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Chapter 12

I was back in the infirmary.  All of my wounds were superficial, nothing to be worried about, but the doctors checked me anyway.  They had taken all the splinters out of my hands and had bandaged them.  Even though I protested they gave me some pills for the pain.  I didn’t want them because sometimes those made my head cloudy, and I couldn’t afford that now that I was a sergeant.

I couldn’t get used to the situation, after the fight Cervo had given me my new uniform and insignia, he had told me I had a couple of days to get used to the new rank, and then he would go and give me my new assignments.  Now I had to go and give the rest of my group the news of my promotion.  As I was leaving the infirmary, I found Antu.

“Sergeant,” she said with a hoarse voice, because of her injured throat, I assumed.

“What are you doing here?” I asked, surprised to see her there.  My attack had closed her windpipe, but it was something temporary, and I knew that by then she had to be ok.

“I’m waiting for Serv,” her whole attitude towards me was different, more respectful. “I think that I may have gone a little too far in my attack, and I wanted to see if he was ok.”

“Yeah, you used all of your power in the fight, but so did Serv. He knew the risks, and he didn’t care, so don’t feel bad about what you did.”  I started thinking if I should ask. “Antu, why did you both attack me at the same time?”

“Well…” she smiled, but it was a melancholic smile, “you were the one we had to worry about, not Montu.  We knew that if we didn’t take you out fast we would have problems later.   When you first arrived, no one took you seriously, you were a baby, but then… we struggled to improve, to learn new things, but for you, it just seems so easy.  In only a few months, you went from the bottom of the squad to be one of the best.  At first, it didn’t bother me. I still thought that even if you were stronger I was smarter, but after what happened the other day at the wall, I realized that you have it all.  I have been part of this squad for eight years. You have surpassed me in just a couple of years.  I tried to convince Montu and Serv that we had to take you down because I knew I couldn’t defeat you on my own, but I was sure I could handle them. I thought I could still get my shot at being a sergeant.

“You will have more opportunities, but today it was my turn” I felt like I should be apologizing to her, like I had taken something from her, but she had her opportunity, and she had lost it.

“There will be new opportunities, yes, but I’m not sure whether I will be able to take them, I’m not like you.  You will continue to grow; you will improve, but me? I’m at the limit of my abilities.” I saw her focus change. She was looking at something behind me.  “Serv… with your permission I would like to go talk to him.”

Antu bowed to me and then she went to Serv. I saw them talking for a couple of minutes, then Antu hugged Serv and they walked towards me.

“How are you feeling?” With Serv it was always better to ask. It was impossible to try to read him. He always had the same demeanor.

“I’ll survive,” was his answer.

We walked in silence. I was in front, and they followed me only a couple of steps behind me.  I was getting more nervous the closer we got to the barracks, but I told myself that I had to be strong, I couldn’t afford to seem weak in front of my subordinates.

When I opened the door of our quarters, the chatter died, everyone turned to look at us, I could feel all the eyes on me.  At first, they looked confused. I knew they noticed that Montu wasn’t there.  Serv and Antu passed me and went to take their places on the formation, just as they used to do when Cervo walked into the room.  I felt awkward being at the front and not in the formation.

“We haven’t seen each other for a couple of days, but I’m sure that by now all of you should know about what happened on the wall the other day, some of you were there; some just saw the aftermath.” I started walking along the formation, trying to let everyone see me, and to hide my nervousness.  “For those of you that have any doubt, let me clarify; Montu was not involved in any way in what happened that day, and despite what he may have told you, he is not and will be not the new sergeant.  A few hours ago, we fought for the position, and it was me who won. I’m your new sergeant.”  I knew some of them would have a bad reaction to the news. Montu had made a lot of promises, and some of them still believed in him.  “If any of you have something to say about this, this is the only opportunity you will have to speak about it.”

“What happened?” asked one of the younger ones, one that had been impressed by Montu since day one.  “Where is Montu?”

“Montu was injured during the fight, and right now he should be in the infirmary being treated.”  I thought about Sultana (my mother?) and how mad she was. I had the feeling that we wouldn’t see Montu again.  “I don’t think he will be rejoining this squad.”

“How did Montu’s father allow this to happen?” I couldn’t identify the voice, almost a whisper, that said that.

“Believe me when I said he did try to stop this,” answered Antu before I had the opportunity to, “but with Kaiserin’s parents there it wasn’t much he could do.  Not even Baal could go against his superiors.”

“Enough Antu.” I warned her before she could elaborate. “What happened between Captain Baal and my parents have nothing to do with this.”  I saw the faces before me and wondered, what would Cervo do in my place?  “If you think that I’m not capable of being your sergeant, this is the only chance I will give you,” I took my insignia and put it in my hand. I extended it in front of me presenting the insignia to my men.  “If you think you can defeat me, come and try to get the insignia from me.”

Serv and Antu exchanged a quick glance, after that both of them knelt in front of me, almost at the same time the girl who had first talked launched herself at me, but I used my power to send her flying to the other side of the room.  A couple more, one of them a speedster, tried the same thing, with the same result.  The speedster was persistent and tried a few times, but after a while, unable to reach me, he too knelt.  When nobody else tried anything, the rest of the soldiers knelt.

I couldn’t sleep that night. It was all so surreal.  The following week went by in a blur.  Cervo told me that after the incident at the wall, my squad had been assigned to the gate that Sina had failed to protect.  It was a job with a greater responsibility, but it also gave our group a better status.  Everything went  smoothly with the new assignments.

A couple of weeks after my promotion Cervo came looking for me.

“Kaiserin, how have you been?” as always, he was charming and polite.

“Warrant officer,” I saluted him.  “To what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?”

“I came to tell you that you need to be in the west yard at 5:00pm, the new recruits are going to be assigned, and you need a couple of them.”

“I will be there” I bowed to my superior, thinking that our little exchange was finished.

“You have changed even more these last days.” Cervo smiled, and I found myself blushing under his gaze. “I like your confidence, your security. It makes you look even more beautiful,” and with those words, he left.

I hurried to make sure my work was done and that everything was handled so I could be at the west yard on time.  When I arrived there was already a crowd gathered there, I walked through the people to where the other sergeants were standing.  Most of them didn’t trust me yet. I was new and too young to be one of them.  Sergeant Gules, Sina’s superior, was especially mad at me, because I had taken over his assignment as gate custodian.

“Greetings,” I said to all of them.  A couple of them answered, a couple ignored me.

I was observing the kids waiting for their assignments, it was weird that I thought of them as kids, since some of them were older than me.  Only two years before it had been me standing there, alone and nervous, trying to figure out what was going on.  I was jealous of the kids who were accompanied by their parents.  Sultana was so confusing, sometimes I could feel a strong connection to her, sometimes she would do something out of character, like the soft kiss she had given me after the battle, and that made me believe that yes, she was my mother.  But most of the time she was cold, she treated me as if didn’t exist. It was so different from the relationship between Montu and Baal or Trajan and Kamose, who was supposed to be also my father.  What was wrong with me?

“Private Vikomt, go to Sergeant Kaiserin.” Morrigan was saying.

As I heard my name, I walked to the front, I looked at Morrigan, but she didn’t notice, Cervo by her side was smiling at me.

“Soldier Argen, go to Sergeant Kaiserin.”

I waited for my recruits to reach me.  Vikomt, the first one to be assigned was accompanied by a man whom I assumed was his father, I couldn’t see any insignia, but his confidence and the way he held himself spoke of someone with a high rank.  When they reached me, I saluted the man like I would someone with a higher rank than me.

“You’re lucky Vikomt. You have a beautiful and smart sergeant,” he put his arm around his son’s shoulders as he spoke, but he was looking at me.  “You look just like your mother when she was your age,” he whispered and after that winked at me as he released his son, “take good care of my son please.” Then, turning toward Vikomt, he told him, “behave and listen to your superiors.  I’ll see you soon.”

“What is his name?” I asked Vikomt. The words of the man made me curious.

“My father’s name is Nawab,” he answered formally.

“Is he a major, lieutenant colonel, colonel?” He could be a General too. He reminded me of Shahzadi and had the confidence of Lobishomen.

“It’s that important?” He was looking at me, our eyes locked. He wasn’t trying to antagonize me, but I could see that he didn’t want to answer me.

“No, it’s not. It was simple curiosity.” I felt comfortable with him. I thought that we were going to get along just fine.  It was a good change after having to deal with Montu’s arrogance.

“I’m sorry for entering without permission, but I didn’t know where you were and didn’t want to wait outside.” Nawab was searching his son amid my soldiers. “I just need a second with my son and a few words with you, after that I’ll go.”

“Go on.” I said to the soldiers that were watching Nawab with curiosity.  “Vikomt, stay with me.”  Most people went directly to their beds. Some lingered behind trying to hear what we were going to talk about.

“I have heard some interesting things about you,” Nawab told me, “like the incident at the wall a few weeks ago and your promotion to sergeant.”

“I’m afraid I’m at a disadvantage. I have heard nothing about you besides your name.” I tried to be respectful, but I was very curious about the man.

“Some of us don’t like to go around showing off our ranks or lineage,” he walked closer to me and said in a low voice. “Your mother was like this too, but now it’s a lot harder to go unnoticed.”

“You really know who my mother is?” it was a little suspicious. Nobody was supposed to know that.  “Who do you think she is?”

“Do you really want me to say that out loud? Here?” he exaggeratedly gestured around.  “I have been asking, discretely, and no one mentioned that you were an heiress, so I think there must be a reason why.”

“Of course, there is a reason why,” said a familiar voice.  I was so focused on Nawab that I didn’t notice that Shahzadi had entered the room until I heard her speaking.

“On your knees,” I said as loud as I could without shouting.  “We have a general present, show your respect,” saying that, I turned and put one of my knees on the floor as I bowed to Shahzadi and wondered why she was there.

“Shahzadi!” Nawab sounded surprised.  “What are you doing here?”

“I suppose that the same thing that you, my dear Nawab.” Shahzadi closed the distance between us and grabbing me by the arm, she pulled me up.  After lifting me, she went to Nawab and hugged him.

“But you?” he was now confused it seemed, “I thought that the girl was Sultana’s, she looks so much like her.”

“You are not wrong. She is Sultana’s.” I could hear surprised gasps and knew that my subordinates were listening.  Shahzadi ignored them.  “You know how the almighty is, she can’t do simple tasks, so she sent me instead to do messenger work.

“So things have really not changed at all.” Nawab was acting with such familiarity that I started to wonder again which rank he had.

“Kaiserin? Is there somewhere where we can talk more comfortably?”

“Of course, follow me.” I led Shahzadi, Nawab and Vikomt to my room. It was small but private.

Shahzadi entered and sat on my bed, grabbing Nawab by his hand, she pulled him to her side.  I took the only available chair in the room, and Vikomt stood by my side.

“So, do you two know each other?” Vikomt voiced the question I didn’t want to ask in fear of sounding silly.

“Yeah, we know each other,” answered Nawab as Shahzadi laughed with ease, “you can say we know each other pretty well.”

“As well as half-brother and sister can know each other” Shahzadi wasn’t laughing anymore, but a smile lingered on her lips. She enjoyed our surprise to her words.

“You didn’t tell me you were the brother of the Empire second in command.” Vikomt reproached his father.

“I told you we were part of a great dynasty, and that I was going to introduce you to some of our family as soon as I could.” Nawab produced a document from inside his clothes and handle it to me. “In part is because of it that I’m here.  This is a permit for Vikomt to be excused from service for a couple of days, so he can attend the heirs gathering to be held in a couple of days.

“I’m here for roughly the same reasons,” Shahzadi also handed me a document, “from tomorrow evening and for two days you will be off duty.  You have to take the necessary actions to ensure that there won’t be any problem in your absence.”

“What is this about?” I went through the documents. They looked official, and both allowed for an excuse from duty.

Every year, a few days after the new recruits are assigned to their squads a reunion is held, one where all the generals and leaders of the allied Clans are gathered to discuss important matters,” explained Shahzadi, “but at the same time a secondary meeting is held.  The Heirs reunion.  The children of the colonels and generals of the Empire along with the heirs of the allied Clans are given the opportunity to know each other.”

“It is known, by experience, that among those heirs are the future leaders of the Empire,” said Nawab.  “It’s important for the heirs to start forming alliances and connections, so in the future they can work with each other.”

“And it’s also important to start learning to differentiate between friends and enemies,” added Shahzadi, “that’s very important for your survival.  As you grow, you will learn that politics are difficult and filled with double faced people that can trick you and confuse you.  It’s better if you start practicing now how to spot them.”

“I understand,” I said, but I really didn’t.

“Well then,” said Shahzadi as she stood up, “I’ll be waiting for you tomorrow evening,” she handed me a golden insignia. I didn’t recognize the meaning of it.  “Tomorrow, when you finish your preparations grab this insignia and go to the Palace, if someone tries to stop you, just show them the insignia, and they will show you the way to the imperial quarters.”

“I will see you in the dining hall,” Nawab was telling Vikomt, “from there we’ll go to the rooms that had been assigned to us.”

“We should organize a family reunion. Most of us are here anyway,” Shahzadi was excited by the idea, “we can bring our brothers and sisters and their children. It would be awesome.”

“Is your son here as well?”

“No,” Shahzadi’s tone was sad, “you know how it things are in the north. Lobishomen couldn’t stay away for long. He just came for a few days and then left.  And if he’s not here, n is our son.”

“It’s a pity. I haven’t seen him since he got out of the Burrow.”

“Don’t worry little brother, you will see him soon,” she went to the door and exited my room.

“Little brother? Should I remind you that I’m a few years your elder?” for the first time Nawab sounded annoyed at Shahzadi.

“General” Shahzadi pointed to herself. “Colonel,” she finished pointing at him.  “Should I remind you the order of the ranks, little brother?”

“Sometimes you are really annoying,” complained Nawab, but he sounded calmer. “I don’t know how Sultana can endure being around you all the time.”

“I don’t get that myself,” she just shrugged as they both left the room and then our quarters.

They both talked friendly as they walked away.  As the door closed behind them, the chatter in the room increased.  I knew they were talking about what Shahzadi had said.

“Quiet.” I shouted for all of them to hear me. “I know some of you hear what was said a moment ago between general Shahzadi and colonel Nawab,” as I scanned the faces of my men, I knew that even those who haven’t heard were by now informed of the conversation.  “None of you will repeat a word of what was said,” I glanced toward Vikomt, who was standing by my side, “that includes you.”

“Don’t worry sergeant, I wasn’t planning to,” and I knew that his words were true.  “I won’t repeat a word of what was said today.”

“Good.”  I found myself smiling. I liked Vikomt. It was going to be good to have a family member close by.

 

Copyright © 2013 | Kaiserin Novel

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