt that," Vincent snapped in reply.
"Well, there's no way of ever proving it, so it's best to drop the matter."
Vincent stepped away from Marcus and drew up close to Boris, who looked at him wide-eyed.
"You got it half right the first time," Vincent said coldly. "You'd better make sure you get it completely right the second time. If he gets killed, this whole thing will unravel, and I'll have your head for it."
"Yes, sir," Boris said, his voice trembling.
"All right, then, we understand each other, Boris," and he turned away.
He hated to command this way. He had always done it before by sharing the hardships, ordering softly, leading by example. For the first time in his career he had threatened a
soldier, and he found it distasteful. But there was no other way.
Vincent looked back down at the breech, where the slaves were back at work building the secondary wall.
"You know, Marcus, you have nearly two hundred thousand people in this city, yet only ten thousand under arms."
"What are you suggesting?" Marcus asked.
"When they storm this town, the advantage of weapons will be squarely on their side."
"If your people had delivered the thousand muskets that you promised, the odds would be better."
"Sir, we still have another division to arm at home. Once the surplus of weapons started we would have sent them."
He knew that was a lie. After seeing the slave labor in Hispania after the formal treaty signing, Kal had made it clear that he would not arm a government that could use those weapons against its own people. The old-style smoothbores were sitting in the warehouses by the thousands waiting for conversion to rifling. At the moment Vincent wished he had compromised on that issue and sent the equipment up.
"You have over a hundred thousand men in this city working like the ones down there," Vincent said, pointing to the gang of slaves, who looked up nervously at the two leaders gazing down at them.
"They fought tooth and nail against the remnants of the Tugars."
"Because they knew that if they failed, two out of ten of them would go to the feasting pits."
"They could fight against the Carthas. Their numbers would tip the scale."
"What for?" Marcus replied.
"For a chance at freedom, Marcus," Vincent replied.
"You said before Petronius that you would not support a revolution against me. What is it you are proposing now but a revolution?"
"I'm proposing a salvation for you. If you offered emancipation to the slaves of this city in return for their fighting, damn near every one of them would follow you. Hell, you're already viewed as something of a hero to them for turning back the Tugars. They'd follow you, Marcus." "And my country would be destroyed when it was over
"Marcus, without them, you'll have no country."
"Don't push me," Marcus said coldly. "In five days' time your comrades will be here. They must know that out there, they'd be mad to stay and be caught by your army."
"Oh, they know we're coming," Vincent replied, thinking back to the mystery of why the telegraph line had not been cut. "I half suspect they want Andrew to come here with the army."
"I don't know. But I suspect all of us, you, Andrew, everyone is being maneuvered for some other plan."
"And don't maneuver me for your plans," Marcus said evenly. "I've come to like and admire you, young though you are. But you have the streak of a dreamer in you, Vincent Hawthorne. Maybe it is this strange absurd Quaker belief you carry."
"I don't know if I can call myself a Quaker anymore," Vincent said sadly. "I've killed too much to still claim my belief."
"Would you rather have lain down to the Tugars, or to those out there who we both suspect are the human mask of the Merki?"
"No," Vincent whispered, somewhat ashamed at giving an open voice to his denial of faith.
"My belief in freedom still stands, though," Vincent continued.
"And my belief in maintaining Roum as the eternal it has always been remains as well."
A thin smile creased Marcus's handsome but careworn features.
"I think we are at an impasse, my young ambassador," Marcus said, making it clear that the debate was finished.
Vincent suddenly noticed they had been standing on the battlement for some time, and not a shot had been fired from the heavy siege guns, or from the lighter weapons. Turning away, he walked over to the wall.
Across the field, alongside the battery he saw several horsemen. Pulling out his telescope, he raised it.
"It's Cromwell," Vincent hissed, offering the glass to Marcus.
"I'd give damn near everything to have a Whitworth," Vincent snapped, enraged at his impotence.
"Something's up," Boris announced.
One of the three horsemen broke away from the group, riding up over the battery ramparts, and started across the field. A white flag fluttered from his lance.
"What does a white flag mean?" Marcus asked.
"It's the symbol of truce. They want to talk."
Marcus looked over at Vincent.
"There's nothing they can offer, Marcus. It's a calculated move to play on our weaknesses."
"Let's first hear what they have to say."
The horseman drew closer, waving the flag over his head, slowing as he approached the wall. The lone rider came to a stop fifty yards out and held the flag up high.
"Come forward!" Marcus shouted.
Cautiously the man drew up before the breach, gazing at the ruins with interest.
"Boris, level your gun on him," Vincent ordered.
With a grin of delight, Boris stepped up to the edge of the breach and clicked the hammer of his weapon, the sound causing the rider to look up.
"You'd better have business with me or I'll order you shot," Marcus announced.
"I am seeking Marcus Licinius Graca, first consul of the Roum."
"I am here," Marcus replied sharply.
"It is the wish of my commander that you come before him in parley so that the differences between us can be settled without further resort to blood. He will promise your safety."
"Not yourself," Vincent replied sharply. "It's not done, and you don't dare leave the city."
"I will send an emissary."
"You have nothing to fear from us," the envoy retorted, his voice full of irony. "We pledge your safety."
"Like hell," Vincent replied. "Send someone else."
Marcus looked down at Vincent and smiled.
"Then it's you."
"Me? I'm the ambassador for Rus, not your envoy."
"Who should I send, then? One of my senators? This war involves you as much as us. And it's your Cromwell you'll be meeting. I'm sending you."
With bell clanging, the engine slowed to a crawl. Stepping out of the car, Andrew walked out onto the platform and nervously grabbed hold of the railing.
If there was one thing he couldn't stand, it was heights. Cautiously he peered over the side to the river valley a hundred feet below.
"Crossing the Kennebec, sir?" an orderly asked, looking out the door and then coming out to join Andrew.
"None other," Andrew said dryly, his stomach knotting as the boy immediately went to the side of the platform and leaned over.
"It sure is a long way down there, sir."
"More than a hundred feet, son. Now get back up here."
The young Rus soldier came up and looked at Andrew as if he were yet another boring adult who had cut into his fun.
"What's your name, boy?" Andrew asked, slightly embarrassed. It was getting so he couldn't even recall his own staff. They came on with him for several months, soaked up the training, and then went on to serve as adjutants in other regiments.
"Gregory Vasilovich, sir," and with a proud flourish he pointed back over the side. "My father helped build this bridge."
"Well, you've something to be proud of, Gregory."
The train swayed slightly and Andrew clutched the railing even tighter. Since there were no side rails to the trestle, it appeared as if they were crossing on thin air, and he felt as if at any second the train would simply tumble over the side.
"Don't worry, sir, it's as safe as they come. The biggest bridge in the world."
He had watched the construction with awe while it was going up. Over three hundred thousand board feet of lumber had gone into it. Ferguson had designed the five-hundred-foot-long structure with amazing skill. All the wooden supports and beams had been precut to a standard size at a sawmill in the woods fifteen miles north and then floated down the river and hammered together with wooden pins. The most amazing part of it was that the structure had gone up in under a month. Ferguson felt he was in a race with the legendary railroad engineer Hermann Haupt, who had worked miracles with the Union Army supply lines and had built a bridge of similar size in only three days. Lincoln had called that bridge the beanpole-and-cornstalk wonder. The name had stuck, and most of the men on the line now called this one the beanpole bridge, a name which at the moment did little to reassure him. Five other major bridges and dozens of smaller ones were needed for the line, but for Ferguson this was his proudest accomplishment.
The train inched along the bridge, and as they drew near the east bank of the river he saw two lines of men snaking up the side of the riverbank, bucket brigades, working at a furious pace. The train gained the far bank and with a slashing discharge of steam came to a halt.
"Fifteen minutes, fifteen minutes!" the cry echoed down the train.
"Mitchell, patch us into the wire, find out the latest," Andrew shouted back into the car.
Andrew climbed down the side and jumped to the ground, groaning and stretching. A mad scramble of men cascaded down from the cars ahead and behind.
The tank stop was an insane turmoil of activity. Another train was stopped ahead of them, still taking on water, while gangs of laborers were throwing wood up into the tender.
"Not on this side, you bastards! The other side!" a weary soldier shouted, coming down the track. His foot snaked out, catching a soldier on his bare backside as he started to squat down not ten feet from the side of the train.
"It's a goddam pestilence pit out there," Emil shouted, coming up to join Andrew, pointing to the other side of the train.
"Well, that's one thing we never planned for," Andrew said dryly. "When you're moving twenty-five thousand men, they've got to go somewhere."
At least his staff car and the passenger cars had privies. They were nothing more than small closets with the usual seat that opened straight down to the track. But for the men trapped on the other vehicles it must be getting rather difficult.
"God, what a stench," Emil grumbled and stalked off. Andrew, wrinkling his nose, found himself in full agreement.
A young telegrapher came past Andrew and leaped onto the telegraph pole, scurrying up it, trailing a wire behind him. Andrew watched him for a moment as he gained the crosstree. Hanging on with one hand, he undipped the wire dangling from his back that led into the train and snapped it unto the main line.
Andrew could hear the key inside come to life as Mitchell, the original organizer of the telegraph system, tapped out a signal. There was a moment's pause and then the return started to come in.
After several minutes the clattering stopped and Mitchell appeared in the window, leaning out to hand Andrew a piece of paper.
"So what's the news?" Kindred asked, coming up beside Andrew, wheezing slightly from his asthma.
"They've run out of wood a hundred miles back, hitting the last four trains. They're burning everything, including the boxcars, to get to the next station. A car farther up broke an axle, derailing the train. Nine casualties, one dead. It tied the line up somewhat while they manhandled the cars back onto the track. In the middle here we're running a couple of hours behind schedule. Water's running low all along the line. But we've lost only one train so far."
As he spoke, he nodded toward the rail siding, where an old first-model engine, its eight cars behind it, rested on the side with a broken driveshaft. The train had broken down several miles farther up the line. The next train had uncoupled its load, run up, hooked on, then pulled it back. Luck had been with them on that one. If it had let go midway between two of the tank-stop sidings it would have shot the schedule to hell.
"So far so good," Andrew said evenly, looking back up at Mitchell. "Send out my approval, then disconnect."
The whistle of the next train forward cut the air, the engineer playing out the opening bars of a popular and very obscene tavern song. Many of the engineers had mastered the skill of playing the steam whistle, and each had adopted a particular tune as his signature. It was something they never did when Mina was around, since he vehemently denounced the practice as a waste of good steam.
The telegrapher on the pole snapped the connection off, tossed it to the ground while Mitchell reeled it in, and scrambled back down the pole.
The last of the men came scrambling back, leaping aboard as the train started to pick up speed. The train alongside Andrew lurched forward, easing down the track and stopping underneath the water tank, replacing the engine that had pulled away. The hose dropped down, and Andrew watched as a slow trickle of water came out.
Looking over at the wooden tank, he saw the bucket brigade hanging on rough ladders, passing containers up and emptying the precious liquid into the tank in a never-ending battle to try and stay ahead. The one thing they didn't have was a good wind to keep the pump running when they needed it the most.
Soldiers shouldered past Andrew, coming up to the side of the tender and throwing logs up. From out of the cab the engineer jumped down, oil can in hand, setting to work while his fireman and the two brakemen raced down the side of the train, tapping wheels with hammers to check their tone for cracks.
From out of the crowd he saw a blue uniform coming forward. The heavyset mustached officer saluted.
"Stover, sir, commander 2nd Vazima. It was our train that broke down."
Andrew looked at him for a moment, racing through his memory.
"Cliff, isn't it?"
"Thank you, sir, it is," Stover replied with a smile. "I put the boys to work on the water gang, helping out the garrison here. The rest are cutting up a pile of leftover lumber for firewood."
"Fine. I'm sorry to say it looks like you're out of the fight. Your boys can stay on here as extra garrison."
The disappointment in Stover's face was obvious.
"It's an important job. Lose this bridge and we're all in trouble. We can't be sure what Cromwell might be up to."
"All right, sir," Stover said sadly.
The engineer came around from the other side of the train and leaped back into the cab. "All right, we're just about full!"
Andrew looked down the track and saw another train pulling in and stopping on the bridge behind them.
The engineer hit the whistle. This time it was a religious melody, which made Andrew smile at the contrast from the previous tune."
Andrew returned the salute of Stover and walked back down the line, dodging past the wood crew, which was furiously piling the logs in. Men scrambled past, saluting him, so that he had to walk with his hand constantly up. Climbing up the side of the car, he rejoined Emil, who was coldly looking at the south side of the track. Andrew felt his stomach churn at the sight and smell. Men were running |inst, some struggling with their trousers, to the shouted delight of their comrades.
The whistle sounded again, and ever so slowly the train started to move. One poor soldier slipped and went facedown into the muck, and a raucous cheer went up. The soldier stood up, a look of horrified disgust on his face at (lie filth which covered him from head to foot, and Andrew hurst out laughing.
"Come on, Annatov, you worthless shit," a voice boomed, obviously from an enraged sergeant.
"Shitty Annatov, shitty Annatov," the chant rose up with hysterical laughter.
"Come on, boy," Andrew shouted. "Run for it."
The soldier looked over at him, saluted even as he ran, and gained his car, greeted now with loud groans of disgust.
"That poor boy will carry that nickname to the grave," Emilchuckled.
The way Emil said it sobered Andrew.
"I just hope he's an old man and can laugh about it in the end," Andrew said as he turned and went back into the car.
"The commander will see you now."
Vincent was seething. He and Lucullus, first tribune of the legion, had crossed through the lines and then been kept waiting out in the sun before a large canopied tent for over an hour. It wasn't until Lucullus had turned on his heels and stalked off back to the city, shouting an angry curse, that their escort started to scurry, begging them to stay, offering some wine and a cool place to sit, along with the promise of an immediate audience.
The tent flap was pulled back, and Vincent could not help but notice that it had the appearance of a Tugar yurt, something that made him feel uncomfortable.
As he stepped into the gloom, he saw a short rotund form rise up from behind a desk in greeting.
"I am Tobias Cromwell, commander of the fleet and army," he said in Cartha, the translator standing next to him converting his words to a reasonable Latin.
"Lucullus, tribune of the legion, envoy of the first consul," the old warrior snapped, coming to attention.
Vincent looked over at Cromwell with a cold rage.
"We have no need for introductions, Tobias," Vincenl said sharply.
"You know you weren't invited to this meeting," Tobini replied. "That is why there was the delay. My staff and I had quite a debate concerning it."
"So your Merki masters slipped out the back when you were done, is that it?" Vincent retorted.
"Merki?" Tobias said, extending his hands in a gesture of innocence.
Without waiting for the offer, Vincent went over and sat in a chair by Cromwell's desk. Lucullus shot him a look of reproach and then sat down beside him.
"The purpose of this meeting?" Lucullus asked.
"To spare any more bloodshed," Tobias replied.
"Under what terms?"
"That you renounce your agreement with the Rus and forbid their railroad to enter your territory, that is all. In return you will receive the same type of weapon support that they have claimed they will provide. In fact, I am in a position to immediately give you one thousand of our muskets and advisers to train your men.
"If you should do this, the Rus army will have no legitimate reason to enter your territory and the conflict is over."
"That is it?"
"We will also agree to pay reparations for the damage to Ostia, to any family that lost a member, and also to the owners of the plantations destroyed. We did not want to do it this way, but we had to make a clear demonstration of our intent. This war is against the Rus, not against you and the rulers of Roum."
Vincent was seething with rage. The plan was all so neat, yet he could not say a word in response.
"And the disposition of your army?" Lucullus asked.
"We, ah, do have a military concern there. If we should leave immediately, their army will simply return in force. That would not be fair to you, our allies. We would turn west to meet them, we hope with you by our side, and would demand that they withdraw and tear up their rail line to the river which they call the Kennebec."
"Named after a river from your own home state," Vin-cent interjected with cold irony. "Remember you used to be a Mainer and Union man yourself once." I "Used to be, Mr. Hawthorne," Tobias replied in English, looking straight at Vincent. "Vincent, it's a different world we live in, and we'd all better adjust to that fact."
"Ambassador Hawthorne or General Hawthorne is my title" Vincent replied coolly.
"Excuse me, Ambassador Hawthorne," Cromwell said, the faintest edge of irony in his voice. "It's just that II remember you from different days.
"But back to you, Lucullus," Tobias said, ignoring Vincent for the moment as if he were not there. "Those are our terms. I will call a cease-fire until this evening, when I will expect your decision. Will you agree to a cease-fire in return?"
"We have nothing to fire back with," Lucullus said with a trim laugh, "so of course I will agree."
"One last thing," Vincent said quietly. "I have one question to ask of you."
"Go on, then," and there was a note of exasperation in his voice.
"What do you mean?"
"Why this effort on your part? Whether Roum and Rus are united or not is no concern of the Carthas and you."
"Your expansion is very much a concern of Cartha. And besides, we can offer a better deal to Roum. The same industries, but without the damn peasant and slave revolution you are secretly importing to them along with your products," Tobias replied in Cartha, the translator hurriedly turning it back to Latin for Lucullus.
"Stop skirting the issue, Tobias."
"Admiral Cromwell," he replied stiffly.
"As I said, stop skirting the issue. The Merki horde will be in Cartha this fall. Their Namer of Time should have been there last fall. Already some of the Wanderers have crossed through our frontier outposts with full reports of their whereabouts. The Merki know what you were doing in Cartha. They must know what is happening here and given their approval. You are nothing but a mask for a Merki plot."
Damnable Wanderers, Tobias thought coldly. A tight security net had been spread out, on his suggestion, but somehow the scum still managed to seep through.
"Could it not be that I am using the Merki?" Tobli responded evenly.
"Vincent—excuse me, Ambassador Hawthorne—the Tugar were but a minor horde compared to the Merki. They are numberless. They can sweep the world before them."
"And they lost to the Bantag," Vincent said, venturing that a Wanderer report was true.
"Yes, that is the point," Tobias replied.
Vincent smiled inwardly. He had picked up a valuable confirmation of what had only been a vague rumor about n yet even more distant horde.
"The Merki can turn either way. They fear your mad expansion eastward. They are afraid that you are ahead of them in their march. That from Roum you will go to the Kathi, the Chinese people eastward. Now, the Kathi have been on this world even longer than the Roum. Their race it spread across the march of three hordes. There would be nothing to stop you moving east, since the Tugar no longci exist."
"No longer exist?"
"Oh, you didn't hear?" Tobias said with a smile. "They were annihilated six months ago. They fled southward across the march of the Merki, attempting to find refuge with the Bantag, who destroyed them."
Vincent looked closely at Tobias, not sure whether to believe him or not. If it was true, the situation had shifted once again.
"But as I was saying, the Merki are caught two ways. II they turn all their attention eastward they will cross the narrows of the Inland Sea."
"With your help."
"Yes, with my help," Tobias replied sharply. "They and the Bantag will fight, and the devil take the hindmost. But they are concerned about what you are doing. They fear Rus to a certain degree. Thus I have entered the picture with this agreement. Neutralize you and they can turn their attention elsewhere. They have even exempted the Carthas, if they will do this service.
"But if not," and his voice sounded weary and sad, "they will abandon their fight with the Bantag and come raging northward, taking the old Tugar territory."
"With you helping them?"
I will survive in either case," Tobias said coldly.
"So I am to assume that you have our best interests at heart."
"You could see it that way."
"And I'm really supposed to believe this? Why did you not approach us in peace? We sent repeated envoys to Cartha. None ever returned, so we finally gave up."
"They will not deal with you. The Carthas were forbidden nil contact."
Tobias rose up from his chair, indicating that the audience was finished.
"I'll await your reply in the morning," he said to Lucullus, and motioned for the two to leave.
Lucullus stood up without comment and left the tent. Vincent started to follow, then paused and looked back at Tobias.
"Captain Cromwell, a word alone, please," he said softly In English, looking straight into his eyes.
"You've done a lot I hate, but I still recall during the war when you saved my life by fetching my men and me out of the water after the Tugars overran us. For the sake of that, can we talk as two former comrades?"
Tobias smiled sadly and nodded for the translator to leave the room.
"It feels strange to speak English again," Tobias said wistfully. "That Cartha tongue was difficult to learn."
"Rus wasn't much better."
"I suddenly understand now why you're the ambassador. You're one of the few that can speak Latin."
"I never thought my language class at the Oak Grove school would ever help me in this way," Vincent said, struggling to sound relaxed, to somehow create the necessary atmosphere.
"You know, I never told you this, but I saw your school once. It looked lovely sitting up on that hill overlooking the Kennebec River."
"I hope it stays there forever."
"Oh, some goddam fool will get hold of it in the end and ruin it. I went to a school like yours—it wasn't Quaker, though. The headmaster was a weak incompetent. His wife was a conniving shrew and destroyed the place with her ambitions. It always happens that way," Tobias replied, his voice distant and cold.
"You seem always to see the worst. I try to look for the best."
"That's why we are different, Vincent. I'm a realist, you're an idealistic dreamer. I wish the world were what you believe it to be. I've learned differently," Tobias said slowly.
"And it has made you bitter and alone," Vincent replied
Tobias laughed coldly.
"What is it you wanted to say to me?"
"Do you honestly expect to survive in the game you implying?"
Tobias leaned back on his desk and looked away.
"I think my chances are pretty good. I've always got the Ogunquit. Quite impressive now, isn't it?"
"Looks like the Merrimac," Vincent said with a voice that seemed to show a lack of interest.
"My inspiration, actually. I was an engineering officer for the Cumberland."
"You were in that action? How come you never told any of us?"
"No one would have been interested," Tobias replied sharply.
The memory of that shell from the Merrimac bursting in the middeck of his ship still haunted him. He had received his captaincy after that action. To a damned military trans port ship. They had accepted his excuse for going over the side before the order had been given to abandon ship. But he knew the review board would never give him a combat command, damn them all.
"But I remembered that rebel ship. I saw the plans for her after we captured the naval yard. The Ogunquit is quite the ship now. Two-inch armor plating, twelve heavy guns— she's the toughest ship afloat on this entire godforsaken world."
"You made the conversion at Cartha."
"Gathering a little intelligence, general?"
Vincent smiled disarmingly.
"Can you blame me?"
Tobias smiled and shook his head.
"You've certainly come a long way from the day I fished you out of the drink. General and ambassador. Are you still a good Quaker?" "I don't know anymore," Vincent replied, suddenly feeling on the defensive. "This world's changed all of us, including me and you."
"We've got to learn to live in it." j "You once were my comrade," Vincent said. "We found a way to live in it, and to help the millions of other people here."
"Do you honestly think your way helped them? Vincent, Imlf the Rus died in that war. The Tugars would have taken hut two in ten. Nearly six hundred thousand died who might luive lived. I don't see that as helping them."
"We broke the back of the Tugars."
"We could have done it my way," Tobias replied, his voice rising. "Hide till they passed. Then come back and have twenty years to prepare. But your Keane had to Interfere."
"My Keane? You never could stand to be under his command, could you?" Vincent said, trying to keep the accusation out of his voice.
"No. From the moment he came aboard my ship he showed me no respect. It's always been that way—officers who look at me and laugh inside because I'm too heavy, and short, and my voice is too high. None of them ever looked beyond that, to the ability I have locked up in me."
Vincent sat quietly. Watching Tobias, sensing the rage and fear.
"Andrew never blamed you for pulling out of the city," Vincent said softly. "The city was falling, and we were doomed. You had a means to get out, and every right to take it.
"And maybe even to carry on the struggle," he added, offering him an honorable excuse.
"I didn't find out till months later. Come back, you say? To what? A court-martial for desertion?"
Yet another review board looking at him disdainfully, excusing him yet in their eyes mocking him, saying he was not as much of a man as they were. The thought filled him with a cold anger.
"Oh, I can hear Keane's sarcasm, the laughing disdain of everyone as we come back. No, he would have used it as an excuse to strip me of the Ogunquit. I suspected him of that desire long before. I would come back and then there'd be nothing at all. I'd be someone living at the edge of his table.
Oh, he would have given me a steam engine to run some-place, on dry land.
"Dammit, I know more about steam than Ferguson or any of the others. I know more about heavy guns than any of you. All of you were busy giving each other promotions, and I was bypassed, as I've always been bypassed. Just as I was ignored when the entire navy was at war and they laughed and gave me a damnable transport when I begged s them for a military command. I studied Ericsson's monitor designs, I knew them inside and out, down to the last bolt. I understood the big guns, the Rodmans, Parrots, Dahlgrens, better than anyone. But no, they gave the monitors anil guns to their cronies instead. No, there was no going back to any of that, not to any of it, here or back with their damn navy."
He fell silent, his breath coming short and hard.
Damn him, Vincent thought. He had that knowledge and never offered it. He fought to control his features, to look calm, as if he were an elder, counseling another without a trace of judgment in his voice, trying to guide someone to the inner light, not by preaching but by letting him gradually see the folly of his own ways.
"You can still use those skills with us," Vincent said encouragingly. "You hold a balance now. We still need you, captain. Think of what you could build with our new mills. You could build your monitors and rule the sea for the Republic of Rus."
Vincent came up to Tobias, putting his hand on the man's shoulder, and looked straight into his eyes. He braced himself inwardly, forcing away the other memories, the rage he still felt over the slaughter of his troops. Perhaps he could still redeem himself here. Could end the Fighting and give an advantage to the republic against the Merki.
"Kal is president now, I think you know that."
"That peasant is a shrewd one," Tobias said coldly.
"You're right. He is a shrewd one. He is running the show now, not Keane. Remember, he is my father-in-law. I've got influence.
"Captain, I'm promising you a way back. I'll stand beside you. You saved my life once and I never forgot that. I'm willing to pledge that to you now and support your side. I'm ambassador to Roum. I'm now in direct contact with you,
and as such am serving as an official representative of the Republic of Rus. I'm therefore, in that capacity, offering you a full amnesty, and return to your official status as commander of the Rus navy."
"Overstepping yourself, aren't you?" Tobias said, his voice barely a whisper.
Vince forced a laugh.
"I can get away with it. Besides, they need you, and the skills you never told us about.
"And your knowledge of the Merki," he added after a pause.
Tobias looked at him, their gaze holding. Vincent felt a surge of hope.
"Hell, captain, they even gave an amnesty to Mikhail."
The way he said it made Vincent take notice. There was a touch of cold slyness in the response that was disquieting.
Tobias continued to look straight at him, and Vincent prayed inwardly, hoping that if he could do this, could end a war before it truly got started, perhaps he would be forgiven, the balance of blood paid off.
"Trust me on this, captain."
The moment seemed to hold into an eternity.
His gaze dropped, and standing, Tobias shook Vincent's hand off his shoulder and walked around the desk, putting the small piece of battered furniture between them.
"I can't," he whispered. He looked back up at Vincent, and there seemed now to be a wall around him.
For a moment he found that he had actually started to believe the boy. It was the eyes, though, looking into him, seeing what was inside him. He could imagine standing there with Keane, Kal, that damnable Irishman O'Donald, all of them looking at him, the way the others had. He was his own man now, finally; he never would let others judge him as they had before.
Vincent visibly sagged, lowering his head.
"Captain, you know you're a tool of the Merki. I don't know what your plan is with them. I do know that whatever you told me of those plans I wouldn't believe, the same way I don't believe what you told Lucullus and me earlier.
"They are implacable. It is a mortal fight to the death between the hordes and us. They still view us as cattle. And behind your back they view you as cattle as well."
Vincent could see Cromwell bristle and knew he had hit the mark. Tobias was definitely allied with the Merki and was not a simple renegade.
"They'll use you, they'll squeeze your knowledge from you, and have you kill your own kind to fit their plan, which you are not even aware of.
"You're simply a pawn to them. They'll promise you anything in return, but mark my words," Vincent said, his voice taking on a brutal sharpness, "in the end they'll lead you to the slaughter pits. All of us might go to the pit because of what you are deciding here, and any hope for our race will disappear."
"Get out of here," Tobias said, his voice barely a whisper.
Vincent could not believe how miserably he had just failed, when he had felt so close to changing everything only minutes before. He felt a sick numbness, a shocked bitterness that somehow his dream could be so thoroughly destroyed.
Damn you, God, he thought coldly, there was such a chance here to change this world, and You did not help me, give me the strength of words to do it. Do You even care? His world suddenly felt cold, empty, devoid of any hope.
His shoulders slumped in defeat, Vincent looked over at Tobias.
"Perhaps you were right about my school, about everything."
Tobias looked at him, unable to respond.
"If you change your mind, you know where to reach me."
"I'll not change," Tobias shouted, his features darkening. "Keane had his chance with me when we first met and destroyed it when he insulted me. I'll never give him that chance again. You can tell your Keane to go to hell."
Vincent drew himself up stiffly and saluted.
"Goodbye, Captain Cromwell," he said formally, and turned and walked out of the tent.
As he watched him leave, Tobias felt a painful tug, a memory of the boy standing on the deck of his ship, trembling with shock, demanding to be addressed as a colonel even as he fought back his tears. For a moment he had actually believed him. But he was only one, and there were all the others.
Collapsing into his chair, he sat in silence.
No, they would never have taken him back. There was only this course, desperate as it was. They would have to fear him; only then would they respect him. After all, it always was fear that drove him, he suddenly realized with a i old frightening detachment as if a gate into the blackness had been flung open. The screams of terror came back to him, the headmaster's wife beating him, and then the fear of the other thing the headmaster had done one night, and her finding them and taunting them both, beating him until the blood streamed down his legs.
The laughing taunts in the eyes of those around him, even when they smiled and acted like his friends. Only now would it ever stop. When he held the power over all of lthem, then they would tremble. Even the Merki would know that in the end. He would play their game, but in the i nd they would know his wrath, which he would vent upon them when all was done.
He suddenly felt sick to his stomach at the memories of it all. Doubling over in his chair, he vomited, gasping for breath, tears streaming down his face.
Staggering over to the back of the tent, he collapsed on his cot, and the blackness washed over him, leaping up out of the pit and dragging him again into its taunting embrace.
"There is nothing more to be said," Marcus shouted, looking down at the envoy, who was barely visible in the darkening shadows. "We refuse."
"You mean you refuse," the envoy taunted, and pulling hard on his mount, he turned and clattered off into the darkness.
"There'll be no going back now," Vincent said quietly.
"We just have to hold for five more days, if what your president promised is true."
Vincent could only hope that it was. So much can go wrong with any military operation, Vincent thought. Fortunately the several thousand men working on the rail line were also a brigade of infantry under General Barry. The moment the news broke, he must have mobilized them to defend the line. It was not knowing, though—that was the damnable part of it all. Andrew's lead elements could be disembarking even now. Or they could be tied up by some accident hundreds of miles away.
"It was a wise move not to reveal the true contents of the negotiations," Vincent said dryly.
Marcus laughed softly.
"Lucullus reported only to me. It was easy enough to change the demands to an absurdity."
"Thank you for sticking with us," Vincent added.
Marcus looked over at Vincent and smiled.
"I'm not so much a fool as to believe what your Cromwell offered. He is merely the glove over someone else's fist. I still cannot consider your suggestion to free the slaves. I intend to keep this system as my father gave it to me."
He paused for a moment and looked back at the city.
"If the gods willing I ever remarry and have another son," he whispered, "I would like to give the same city to him.
"But I do know that the Merki have turned their gaze in our direction," he continued, his voice suddenly gruff. "We will have to fight them in the end. You are our only salva tion in that fight."
The cry was picked up down the wall, and within seconds dozens of sentries were calling out the alarm.
Vincent ducked down low, pulling Marcus with him; there was no need to play hero in the dark. He saw the flutter of a white shaft arc lazily overhead and disappear into the street below. Another followed, and then yet one more. There was the clattering of hooves beyond the wall.
A rain of bolts shot overhead, disappearing.
Cautiously Vincent poked his head up. It was curious. The arrows were arcing high, coming down in a slow lazy curve. Gradually the volley died away, and then shouts echoed farther down the line from sentries calling a warning.
"Just harassing," Vincent said with a laugh, coming back up to his feet.
A legionnaire came racing up the steps from the street below, his hobnailed sandals striking sparks on the rough-cut stone. Saluting, he stepped forward, an arrow in one hand, a strip of parchment in the other.
"This message was attached," he said, handing it over to Marcus.
Motioning over to an enclosed turret, Marcus stepped inside and stood next to a flickering lamp and held the message up.
"The bastard," Marcus whispered.
"What is it?" He's appealing directly to the Senate, announcing the same terms, offering everything. As long as I am removed."
Vincent shook his head.
"He certainly knows how to play the game," Vincent said ·Hilly, leaning against the wall.
Now what was he going to do?
Petronius stepped around the table and extended his hand.
"I always knew I could count on you in our hour of ne ed," Petronius said with an eager smile.
Lucullus hesitated and then reached out and accepted the handshake.
"He is still my cousin, ruler of the Graca family. I would prefer no harm to come to him in all of this."
"But of course," Petronius said smoothly. "We of the patrician class certainly cannot go around murdering each other over these squabbles. It sets a bad example and might give the rabble the wrong idea."
"Yet these are new and different times, my friend," Catullus interjected. "Those of the Graca clan have ruled Roum for hundreds of years, and we certainly wouldn't want to change that. Now we will have you. Besides, Marcus has no sons now. At his age, if he has more offspring they will be weak and sickly. We need someone of vigorous blood who has already sired sons to rule after him. The legion, of course, will support you, since you are the first commander under Marcus."
"I must go and prepare," Lucullus said stiffly, and dropping Petronius's hand he stalked out of the room.
"A formal bastard," Catullus said as the door slipped shut.
"The Gracas are like that," Petronius laughed.
"How long have you been working on him?"
"Even before our contact was established with the Carthas," he said lazily, impressed by his own foresight. "Oh, I was glad when Marcus threw back the Tugars. Every twenty years they looted us dry, and twenty percent of our laborers disappeared. With them gone we have unlimited power.
"But when I saw what these Yankees really were, I knew we would have to fight them. I never said anything directly to Lucullus—he's too stiff, with that honor-of-patricians foolishness. But the seeds were planted."
Petronius went over to a side table, speared a sliver honeyed meat, and munched on it absently.
"It's dark out now?"
"Good. The rabble will be getting their little messages. A truly ingenious idea. Make a reasonable offer which Marcull would most likely refuse, then turn the mob against him." I
"Perhaps a bit too neat," Varius, youngest of the senators, said coldly.
Petronius cocked his head and gave Varius a quizzical look.
"Not backing out now, are we?"
"I won't stop you, if that's what you mean. I no more like what the Yankees threaten than you do. It's just we should remember that Cromwell and the Carthas are not going through all this trouble out of the goodness of their hearts We must consider what their plan is as well."
"Are you going to whine about the Merki or Tugar again?" Catullus snapped.
Varius looked over at Catullus and said nothing.
"The Yankees are more of a threat than the Merki could ever be. Just yesterday I had a slave put to death when I heard him whispering some Yankee nonsense about every man being equal."
"That kind of talk is dangerous," Petronius said sharply. ."It could be the end of all of us."
"I agree with that," Varius said.
"Then we are not in disagreement," Catullus said with a soothing smile.
"And the Merki?"
"Well, if they should come," Petronius said, lowering his voice, "we all know that the Yankees cannot stand against them, especially with what Cromwell has given them, something the foolish Tugars did not have. Anyhow, if that is the case, then wouldn't it be better to be on the winning side?
"After all, they eat peasants, not patricians," Petronius added with a cold laugh.
Varius shook his head in disbelief.
"It is sometimes hard to imagine I am on the same side as you."
"But you already are, Varius," Catullus said, his voice dripping with oily sincerity. "This time tomorrow, Marcus will be gone, and Lucullus will be in his place."
"Dear foolish Lucullus," Petronius laughed. "With the Imagination of a block of stone. He'll be easy enough to Mile."
"With Marcus alive and the Yankee soldiers in the town, there could still be a rally point," Varius cautioned.
"Poor Marcus," Catullus giggled.
"You did promise Lucullus he would be allowed to live?"
"Oh, did I?" Petronius said absently. "You know how dangerous the summertime is. Why, just last year my lamented wife came down with such a terrible stomach complaint."
"Tragic," Catullus sighed. "I know how heartbroken you were, Petronius."
"And the Yankees?" Varius whispered, his voice edged with disgust. "They'll fight you the moment they suspect."
"Such fools—they really should be careful of what they eat."
"If I did not believe this was to save the Roum we know, I would spit on you," Varius growled, and he stalked out of the room.
"Varius, just remember whose side you are on," Petronius snapped, his voice full of menace.
"I will. You have me in too deeply already," Varius retorted without turning back. "I'll remember to eat alone, though, in the future."
The two senators looked at each other and laughed.
"End of the line!"
"Thank God," Andrew groaned, sitting up from his bunk and looking out the window.
It was early morning, the first faint streaks of dawn creasing the morning clouds. Fumbling for his glasses, he pul them on. His mouth tasted gummy, and he smacked his lip with disgust. Gregory had received a chewing-out regarding the fact that his toothbrush had been forgotten. He was tempted to yell at the boy again, but in the gloom of the curl he saw him peering back and felt it would simply be too cruel.
Gregory came back cautiously and held out a mug of tea. It was cold, but he gulped it down anyhow and felt a little bit better disposed.
"Help me with my jacket and sword, son," Andrew said, standing up. It was something about losing an arm he had never quite gotten used to. Dressing in a uniform alone and fumbling with the buttons was difficult with one hand, bill the sword belt was simply impossible.
"It's going to be terribly hot, sir," Gregory ventured, "Maybe you'd prefer your four-button jacket."
Andrew was tempted. The jacket was the standard Union Army issue for enlisted men that went down to his hips, while the officer's jacket weighed damn near twice as much and went down to mid-thigh. Of course they were both wool, something that still struck him as insane for an army that had served in the scorching heat of the South. On the grueling forced march to Gettysburg he had seen hundreds of men go down with heat exhaustion. The steppes in the summer were going to be worse.
"I think I'll keep the officer's jacket on today," Andrew replied. The Rus expected their leaders to dress grandly, and today he knew he'd have to comply.
Gregory, shaking his head with concern, helped Andrew dress and then stepped back and nodded approvingly.
"Let's go out and see what's facing us," Andrew said. As he started through the car, his staff looked at him expectantly. Several were coming back in, looking somewhat wide-eyed, and from their expressions he knew.
Stepping off the platform, he hit the ground.
"God make it a dream," he whispered.
The side of the track was chaos for as far as he could see. I he only semblance of order was with the men of the 35th, who under the sharp commands of their company officers were already falling into line from the train behind him. Looking to his own train, he saw men were still leaping off curs, wandering about, cursing, laughing. Officers and non-coms were shouting at the top of their lungs. A panic-stricken horse, eyes wide with fear, galloped past, several artillery men chasing it.
Grim-faced, he stalked down the length of the train, taking it all in. Reaching the back of the next train, he rambled up on the caboose and looked at the ladder that led to the roof. Taking a breath, he grabbed hold and i limbed up slowly. Reaching the top rung, he crawled up on the roof. To his amazement a soldier was stretched out on lop sound asleep.
"Just what the hell are you doing here?" Andrew roared.
"Trying to get some sleep, damn you. Now leave me alone," the soldier groaned. He opened his eyes, blinked, and shot up. Before Andrew could say a word the man heaved his equipment over the side and leaped to the ground, disappearing into the crowd.
As far as he could see ahead, the track was jammed with Irains. The grounds to either side were a mass of confusion. I here seemed to be no semblance of order. Thousands of boxes of rations and ammunition were piled up haphazardly. Men were off in every direction, guns were rolled out by the track and none were deployed forward.
He was seething with rage.
"It certainly looks a mess."
Emil, puffing hard, came up to join him.
"It's an outrage," Andrew snapped.
"Remember, son, you are in command," Emil said qu etly. Andrew turned to face the doctor, ready to explode.
"Don't turn it on me, Andrew Lawrence Keane," Emil said with a disarming smile. "Why don't you just sit up here for a couple of minutes and think about it?"
"Sit here?" he sputtered.
"That's right. Just sit here and join me in a little drink."
Emil reached into his pocket, pulled out a flask, uncorkcil it, and offered it over.
Andrew took a hard pull, shocked by the sharp potency of the vodka as it hit his empty stomach.
"You've been under a lot of strain. You've got to keep your calm about you. Get excited and your officers get jumpy. They get jumpy, then everyone gets on edge. It's been a couple of years since our last action. We've all got to get back in shape for it."
A whistle shrieked behind him. Startled, he looked back and saw another train sliding to a stop. Farther up the track he saw the small town of Hispania, its white limestone wall glowing red with the dawn, liie railroad siding was aswarm with activity, and at least there he saw some semblance of order. Several batteries were drawn up, guns deployed in a defensive perimeter, a sharp line of freshly dug earthworks enclosing the area. A chain of men were hauling boxes up over the embankment and heading in the direction of a vast open-walled warehouse.
He started to breathe a bit easier.
"We've never tried anything like this before," Emil said evenly. "It's new to everyone, including you. Of course things are going to be a bit chaotic to start, but once we get the boys marching they'll fall back into the old routine.
"I'd better get started," Emil continued. "We need to find some wagons for the hospital equipment. I've also got to set up a base hospital here—we've already got some sick lads and quite a few injuries to take care of. I'll report to you later, son."
Andrew looked over at his friend and offered the flask back.
Emil took it and then tossed off a long drink before corking it. "Medicinal purposes, of course," he said with a grin and disappeared over the side of the car.
"Gregory!" "Down here, sir."
"Get Mercury out, walk him a bit, then have him ready to go. Staff meeting in ten minutes. Send some runners up the line. I want brigade and division commanders here. Now move!"
Andrew stepped over to the side of the train and saw Andy Barry.
"Get up here, Barry."
The old former sergeant scrambled up the side and, gaining the top, cautiously approached Andrew and saluted.
"Go on and report," Andrew said.
"Well sir, it's a bit out of hand here at the moment."
,ll can see that," Andrew said quietly.
"Sir, the trains came in late, as you know. We had planned lor them to get here yesterday afternoon so we'd have plenty of light. We just weren't ready to handle an army coming up to the end of the line like this."
"You don't need to make excuses, Barry," Andrew said, desperately working on forcing a disarming smile. "Well, straighten it out."
He could see the officer relax.
"You expected me to chew your ass off, didn't you?"
"Well, ah, yes sir," Barry said cautiously. "It kind of looks pretty bad out there," and he nodded up the line.
"It does, but well fix it up soon enough, won't we?"
"Yes sir," and Barry straightened up and smiled.
Damm it, I've been too long behind a desk, Andrew thought reproachfully. You start ruling by paper rather than face to face and you forget. He remembered the fat sleek officers of the Army of the Potomac, who sat in the rear lines or pranced about in Washington, controlling supplies, playing politics for promotions, currying favor, and by their stupidity and venality killing thousands of good men who deserved better and rarely got it.
Could I have become like that? he wondered. He could feel the tightness of the uniform that two years ago had hung loosely on him, like a jacket pulled over a tree limb. Don't forget this moment, he cautioned himself. It is far too easy, the older we get, to become what we once despised. Was this another price of peace, to lose the edge, or was it the price that war demanded?
"What's the report forward?"
"We pushed up a patrol all the way to the watch point the telegraph crew established, about ten miles outside the city, and reinforced them. So far they haven't sent anything up this way at all, sir. The rail bridge we were building over the Po is planked. I've got some engineers up at the Tarttus working on a quick crossing—the bridge was only partially up. The bridges the Roum had on their old Appia Way are still intact."
"And they haven't moved anything this way?"
"Not a sign of 'em, sir."
"My thoughts as well, sir. I mean, hell, sir, if I was them, I would have screened up this way a whole hell of a lot further."
"It's almost like they're inviting us in."
"That's what me and a lot of the boys have been thinking as well."
Just what is Tobias up to? he wondered. He was starting to feel like a mouse being lured into a trap. There were far too many possibilities to sort out. The objective, at least, was still clear: to relieve Roum as soon as possible. His worst nightmare was the thought that the Carthas would take the city and then there would be a bloody fight to win it back, since it was impossible to leave a hostile force in control. The other possibility was far worse—that Roum itself might be hostile by the time he arrived. He suspected Marcus was less than enthusiastic about their alliance. If that happened, he knew what fate would be in store for Vincent.
He would have to push in as fast as possible. All he could see was to somehow spring the trap, if there was one, and then jump away in time.
"We've got our work cut out, Barry. We'd better get to it. Whatever supplies we don't take I want safely warehoused by evening. Colonel Mina will be coming up on the last train. Try to get some semblance of order with all these engines before he gets here. You know how he can be when he gets upset."
Barry gave a wry grimace and nodded.
"By the way, you're staying behind here with your brigade," Andrew said as if by an afterthought.
"Sir? We was hoping to go up with you." [ "You're our construction crew, Barry. You and the boys are too valuable to lose on a volley line. And besides, I think it'd be best to leave a solid covering force at our rear, film in case."
Hurry's features dropped with disappointment. "You know it's for the best, Barry. I need you more here."
| "Yes sir. It seems like I've worked my way out of being a soldier, that's all."
[ "You might get more soldiering than you want soon enough," Andrew said, not sure why the thought had even formed.
The senators looked from one to the other uneasily.
"This is most irregular," Scipio said coldly, coming to his feet. "Where is Marcus?"
"He was not invited," Petronius said sharply.
"Not invited, you say? We sit as advisers to him as heads nf the twenty families. He is first consul, as his father was before him."
"And he has betrayed us. Come now, this war is none of our concern, it's Marcus they're after, not us. You just heard Lucullus describe the terms. The whole city knows lliem now. If we act, we can end this battle today."
"You're proposing treason," Scipio replied, looking about the Senate chamber for support.
"I'm proposing salvation," Petronius snapped. "It is Marcus who is the treasonable one for allowing all of this to start."
"They came here as invaders, they've killed hundreds of our people. Marcus is doing the only thing possible—fighting against them."
"And what about the Yankee invasion?" Catullus shouted. "It is they who are the threat."
"They could have come here sword in hand and annihilated us," Scipio argued. "They offer us trade, prosperity, and a common alliance against the hordes."
"And they talk about slaves being free," Petronius sneered.
"After listening to the likes of you, I think I would almost prefer that," Scipio shouted, coming to his feet.
"There is nothing more to be said between us," Scipio announced, his angry gaze sweeping the Senate chamber. "Those who stand against this madness should come with me, else you will be judged accordingly."
The senators looked uneasy, but none stood.
"Then my curse on all of you," Scipio barked. He turned on his heels and stalked from the chamber.
"We should stop him!" Catullus cried. "He'll warn Marcus."
"Let him," Petronius laughed. "Even now Lucullus is arresting our illustrious leader."
"They're abandoning the walls."
With a smile, Cromwell looked up at Hulagar and Vuka and smiled.
"Is it not happening as I said it would? The first formation will go in at daylight."
"This is merely the opening move," Vuka said sharply "The diversion before the main course of the meal."
Cromwell looked at Vuka uneasily and saw Hulagar bristle at the lord's choice of words.
"Oh, don't worry about it," Vuka said with a sardonic grin. "Just a figure of speech, nothing more."
"It's still a success that will bring me pleasure," Cromwell replied.
"It is the other action I am more concerned about," Hulagar pressed.
"Hinsen is in control of that and should be in position by now. The last train has undoubtedly come in."
"That is the one we want, just remember that." Hulagar replied softly. "How much longer before we can expect them?"
"Perhaps as early as tomorrow night. Keane will force march them."
"Is he with the army?"
"I'm certain of it," Cromwell replied coldly.
"All of them are in the Senate chamber at this very moment."
"Why are you disturbing me with this news?" Marcus growled sharply, looking angrily at Vincent and the trembling slave by his side.
"Julius and I have something of a friendship, Marcus," Vincent said evenly.
Marcus looked at the two and gave a snort of disdain.
"A friendship between a slave and one such as yourself?" Marcus said coldly.
I He is a loyal man." Vincent said hotly. "As good a man myself."
j "And by implication you are saying he is as good as me," Marcus said with a disdainful laugh.
I'll not argue that now," Vincent retorted, "but you'd |better listen to him. We don't have much time."
"Go on then."
With a groan Marcus came to his feet. Vincent was shocked by his nakedness, a manner of sleep all the Roum seemed comfortable with, but he would most certainly never adopt.
"The men who serve the Senate chambers," Julius began, "have been suspicious now since this evening, when those letters were shot into the city. About an hour ago my cousin Flavius—he works as a scribe—came and told me the senators were all meeting in secret at the house of Petronius."
"Let them," Marcus snapped.
"Lucullus was with them."
Marcus turned to look at Julius, a sharp interest now in
"Flavius told me that a friend of his, Garba, was ordered to bring in some wine. Lucullus and the senators were talking. They fell silent when he came in. When he left the room, he lingered by the door. He heard Lucullus say that he would see to your arrest and that a cohort will surround the Rus soldiers and hold them there until the Carthas are in the city."
Marcus looked over at Vincent.
"How reliable is this?" he snapped.
"As the saying goes," Vincent said coldly, "I'd bet my life on it."
"I'm going up to the legion."
"I doubt, sir, if they will support you any longer."
"They are my personal army," Marcus shouted. "Of course they'll support me."
"They're scared men," Vincent replied. "They've suffered a shocking defeat. Petronius's people have been spreading some fairly effective lies the last couple of days. The bombardment is wearing them down even more. If they fight the Carthas they believe they'll die. This offers them a way out, and the fact that Lucullus offers this to them will decide the issue. Like it or not, Marcus, the Tugars were the base of your power. If any dared to move against you and
your established order, the Tugars would help you in your vengeance. When you defeated them, your old system was bound to change. There is a void in the structure of power, and others are now eager to fill it."
"How can my legion, my guard, betray me?" Marcus said, his voice suddenly weak.
"Someday I'll tell you the rest of the history of the old Rome," Vincent replied evenly.
"Then it's finished?" Marcus asked, his voice distant
"Not yet," Vincent said emphatically. "I'm calling the 5th in now to occupy your palace."
"But the walls."
"The hell with the walls," Vincent shouted. "It's your life I'm fighting for now."
"But when the. Carthas break in they'll batter this palace down with their heavy guns, and you'll die, trapped In here with me," Marcus said, trying to force a sad smile. " Take your men and break out of here while there's still time."
"Quite heroic, Marcus, but it'll mean my army will jui| have to fight its way back in."
"For what? I'll be dead, Petronius will make peace wit It the Carthas, and you'll be fighting both of them."
"You have an army waiting to fight for you right now."
"The only people who will truly benefit by the defeat (if those who serve the hordes. Free the slaves, and they'll fight to the death for you."
He tried to keep his features even, but the stunned look of Julius forced a smile to his lips.
"This was your plan all along," Marcus snapped.
"Never this way. We had hoped that in the end it would be peaceful. I'm afraid it won't be. You hold the decision, Marcus. I think you are noble enough that your own death might come second in your mind to that of Roum. The Carthas are but a mask for the hordes. I'll tell you bluntly—if the Senate defeats you now and throws in with the Carthas, we will fight to get the resources we need. But we are desperately few. Without your people by our side, both Rus and Roum will fall, especially now that we know they will have the same weapons we do. If you do not do this, all of Roum will perish in the end, for if I were the Merki I would annihilate any human who had tasted freedom or knew of the weapons we have."
"You ask too much," Marcus whispered.
Brimming with anger, Vincent came over and grabbed the man by the shoulders.
Goddammit, Marcus, you don't have much time. You'd better act quickly."
Vincent felt as if he were about to explode with pent-up anxiety. It was all so straightforward and simple, and yet the man refused to see the truth.
"I don't think I can," Marcus whispered.
"Sir, the regiment's deploying into the palace. Ammuniition is being moved over from our barracks right now— we're bringing it through the slave quarters."
"Julius, I want the basement slave quarters made ready for a hospital area. Our surgeon will tell your people what to do. Get some fires going right now. Take linens and start boiling them."
The man nodded.
Vincent turned and saw Dimitri standing in the doorway, with Bugarin beside him.
"I want men posted at every window. Get the guns inside mid set up firing ports in the doorway. Take anything you can grab to build some fallback positions, on the far side of the courtyard. That outer wall will take some pounding. Once it goes, we'll fight from the courtyard. We'll hold the ground floor as long as possible, then retreat to the second. See if you can haul a couple of the guns to the second floor to fire into the courtyard.
"This building's good thick stone," Bugarin said with a grin. "It'll take 'em a while to batter their way in here."
"Now get to it."
The two saluted and left.
"So you're going to stay till the end."
"That's what I promised the president. I'll hold until relieved."
"What manner of men are you?" Julius said softly.
Vincent shook his head.
"At the moment, scared to death, Julius."
"You know you'll die here," Marcus said, the dejection in his voice a disturbing note.
"You still hold the key to that," Vincent snapped, "but I'll tell you right now your options are closing in. If we can hold till Andrew comes—and I doubt that—we'll prop you back up, but you'll be a puppet for our government."
Marcus looked sharply at Vincent, unable to reply.
"It's that simple, Marcus. I'm telling you the plain facts of politics. Rus is fighting for her life. We need what you'VI got. I wanted to see us work as partners, but if my regiment sacrifices itself to save your hide, personally I'll want tlit price paid back. You've lost your legion and your Sennit, We'll run things after that."
"You'll run it," Marcus said dryly.
"The hell with it all," Vincent snapped. "I'm resigning this post and going back to Rus. Let someone else do tlx dirty work, because I've had a bellyful of it.
"Now if you'll excuse me, I've got other things to attend to."
Without waiting for a response, he strode out of the room to find Dimitri waiting for him in the hallway.
"The bastard refuses to budge," Vincent said.
"Something's forming up out in the forum. I came back to get you."
Cold with rage, Vincent stalked through the palace, pull ing out his revolver and checking the load. Coming to the partly open doorway, he saw a formation of the legion gathering up in the early-morning mist.
With an impetuousness born out of an all-consuming linger, Vincent stepped out of the protection of the doorway and onto the marble steps of the palace, and looked coldly at the men who had stopped their advance.
"What the hell do you want, dammit?" Vincent shouted, "You should be back on the walls defending your city."
"The war's over," and Lucullus stepped out of the ranks "We are here to arrest Marcus Licinius Graca on the charge of treason to the Senate and people of Roum."
"The traitorous dogs you call the Senate?" Vincent laughed. "As for the people, they should consider whom their Senate has sold them to.
"The Carthas are the envoys of the hordes," Vincent shouted, his voice carrying across the square. "Your Senate will sell all of you to the slaughter pits by this act."
"Out of the way, Yankee," Lucullus shouted and started forward.
With a flourish, Vincent cocked his revolver and pointed it straight at the advancing soldier.
"Don't you move a goddam inch," Vincent yelled, trying to keep his voice from cracking.
A hush fell over the square. From the corner of his eye Vincent could see several bowmen moving into position.
"Tell your men to back off," Vincent warned. "They might get me, but by the eternal I'll put a bullet through your head before I'm finished."
"I am commanding you to surrender your sword, Lucullus," a voice called behind Vincent.
A smile crossed Vincent's features.
"I'd advise you not to come out, sir," Vincent whispered, still keeping his weapon pointed at Lucullus.
"The hell you say."
Vincent felt someone brush against his shoulder, but he didn't dare to look.
"Lucullus is no longer in command of the legion," Marcus shouted. "Now return to your posts before the Carthas are in the city."
The moment held, neither side moving.
"The legion is no longer yours," a voice called from the square.
"Ah, Petronius, the heroic leader, hiding behind his men," Marcus sneered.
"To save the people of Roum from you."
"For the final time, I command the legion to return to its
"The Carthas are in the city," a cry echoed up from a distant corner of the square.
"Back inside," Vincent whispered.
"Not yet," Marcus snapped.
"Then hear me now," Marcus shouted. "I declare that any man or woman who is a slave and who comes forward to defend our country will henceforth be free."
Vincent felt as if the world had shifted into a blur. He heard Petronius screaming to kill them, and saw Lucullus crouching low as if to race forward. The archers fired. Diving to one side, he knocked Marcus to the ground, snapping off his revolver as he fell.
Lucullus spun around, hitting the ground hard, while a wild angry shout seemed to echo up across the square. Hands came around him, pulling him back inside, even as he dragged Marcus with him. Gaining the door, he saw the dark-clad livery of the Carthas rushing forward through the square, the snap crack of musketfire echoing out.
A thundering volley lashed out from the palace, cutting into the Carthas, and to his horror taking down a number of the legion as well.
Gasping, Vincent came to his feet and saw a red stain on Marcus's toga.
Marcus struggled to his feet, forcing a smile as he looked down at the arrow lodged in his arm.
"It could have been worse," he replied, his voice slurring slightly from shock.
"Well, you really went and did it," Vincent said with a smile.
"Too late, though," Marcus said coldly. "I should have done it the moment this all started."
"Well, at least you made the move. Now if we can only hold on. The people will rally to your support."
"I doubt if it'll do any good," Marcus replied, swaying slightly.
"Take him out of here," Vincent ordered. "Get the surgeon to fix him up."
Marcus offered no protest as several men led him away.
"What did he say out there?" Dimitri asked.
"He offered freedom to any slave that fought."
"A shrewd offer. Rather conditional freedom, I'd say."
Vincent could not help but smile as he realized what Marcus had actually said.
"It's a start, Dimitri, it's a start."
Vincent went back to the crack in the door and peeked out. The mob was still scattering in every direction. Not a shot was being fired from the palace, and he thanked God that the men were not killing any more of them. The Cartha detachment had pulled back into the forum, and from the far size of the plaza he saw a gun being moved up.
"The trick now is to hold," Vincent said, "and pray thai these people help us."
God, it was worse than anything he had ever known in Virginia. Swaying in the saddle, Andrew was tempted to take another drink of hot water from his canteen but fought the urge down. The next river was still a good ten miles away, and the only thing around him was the steppe.
Raising his hand to shade his eyes, he looked around. The gently rolling hills were going from green to brown in the high heat of late summer. The grass was like a vast ocean, waving with the puffs of hot wind that swirled and eddied, bunging no relief from the torment.
He struggled with the nausea, knowing it for what it was.
I can't collapse now, he whispered to himself. There are still hours to go. I can't collapse now.
A fantasy danced through the mirages. It was autumn, a cooling wind coming in off the ocean of Maine, the icy surf crashing on the rocks foaming white, washing up over him and Kathleen. She was smiling, standing in the tall grass, with Ilya, his old border collie, by her side. How deliciously cool she looked, her white dress fluttering in the breeze, pressed against her body, showing every line and curve. She whs standing before him, Ilya barking and dancing with joy.
"A cool drink of water, love?"