Once the invading Vocan army had been beaten back out of the castle grounds and the hospitalis and the stables were secured, an order came down to fortify the gates and post a new contingent of sentries along the battlements, for the old contingent had failed to notice the infiltration of the castle until it was too late. Anala didn’t know what the Empress planned to do to those women who had fatally failed in their jobs. She didn’t frankly care at the moment.
The damage was great. Three hundred of their own dead, including those who had died in the hospitalis. Three hundred people dead, some eighty horses stolen, three grain silos broken into and poisoned, destroying three months worth of food for the whole population of the castle. They were damned lucky the water supply couldn’t be touched, the river flowing through the city as it did.
Of her Regiment, Fanchone, Captain Reid, and several others were dead. Of the other regiments, they’d lost two bellicas as well as many good officers, privas and a portion of the Medicorps. She had two leaderless regiments, a lot of dead soldiers, and not enough new recruits to train up. The bodies of the dead were being prepared for a funeral, when the sun rose. The plain where warriors were buried could not be reached; so they would use the west lawns in the castle grounds, that the strength of their dead would seep into the land while their souls went to Bellona. The lawns had been used as a cemetery in the past; Anala hoped there would be enough room. The bodies of the Vocans were being tossed over the walls, given back to the camp that squatted in the Town Square.
They’d never had a chance. She’d been in the process of reorganising the military, sending regiments out to fortify Athering’s towns. Three had been sent to Harbourtown to relieve the thirteenth through fifteenth, who were no doubt on their way back to Atherton now. She’d sent the twentieth to Southland to ease the pressure on the civilian police force, the ninth to Smoke, the seventh to Mudflat, the eighth to fortify the troops holding Aeril (Bellica Erin had been one that Anala had always trusted, more or less, and she trusted her now with the secret of the rebellion in Aeril), and the tenth to take care of the Nucalif province. The fourth regiment was still at the city-state, and recent letters had indicated their desperation for company.
That left her own regiment, the third, fifth, and sixth for the capital – and the sixth was stationed in the town itself.
Naught even thirty-five hundred people to protect the castle, some of them on leave in town besides.
Now the castle was under siege, and the admiral had no way of reaching her troops.
She felt she’d failed in her job utterly.
I couldnae even protect tha man I loved, she thought, and felt the tears spring fresh to her eyes.
No. No more tears. She’d cried enough tonight. I’da cried enough fer ever.
In one last act driven by emotion that night, she’d drawn her knife in the middle of the hospitalis and shorn her long hair, leaving naught but an inch poking up from her skull. It attracted looks of pity, for that was an act of mourning only the utterly bereaved went through – spouses, lovers, parents. It was easier to bear the pain of one’s parents or grandparents, or any older relative, passing, for it was expected, if unwanted. The same, it was said, for comrades in battle. Her act had been telling.
Unable to bear the looks of pity that crossed the faces of her women, and her duties finished, she headed back to the hospitalis. She’d been ordered to report to the Empress when things were said and done, but the treecat could wait as far as she cared. Her cousin was the one who needed Anala right now, and truth be told she needed Ghia’s company, too. More than I can say.
The clean up was done and the healers in bed. The hospitalis was empty save for the head healer, who stood still in the middle, looking terribly sad and small and young in that moment. Anala crossed the room and hugged her cousin, and Ghia’s right arm came around the admiral’s waist, her broken hand unable to return the embrace in earnest, though Anala could feel Ghia’s intention in her movement. Neither woman cried, but in that embrace there was some release for them, some shuddering of the bones that left Anala feeling scrubbed clean, empty as the hospitalis itself, and when she stepped away she could see, in Ghia’s face, that the same was true for the healer.
“Let’s leave this place, eh?” she said to Ghia, and the healer nodded, a strange light coming into her eyes. The girl still had not spoken, and Anala had figured out that the healer, in fact, could not speak. She didn’t know why, but hoped there was an answer out there somewhere.
Ghia gestured for Anala to follow her, and the admiral complied, not caring where they went so long as it was far away from everyone else.