Chapter 3

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Vercingetor gave no indication that he felt in any way slighted or that she was being insubordinate. Peculiar. By now her aides were entering bearing plates of food and flagons of wine. As they refreshed the fire she began to thaw a little from the numbing cold of the gathering night, and started removing her armor. Vercingetor took a mouthful of the roasted meat and a swallow of wine, paying no heed to her. She shrugged and allowed her aide to finish taking the armor off.

"Tomorrow," Vercingetor started, "we'll cross the Ringossa Valley, and advance into Segora Province. Your troops will need to rest some before we can finish the push into the capital city."

"We'll need reinforcements before we can engage the rebels there. We suffered too many casualties today. I can't move my forces for at least a week."

"Precisely. You'll leave your squadrons here, and take command of the Ninth Division. They're stationed just beyond the ridge to the north."

"Sir?" She hastily finished swallowing a mouthful of food. "You want me to lead the Ninth?"

Now Vercingetor smiled. "Did you think I just stumbled on you by accident today, Captain?"

"Surely there are other officers more qualified to command the Ninth."

"More senior, certainly; more qualified--not that I've seen."

For a moment she could hardly speak. The Ninth was a legendary elite unit, undefeated on the battlefield. To be handed command of such a unit was unheard of. Only the most skilled warriors were invited to serve directly under the military's highest commander.

"But sir, wouldn't it be more appropriate to promote one of their own to command?"

He swirled his wine while watching her. "Perhaps. Under normal circumstances. At the moment I need some of them elsewhere, and after what I witnessed on the battlefield today, I believe I can trust you to carry this burden. Your regiment scored a decisive victory, your troops fight fiercely for you. I need officers who can inspire their troops like that."

"But who will take over my regiment?"

"Captain, are you trying to tell me you're refusing this promotion?"

She swallowed hard. "No General, not at all." He was handing her a position beyond anything she'd hoped for and she was acting like a mother hen. True, she had brought these troops up from nothing, turning them into one of the most feared and best trained units in the empire, but fate it seemed had decided it was time to move on.

"Your devotion to your troops is commendable, Captain, but I need you elsewhere right now. Be ready to leave at first light in the morning."

"Yes sir."

"Now, if you'll kindly direct me to a tent I can use tonight, I'd be most grateful."

Once Vercingetor was settled, Adovana Lassuni assembled her officers in a hasty council to pass on the news. Her top lieutenant openly blanched, until she informed him he was receiving a field promotion to captain.

"You'll assume command immediately," she told him. "I ride out in the morning with the Supreme Commander. There's no time for a formal change of command."

"It's been an honor to serve with you, Captain." Lieutenant Satonos stood at attention as he spoke.

Lassuni nodded. "Thank you. And may I be the first to congratulate you on your promotion, Captain Satonos." Each placed their left hand on the other's right shoulder in salute.

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