Arrival

“JAMES! JAMES! JAMES!” Anna waddled over to Evans and hugged him. Evans hugged back and kissed her.

Polly shouted “EWWWWW!!! KISSING!” at them.

Ignoring that, Evans queried Anna, “So, where’s Mary?”

“We have a dedicated babysitter,” Anna smiled, “I could get used to this lifestyle. And she’s with the babysitter now because little Mary had herself a little accident.”

“And how’s the little guy coming along?” Evans pointed to Anna’s belly.

“Almost here. Should be a few weeks,” She smiled and kissed him again.

“EWWWWWWWW!!!!!”

“And this is Polly, like I’ve mentioned in my letters,” Evans pointed back at Polly, who was now sticking her tongue out at Evans, “Polly, is a Medal of Ethslin Second Class winning soldier. She is also going to be Lady Halsey eventually so she should not be acting so immature.”

“Ann Stoddart?”

“YES!” Polly shouted down at them

“Why do you call her Polly?”

“Her last name was Pollard, so we call her Polly.”

“And it’s fucking stupid,” Polly frowned, “Even Winny calls me Polly and it’s his own damn fault that my last name isn’t Pollard.”

“Well you can’t be called Ann, that would be way too confusing,” Evans pointed to Anna, “She’s Anna, and it’s one letter off. I wouldn’t want to be calling her name, expecting someone beautiful to show up and then you come around. Would just be horrid. I might vomit.”

“Well I’m married to somewhat much more important than she is, so that must mean that I’m more beautiful than her.”

“Excuse me, I’m right here.”

“Yeah, shut up, you aren’t a part of this,” Polly looked back to Evans, “So you should be honored that I showed up instead of her.”

“You know, I was pregnant almost immediately after my marriage started, and I got pregnant again like as soon as possible. While you remain childless. So it doesn’t seem like your husband doesn’t enjoy your company”

“Well my marriage was a massive scandal. My husband was pretty much disowned because…”

“This is the worst conversation,” Major Kestel limped up to the three, “The government has standards of beauty laid out for this very reason. I am most beautiful, followed by Mrs. Stoddart, and then Mrs. Evans. Now, Jim, Polly, once you’ve settled in, I’d like you two to meet my mother. She’ll be the one running most of this whole thing. And Jim?”

“Yes… What am I supposed to call you now?”

“Your Grace, Duchess Medway, or just plain old Duchess. Once you are back in the military, you should go back to calling me Major. But as to what I wanted… Uh, I can’t exactly walk up stairs until the cast comes off. Could you… Lord this is the most undignified question, Carry me up the stairs. I don’t have any servant’s right now they’re all in the army.”

“Yes Your Grace, I shall carry you wherever you need and it will be my deepest honor.” Evans reached down to the Major.

“No not yet. I still have some dignity.”

Evans nodded, gave Anna a quick kiss, and walked with the Major to the stairs. She gestured. “Uh, you are wearing a dress. I would really not want to… “

“Just grab me around the waist and lift straight up… That should work?”

Evans grabbed her waist.

“Alright… That hurts,” the Major winced, “I was completely wrong.”

“Very sorry Your Grace,” Evans set her down at the top of the stairs.

“Please, Jim, you are my best friend. you can cut the whole Your Grace thing. In private. No one besides me can hear you call me Demi. I guess Anna is fine too. But besides her, no one. It was OK to be somewhat public about our friendship when I was just Lady Demetria, but I’m important now.”

“I just, kind of liked calling you ‘your grace’ or ‘duchess.’ It makes me feel all fancy and special.”

“Well, I feel fancy and special all the time. Because I am fancy and special. I’d like to feel normal. And you are exceedingly normal Jim.”

“You know, I’m a war hero, that’s not normal. I’ve got several medals.”

“You’re a farmer, you’ve got a wife, you’re from a small town. And I like how you usually don’t treat me special. It’s hard for me to get friends… and…” Major Kestel pointed at the next set of stairs, “We’re inside now. So you can just carry me normally.”

“Alright Demi. Here we go,” Evans put the Major onto his shoulders and carried her up the stairs.

Once they got to the top of the stairs, he started to lower the Major down. Her legs knocked into a glass, which fell to the ground and shattered.

 

“ARTILLERY! GET DOWN!” Sergeant Griffith shouted to the platoon as they stood along the wall for Stand To. A split second later, Evans heard the telltale whistle of inbound shells. He sprinted into the dugout. A few seconds after he dived in, the first shell hit. It was the loudest sound Evans had ever heard.

As the dirt clumps fell around him, Evans crawled towards Anna, who was huddled in the corner. He tried to yell something towards her. She shook her head while yelling something back.

 

“JAMES!”

Evans opened his eyes. Major Kestel was looking down on him. He stood up, “Sorry, I just tripped.”

“You dropped me, then yelled at me and called me Zwev.”

“Can I be honest with you for a moment?” Evans looked at his feet, “I keep seeing things. Like the war. It’s usually dreams, but it’s occasionally when… something happens. It’s worse when I’m not fighting.”

There was a pause.

“Yeah… Me too.”

Waking Up

“CONTACT FRONT!”

“FUCK!”

Evans dived to the side of the road and tried to track the tracer bullets back to the machine gun. He noticed something out of the corner of his eye. Lieutenant Stoddart was standing, frozen in fear, in the middle of the road. Without thinking, he dropped his shotgun and sprinted for the Lieutenant, watching the tracers slowly work there way towards the Lieutenant.

With a dive tackle, he knocked the Lieutenant behind an overturned cart. Evans patted down the Lieutenant and looked for wounds, “You’re OK sir.”

Sergeant Giardot ran up to the two of them behind the cart and ducked down, “Lieutenant, what are your orders? We’ve got wounded and we are pinned down.”

“Um… I…” Lieutenant Stoddart started to cry.

“Well Shit,” Sergeant Giardot poked her head up and looked around. She ducked back down and looked at Evans, “Evans, find Corporal Blake. If she’s dead or wounded, take her rifle and take out the machine guns. If she isn’t, ask her why the fuck she isn’t doing that already.”

“Yes Sergeant,” Evans looked around and tried to remember where Corporals Calepino and Blake had been. Usually they were in the back of the platoon right? He saw what looked like the Charles Rifle near a destroyed car. He took a deep breath in. As he exhaled he sprinted back to his shotgun and dived to the ground. Privates Delage and Hawke were hiding behind a pile of rubble nearby. He crawled closer to them and yelled towards them, “HEY! GUYS! I NEED RAPID FIRE COVER!”

The two nodded and poked their rifles out from cover and started firing. Evans waited for the gunfire to be attracted to what seemed to be a machine gun opening up. He then sprinted low towards the destroyed car.

He stumbled over himself on the way there. A sharp pain shot through his leg.

 

Evans woke himself up with a yelp of pain.

He was on the ship. The ship back to Ethslin. Evans was safe. Everything was…

“The hell was that?” Polly looked over at him from the other bed. She flipped the electric light on, “Now I’m all woken up.”

“Just had a nightmare,” Evans rolled over and closed his eyes.

“Oh no, you aren’t just waking me up and falling asleep,” Polly walked over and started poking the back of his head.

He started to turn around when she slapped him, “Don’t. I’m naked.”

“Why aren’t you dressed?”

“The dress is really uncomfortable for sleeping in.”

“Don’t you have a slip or something?”

“These sheets are also really nice and comfy.”

“Could you just get back under those sheets so I can talk to you.”

“Why? I hold all the power now.”

“What power exactly?”

“You can’t look anywhere but that wall. Loser.”

“I’m pretty sure Harvard would call this unladylike,” Evans paused, “Plus I saw you shirtless when I patched that stab wound.”

“And you did a really shitty job of it. So you haven’t seen me with the big scar. Plus I’m also not wearing pants.”

“I’m going to bed now you idiot,” Evans closed his eyes, “Thanks”

“For what?”

“Made me forget my shitty dreams.”

“With thoughts of my beautiful body?”

“I will reopen that fucking stab wound.”

“Ooh you can’t see me dancing around back here.” There was the patter of feet behind Evans followed by a thud.

Evans rolled over, “Are you…” Polly was lying on the floor wearing her slip, “I really fucking hate you.”

“But you looked. Your wife will be soooooo angry when she hears this.”

“You know I’ve killed people before. Many people. There’s a window right over there. I don’t think they’d ever find you. Lost at sea.”

“But would you hurt a woman?””

“You’re just lucky that we aren’t allowed weapons on this boat.”

“Ship.”

“Going to sleep now. Turn down that fucking lamp.”

Ready to Board

This just felt weird. Evans was standing in a suit that probably cost more than everything he owned combined. He was standing next to Polly, who was wearing an equally expensive dress. And around them, the military was running around, doing their thing. The Ligurian ship was supposed to arrive today. It contained mail and journalists.

As part of an agreement in the beginning of the war, as long as Liguria remained neutral, neither nation would touch their transports. As part of their neutrality, Ligurian vessels  were not allowed to transport military related items. They were, however, allowed to ship civilians, mail, and a wealth of products that might otherwise be unavailable. To keep things neutral, Liguria consented to having a Vledscan officer and an Ethslin Officer assigned to each ship that went to either country to inspect the cargo. Occasionally, Military officers such as Colonel Harvard were allowed to take a trip, as long as they were accompanied by a Ligurian representative in some fashion. In Harvard’s case, there was a man who sat in the front of the truck, spending his time reading books.

And, since Evans and Polly were now civilians, they were allowed onboard. Or at least they would be, if the transport would come on time. Evans pulled out a cigarette and looked for his lighter, another well dressed man walked over, struck a match, and lit it for Evans, “So, who you with?”

“Excuse me?”

“I’m Charles Watson  with the Strongfield Post.”

“Oh, sorry, we’re not reporters. We’re… on government business?” Evans looked to Polly, “What the fuck do we say we’re doing?”

“How should I know, wait for the Colonel?”

“So you’re here on what kind of business?”

“Sir, I’m gonna level with you,” Evans took a puff of his cigarette, “I have no idea what we’re doing here. We’re just waiting for the next ship outta here.”

“Ah, might I ask who you two are?”

“James Evans. I’m from Halton.”

“Halton…” Watson furled his brow, “That’s a small town on the rail line out of Strongfield, right?”

“Yep,” Evans took another puff, “My family has a farm, so we come into Strongfield every once and a while to sell our crops.”

“So how does a young farmer end up on ‘Government Business?’”

Colonel Harvard walked up, “These two are assistants for Duchess Medway, working to prepare for her coronation. You want an exclusive? The other one is Ann Stoddart.”

“Oh, wow, may I have an interview?”

“No, sorry, transport has arrived, and Mister Evans and Mrs. Stoddart really must be going right now,” He looked to the two of them, “Come on, let’s pop off. Transport leaves in an hour.”

As the trio left, Evans shouted back to the man, “IF YOU WANT A HEROIC STORY, LOOK FOR ENSIGN CARRUTHERS OF THE FIFTH!”

“Alright, first off, I apologize deeply, but you two will have to share a room. Normally I’d offer to share a cabin with Mister Evans and give Mrs. Stoddart a room to yourself, but I have to stay with my representative so they make sure I don’t bring any documents… It’s all a bit ridiculous, but you know, whatever they have to do to get you to safely to Medway. And, if anyone asks you what you’re doing, it is perfectly alright to say what you’re doing. It’s not a secret or anything. Just make sure to act professional about it all.”

“Yes Mister Harvard.”

“Very Well. And remember, you will be searched once we get on board, so empty your pockets and try not to look too suspicious, alright?”

Breaking News

“I am Colonel Robert Harvard, Army Special Messenger, I have been tasked with bringing the two of you safely to Medway. Think of me as your bodyguard.”
“Excuse me sir? What’s going on? How did you find us?”
“First off, don’t call me sir, you two are temporarily civilians again. This way, I will be able to take you two on a Ligurian transport that’s due in three days. Which also means you two will have to surrender all government issued equipment and uniforms You will be searched very thoroughly, so turn over everything. I have a suit for Mister Evans, and a dress for Mrs. Stoddart. Make sure to treat them nicely. They are loaners from the Duchess herself.” Colonel Harvard snapped, “You of course haven’t heard. The Duke Medway has passed. The Duchess Medway specifically requested your presence to help plan her coronation, which will be held once her cast is off. And I found you quite by luck. I was told you were last seen behind enemy lines. I’ve been hunting for you for almost a week now. I’d almost given you two up for dead.”
Evans and Polly sat in stunned silence for a moment. Evans said the first thing that came to his head, “Will we be passing through Seahaven Si… Colonel Harvard? I’d like to see my wife and daughter.”
“That would be the Silesian woman?”
“Yes si…”
“I helped her to the train station on my way here. A lovely lady. Almost due isn’t she?”
“Yes,” Evans smiled, “I hope it’s a boy this time.”
The Colonel turned to Polly, “And you’re the interesting guest aren’t you Mrs. Stoddart?”
“Excuse me Mister Harvard?”
“Well, none of my business, but your being there means that several important families will not show up. But eh, fuck em? My wife thinks you’re whole story is romantic or something. And this will provide some entertainment to the tabloids… Which reminds me,” The Colonel turned back to Evans, “Spend as much time publicly with you wife as possible. Tabloids will have a field day with you being recalled from service to go live with the Duchess for a while, so you’ll want to stop the rumors by showing how devoted and caring of a husband you are. If you are interviewed, try and play up your marriage as much as possible.”
And back to Polly, “And you, for god’s sake avoid the press like the plague. If they do corner you, remember, no matter what your husband’s family thinks, you will be a Lady someday. Act like it. No swearing, no contractions, no slang. Legs crossed, arms uncrossed. Always have a hat unless you’re in someones home. I am most definitely forgetting things, so try and figure that shit out.”
“Um… Alright Mister?”
“We can pick up an etiquette book once we land in Ethslin… Though, you should probably stay hidden, just to make sure you don’t get recognized by any of those fucking reporters. And Mister Evans, if anyone asks you what you’re doing or asks why you aren’t fighting. Just say you are on official government business. No more, and no less.”
“Sir? I mean, Mister Harvard?”
“Yes Mister Evans?”
“When are we going to… be back in the military?”
“Right before the ceremony. So you’ll be able to show off all your flashy medals…” He then reached into his pockets, “Which reminds me, Evans, you earned an MoE First Class for saving the Duchess Medway from the Steven’s Point, and for subsequent actions on the Torpedo Boat.” He pulled a medal out and handed it to Evans.
“Oh… Um… The sailors on that boat did plenty more than me.”
“Yeah, Torpedo Boat Six is famous now. All the sailors received at least an MoE First, and the Captain, Chief Engineer, and Gun Crew Commander all got a CoE. That, and it was named. Duchess Medway’s Own… That ceremony hasn’t happened yet. Those fuckers picked up something like six boatloads of drowning sailors before being ripped asunder. Most of the crew got out though.”
“Oh… Wow.”
“And you Mrs. Stoddart,” Colonel Harvard fished out another medal, “MoE Second for taking a pillbox that was pinning down your unit. I heard it would have been a First if it weren’t for your marriage.”
“Mister Harvard? May I ask you a question?”
“Yes.”
“Have you ever been on the front? Like, fighting, not just picking us up?”
“Not for very long. Before I was a messenger, I was in Intelligence. I was a Lieutenant Colonel when the war started. Tsiv River. My outpost was nearly overrun and we had to fight until we got all the documents destroyed and could retreat. After that, became an errand boy.”