A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

4.1 – Deinceps Itinere {Forward March}

It was an unintended boon, living on a room high up and on the east side of the palace of Milia. It meant that the first beams of the early morning sun hit Elena’s windows first, even before they reached the courtyards below. She slept with her curtains open every night now, falling asleep with the moonlight playing on her face and waking up at first light.

The blankets were so warm and comfortable around her, but Elena set her chin stubbornly and rolled her way out of bed. In the corner, Ele groaned something unintelligible, but Elena was already on her way to the rainsluice and she didn’t bother stopping to hear him complain. She assumed they were the same complaints she had.

Her calves ached with every step, but the warm water made it worth the pain. At least at this point the pain was manageable, not like it had been at the start.

“The Eight Arrows, today, so I assume it’s either a squadron of archers or infantry with a very sarcastic sense of humor,” Ele called from the bedroom.

“Archers,” Elena said over the falling water, “that woman I was talking to last week, she was their Captain.”

“What were the two of you talking about?”

“The usual. She doesn’t like this, begrudgingly accepts His Principessa’s orders to do it, isn’t sure this will work.”

“At least they’re consistent, if nothing else. They all operate the same way.”

“I suppose that’s why they’re military.”

Elena had already toweled dry and was changing when her friend knocked on the door.

“I feel good about today,” Belloza said as she practically bounced into the room, “this is going to be the fastest squadron yet.” After weeks of the Saggitara bursting in early in the mornings, Elena was a little less shy about being caught in her smallclothes around the girl, especially since her Echo waited outside.

“Oh, really?” Elena smiled, sliding the leather jerkin over her head, “and what makes you so confident of that fact?”

“Just a feeling I have,” Belloza leaned against the doorframe, turning one of her bolts over in her hands, “you’ve been consistently improving at taking command of your squadrons, and you’ll like the Eight Arrows. They’re some good people.”

“All of the squadrons I’ve taken over have been good people.”

“But these guys are all business, and that works better with your Storm.”

“Does it?” Elena paused, her hair halfway done.

“Yeah, the ones who are more friendly take longer. I think it’s because you’re too focused on becoming their friends before you become their leader.”

“Oh. Well I guess that’s something to focus on, then. Thank you,” Elena said. At first Belloza’s presence had been simply the company of a friend, but lately she had found the Saggitara’s help invaluable.

Since she spent almost all of her time in the barracks with the troops, Belloza had friends all throughout the Milian army. Her habit of wandering from squad to squad, picking up what skills she could, or passing the time gambling or talking with the soldiers, had been of huge help to Elena. No matter what squadron Elena took control of, Belloza always seemed to know one or more of the soldiers on the squad. Her easygoing familiarity with so many, combined with her knowledge of Elena’s Storm, had made the past month infinitely easier.

“Morning light’s about to hit the courtyard,” Belloza warned, and Elena gave herself a final look in the mirror. The sun had been kind to her over the past several weeks, giving her a healthy-looking tan and a spattering of freckles across her face that matched Belloza’s. With her soft leather armor and her black hair tied up in a pony-tail, she looked rather like the women of the squadrons she had been commanding. The last thing she did was grab the hammer from her dresser, sliding it into her leather belt. The girls emerged into the halls, empty so early in the morning, and their Echoes followed silently and sleepily behind them.

“I still say we should get you a bow from somewhere or other,” Belloza noted, “the hammer is nice, and I know the Studios are afraid of it now, but it’s not exactly regulation. You might connect better with your squadron if you adopted the weapons they used.”

Elena smiled. It wasn’t lost on her that Belloza took every opportunity to casually call them ‘her’ squadron, and she appreciated the effort.

“The rebels are afraid of it too,” she said, “and besides, I like being different, I think it makes me stand out a little bit. A Fabera who fights with a hammer, it’s…symbolic. It sticks in peoples’ minds.”

“You should’ve chosen a better name than ‘Cog’, then, a hammer name,” Belloza turned and walked backward down the hall so she could grin at her friend.

“Don’t be silly, who names themselves after their weapon, Cross?” Elena returned the grin.

“Only idiots, probably.”

The walk down to the ground floor passed by in comfortable silence, but when they emerged out into the first courtyard Belloza spoke.

“I’ve actually been thinking of changing my nickname to something different. Something other than Cross.”

“But everyone in the Studios knows you as Cross! Why are you wanting to change?” Ele asked.

“Well, there are some Saggitari who use crossbows in the Milian army already. It’s not that unique of a feature.”

“But you don’t have to worry about it until you leave the Studios, do you?”

“Well…” Belloza ran a hand through her hair, looking anywhere but at Elena and Ele.

“Belloza has been told by a few of the captains, independently, that if she applies to one of the Stormtouched squadrons they’ll let her in, even before she’s graduated from the Studio.”

“That’s wonderful!” Elena cried.

“It would mean leaving Studio Gritti, though. I mean, I’ve already sort of left Studio Gritti…but Master Gritti has been good to me, I don’t know how I’d feel just brushing off the years of guidance and my friends in the Studio, you know?”

“I know,” Elena nodded.

“Looks like your squadron is full of early risers.”

Elena lifted her gaze to find they had arrived at the barracks, and a few squadrons were already assembling. Captain Matilde, the leader of the Eight Arrows, was walking back and forth in front of a unit standing at attention, apparently already finishing up an inspection.

“It’s Spring, why isn’t she waiting until sunup?” Belloza asked quietly as they approached.

“Because she doesn’t trust me to take over,” Elena murmured, “she won’t go against His Principessa, but she can’t give up control.”

“Won’t that make it harder for you to feel in-control, then? Should you do something to-”

“Captain Matilde,” Elena raised her voice as the pair approached. When Captain Matilde turned, her face was frozen in a scowl, but Elena raised her chin and ignored the expression. “I didn’t realize this squadron rose pre-dawn, now that I know that I’ll be sure to arrive sooner. Anything to report from the inspection?”

“Nothing to report,” Captain Matilde folded her arms across her chest, “my men are always up to scratch, they know how to pass inspections.”

Elena internally sighed, but let none of her exasperation show on her face. She had worked the project enough to know that exasperation, frustration, and annoyance were all seen as signs of weakness, and showing weakness would only hurt her cause. Trying to explain the situation was similarly unhelpful, she’d found. For every Captain eager to step aside completely and give her control, there were three more unwilling to even pretend to give up the power they’d spent so long working towards.

Only after friendliness and reason had failed had Elena discovered the easiest way to take command of squadrons like these. Perhaps the Captain hadn’t meant to call them ‘her’ men, but Elena had to make sure the situation was clear.

“I’m glad to hear it,” she moved to stand in front of the squad, taking up a position in the middle such that Captain Matilde would have to stand off to one side of her. It was a subtle sign of subordination, but enough subtle signs would add up. “A squadron who can pass inspection is just what I like,” Elena continued, “it means I won’t have to spend time whipping my new men and women into shape.”

She could feel the Captain’s glare without turning around. Belloza and Bello wordlessly fell into formation with the other men, women and Echoes, and the simple action helped Elena focus a little more.

“They’ll be running the eight furlong this morning, Journeyman Lucciano,” Captain Matilde said curtly, “do you think you’ll be able to keep up?”

Elena was glad this wasn’t her first squadron. At the beginning of the project she wouldn’t have known how far or hard eight furlongs were, or whether or not she could keep up, or more importantly how to deal with a Captain unwilling to lend her support.

“Actually, Captain, that’s not your call anymore,” Elena said without turning her head. Addressing the troops, she continued, “perhaps it’s because I just came from the Red Flag battalion, but I’m more used to running a ten furlong at the minimum. Is it true what they say about archers having no leg strength, then? You may speak.”

She hadn’t encountered an officer who would actually refuse permission to speak in answer to a question, but giving them permission to do something they would do anyway only increased the feeling of authority, and authority was what she needed.

“We’re running an eight ‘cause we heard a little girl would be running with us,” called a voice from the assembled squadron, and up and down the line a few of the soldiers tried to hide smirks. Elena hadn’t seen who made the comment, and she couldn’t think of any way to find out without looking weak, but she gave a mental shrug.

“Well then, it sounds like we won’t have a problem. We’ll run the sixteen furlong, squadron, starting just about now. March!”

This was always the most nerve-wracking part. The first order was always the hardest, looking up into the faces of a full compliment of the most battle-hardened men and women of Milia’s army, expecting them to jump at the orders of a sixteen year old girl. Once they obeyed the first order, everything got easier.

Belloza jumped to obey, immediately breaking into a steady jog, and like herd animals those next to her moved to follow, then the entire squadron, heading counterclockwise in a circle around the palace. The courtyards wrapped around the entire thing, and a full revolution would take eight furlongs. Elena turned to Captain Matilde and gestured.

“After you, Captain.”

“You expect me to run with them?” Captain Matilde bristled. Her gaze was so furious that Elena almost balked, but instead she lifted her chin further, channeling her mother as best she could.

“I expect all of my troops to run,” she said, meeting the Captain’s gaze coldly. Captain Matilde glared daggers at Elena, but she turned and began to jog after the troops.

“You made quite the first impression,” Ele said as soon as the Captain was out of earshot.

“I don’t need her to like me, I need to get my job done,” Elena felt a bit shaky, as always, but things had gone worse with other squadrons.

“And? What’s the verdict?”

Elena reached for details of the squadron in her head, and though there had been the beginnings of a tingling in her temple for a moment, the Storm fled as soon as she tried to focus in on it.

“It’s close,” she said, “this was a good first impression. I should have this squad within a few days, I think.”

“That’s a lot faster than we’ve been seeing,” Ele said, “you’re getting better at this.”

“I just wish the whole thing was easier. Or that so many of them didn’t hate me by the time I was done. I might need connections in the future, it won’t do to have half of Milia’s military against me.”

“Chasing connections can be a dangerous thing,” a familiar voice said from behind her, and Elena whirled.

“Master Apollo!” she cried, “you’re back!”

Master Apollo smiled his easy smile and shifted his grip on the large bag he carried. “It’s good to see you again, Journeyman Cog,” he said, “I was watching you there for a bit, I see you’ve become a little general in our absence.”

“Oh, that’s just for this job I’m working on…wait, ‘Journeyman Cog’?” Elena said with a smile, “aren’t I ‘the future Master Haephestus’?”

“Ah, yes, that…” the smile suddenly fell from Master Apollo’s face, to be replaced with a neutral mask, “I actually mentioned you to Master Zeus, when Master Artemis and I returned to meet with the rest of the Eye. Master Zeus…impressed on me that I perhaps should not be so forthcoming with information about our organization, nor should I promise things beyond my control.”

Elena was taken aback. It had only been five months since she’d even heard of the Eye, but ever since Master Apollo had first called her ‘Haephestus’ she had imagined, in the back of her head, the possibility of being one of them. Whether or not the possibility was strong enough to pursue, it was a strange feeling to suddenly have it yanked away from her.

“So that’s it?” she asked, “Master Zeus just rejected me, without even meeting me?”

“Oh, he doesn’t need to meet someone,” Master Apollo said, “he simply knows all of the- ah, but I shouldn’t say that. He hasn’t rejected you though, in fact- hm, I shouldn’t say that either. I’m sorry, Elena, I’m no good at this, this is why they keep me from talking to people.”

“It’s okay, we can change the subject,” Elena said hurriedly. She liked talking to Master Apollo, and the thought of making him uncomfortable made her sad. “Are you back to help root out the rest of the rebels?”

“Well Artemis, Asclepius and I were recalled, about to be sent off to Licre, I think, when suddenly the Milian Rebellion became a point of worry from all quarters. Before we know it, the Crown is getting pressure from multiple sides. The Council of Rimi is asking for intervention, Ferrire and Venecchi both rumble about war between cities if they have to put down a rebel-led Milia.”

Lucrezia is one of the Council leaders in Rimi, Elena thought, shivering at the thought of the plain woman, and Marsillo has political connections in Venecchi and Ferrire. It seemed the Twisted had made good on their promise to send the Eye to deal with Little One’s rebellion.

The Eight Arrows ran past Elena, completing their first eight furlongs and starting in on the second set. Captain Matilde wasn’t the only one who glared at her as they passed.

“So much for chasing connections,” Master Apollo said.

“At least I like the friends I have made in Milia,” Elena smiled at Master Apollo, and was relieved when he smiled back.

“Oh, that reminds me!” he said suddenly, “where will you be this afternoon?”

“Either working on projects with my retinue, or having a nap,” Elena said, “either way, my friends will know where to find me. Why do you ask?”

“Well, Master Zeus isn’t the only one I’ve talked to about you. Or that Master Artemis has.”

“You’ve talked to other members of the Eye about me?”

“I’ve talked to all of the Eye about you, Cog. Now that we’re in Milia, they’re very interested in meeting you.”

***

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***

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5 responses

  1. I’m still feeling crummy, but at least I got the chapter out on time this evening! Hope you’re all enjoying, and don’t worry, I’m sure any lost quality will return to its normal state by next update time when I’m feeling a bit better!

    Like

    2015-09-13 at 11:22 pm

  2. daniel73

    Having half the commanding officers of the military your in charge of hating you sounds like a problem especiasly when there’s a rebellion brewing …

    Like

    2015-09-14 at 4:47 am

    • DeNarr

      Well, hopefully she can at least earn their respect, if not their friendship.

      Like

      2015-09-14 at 10:46 am

  3. I’m frankly becoming scared of Elena’s development. I’m worried she’s getting a bit monster-like, and that she’ll have the joy sucked out of her life. I can imagine her inadvertently becoming Little Two.

    That said, Elena is becoming a really, really cool general. I wonder what the Princepessa has in mind in case Elena decides to go against them?

    Feel better, Maddi :< And I've really enjoyed these chapters. No lost quality in my opinion~

    Like

    2015-09-16 at 9:35 pm

    • Thanks so much, I’m glad that my quality doesn’t dip as much as it seems to me when I’m sick :D

      hehehe I love the nickname “Little Two”, that’s amazing

      Like

      2015-09-23 at 12:41 am

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