Not that the interesting activity in the hall had not gone unnoticed by Bellica Anala, or that she had no concern for Ghia’s wellbeing―she simply chose to pay first attention to her food. There was naught she could do at the moment. Besides, Jules was with Ghia. Her childhood had taught her the importance of enjoying her food quickly, and despite the years between her and the threat of her food being taken away, she still was the first finished with her meal at any gathering.
By the time the Healer Ghia had returned to the hall and sat down, pale and shaky, they were on the second-to-last course. It was time for announcements, if there were any. Anala hoped her Regiment would be granted leave. They were weary from the Campaign, and even if they’d never complain to her, she could see they needed rest―it had been several years since their last real vacation. The same went for her, yet she had fared better than Yarrow. The First Bellica hadn’t had a vacation since well before the Battle of Voco.
Sensing the attention of the hall shifting to the main table, she put down her utensils and glass, and set her face in the Empress’ direction.
In reality, she looked anywhere but Zanny’s face. Her anger burned close to the surface whenever she looked at Tenea’s tormentor.
The Empress got to her feet unsteadily. Drunk, already! She clinked a fork on her glass for attention. All conversation immediately ceased.
“It’s my very great pleasure,” she said, and her voice was clear, belying the amount of wine she’d imbibed, “to announce, as a Midwinter gift and much-deserved reward for our loyal troops, one month’s leave for the First, Second, and Third Regiments, in honour of their bravery and victory on the East Campaign.”
There was a smattering of applause throughout the hall. Anala was sure her face showed the same relief apparent on Aro’s and Caelum’s faces. Anita and Leala smiled at each other briefly before turning back to their food. Yarrow’s face was as blank as it had been since her entrance but Anala saw something flicker in the other Bellica’s eyes. Disbelief?
There was an expectant pause before the Empress continued, as an afterthought, “As well, all Healers who have been tending the wounded from said campaign will be granted leave as soon as their charges are released.”
That’s unfair, Anala thought. She knew how hard the healers worked, especially Ghia and Helene, but, stealing a glance at the Healers’ table, she saw Ghia and the others didn’t look disappointed; so she dropped it.
The Empress then sat down and turned back to her meal, a signal to the rest of the hall they were free to do so as well.
“A break’ll be good,” Aro said to her, turning to his food.
Anala smiled and nodded, doing the same.
Now came the dilemma of finding a vacation spot as far away from Harbourtown as Nucalif, her original choice, had been.