Jourd’Juno, 5th Duema
Not even three days had passed and already there had been rebellion and an execution.
The latter had been expected — it had been announced at the Ceremony, after all. But Anala had not thought Ghia would be so stupid.
She mourned Molly as much as the healer would, she knew. As a bellica, she knew that there were times to act and times to let the inevitable happen and haunt you the rest of your days.
Yarrow was gone. So was any hope.
Had Ghia told Anala, perhaps they would have gotten away. Tyvian, if reports she heard were accurate, perhaps they would have ended things then and there.
Whether the healer had kept it a secret out of that annoying need to do things herself, or to keep Anala safe, or — Goddesses forbid! — because she now saw Anala as the enemy, which was unfortunately likely, Anala didn’t know. She cursed the luck that had now landed the young healer bloody and broken in the dungeon, not much use to anyone anymore — and feck-all that Anala could do about it.
Keeping her frustration and anger tightly reined in, she and Aro walked to the barracks of the First Regiment, now hers to command. She’d integrated most of her Second Regiment into Yarrow’s old one, filling holes left by the East Campaign and Jules’ defection. The remaining soldiers had been put on reserve status. She’d then set to work calling back the regiments stationed elsewhere in the empire and switching out with new ones, as well as sending various regiments to places currently without a military presence. Southland, she knew, had been relying on its civilian police force far too long; its resources were stretched thin and every year more police officers died than could be trained up again. Along with other towns, Southland needed protection so civilians could flourish. A military presence would add the benefit of upping recruitment levels, which were at an all-time low across the country. That problem needed a fast remedy.
She hadn’t thought, when she’d accepted the banished Yarrow’s job, that it would include all this — and by rights it shouldn’t have. Then, Empress Zardria had granted Anala admiralty powers, something that hadn’t been done in Athering for over eight thousand years. For the Queen’s other title in Athering was Admiral, and military and civil power were one.
As Zardria had shifted things in Athering so that civil and religious power were one, she also had made the military separate. Anala wasn’t sure if this was a good idea or not. She just accepted the change and did her job.
She wondered idly if Zardria knew the extent of her Admiral’s involvement with the short-lived rebellion led by Yarrow. Probably. It seemed doubtful she was that uninformed.
Keep yer friends close…she thought.
They were close to the barracks when a messenger ran up and saluted. She and Aro stopped, giving a salute back.
“Admiral, one of your captains has been refused entry at the hospitalis for her fever.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Why doesnae Fanchone see ta ‘er?”
The messenger swallowed nervously. “He says he has not the capabilities to do so, Admiral, and sent her to the hospitalis himself.”
Anala thanked and dismissed the man, who ran off gratefully. “Aro, walk wit’ me,” she said, and turned her steps to face the direction of the hospitalis.
“Yes Ma’am,” he said, his behaviour the epitome of a proper Major’s, as it had been for their entire working relationship.
Anala could see before speaking to Jera, the healer currently in charge, that the hospitalis was a goddessdamned mess. She didn’t need to ask why.
Still, she played her part.
“Healer Jera, one o’ me captains’d been refused treatment from ye here. I’d be much obliged if’n ye could enlighten me as ta why,” she said, an admiral’s sternness gracing her features, belying her deceptively mild tone of voice.
Jera paled but did not flinch, and stood her ground before the admiral. “With respect, Admiral: look around you. We’re in no shape to take care of civilians, let alone your women. Three of our healers are sick with a new wave of the fever; half our staff is still scattered throughout the town as per Ghia’s last orders and no abatement of the fever, and Helene is sick again — we doubt she’ll even make it this time. I’m the oldest healer here but I never aspired to leadership. I am doing all I can but frankly, I’m not made for this!” Her voice rose at the end and she stopped herself, shame flashing across her face. “Forgive me. I’m tired.” Resignation settled onto her face then, and Anala could tell the woman expected a stern reprimand for speaking so to a superior officer.
The admiral merely nodded in understanding. “Let me see what I’d be able ta do fer ye, Jera,” she said, and the woman’s face lightened considerably.
“Thank you, Admiral. I will not forget your kindness.”
“Dinnae take it for kindness. Ye keep me women healthy. I need me soldiers ready ta go.”
Jera nodded, saluted, and turned back to her work.
Anala turned from the hospitalis then, and Aro followed silently.
“Major,” she said, sotto voce, “‘ave ye ‘ad word on Ghia’s condition?”
“She’s alive and apparently sane, Admiral,” he said, his voice just as low.
She said nothing more; just made a small “hmm” sound as she thought. They continued walking to their quarters in that silence, Aro letting Anala form something from the thoughts that danced in her head.
When they reached the doors to their adjoining quarters Anala told him to get his paperwork finished — for with her admiralty came a new, unending mountain of it for both of them — and disappeared into her own quarters to change.
Clothing changed to something more formal, she opened her door to leave again and jumped, startled at the sight of her major leaning against her doorframe.
She frowned at him. “I told ye ta finish yer papers, Aro.”
“I’ve got time,” he said with a nonchalant shrug. “Where are you going?”
“To tha Empress. Try’n get things back on track in tha Healer’s Guild, ye ken,” she replied, a bit irritated with him.
His gaze didn’t waver and he didn’t move out of her way. “Not down to the dungeons.”
Now she really was irritated. She pushed him aside with a snarl. “Nae — or had ye not noticed tha formals I’d be wearing? Hardly dressed fer a prison break.”
He sighed and murmured an apology, but she was quite past caring. “I’d be seeing ye later, Major,” she said, and then was heading down the hall.
The Empress was less than accommodating, but that had been expected.
“You’re asking me to declare martial law, Anala,” Zardria said in an exasperated voice.
Anala failed to see the problem Zardria would have with doing so, but she didn’t say as much. “Not exactly, Yer Highness. I’d be asking fer either a return ta tha order o’ tha Healer’s Guild, or fer ye ta give me tha power ta right things.” In other words, free Ghia and reinstate her, or declare martial law. Just not in so many words.
The Empress flung down the quill she was holding and collapsed back into her chair, sighing and rubbing her temples.
“You put me in a difficult position, Anala,” she said, her voice tired but no less strong. “Ghia is a traitor, plain and simple. By rights she should be executed — I certainly do not wish her let loose on the castle again. However, the alternative is not such an easy choice to make.” She stood and paced the study, hands clasped behind her back, her long peplos swishing on the floor. “You failed me in Voco, Anala — not only failing to exact a peace treaty with Lord Exsil Vis but angering him and bringing war to our western border. Umbra knows if Harbourtown will ever recover. Now you want me to put you in charge of all of Athering?”
Anala stood and took the unfair criticism, not letting it stoke her ire. With tight control she said “With respect, Majesty, if’n I’d be such a failure, why did ye promote me?”
Zardria turned to face the admiral again. “Pray tell me what choice I had, Anala. It had always been my plan to separate civil and military power — to give a bellica admiralty powers. With my sister breaking laws left and right and just generally being a pain in my side, and no other bellica with her skill — save you, of course,” she said with a smile that was almost kind. “I had thought maybe such a promotion would make you less likely to fail me in the future.”
“Have I failed ye since, Majesty?” Anala asked equably.
Zardria stared at her a moment before responding. “No. You have not. Very well,” she continued, expelling a sigh through her nostrils, “I shall consider very carefully each option, with all due seriousness. That is all I promise. Dismissed,” she added, almost carelessly.
Anala bowed low, expressed her heartfelt thanks, and left.
Beginning her arduous climb down the stairs with a nod at the guards posted outside the Empress’ study, Anala wondered if she would ever understand the capricious, dark-haired leader. With a shudder she thought of her father — no, she could never use that term — of the man who had sired her and of the similarities between him and the woman she now served. Of the similarities between the admiral and empress.
Lord Lihin was officially Zardria’s father. Anala doubted that claim to be true. The Empress not only looked more like Queen Zameera’s second consort, but their behaviour wildly shifting between pleasant and maliciously tyrannical from one moment to the next, and the seeming lack of a conscience…the resemblance was uncanny.
She thought of herself, of the mood swings that had plagued her as a young girl, tempered only by military discipline and too many emotional wounds to name. She thought of her almost cruel treatment of her women that nonetheless inspired an almost fanatical devotion. She thought of her growing devotion to Zardria, and realised that she understood more of the Empress than she’d thought possible.
She realised, too, that along with that understanding came a growing respect for the leader of the world as they knew it.
That thought was truly terrifying.
Anala had no reason for wandering the castle that night aside a weary need to escape her quarters and her lover, who was wearing a hole in her rug with his pacing.
He’d done it each night since the Birthright Ceremony — only three times but already she was tired of it. He ranted and paced and paced and ranted, trying to puzzle out what they could do now Yarrow was gone.
She never said anything, never answered. She laid back on her bed and watched him move, admiring the way his muscles rippled as he propelled himself into insanity on her floor. There was not much else to do when she had nothing to say. What could she tell him? “Actually, Aro, I’d be starting ta like the Empress.”
That would go over well.
So every night she let nothing come to her lips except the desire to kiss him till he shut up, which usually she did once he’d expelled the first large rush of rant. Then she’d push him back on the bed and get him to stop saying anything for a long while.
Tonight she only felt tired. Her earlier epiphanies combined with his determined drive to get himself killed in the name of things like honour and justice and freedom — it was all too much.
She left her room before he could even really begin, saying she needed to walk tonight.
“Do you want company?” his voice followed her, a lost little boy.
“Nae,” she barely said before she was gone, where, she didn’t know.
She’d walked for almost an hour, just going up and down the hallways of the castle, and still could not formulate a coherent thought to save her life. It was as if all the thinking had been done already, on the stairs of the Spire as she’d left the Empress’ audience, and now her brain could carry on no more — done, done, done, it was, done and it would leave her to die herself, in ignorance of any sort of truth she could have grasped.
She found her feet leading her to the stables, and decided, on the basis of the first real thought of the night, that she could stand to pay a visit to her horse. Endymion would not expect conversation from the admiral; would not need any deep realisations or philosophies born out of a time of war and revolution. All Endymion would need would be a scritch on the nose and some loving touch, some sweet nothings murmured to assure the stallion that he was the only male in Anala’s life.
Sometimes she felt he really was.
When she reached the stables she stopped short at the sight in front of her.
There was the entire First Regiment, from the looks of it, saddled up and in the process of leaving silently. In the middle of the night. Without her leave.
Her entrance caused a stillness to settle over the group, and they gave her furtive looks filled with guilt.
Recently promoted Captain Coalette, the highest ranking officer closest to the admiral, spoke for the group.
“We’re sorry, Admiral,” she said, and Anala thought the girl might suffocate from the guilt on her face, “but we can’t stay here. We’re leaving to join Yarrow.”
Anala stood still, staring at her women — no, Yarrow’s women — blankly until, like settling into a horse’s trot, everything clicked into place in her head and she could suddenly think again.
Nothing was ever simple in this world.
She stepped forward, coming beside the flank of Coalette’s horse. “Well then. Ye better make it real,” she said, and offered the side of her head to the young captain.
Coalette looked confused. “Ma’am?”
Anala sighed in exasperation. “Yer sword. Hit me wit’ tha pommel.”
“Oh,” she said in sudden understanding, surprise now dominating her features where guilt had fled. “Are you sure?”
“Goddessdamnit yes I’d be sure,” Anala snapped. “Now do it afore I’d be like ta change me mind!” She gave them her Bellica’s Glare.
Guilt came in to invade Coalette’s features again, successfully routing any other emotion that may have camped out across her face, and the captain drew her sword and swung the hilt down towards Anala’s head.
It must have worked, for Anala awoke later on the stable floor with a pounding headache and the feeling of dried blood on her face. Aro’s face hovered above her, looking worried.
She grunted and sat up slowly, explaining to him of the First Regiment’s mutiny. For some reason, she forgot to tell him the part where she let them go.
He frowned. “Let’s get your head checked out by Fanchone.”
“Nae,” she said, standing up unsteadily. “I’d be fine. ‘Sides, I’d need ta tell tha Empress.”
Aro nodded and got up to follow her, his face a careful blank, but not before she’d noticed the look of betrayal that had stolen across it.
She sighed inwardly and turned her face forward.
It was the only direction she could go.