The 30th Day
The Arsenal was impressive. Even Nathalia wanted a moment to appreciate it.
The Pool and its slipways and berths teaming with galleys and other watercraft was impressive enough. An entire navy, it seemed, could shelter there, far up-river from the bay, but close enough to quickly sortie at need. It was a piece of design and execution of which Nathalia could only approve.
But when she entered the Arsenal itself she had to stop and take it all in, with something approaching reverential awe. A thousand feet long, its gabled roof was mostly panes of thick glass, cunningly set so as to allow the maximum amount of sunlight in. The roof was held up by a complex web of support beams, and two rows of load-bearing pillars down the length of the structure.
Down among those pillars, the Arsenal floor was divided into different areas of work and research. As an apprentice led her down the central aisle, Nathalia was hard put not to stop and stare into each area. In one, workers were assembling what had to be mortar bomb fuses; in another, cannon were being hoisted onto gun carriages. Some of the areas had brick walls facing the aisle, suggesting that whatever work was being performed might need to be contained. There was a general din of hammers, scrappers, chains in pulleys, and shouted questions and orders.
“Come along,” the apprentice snapped over the noise, as Nathalia did hesitate, looking in on a workbench were clockworks– very like those she had worked on in the workshop of Master Podrimiri– were being fitted into metal casings. Land mines— it was the only explanation of why you would use mechanisms like that. In a single glance she comprehended the whole of what she had seen before only in part.
“I don’t have all day,” the apprentice said, peevishly, and Nathalia stopped gawking and followed him.
Apparently now, however, she had earned the apprentice’s enmity. “I don’t know who you are, girl,” he muttered, “but I have better things to do than leading you around by the hand.”
“I am sorry,” Nathalia murmured, not really feeling sorry and still fascinated by what was going on around her.
To her disappointment, the apprentice led her out of the Arsenal. They crossed a flagged courtyard easily two hundred feet across, to another building in the complex. This was no lofty construction, but a hulking brick block that resembled an ancient pyramid tomb of the Ascalanans more than anything else. It seemed very out of place, something ancient and ominous in this place of industry.
He led her inside a very tall side door that was nevertheless dwarfed by the wall in which it was set. She followed him down a dimly lit corridor. They passed rooms with heavy doors, made two or three turns and at last came to a workshop. Here, too, there was the sound of work, but it was muffled, as if by thick walls.
An older man sat at a table here, looking over an assortment of gears and flywheels. Another man, younger, leaned against the far wall, his arms crossed. The younger man stared at Nathalia as she entered, and it was not a welcoming look.
“Benicusi Nathalia, master,” the apprentice announced, as they entered the room.
The older man looked up. He had an open, almost youthful face, although Nathalia suspected he was about the same age as Master Podrimiri. It was the next moment she realized whom she faced. She had to brace her knees against a sudden case of the shakes.
“Apprentice Benicusi,” the older man said, “welcome.”
“Apprentice!” the apprentice who had brought her sniffed. “Next they’ll be naming dormice journeymen!”
“Atalus,” the older man said quietly, “don’t you have something to do?”
The youngster stiffened, as if he had suddenly spied a snake in his path. “Yes, master. No problem, master,” and he slipped out the way they’d come.
“Apprentice, please be seated,” the older man said.
There was a stool across the table from him. Nathalia seated herself, and held her hands in her lap to keep them from shaking.
“Master Podrimiri has told me many things about, apprentice, many very glowing things,” the older man said.
“Master Podrimiri is very kind,” Nathalia said.
“Master Podrimiri is an old acquaintance of mine,” the older man said, “and while he may be kind, he is also very demanding and does not hand out praise where it is unwarranted.”
True, Nathalia thought, but she kept her peace.
“He names you,” the older man went on, “his most able pupil and apprentice. Do you agree with that sentiment?”
“Perhaps,” Nathalia said slowly, “it is only in comparison with his other pupils.”
The younger man snorted at this, rolling his eyes. The older man seemed to be fighting a smile. “I do hope that is not just by comparison, young lady. Your family is known to me– silversmiths and clockmakers both, correct?”
“I have seen their work. Very fine. Did you help in the shop?”
“My father was– has been– my first teacher in the mechanical arts. I helped him with most of the orders our family has received for the last ten years, before I started work for Master Podrimiri.”
“Tell me, apprentice, what sort of ultimate gear ratio might there be between the pendulum of a clock and the hour gear?” the older man said, almost as if he were springing an ambush.
“Usually about five hundred to one,” Nathalia said immediately. She wondered at the simplicity of the question.
The older man nodded. He swept a hand over the gears on the table between them. “If I were to set you the task of assembling a gear train of at least three gears needed to drive a counter of one hundred out of these gears, which would you choose?”
Nathalia leaned over the table and examined the gears. “This one, this one and this one,” she quickly said. She picked up the selected gears, then frowned. “But master, these gears do not appear to be of particularly good quality. The metal may not have been tempered properly. I think they would bend or break fairly quickly.”
“Indeed,” the older man said. He glanced, seemingly amused, at the younger man. The younger man’s mouth was pressing into a tight, disapproving line. “You’re quite right, both ways. Come here.”
He stood and went to another table, set against the far wall. Nathalia, puzzled, stood and followed.
On this table were an array of gears, ranging in size from a huge gear with a twenty-inch radius down to a tiny sprocket half the width of Nathalia’s hand. These seemed sturdily made, well-cast and clean-edged. The older man again indicated them with a sweep of his hand.
“If I wanted to raise a hundred pound weight twenty feet quickly,” he told Nathalia, “which of these should I choose?”
Nathalia looked at the gears, counting teeth, comparing sizes. Then she looked again, and got the same answer. “None of them, master.”
“None of them?” the older man said.
“None of them,” Nathalia repeated. “The ratios are all wrong, in any combination. You would struggle to even lift a small weight with most of them.”
The older man smiled. “You are right.” He turned to the younger. “You see? When Podrimiri says a thing is so, it is generally so.” The younger man still looked truculently sour.
The older man turned back to Nathalia. “Do you know who I am, Apprentice Benicusi?” he asked.
“You are Supreme Master Iunius Remiru, head of the Workshop of Laurentius, Lord Governor of the Arsenal, and Chief of Instruction at the Academy of Venia,” Nathalia said at once.
Iunius smiled openly. “Very good. And, just to complete introductions, this stubborn fellow,” he swept his hand toward the younger man, “this is Over Master Denias Patris, head of the Special Projects at the Arsenal. If you choose to work here, you will be under him.”
“This is still ridiculous,” Denias said, speaking at last.
“Far less so than before we met her, Patris,” Iunius said over his shoulder.
“Women have smaller brains than men, and so cannot be expected to handle complicated mechanical problems,” Denias said.
Nathalia bit her tongue to keep an instant rebuttal from her lips. Iunius shook his head. “If so, then you better go grab Suntilis Verrus and Draconis Cazara off the floor, Patris, because both of them are smaller than Apprentice Benicusi here. Poor lads.” He turned around to face Denias. “Your objection fails by its own logic, and you just saw her performance. I think your concerns have been answered.”
“Her mere presence will cause disruptions on the work floor,” Denias said.
“If she does, it will be your job to fix them,” Iunius said. He sounded as if he had just run out of patience. “I am tired of your pointless objections, Patris. We need every skilled hand we can find for this work. Male, female, native-born, foreign. The Tou-tani are not going to give us the time to do anything else.”
He faced Nathalia. “Would you like to work here at the Arsenal, apprentice? It will be hard work, and there is a special project– several, actually, but one in particular– on which we need all the help we can get.”
“I would be honored to work here, Master,” Nathalia said.
“It might be dangerous,” Iunius said. “Many of the things we work on have a tendency to explode, though not, hopefully, while we are working on them. There is always the possibility, though. Does that frighten you?”
Nathalia hesitated. “Sir, my mother’s mother walked three days through a dust storm to escape Rohara when the Tou-tani conquered it. Half the people with her died. My father’s father had to be smuggled out of Rohara under a load of rotting cod fish, into which Tou-tani shoved spears, looking for refugees. They both arrived in Venia with nothing, and out of that nothing built families and businesses. If they could be that brave, I can face the possibility of being blown up to keep the Tou-tani out of this city.” She shrugged. “Things like that don’t frighten me, sir– they just make me cautious.”
Iunius’ smile widened. “Welcome to the Arsenal, Apprentice Benicusi.”
“All I’m saying,” Eaman said, lifting and flinging a spadeful of earth onto the pile, “is that the city has whole work-gangs for this sort of thing.”
“What I hear,” Gederanus said, shoving his own spade into the earth, “is that the city aediles and their work-gangs weren’t getting the job done, so General Nicranus volunteered the garrison.”
“We’re archers!” Eaman said. “We don’t dig fortifications.”
“We do now,” Galen said. He added his tithe to the dirt pile. “Every unit on the wall is doing exactly what we’re doing, Eaman. And believe me, when the shelling starts you’ll be glad enough for this bombproof.”
“Look on the bright side,” August told Eaman, “you’re outside in the fresh air and sunshine, getting exercise, working up a good appetite. What more could you want?”
“A lot of things,” Eaman muttered, plunging his spade into the ground. “Out of this damned rat’s hole of a city, to start with. Then maybe a really eager young woman and a barrel of good beer.”
“See?” Galen said. “Setting your expectations too high only leads to disappointment.”
“Yeah,” Gederanus said, flinging dirt. “I don’t think there’s a single barrel of good beer in this whole city.”
Ten days after the scout, the archer cohort had been transferred from the Bastion of Joy to the Chapel Bastion. No one had explained why. Eaman and others had complained, but the veterans in the cohort resigned themselves to another deployment without apparent reason.
Galen, for his part, had a theory. The Chapel Bastion was one of the obvious weak points in the city defenses, with an incomplete ditch, scarp and counterscarp. It urgently needed improvement.
Sure enough, as soon as the cohort arrived it was set to work.
The first task was to demolish all buildings standing within a hundred yards of the wall for a considerable distance on either side of the bastion, to clear away anything that might provide cover to enemy troops who made it inside the city, or fuel for fires set by incoming bombs. Galen and the other archers had already done the same work around the Bastion of Joy to the south, and indeed, this sort of preparation had been going on in every sector of the city since its gates had closed. What surprised Galen was the fact the owners and tenants of the buildings– in this area, mostly godowns and workshops for various crafts– had made no preparations to move, despite having been warned days and days before. Some of these folk came out to argue with the city officers directing the work. It was all to no avail, and then those same folk had to move their goods and tools and supplies in a great hurry, because those same officers were not about to let their schedule slip. Some of the people barely made it out before the soldiers sledgehammered their roofs down.
The archers were to share this section of wall with a regular army battalion and a company of garrison soldiers. As a consequence, they also shared the fatigue duty. The regulars were all right, in Galen’s judgment, but the garrison soldiers were apparently used to an easier set of duties.
When the buildings were flattened and their salvaged materials put aside, the soldiers, archers, infantrymen and garrison troopers, were all set to digging bomb-proofs. The officers marked out several squares of about ten feet by ten feet in the newly exposed earth, and assigned gangs of men to dig down about six or seven feet in each location. Again, there was much grumbling among the soldiers.
This lasted until the afternoon of the fifth day. Galen and his gang were about shoulder deep in their excavation when distant booms, as if of far-off thunder, made them all look up– except the sky was clear, and the detonations grew louder and louder, as if advancing from the south. Corosa shouted, “They’ve started!”
The cannon-fire suddenly sounded very, very close. Something shrieked. One of the merlons on the wall close by shattered into a shower of broken stone.
All at once everyone, archers, foot-soldiers, and troopers, was trying to pile into the lowest corner of the digging. Galen found himself beneath Corosa and two infantrymen, themselves at the bottom of a huge scrum of men. The grunting and crying was so loud that Galen had trouble hearing the guns in the bastion returning fire.
This went on for a couple of minutes; and then one of the city officers appeared, cursing and pulling men to their feet. “Get up! Back to work, all of you! If you were wondering why you were digging these shelters, now you know! The sooner you finish them, the sooner you can cower at your leisure!”
Galen, practically the last to emerge from the dog-pile, wiped dirt off his tunic. Work they should and must, he knew– but he also knew that people who didn’t respect Tou-tani gunnery often learned to do so the hard way. He went back to work, but with one ear cocked for more incoming rounds.
There was, however, a lot less grumbling from then on.
That afternoon the Tou-tani fired four or five more grand volleys, the batteries again firing in sequence from south to north, as if the enemy just wanted to prove they could. None of the subsequent shots hit anything nearby, however, and a couple of them missed completely and sang off over the wall and into the city itself. Afterwards the enemy guns fell silent, except for occasional harassing shots in the distance, and so did the return fire from the Kuiritans. Neither side, Galen knew, had unlimited supplies of powder and shot, and both would need to conserve their ammunition for the serious wall-pounding to come, and the assaults that would follow.
The soldiers delayed their dinner that evening to get some of the salvaged timber in place over the bombproof, to provide at least a little overhead cover. They were just sitting down underneath it when Sinicus appeared. He had a bandage around the bicep of his right arm. “What happened to you?” Corosa asked, as Sinicus squeezed in among the others.
“Captain Verion had me running messages today down to the Bastion of Joy,” Sinicus said, as he accepted a bowl of stew. “I was there when the bastards started shooting. The south portal of the bastion took a direct hit, and I caught a stone splinter. It’s not bad, but it hurt like hell. Still, I was lucky– five men were killed, and a bunch wounded, some of them pretty bad. That stonework can cut you up when it starts flying.”
Galen reflected on how often he had gone in and out of that portal. If the archers had not been moved, perhaps he would have been one of the men cut to pieces. But that, he knew, was one of the chances of war.
“That’s a pretty tidy bandage,” Gederanus said. “You do that yourself?”
“Naw– they’ve set up a medical station close by the bastion down there, and a priest-medico pulled the splinter out and bandaged me up, just like that.” He took a spoonful of stew. “Hear they’re setting up stations like that all along the wall,” he said around the mouthful.
“Well, that’ll be handy,” August told Galen.
“Oh, yes,” Galen murmured.
The next morning Galen’s gang was pulled off their bombproof to hurry up and finish putting the roof on another. This one was deeper and wider than the others, and its floor had been flagged with salvaged brick. Galen and the others wondered to one another, in low voices, if this was going to be a shelter for officers, but soon enough the truth was revealed.
They were just finishing spreading a top layer of earth over the timbers and a layer of more bricks when a train of people came down the nearest street. It was an odd assortment– a couple of medici, several priests, attendants, even a couple of priestesses. The women wore men’s clothing, boots, leggings, knee pants and tunics– practical, if strange to the soldiers’ eyes. The attendants carried bundles of gear; at the rear a couple of servants led a pair of mules bearing cots and other equipment.
The officers shooed the work gang back to their own bombproof, as the medici and medicae took possession of theirs. The gang was close to finishing their digging, and everyone talked about putting the final touches on the roof. Galen thought they could probably get the job finished before nightfall, and wondered if they could secure some old bricks of their own– having a flagged floor for the shelter, like that of the medical station, would be much nicer than having to lay down straw or rushes to cover the bare ground, especially as Galen had no idea where they would get either. He mulled the problem over in his head as he dug, and completely forgot about the medici.
He was widening the sloped entrance to the bombproof when he heard, “You, soldier.” He looked up.
It was one of the medica-priestesses. Galen saw a slim young woman of middling height. She wore her dark hair in a long but practical braid down her back. She had the smooth brown complexion of most Venian women, but her eyes were a rather startling green. Galen wondered who she had hidden up in her family tree.
“Where can I find the supply master for this section of the wall?” the priestess said. She wore an expression of grave responsibility.
Galen was somehow suddenly, uncomfortably, aware of his shirtless and rather muddy state. Irritated, and not knowing why, he pointed to the lower entrance to the back of the bastion. “Go in there, go up to the fourth floor, ask for the master,” he said.
The woman gave him a curt nod, and strode off toward the bastion without another word. Galen watched her go and muttered, “Huh. You’re welcome.”
He turned to find every man in the work gang leaning on their shovels, watching her go. The reason was obvious– despite being skinnier than Galen usually preferred, she filled out those men’s britches quite nicely. He felt irritated all over again.
“Ho,” Gedaranus said, admiringly, “and here I thought all priestesses were old women with moustaches.”
“Get back to work, you gawkers!” Galen said. “By the gods, one pretty woman sashays by and you lose your train of thought?”
“Oh, I got plenty of thoughts,” August said, smiling.
“Dig!” Galen snapped.
The very next day, just before the noon meal, a runner appeared, telling Galen, August, Eaman, Sinacus, and Corosa to all report to the command keep, just north of the Chapel Bastion. The fact that the members of the patrol were called out and no one else was not lost on any of them. With a sense of foreboding, Galen insisted they take just enough time to wash off the worst of their dirt and put on clean shirts before going up to the keep.
They were directed to the common room on the third floor. Captain Verion was there, with a sour look on his face, which only seemed to confirm Galen’s worst fears. He had them line along one wall; the only way that could have been more ominous would have been if he had them face the wall.
A door banged open, and Verion yelled, “Attention!” The five of them straggled to attention. This is serious.
Before the five strode none other than Brigadier Saricus Cassius. The officer was followed by three or four aides, including Captain Aeminius Sandrel, whom Galen remembered from the Lady’s Day incident on the wall. Aeminius wore a look that seemed to suggest he disapproved of this whole business, whatever it was. Saricus, however, was, strangely, beaming.
“So!” he said. “I’m glad to meet you lads. Give me your names, just I have them straight.”
Stammering, the five of them repeated their names, from one end of the line to the other. Saricus peered with particular closeness at Galen. “Yes, I remember you, Decitus Galen. A memorable Lady’s Day, wasn’t it, eh?”
“Yes, sir,” Galen said, wondering what in the name of all the frozen hells was going on.
“I might have expected you’d show up in the business,” Saricus said, enigmatically.
He stepped back to regard them all. “Lads, I have to tell you I got a very negative report about you,” he said, “from the eastern wall commander, Brigadier Kallius. Kallius seems to have gotten his information from a source rather prejudiced against you.”
Alterus Ever, burn in hell, Galen prayed.
“On the other hand,” Saricus went on breezily, “I have another source, one in which I put a lot of faith, who has given me a rounder, and more trustworthy, picture of the scout. Calpurnius Iunio.”
“Oh!” Galen said, “beg pardon, sir, but how is the lieutenant doing?”
“You’re at attention, Decitus!” Verion snapped.
Saricus, though, waved a hand. “It’s all right, captain, he’s just expressing concern for a comrade. He’s mending, archer, mending well, and should be back on duty soon.”
“Thank you, sir,” Galen murmured, resolving to keep his mouth shut until this was over.
“Iunio told me what he saw on the patrol,” Saricus said, “and it differed a lot from Brigadier Kallius’ version. For one thing, Iunio credits all of you with saving his life– and you, in particular, Decitus Galen,, with holding off the Tou-tani at a critical moment, which allowed all of you to escape. Considering all that, I didn’t want to let your efforts go unappreciated.” He gestured to Aeminius,
The captain stepped forward, looking more disapproving than ever. He had a purse in his hand. “Put out your hand,” he hissed at Galen. Galen did so; and into it Aeminius put a gold coin. It was a heavy gold Imperial aureus, stamped with the regius’ own image and seal. Galen stared at it. He had never held one before.
Aeminius went down the line and gave each of the men one of the coins. Nobody said anything. They all seemed to be as stunned as Galen.
“There,” Saricus said, “there’s a token of appreciation. Don’t spend it all in one place, boys, ha, ha!”
“What do you say to the brigadier?” Verion said, sounding like a parent chiding children.
“Thank you, sir,” they all murmured.
“Well and good,” Saricus said, “Keep up the good work, all of you.” He started to turn away, stopped. “Oh, one more thing– Decitus Galen, you’re now a decarion. Make me proud.” He turned away, and followed by his aides, left.
When the door had slammed shut behind them, Verion said, “And that’s the worst part of all. Decitus, a decarion. Strike me blind.”
The awards and Galen’s promotion were the talk of the Chapel Bastion for a week afterwards. Soldiers came by to admire the gold pieces, or, at least August’s and Corosa’s, as they were the least shy about showing them off and telling the story– at least, until someone tried to steal Corosa’s one night. After that all the aurei went into a locked strongbox in the regimental treasury.
Despite his promotion nothing really changed for Galen. His section had had no decarion for some time, anyway, so it was no trouble moving him into that slot. Galen found he had been doing many of the duties of a decarion already, particularly keeping the fellows digging when a certain young medica-priestess was around. They saw a lot of her, as the local medical station was put into operation, and so for a while there was a lot of interrupted digging that had to be restarted by sharp words liberally applied.
The Tou-tani had settled into a pattern of intermittent spasms of cannon-fire, more harassment at this point than a serious effort to create a breach anywhere. Three or four times a day over the next several they fired a few balls at a time toward each section of the wall. At any given point the soldiers could hear Tou-tani guns firing somewhere along the city wall, north and east as well as west.
Even under such a desultory fire, though, the Chapel Bastion’s stone facing began to crack. During his turns on wall guard, Galen got glimpses of the bastion’s outer wall. It was already beginning to resemble the face of a man stricken by smallpox.
Listening to the guns, he thought most of them to be twenty-four pounders– light ordnance for wall pounding. Were the Tou-tani having trouble bringing heavier guns forward? For that matter, the enemy still hadn’t deployed mortars. While field guns served for chipping away at walls, mortars were the real horror. Mortars were the chief reason everyone had worked so hard to get bomb-proofs ready. Even a few mortar bombs lobbed each day into the city could cause enormous chaos and death. The forward saps of the enemy were surely in range for those bastards– but so far, nothing. Galen found it a puzzle.
Kuiritan counter-fire seemed as desultory as the Tou-tani. There appeared to be a tacit agreement between to the two sides that if the Tou-tani fired a few shots, the Kuiritans would fire approximately the same number back. For the most part, both sides enjoyed about the same results– that is, occasional hits on something important and a scattering of casualties, but not much more. Again from the wall, the Tou-tani forward gun positions were plainly to be seen, but they were well protected by gabions and mounded earth thrown up ahead of the saps. One afternoon the sound of cheering came from one of the bastion’s gun positions– apparently the gunners had managed to put one of their balls right through a firing aperture into one of the enemy guns, knocking the barrel muzzle over breach into the air, and probably killing the entire crew. Usually, however, the results were far less dramatic, and even the knocked-out gun was back in operation two days later.
The thing that did progress was the Tou-tani trench system. The forward gun positions were quickly linked by lateral trenches, and then more forward saps were started. After a few days the new saps began to edge into extreme arrow range, and there was much discussion among the archers as to when they might try shots. Personally, Galen was not yet tempted. His personal best for an aimed shot was just over three hundred yards, with the wind at his back and using a light arrow. Certainly the archers could try massed flights of arrows for longer shots, but the results would probably be disappointing– the forward saps zig-zagged, affording very little in terms of a clear shot, and here and there they were actually roofed over. At this point the archers would mostly be just wasting arrows. Galen, for his part, was willing to wait.
Meanwhile they finished the counter-wall, and settled down to garrison duty in and around the bastion. Galen would have called it routine, except for the occasional cannon shot from the Tou-tani, and the growing tension of waiting for the assaults to come. It was like waiting for a thunderstorm to break over you, knowing it was coming, but not knowing when.
Portions of the company took turns on the wall and living in the bomb-proofs, rotating through the troops. When not on wall duty, the soldiers not on guard were available for fatigue-duty– and there seemed to be a lot of it to be done. They helped other units on their own fortifications, or fetched-and-carried around the western periphery of the city. Some of the details were mysterious to the soldiers– for example, just why, they wondered, were they ordered to move sacks of grain from one set of storage bins to another set, with no discernable advantage of one location over the other? It sparked a great deal of speculation among them,but they never got any sort of satisfactory answer.
When not on fatigue-duty, the archers trained. There was a patch of waste ground a little ways past the cleared zone, by the Peddler’s Road, and the mercenaries practiced small unit movement as well as their archery. The space was confined, which meant that the targets were ridiculously close, but it was better than nothing. If nothing else, Galen reflected, it would keep their bow arms strong.
When the mercenaries were off guard duty, they slept in the old go-down that was the billet for the three different units. Galen decided that he preferred the bomb-proof. Not only was it distracting to have to listen to a hundred or more snoring men every evening, Galen did not like the look of the place’s roof. It seemed to him that one fair-sized bomb could come right through it and kill them all. Even roundshot would probably punch through and scatter the brains of some poor, sleeping soldier. Like him. Sleeping in the bomb-proof was living rough, but it certainly felt more secure.
As the archers and infantrymen settled in, so did the medici. After a few days the healers appeared to make their station into a going concern. Their main customers at the moment were soldiers hurt during work details. A few days after his promotion Galen carried one of his men, a Telanian named Sergius Portus, down to the station. The man had smashed his foot with a sledgehammer and was crying like a child. “Are they going to cut it off, Galen?” he kept asking. “Are they going to cut it off?”
“Of course not,” Galen said, when in fact he thought there was a good chance of it. Sergius had completely missed his swing on a tent stake and done a proper job on his foot, even though he had been wearing boots. Galen had seen men not as badly hurt lose their foot or leg.
He got Sergius down to the station. A pair of attendants came out and helped Sergius into the shelter and onto a cot. Galen knelt down by Sergius’ head, holding his hand, as someone said, “Bring that lantern over here.”
It was the young priestess. As one of the attendants held a lantern high she took shears and efficiently cut Sergius’ boot off. She removed the foot’s blood-stained wrapping, ignoring Sergius cries. Even by the lantern-light Sergius’ foot looked wrong to Galen, as if it had been put in a vise and twisted out of shape. It was steadily seeping blood, and one of the attendants hastily wrapped it in gauze, which instantly turned red.
“It’s nothing, Sergius,” Galen lied, smiling at the man. “They’ll have it set right in no time.”
The priestess glanced at him, scowling. “You can go, decarion,” she said.
Galen ignored her. “They’ll just take you down to the hospital and they’ll fix you quick as that,” he told Sergius.
“Decarion,” the priestess said, “you need to leave!”
Galen faced her. “Why don’t you stop wasting time and get the litter ready for my man here?” he said.
The woman drew back in obvious surprise. She recovered at once, though, and snapped orders to the attendants.
In short order the litter was ready. Galen helped ease Sergius on to it. “You just do as the medici say, and I’ll come see you soon.”
Sergius looked distracted with the pain, but he nodded. “All right, Galen,” he said, at that moment completely forgetting Galen’s rank.
The attendants lifted the litter and carried Sergius away. Galen stepped outside the medical station and watched them go. He was more sure than ever that Sergius was going to lose that foot in a matter of an hour or two. The thought left Galen down-hearted– there wasn’t much for a crippled soldier aside from beggary. It wasn’t right.
“Decarion,” the priestess said. Galen turned to see the priestess stepping out of the station. She looked very stern. “From now, when I say to leave, you leave.”
Galen snorted. “Lady, I don’t know who you think you are, but you’re not in my chain of command, and you don’t give me orders. If one of my men is hurt, I will do what I need to for him, and there’s not a word you can say to change that.”
“We can’t have you interfering,” the priestess said.
“How did I interfere?” Galen said. “Did I get in your way?”
“You told your man lies,” the priestess said. “That foot is liable to come off.”
“I know that,” Galen said. “Probably better than you. And just how would it have served him, lady, to tell him the bald truth right then? Wind him up, get him frantic with fear? Yes, that would have been an excellent prescription, wouldn’t it?”
The priestess looked as if she wanted to rebut Galen’s medical opinion, but was having trouble finding a flaw in it. “Never mind,” she said at last. “Go back to your unit, decarion. I have work to do.”
“We all do, priestess,” Galen said. “Hopefully, mine will keep me away from here for quite some time.” He turned and walked away.