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East of the Sun, West of the Moon: Chapter Two

       Last updated: Saturday, December 17, 2005 23:07 EST



    “Lost,” Megan said quietly as a portly blonde man approached with a significantly younger brunette female in tow.

    “Duke Anatiev and Mrs. Lydia Pina,” Meredith whispered rapidly. “Kanaka. He dotes on his dog Puddles. Wants more money to flow through Kanaka. Leather and beef for legions. Kanaka Beef Corp.”

    “Anatiev!” Megan said, smiling broadly as she took the man’s pudgy hand. “And Lydia! Lovely to see you this evening. No Puddles? Where is the little scamp?”

    “Oh, Puddles can’t handle the excitement, Countess,” Anatiev said, beaming. “Just barks herself into a frenzy. You really should join us at the Dog Club one afternoon, all the best sorts are there.”

    “Please call me Megan,” the Council Woman said with a smile. “I don’t currently have a pet. I’ve only just got my feet on the ground.”

    “It must have been terrible,” Lydia Pina said, leaning forward.

    “It was,” Megan replied, cutting off that flow of conversation. “I have been meaning to take the portal to Kanaka, though. I understand that it’s growing by leaps and bounds?”

    “Well, we were,” the Duke said, frowning. “But so much of the new lands are being broken closer to the coast that our sales are down sharply. Which is silly since we’ve all this beef on the hoof and the best slaughter houses in the nation. Transport, though…”

    “Balmoran Canal…” Meredith whispered quickly.

    “Well, if we can get the funding for the Balmoran Canal pushed through, the transportation costs will drop to nothing,” Megan pointed out. “Or the upgrades to the Nawlins ports. I think that KBC might be interested in talking to Commons Member Weiss.”

    “Very good point,” the Duke said, blinking rapidly. “But what would be really nice is if we could get some solid contracts with the military.”

    “I suspect that will depend upon their needs, Duke,” Megan replied, smiling sweetly. “Especially if they have a tenth legion to support.”

    “I do believe I said guaranteed, Megan,” the Duke said, smiling back.

    “Nawlins…” Meredith whispered.

    “The Nawlins port upgrades are probably less expensive and would take a shorter time than the completion of the canal,” Megan replied, mentally kissing the support of the Belmopan contingent goodbye. “With that, leather and beef from KBC would be on a steadier stream. I think the military is more worried about guarantee of quality supply than actual cost although it would have to be in line. But without that guarantee of supply, I think anything I would say would be dismissed.”

    “And there is the question of what sort of legion,” the Duke pressed. “Kanaka has some of the finest horsemen in the world…”

    “That is…far beyond discussion at the moment,” Megan temporized. Christ, if he went off and forced them to form another legion of cavalry… “But it’s certainly an interesting topic. Duke, I see Commons Member Walsh and I promised him a dance. If you could excuse me? I’ll be sure to drop by the Dog…”

    “Club…” Meredith whispered fiercely.

    “Club sometime soon. I hope to see you there!”

    “Oh, absolutely,” the Duke said, beaming. “And do think about getting a pet. They’re remarkable for how they can calm one.”

    “I’ll seriously consider it,” Megan said, shaking their hands and moving off through the crowd. “Blast.”

    “Not bad, not good,” Meredith whispered fast and low. “Two more votes and the Nawlins port upgrades are guaranteed, I think the canal is a wash. Walsh is on the Commerce Ports Committee which is silly since he’s from a land-locked district in Sylania. He doesn’t support them but he wants the new legion in his district. Edmund is against it since the terrain isn’t good for training, support would be difficult and it would have to be marched to the coast. Also, if we do march them off, there goes all the funds. Get him the legion and he’ll go for the port. Get a guarantee on going for the port and you’ll get Pina especially if you can get a contract guaranteed if there’s a port. But the legion, sorry, is going to have to go to Walsh and something will have to be done about marching it off. Wife’s Henutsen, not here tonight, I don’t know why.”

    “Commons Member Walsh,” Megan said, smiling as they shook hands. “I do hope Henutsen is well I was looking forward to her company tonight…”



    “Who’s the brunette?” General Galbreath asked.

    Edmund looked at Herzer and raised an eyebrow.

    “Meredith Tillou, one of the other girls from the harem,” Herzer said after a moment. “Got a mind like a fricking computer. I’d love to have her on any staff except she’s an absolute ball buster. She was one of Paul’s consorts before the Fall and he kept her as a brain-locked sperm receptacle in the harem.” One muscle flexed in his jaw as he watched the pair expertly work the Commons Member . Without a female on the Commons Member ’s arm, Megan was leaning far into his personal space, placing her hand on his upper arm and peering deeply into his eyes as they laughed about something. Herzer’s jaw flexed again.

    “Is your fiancée a natural or what?” Galbreath said, softly. “I hope like hell she’s on our side.”

    “She’s on…Megan’s side,” Herzer said. “She supports the invasion of Ropasa and the military. She wants New Destiny on toast and she’ll stop at nothing to get it. That means supporting the military. But don’t think she won’t compromise if she has to. As long as the long term objective is, in her opinion, met.”

    “I hope she’s not compromising us too much,” Edmund said, darkly. “Walsh wants in the legion in Sylania. What the hell is it going to do there?”

    “You want the legion or not?” Galbreath snapped. “If it has to be in Sylania, and it’s trending that way, it has to be in Sylania. We’ll deal with it. If she gets us the Victrix in Chaon I’m not going to bitch.”

    “Victrix?” Herzer asked.

    “Caesar’s Legion was the Tenth Victrix,” Edmund said. “Somebody decided it would be a good name.”

    “I know that,” Herzer said, frowning. “But it’s a hell of a name to hang on a legion that’s not even been funded yet.”

    “Name, hell,” Galbreath said, gesturing with his chin at the room. “Half the officers at this ball are politicking for positions in it, including the ones from the private regiments. Everyone knows it’s the last legion we’re going to form in a decade at least. And every mother’s son that doesn’t have a steady job and every officer stuck in a logistics position and every commander of a private outfit that suddenly discovered the headaches and cost is trying to get into it. I think that right there is enough political push to get it formed. But what it will be made up of…”

    “Damnit, Kav, that’s your job to fix,” Edmund said. “The officers should be the tactical and leadership cream. Not the cream of…of…” he waved his hand at the well dressed throng and frowned.

    “Whoops,” Herzer suddenly muttered. “I wonder what she wants out of us?”

    He smiled as Megan approached and held out his hand.

    “Council Woman Travante,” Herzer said with a grin.

    “Oh, God, Herzer,” Megan said, shaking her head. “Don’t start. General Talbot, Galbreath. We may have a legion. General Galbreath, if we can get the ports in Nawlins funded, I need a guarantee that the army will start using Kanaka Beef as a major supplier. I can probably get the port guaranteed, which in general will be a good thing for the nation, if we give Walsh the legion. I can definitely get it if we put another base in his district that isn’t going to march off to war. I’m thinking a basic training base or something of the sort. I know it’s out of the way and a bitch to support, sorry. But I need something here. Oh, and I need a guarantee that the primary embarkation port will be Belmopan since I’m going to have to shaft them on the canal temporarily.”

    “I think you lost me in the middle there,” Edmund admitted. “But, yeah, we can put a base in his district. Not a basic training base, something smaller. Maybe a logistics training base. It’s a stupid place for it but logistics is about dealing with the difficult. Is there something you need me to do about the Nawlins port?”

    “Just tell your proxy to vote it,” Megan grinned.

    “Will do,” Edmund replied.

    “The contract, if we have the port, and the embarkation we can do, easily,” Galbreath said. “KBC is a good supplier and I was sorry as hell when we had to go local. But the supply was just too spotty. If we’ve got the base and it can be sailed around Flora in reefer ships, we’re good.”

    “If the legion is in Sylania, part of the materials can be shipped up the Oya River,” Meredith said. “Perhaps the majority that comes from KBC. That means using the Losville locks which means we can probably get Duke Ruta in board for the legion if not the docks.”

    “Got to go,” Megan said, nodding. “Gentlemen, could I steal my fiancée for just a moment?”

    “Certainly, Madame,” General Galbreath replied with a bow.

    Megan, silently trailed by Meredith, led him just outside the ring of aides and then put her arm around his waist.

    “Hold me for just a second, will you?” she asked, leaning into his bulk.

    “Always and anywhere, darling,” Herzer breathed, looking down at her blonde hair. The hairdo was beginning to wilt a bit in the heat but she still was, he thought, the most beautiful woman in the room.

    “I have two spaces left on my dance card,” she said, leaning back and holding it up. “Put your name on them.”

    “I hate to dance,” Herzer muttered, looking at the card. “And the last dance is free for me as well?”

    “I’m not going to be here for the last dance,” Megan said, tightly. “I’ve got a late meeting with Duke Dehnavi. Very respectable. Public. Etc. But…well, I have to go to it without a male companion. I’ll explain why later.”

    “That’s fine,” Herzer said, flexing his jaw again.

    “No, it’s not.” Megan looked up at him and shook her head. “Don’t lie to me. I’ll explain why later but I just…”

    “I love you and it’s okay,” Herzer said. “I just hate being away from you. I want to be joined to you at the hip. Simple as that.”

    “Then come out on the floor,” Megan said with a smile. “Instead of hiding in the corner.”

    “If you want me to, I will,” Herzer said, frowning. “But you know I’m no good at…”

    “I know,” Megan smiled. “But what I do want you to do is get out there on your own. Don’t politic, it’s not your strong suit. Just be charming. Dance with the Duke’s wives and daughters. Regale those pompous twits in the regimental uniforms with your real tales of derrying-do. Be yourself. Be the bluff, honest, soldier. Be charming. You are, you know, you charmed me. Then save the last dance for someone wholly respectable and be waiting for me when I get home. I won’t be long. Please.” She looked up at him fiercely and hugged him to her. “Just be there. Please.”

    “I will,” Herzer said, leaning into her and hugging her back. “Edmund told me that marriage is about two people leaning on each other for support. I’ll be there. Always.”

    “And what support do you get from me?” Megan asked, sadly.

    “You keep my demons at bay,” Herzer answered, simply.


    “I can wait,” he said, quietly. “Forever if I have to. Just being with you makes me whole and at peace. Now, get out there and work it.”

    “Yes, sir!” she said with a grin. “You too.”

    “Aye, aye, Countess,” he replied, grinning back.

    “Bleck,” Megan said, turning back to the room with a smile. “Once more into the breach.”

    “Unto,” Herzer whispered as she walked back into the crowd. “Unto the breach.”

    He walked back over to the generals and shrugged.

    “If you’ll excuse me, sirs,” he said, bowing slightly. “I have marching orders. I am to go forth and be the bluff, honest soldier to wow the gentry.”

    “I suppose I should go forth myself,” Galbreath said. “And see what’s what among the nobs.”

    “I’m going to stay in the corner and get hammered,” Edmund said. “You guys have fun.”

    “What’s with him?” Galbreath said as he and Herzer walked away.

    “Edmund’s…just not this type, sir,” Herzer replied, shrugging. “He not only dislikes politics, he actively despises it. At heart, he’s an autocrat. But he worked damned hard in the early days to set up…this,” Herzer said, waving at the crowd, “because he believes that a republican form of government isn’t the best form of government, just the best ever discovered. Now he has to live with it. It was a choice he knew was right but he also knew that this would grow from it. If Daneh was here she’d sweet talk him into the crowd and before you knew it he’d be holding court. But…she’s not and I’m not about to try it.”

    “It’s a sad fact that I like politicking,” Galbreath admitted. “And I wouldn’t trust a field army in my hands for worlds.”

    “That’s why you’re here, sir, and Duke Edmund…” Herzer trailed off and shrugged. “Far better than the other way around, don’t you think?”

    “Absolutely,” the general replied as a Commons Member approached. “Commons Member Srichure, have you met Major Herrick…?”





    Herzer had exchanged two more brief words with Megan before she left and now hovered at the edge of the crowd, clutching a drink that was far stronger than he liked. He had been charming and as debonair as he knew how to be. He had briefly held court with some of the minor military lights present, had danced with a duchess and a string of young ladies ranging from homely to quite attractive. He had fulfilled his end of the bargain and was more than ready to get the hell out.

    He'd also found, much to his disgust, that he enjoyed himself. With few exceptions, powerful as they were, the people at this event were not accurate judges of his military worth. But he found himself occasionally whispering the words he had said to Megan as they crowded around him, hanging on his every word. He had probably listened more than he spoke, but nobles and commons members fell silent when he opened his mouth. And the women had come to him to fill their dance cards, leaning into his shadow and working him, frankly, much like Megan had been working the unaccompanied politicians.

    "You too are mortal," he whispered as a soft hand touched his arm.

    The girl was a red-head in a dress that was...well he wasn't sure if it was unfashionable or simply extremely daring. The top was sort of a twisted silver cloth that made not much more than a bikini coverage and the bottom was...missing a good bit of cloth. A long loincloth might have covered more and it definitely revealed a set of startlingly nice legs. He had seen a couple of the younger crowd sporting similar clothing so he supposed it was fashionable. If you had the body for it. Which she most definitely did.

    "Major Herrick, I'd been hoping to make your acquaintance," the young lady said. "Are you engaged for the last dance of the evening?"

    "Uh..." Respectable. She'd said "respectable." But the honest answer was "No." Bloody hell. ""

    "I believed as much," the young woman said. "And I think I hear it starting now. Will you join me on the floor?"

    "Certainly, milady," Herzer said, mentally groaning. He needed a better road map for these things. Or Megan to not bloody desert him at them. He should have left early. He should have stayed home. He really shouldn't be taking the last dance, as the servants snuffed the candles and dimmed the lanterns, with this apparently unaccompanied invitation to rape.

    Herzer danced slowly with his prosthetic tucked in his sash and his right hand on the young lady's uncovered waist. There wasn't a stitch of clothing that didn't cover something untouchable so he had a choice of skin or no touch at all.

    "Countess Travante left, I believe?" the young woman said.

    "Yes," Herzer replied. About all he could manage at the moment was monosyllables. But simple questions would work. "I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name."

    "That's because I didn't give it," the girl laughed, throatily. "Linda."

    "You are an excellent dancer, Linda," Herzer said, smiling fatuously and thinking furiously. He was starting to suspect there was a bite coming from somewhere.

    "I wasn't supposed to be here this late," the young lady said. "I was supposed to be having a late supper with a friend."

    "I'm sorry," Herzer replied. "I cannot imagine anyone who would be as ungentlemanly as to stand up such a beautiful young woman."

    "Well, it was politics," Linda replied, smiling thinly. "You see, he was supposed to be meeting with a female and her paramour. Since they were unmarried, he thought it would be acceptable if I accompanied him."

    "Oh," Herzer said. "So what happened?"

    "Well, for some reason, the lady's companion was unavailable," Linda replied, smiling broadly. "As a matter of fact, at the moment I'm dancing with him."

    Herzer almost stumbled but he recovered quickly and something settled in his mind. At least now the fog was lifted and he could see the battlefield. Okay, she wants to play games. I'm a master of playing games. 

    "Ah, thank you," Herzer said, sliding both arms around her and pulling her close. "So you think when word of our little dance gets back to them, either Megan or your...friend will be jealous?"

    "Perhaps," Linda said, snuggling in closer.

    "Do you know how Megan killed Paul Bowman?" Herzer asked, smiling, his eyes cold.

    "No?" the girl said, starting to pull back and realizing that she was trapped. "Would you mind loosening up a little?"

    Herzer stopped dancing and looked her deep in the eyes, smiling ever so faintly.

    "She poured a glass of acid down his throat," Herzer said, softly. "Then bashed his head in with a vase. Now, Megan knows I'm a babe in the woods at some things. So when I tell her about this little...encounter, she will find it amusing. Let us hope your...friend does as well." The music ended and he looked up as the lamps were dimmed. "So, do I get a kiss?"

    "No!" the girl said, quietly but fiercely. "Let me go!"

    "Certainly," Herzer said, releasing her but snatching one hand and bowing over it for a kiss. "I hope we meet again...Linda was it? So many girls, so little time."

    The woman looked at him poisonously for a moment and then stormed off.

    "Bad boy, Herzer," Edmund muttered as the lights came back up and the remains of the party started streaming out.

    "Ya think?"



    "No, Duke, it's all right," Megan said, brushing aside a hand as her carriage followed by a squad of cavalry pulled up. "I have my own transportation. Thank you, though." Thank God Herzer hadn't attended or a Duke would have been punched through a wall! 

    "Perhaps a nightcap?" the Duke asked, his hand sliding onto her back.

    "It's a bit late," Megan said as Meredith interposed herself and the coachman opened the door. "Perhaps another time."

    "A good night kiss," the Duke said, darting around Meredith and planting his lips on her cheek.

    "Good night," Megan snapped, clambering into the coach.

    "Have fun?" Herzer asked.

    "Oh, God," Megan replied, collapsing in the rear seat as the coach pulled out to the clatter of accompanying hooves. "What are you doing here?"

    "My other other duty," Herzer said, pulling back his cloak to show that he was in armor. "Guarding you. Good evening, Miss Meredith. I'm sorry, I've hardly said two words to you all evening."

    "That's fine, Major," Meredith said. "I'm used to being invisible."

    "Hardly invisible," Herzer said, one cheek twitching up in what might be called a smile. "Speaking of hardly invisible, the Duke's jilted paramour turned up at the party and managed to inveigle me into the last dance."

    "My night is now complete," Megan sighed.

    "I'm sure it will be all over Washan tomorrow," Herzer said. " I can see the headline now: 'Paramour Swapping?' Sorry. I missed getting any of the married females present and I didn't realize how bad it was until we were already dancing. Loan me Meredith next time."

    "Or Mirta," Meredith said, seriously. "That might not be a bad idea."

    "It's a thought," Megan said. "But next time I should be there. This was the wrong way to set this up. I had no idea that guy was as stupid and boorish as he was."

    "Neither did I," Meredith admitted. "It's unusual behavior for him."

    "You are overpowering my love," Herzer chuckled.

    "How did you handle the doxie?" Megan asked. "Punctiliously, I hope?"

    "Except for trying to rape her on the dance floor and threatening her life?" Herzer asked. "Like a perfect gentleman."

    "You didn't?" Megan asked.

    "Well...let's just say I probably should have restrained my demons just a bit more," Herzer admitted. "But she really pissed me off. And quite the opposite by the end of the encounter."

    "Meredith?" Megan said, closing her eyes. "Repercussions?"

    "More Mirta's area than mine," Meredith answered. "We'll have to see what the gossip circuit says. Off the top of my head, it might be either okay or better than okay. She was clearly seen leaving without you, Major, correct?"

    "And apparently in a state of high dudgeon," Herzer admitted.

    "And prior to that would she have appeared...available?" Meredith asked.

    "Eminently," Herzer replied. "If rape was intended, it was clearly not by me."

    "The wife set will be clucking like mad," Meredith said. "In general, I think, in your favor. He had it thrown in his face and spurned it, presumably in favor of you. And you'd up and left him at the party. It should fall out well. I don't know how it will fall out with Duke Dehnavi, though."

    "I think, whatever the political consequences, I'm willing to let the Duke rot," Megan admitted. "No more meetings with him other than in groups. Possibly no more meetings with him, period."

    " 'Oh, is Duke Dehnavi going to be at your party? I'm sorry, perhaps another time...'" Meredith said, suddenly smiling cold and hard.

    "Perhaps a bit more subtle than that," Megan said. "Ashley's area. But not much; I definitely want to discourage a repeat. I'll let her handle it."

    "Yes," Meredith said, smiling again. "She'll have the right malicious little words."

    "I should be covering what's on the agenda for tomorrow," Megan admitted. "But I'm just too tired."

    "The most important point is meeting with the Select Intelligence Subcommittee at 9AM," Meredith said. "Nothing before then; I knew it would be a late night."

    "Wow," Herzer said, widening his eyes. "I get you to myself for a whole, what? Seven hours? Less prep time?"

    "And most of that sleeping," Megan said, smiling sadly. "Sorry love."

    "Seven hours is worth much with you," Herzer said, gallantly but there was a tinge of bitterness under it. Among other things he knew that, besides a bit of conversation, maybe, and a kiss, the night would involve nothing but sleep. He could last. He had sworn he would and he'd never gone back on a vow.

    "We'll have time soon, love," Megan promised. "And you didn't have to show up. In armor no less."

    "You're the most important person in my life," Herzer said, honestly. "And one of the most important people in the world. Keeping you alive is much more important than changing out of that monkey suit and into armor. Hell, armor's more comfortable."

    "That is what the squad of cavalry is for," Meredith noted sharply.

    "Like I'd trust cavalry with Megan's life," Herzer snorted. "Horsey boys that don't want to dismount and can't handle themselves mounted."

    "You let me come to the meeting by myself," Megan noted, frowning.

    "There was a squad of Blood Lords shadowing you," Herzer said with a shrug. "And you pointedly told me I wasn't to come."

    "There was?" Megan said, frowning.

    "And is," Herzer said, smiling faintly. "In the keeping of a fellow named Cruz that works for your poppa. He's doing the actual stalking. They're far enough back the cavalry haven't noticed. Which, I think, says it all about your escort. If guards can shadow you and not be noticed, so can assassins. Look, leave the security to me and your dad, you just concentrate on what you do so well."

    "There are times I miss Baradur." The petite Chudai warrior had expressed a wish to return to his Highland home and Megan had had him returned with a bag full of silver for his services. "But he would have been a problem at this meeting, for example."

    "He would have cut the Duke's hand off the first time he touched you," Meredith noted. "While I see the political repercussions I would have enjoyed watching it."

    "Blood all over the white table-cloth," Megan said with a grin. "All the glitterati gaping. The screams. The headlines. No, I think it's better that he wasn't along."

    "It's always odd to look at a stump where your hand used to be," Herzer said, holding up his prosthetic.

    "I hope I never find out," Megan said, shaking her head.

    "Useful for opening jars," Herzer said with a shrug.

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