Chapter 2

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"Apology accepted, Captain. Well, since our work here is done," he said, sweeping his glance over the battlefield where the crows were already arriving to scavenge the dead, "join me for some food, and we can talk."

"Sir, I need to check on my troops." Gainsaying the Prime Commander was probably error number two that day, but her duty to her own troops weighed on her. She couldn't just skip off and leave them.

"Of course. I'll join you," he said, and mounted his horse once more. He sat and waited for her to retrieve her own horse that had wandered off during the battle. Once in the saddle, she kicked the horse's flanks and quickly rejoined Vercingetor.

"This way, General," she said, and rode up the hill that hid their encampment.

They reached the top side by side, and reined their horses to a stop. Smoke from cooking fires and the smell of blood of the wounded scorched their nostrils. The wind was picking up as dark clouds moved in from the north. Just what they needed, Lassuni thought darkly. The wounded were suffering enough without cold rain and snow coming down on them. She urged her horse down the hill, nearly forgetting the presence of the army chief. She wasn't too worried about him, though. He could figure out on his own what to do. All she could do now was her duty to her troops.

They rode down the line of tents, many of which had become camp hospitals, and stopped now and then to have a word with some of the field doctors. None of the soldiers in the camp seemed to notice Vercingetor any more than she had, which made her smile inwardly. She didn't know why this pleased her so much, only that it did. She suspected he was as arrogant and full of himself as most high-ranking officers were, probably moreso. Not that he hadn't earned his fame the hard way, but most of them forgot the hardships suffered by the field troops once they achieved higher ranks and more power. She hated them for it. She watched Vercingetor out of the corner of her eye to see how he reacted to his anonymity. Annoyingly, he seemed to take no notice and said nothing as she spoke with some of the soldiers, simply observing from his saddle, not even offering an opinion. Finally she gave up worrying about him. After dismounting and handing her horse off to her aide she ran a hand absently through her chin-length, rough cut hair. Fatigue stole up and embraced her and for the first time she felt the strain of the last few weeks. She headed to her own tent in the center of the camp and entered to find a fire blazing, making the air inside feel a world away from the winter waiting outside. Forgetting the presence of the Supreme Commander, she lowered herself into her chair and called for wine, and two cups.

"My compliments, Captain. You have an excellent unit," Vercingetor said. He remained standing as if waiting for an invitation to sit.

Lassuni grinned, just a little, then started to stand again.

He waved his hand at her. "You've earned that seat, Captain." He turned and looked around the tent, then pulled up a second chair to sit near her. Lassuni shifted ever so slightly.

"Forgive me, General. I'm not accustomed to superior officers doing for themselves," she said. But even that was half bait to see how he'd take it. What was it about this man that brought out this childish desire to provoke?


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