Life had grown worse, if possible, since leave had ended. What with the wretched weather and the lack of any campaigns or missions, the Regiments of the East Campaign were getting restless. Anita and Leala had done the right thing with their regiment by organising scavenger hunts throughout town, renting out taverns for huge parties, and putting on impromptu plays for the commoners, mums depicting great military victories and defeats, all the history of Athering’s martial past.
Yarrow would have loved to organise something like that for her regiment, but her soldiers would have stared at her as if she’d sprouted an extra head. They would have engaged in such activities grudgingly at best. Such crazy things were expected of the Third Regiment and its almost childlike bellica-majora team, for they all seemed to take great pleasure in the joys most people left behind in adolescence.
She could think of nothing to organise that would please her more serious soldiers nor did she want to ask Caelum for his ideas.
Oh, she’d forgiven him. She thought.
She didn’t know. During leave, she’d thought she had, when there’d been time to think on it, but now, back in close proximity to him (their rooms bordered each other, for Bellona’s sake!), all her certainties had crumbled.
She still loved him…she guessed.
No, she did.
She wasn’t angry anymore.
Not terribly, at least. Caelum must have had a reason for what he did. He was dumb, sure, but he usually had a reason for the big stuff. Hadn’t he thought through proposing to Isidora?
Did he, Yarrow?
She didn’t know. He’d asked her for advice, sure, and had planned out the whole event perfectly…but as to whether he’d thought through actually marrying the woman, in truth Yarrow did not know. She’d always assumed he had, because, well, it was marriage! Even if marriages could be dissolved peacefully, it was usually a lifetime decision. Even if he’d have been a fool not to marry Isidora, Harbourtown’s Sweetheart.
But he is a fool, she reminded herself. This you’ve always known. It was a fact of Caelum’s character: loyal to a fault, loving, fun, and dumb as a rock.
So. Had he thought it through? The terrabane?
Yarrow couldn’t answer that question nor could she divine how she felt – angry, sad, forgiving, or begrudging. She just felt..numb.
She avoided speaking to him. He’d want an answer, something she didn’t have for him, and he wouldn’t understand that.
Besides, he’d really, truly fecked up. Let him simmer in the juices of his own guilt a little longer.
Yarrow sat back from payroll paperwork with a sigh. There was no use thinking about it, anyway, not when she had this to deal with – a discrepancy in roll-call reports. The lieutenant with the burned eyes, James, hadn’t checked in upon his return from Mudflat – or hadn’t returned at all. Sure, his leave had been cut short, but regardless. His return shouldn’t have been more than a day or two late.
Feck it all! She’d have to speak to the Attendance Clerk and see if James had checked in and if he hadn’t, she would question her soldiers.
She really hoped she didn’t have a mutiny on her hands – not with James, nor her restless troops. That’s just all I need.
The Attendance Clerk had been downright offended that Yarrow dared question him at his job. She’d tried to apologise, saying maybe one of his underlings had forgotten to mark it down but that had only made him angrier.
“You question not only my ability at my work but my ability to train others? I’ve never been so insulted in my life!” He sniffed imperiously before shouting: “Go away! We’re closed!” and slamming the shutters to his office in Yarrow’s face.
“Prick,” she muttered under her breath. She head for the barracks. Silly dandy who couldn’t answer a simple question! Wasn’t that part of his job? She considered, briefly, pulling strings to get him fired (there were perks to being royalty) but decided she wasn’t that vindictive. Not yet, anyway. Another year of this job and I may well be.
The barracks seemed under-populated until Yarrow remembered with a start that she’d released the medicorps to help with the fever in the city and castle. Shouldn’t that be over by now? It had been been nearly a tredicem since the outbreak had begun. She made a mental note to visit Jules at the hospitalis after her fact-finding mission. She hoped he was well.
Spotting a lieutenant she knew to be a friend or at least an acquaintance of James, she headed over to where the woman was playing cards. Coalette jumped up to salute but Yarrow waved her hand.
“At ease, soldier. I’m looking for someone. Lt. James deDessi. He here?” she directed her question at all of the officers around the small makeshift table.
The woman and her comrades exchanged glances. “We haven’t seen him, Ma’am,” she said, apology in her voice. “But I know who might’ve. Eh, Sebastian!” she shouted, and a man turned at the sound of his voice, lieutenant insignia on his collar. “You seen James?” Coalette asked.
“James? Naw, he ain’t back yet. Still wenching and whoring in Mudflat, I hear,” he said, then turned back to his game. It mattered not in his life where the other man was.
Coalette shrugged and turned back to her superior. “I’m sorry, Ma’am.” She sounded truly contrite, as if she knew how much work Yarrow had to do now.
Yarrow gave Coalette a tight smile. “Not your fault. As you were,” she added before leaving the barracks, hiding her frustrated anger.
“Because Mudflat is precisely where I want to go at this time of year,” she muttered to no one in particular as she turned her feet towards the hospitalis.
The hospitalis was far from empty. It still overflowed with patients but Jules was not there. Neither were Ghia and Helene, it seemed, one being in the city delivering aid and the other down with the fever.
Yarrow gave her thanks to Jera for the information and left, worried about how the city was dealing with the fever and at a loss as to what to do next. She had to leave for Mudflat in the morning, that was for sure. She didn’t want to go alone, for she was no fool, but she didn’t want to ask Caelum to accompany her. Nor was there anyone else she felt she could ask, except Jules, who wasn’t there – probably sleeping, which Goddess knew he deserved after his stint as Head Healer.
Hands on hips, she tapped her foot, thinking. It was growing far too late to ask anyone else. People were preparing for sleep, now, save night-shifters. Well, Aro might still be up.
She stopped. Aro. She could ask him – it would give him something to do. After collecting Lt. James, they could head to Harbourtown to await word of Anala, who would be due back soon, if she was to return at all.
No. No if. She will.
It wasn’t as if there was much else to do. True, New Year’s and Spring were upon them. Just three days away. True to form, however, winter was not relinquishing Athering from its icy grip so easily. The weather fluctuated between snowing densely, as it was doing now, to bright, hot days that melted all the fresh snow and flooded the streets. It was a horrible, messy, muddy time of year which wouldn’t improve for at least a month. Leave might have officially ended, but as far as Yarrow was concerned it was going to last past New Year’s, perhaps till the end of Primera. The Empress would be crazy to launch a new campaign now. Oh, it had been done in the past, for wartime knew no season. One must get the jump on one’s enemies! At present, however, the only war they were involved in was a cold war with Voco, and with that “peace treaty” in the works…. Yes, it would be crazy to launch something now.
Which wasn’t to say Zanny wasn’t crazy, but Zardria would know better. With Duema coming up, her rule would solidify more every day.
Idly, Yarrow wondered whom her twin would choose as Consort; then pushed those musings away. Perhaps if she and her sister didn’t have a love-hate relationship, she would already know. Frankly, she didn’t care whom her sister had her eyes on. So long as she leaves Caelum and me alone. That would be the best birthday gift I could ask for.
Passing Aro’s room, she stopped short at the sight of a slightly damp Ghia standing outside his door.
She blinked, incredulously, and voiced as neutral a greeting as she could manage. “Healer Ghia.”
Ghia inclined her head and bobbed a quick curtsy — ever the tomboy. “Bellica Yarrow. What brings you here?”
I could ask you the same, girl. “Regimental business,” was all she said. She raised her eyebrows pointedly, asking Ghia the same. For some reason, she felt jealous, which was ridiculous – she held no attraction to Aro. Right?
Well, why are you at his room past midnight, Yarrow?
Regimental business, she told herself sternly.
If Ghia noticed Yarrow’s conflicted emotions, she said nothing. “It’s a long story, but – ”
The door opened then, cutting Ghia off. Yarrow saw the look of relief on the healer’s face, but was then distracted by the two men emerging from the room.
“Jules?” she said, and mentally kicked herself.
Yes, Jules. You were expecting perhaps Lord Exsil Vis?
He stood at attention immediately, as did Aro. Ghia merely looked amused.
Yarrow waved her arm crossly. “Ghia’s not released you yet, soldier – you should be saluting her.” He had the grace to flush. A quick glance at Ghia told Yarrow the girl was perilously close to laughter. The trio looked at one another, Ghia reining in her mirth admirably while debating whether to clue the bellica in.
Yarrow wanted to stamp her foot in frustration, which she’d not done since a small child. She let her irritation out in her voice. “Are you going to tell me what the feck is going on or are you going to leave me in the dark?”
This was one of those tense moments before taking a decision to reveal a secret, judging by the collective sharp intake of breath. Yarrow stared and waited. Finally Jules took up the mantle of spokesperson: “Ah, we’re going to Harbourtown.” He gave her his best I’m-your-medic-don’t-kill-me smile, which he had down to a fine art by this point.
Yarrow gave him a droll stare. “Right now?”
“Ah, well, soon-ish, I suppose….” he began, flustered.
Ghia cut in. “As soon as possible, Bellica. Dawn would be good.” She lifted her chin defiantly, daring Yarrow to countermand her.
Outranking all of them, Yarrow could have forbidden it until she got some straight answers. She could have questioned them. She could have sent them all to hack. She could have done any of those things, had she seen the situation as just three inferiors defiantly going ahead with a crazy plan that transgressed all rules and military order.
Instead, she saw an opportunity.
If she was not one to seize an opportunity, then her name wasn’t Yarrow Achi deZameera Zarqon, by Aradia!
She was still in charge.
“No, you’re not,” she said, and enjoyed the instant rebellion in three sets of eyes, albeit one set was rather bleary and bloodshot. She cut off their protests: “We leave at dawn for Mudflat. I require an escort for Regiment business there.”
The men were frowning, obviously wondering if they should try to plead their case. Yarrow made eye contact with Ghia, who was no doubt in charge of this jackahare-brained scheme. The healer looked at her steadily and then smiled.
“As you wish, Bellica,” she said respectfully, giving Yarrow a formal curtsy.
Yarrow inclined her head. “Pack your bags, soldiers. We leave on the morn and I’ll tolerate no tardiness.” With that she walked away, heading to her own room.
It was a good plan. There would have been Muerta to pay had those three tried to go to Harbourtown through unofficial channels. Yarrow needed an escort and would not be refused her choices. Whether they all arrived or stayed in Mudflat or not…well, the paperwork would say they had. That was all that mattered.
She smiled as she strode down the hallway, pleased with her own cleverness.