Assembling a Working Party

“Major!” Evans and Captain Gates saluted as they entered the dugout.

“Captain, Sergeant,” Major Kestel returned the salutes then shook Captain Gates’ hand, “You missed the meeting. Luckily, the 137th fended off the attack. We got a runner from them though, their lines are pretty smashed up. Colonel Strummer is asking that every Battalion send a party to work on repairs. I would like you to organize a party for Sergeant Evans to lead. A dozen soldiers should be good. I will let you and Evans decide on the party. Since your office is a bit… out of order right now. I will be at my meeting with Regiment. Polly will be in the other room if you need a runner. Once you’re done, gather the team, and Sergeant Evans, report to the 137ths Colonel.” Major Kestel grabbed her files then left the dugout.

Evans then led the Captain to his desk and pulled out the seat. Captain Gates smiled, nodded and sat down, “Sergeant, I have got two Lance Corporals that I have had my eye on, and I would like to give them a little experience before giving putting them in for promotion. Lance Corporal Reilly and Lance Corporal Penn, who you met earlier. And for the other ten,” Captain Gates looked into his notebook, “I have got Privates Carter, Russell, Davies, George, Thompson, Walker, Mason, Bradley, Simpson, and Brooks. All relatively new, and I want you to tell me if there seems to be any trouble makers in the bunch.. Would you mind writing up a short report on the party and everyone in it?”

“No sir, wouldn’t mind at all. Might I suggest having the two Lances doing the write up on the Privates though? It will get them a bit more experience writing reports.”

“Sounds good Sergeant. Shall we assemble the team?”

“Yes Captain. I just need to grab my entrenching tool,” Evans walked to his kit bag and freed the folding shovel, “Got it Captain.”

“Very Well,” the Captain stood up and fixed his uniform, then led Evans out of the dugout. They took the twists and turns back to Fox Company’s trench system. A Corporal had taken over for Lance Corporal Penn in the salvaging of the dugout. Captain Gates said to him, “Corporal Lawson, Do you know the whereabouts of Lance Corporals Penn and Reilly?”

“Penn’s being Penn and giving unsolicited advice to the watch. Reilly just finished an inventory of 3rd Platoon so he’s probably napping in the platoon dugout. I can send a runner to get them sir.”

“Yes. Also get Privates Carter, Russell, Davies, George, Thompson, Walker, Mason, Bradley, Simpson, and Brooks.”

“Yes Captain. Right away.”

Trapped

Captain Gates held the photograph in one hand, and his pistol in the other. He hated these moments. He could be dead within the hour. Any moment now, someone from Battalion headquarters should run into the room and tell him to get Fox Company ready for combat. He had, of course, already sent his runner out. Lance Corporal Kendle had been sent to check in with Battalion HQ.

Evans ran down the stairs and saluted, “Captain Gates Sir.”

“Sergeant,” Captain Gates returned the salute, “You are here to summon me?”

Before Evans could respond, a blast from above knocked him forward, The sudden gust of wind blew out the candles and plunged the two into total darkness.

“Fuuuuuuucccccckkkkkkk,” Evans slowly exhaled, “Are you alright sir?”

“Yes Sergeant. Are you?”

“Been better sir. Nothing seems broken though,” Evans slowly stood up and reached into his right breast pocket. He fished past the cigarettes and pulled out his lighter. He struck it and used the flickering light to find the nearest candle. After lighting it, he put his lighter away, lit another candle, and walked up the stairs, “About half the stairs are blocked. Timbers too close together to get a grip. The Flame is acting like there’s wind, so we should be good for now. No one is gonna come out until the barrage is over, so let’s wait until then to yell for help.” Evans walked back down to the desk Captain Gates was sitting on, “So we might as well make ourselves comfortable for now Sir.”

“Very well Sergeant,” Captain Gates looked at the photograph and smiled, Now, if another shell hit, no one would even need to bury him. He’d already be in this grave.

“So what’s the picture sir?”

“Oh nothing Sergeant.”

“Is it a lady sir?” Evans sat down next to Captain Gates and pulled out a picture that was tucked into his helmet and showed it to Captain Gates, “This is my wife, Anna, attempting to hold our kids. Mary. Graham. Paul.”

“Oh no, this is just a good friend of mine,” Captain Gates showed the picture of an artillery officer.

“Wasn’t he at the coronation?”

“Yes, he was my guest.”

Evans laughed, “The guest slot was so you could impress a lady. Who’s gonna turn down an invitation to see a-” Another shell hit close by and the dugout shook. Evans could hear timbers shift, “I’ll go check on that. Hopefully, the stairway is a bit more open now.”

He stood up and walked to the stairwell. There was a beam of Moonlight coming down, “GOOD NEWS SIR!” Evans walked down the stairs to the back corner of the room, “May I take this flag pole Sir?”

“Yes Sergeant.”

“Thank you Sir,” Evans shifted the candle to his left hand and pulled the flag pole up. Once he got back to the stairway, he slowly pushed the pole into the open shaft until it breached the surface. He then started to wave it back and forth to get someone’s attention, “Captain, just in case, get your pistol ready.”

As the shells started to trickle down, Evans heard someone shout, “HOW MANY IN THERE?”

“TWO! SERGEANT EVANS AND CAPTAIN GATES!”

“ALRIGHT! I’LL TRY AND GET A PARTY! I’M LANCE PENN BY THE WAY!”

Evans withdrew the flag pole and set it down on the stairwell, “Well, we’re getting help Captain. Lance Corporal Penn if you know them.”

“Kelly Penn. She is in… third platoon. Been with Fox since Northern Gate,” Captain Gates grabbed the flag pole and put it back in its place.

After a few minutes, Penn came back and shouted down, “WE’VE GOT A PARTY! AND HER GRACE WANTS YOU TWO TO REPORT TO HER IMMEDIATELY!”

The party made quick work of debris, making a hole big enough for Evans and Captain Gates to crawl out of. Captain Gates went first. Evans crawled out next. Lance Kelly was waiting by the exit. She grabbed his arms and helped pull him out. He nodded to her, “Thanks Lance.”

“Shall we respond to the Major’s Summons now Sergeant?”

“Yes. I can lead the way sir.”

On the Line Again

After the coronation, Major Kestel returned to the 202nd Regiment as the commanding officer of 2nd Battalion. Evans had been promoted to Sergeant to allow him more authority in the command of her staff. Polly was given a role as Major Kestel’s secretary. Major Kestel had also given Anna a job as her official tailor. Evans had made fun of Anna because he was doing her job 90% of the time, since Anna was in Medway, and Major Kestel was near the front. But now, the 202nd was back in the trenches. Back to the usual fair. Major Kestel at her desk, looking at maps, and Evans doing the paperwork. At least, as a sergeant, Evans got a desk.

Evans looked through the pile of mail for the battalion. He divided it up into a few piles. The classified updates on the war effort: To be read, immediately, by Major Kestel, then burned.. The family of dead soldiers asking for explanations: To be passed out to the company commanders. Personal Letters addressed directly to “Demetria Kestel:” Major Kestel would deal with them when she got the chance. And finally, everything sent to “Duchess Medway” was to be read by Evans. He had mastered the art of forging her signature and acted as her de facto speechwriter, so if it was a fan, he would type up a short letter that sounded like she wrote it and sign it with her signature. Almost no one wrote to “Duchess Medway” unless they didn’t know her personally. Except for tonight. Evans ripped open the letter and started to read. His knife clattered onto the table, “Demi… You’re gonna want to read this.”

“I have to turn in this annotated map in an hour and then I have to tour the lines. I really do not have time to read a funny letter.”

“Ma’am. Read this letter.”

“Ordering me around is wrong in so many ways Sergeant. Can you read it to me?”

“This is personal Ma’am. And Official. You want to read it yourself.”

“Fine Jim,” Major Kestel stood up, walked over, and grabbed the letter, “Are you happy now Ji…” Major Kestel squealed with excitement and dropped the letter.She hugged Evans and jumped up and down a bit.

Evans smiled and then asked, “One Question Demi. Why is the Lord Marshfield asking if you, the Duchess Medway, if his ‘Extra Son’ can get married to… you, but then it just says something about the Fair Lady Demetria.Can’t his son just ask you directly?

“Tradition. If this were the old days, you would have to ask your Lord if you wanted to marry your wife. So my soon to be fiance’s Lord asked my lord to marry. It’s just that I am my own lord, it is my duty to select who I marry.”

“So who is this guy? Sebastian something?”

Major Kestel smiled, “Sebastian Griffiths is someone I knew a little growing up. He is now working running one of his father’s factories, so he visited me a few times while I was recovering. And he was at the-” A shell burst close by and the dug out rumbled “-coronation.”

“So when are you going to become ‘Major Griffiths?’”

“Never.First off, he will get my surname, This will be a Matrilineal marriage, so he will be taking my name. And the marriage will be after the war, so I will not be an officer.”

“Good, I couldn’t get used to calling you by yet an…” Shells started to rain down more heavily and a few machine guns started to open up. Evans grabbed his rifle off the rack on the wall. Major Kestel put her sword on.

Polly ran down the stairs and saluted, “Major! The front lines being pounded Ma’am.”

“Very Well,” She turned to Evans, “Sergeant, fetch the Sergeant Major and Company Commanders. Polly, tell Regiment that we are ready to reinforce the front if necessary. And tell them our phone still is not working.”

Evans and Polly responded in unison, “Yes Ma’am.”

The two ran up the stairs. Major Kestel took in a deep breath. It was probably just a raid. Just in case, she checked the magazine on her sidearm and chambered a round.

Twins?

“Evans! How did it go?”

“Twins.”

“What?”

“I have three children now.”

“Ooh! Exciting! Names. What are their names?”

“Graham and Paul,” Evans smiled and continued, “The four of them are sleeping in the cottage right now.”

“I will have to come visit tonight. When they are awake.”

“Alright. Sounds like a plan. I’m sure she will love it.”

“And now back to the meeting?”

“Very well Demi.”

“So, Polly and I put together somewhat of an invite list based on what you and I have talked about earlier. Right now she is getting some pens and paper so we can do a rough design for the invitation. I have someone that I have hired for the design, but we need to give them some designs for them to expand upon.”

“So what do you do for these invite things?”

“Well, the face of the invite should be my families coat of arms, surrounded by a field of daffodils. Which reminds me, I will need a few thousand daffodils for the ceremony, and my hair should be decorated with them. Also, I need a fake one made.”

“Why?”

“My birth flower. It is tradition that a Duke or Duchess wears the flower of their birth. For men, they just have to wear it in their lapel, but women have to wear it in their hair, which will include front line duties, which is why I want the fake one made, so I do not have to deal with fresh ones all the time. I will also be required to wear either a Turquoise Ring or Turquoise Necklace at all times. Turquoise is December’s birthstone, but it holds less symbolic value, so it will not be used for decoration.”

“Alright then. So what else on the card?”

Polly walked over, pulled up a seat and put down the paper and pens. Major Kestel picked up a pen and started tapping it for a moment, she looked at Evans and said, “What should the words on the inside say? I was thinking, ‘You are most cordially invited to the Coronation of the Major Demetria Kestel, Duchess Medway.’”

“Would the emphasis then be placed on your military rank? The ‘Major’ makes it sound like this is gonna be a military function.”

“How about ‘Her Grace, Demetria Kestel, the Duchess of Medway?’”

“I like that better. It sounds more regal.”

“Very Well. So what should we do for the interior design? I was thinking of just a single daffodil on the left face, and simple text on the right.”

Polly scribbled on a piece of paper and asked, “What about the guests name? And some sort of ‘and guest?’”

“What about people with children?” Evans smiled stupidly and said, “As the father of three, I wouldn’t want to leave my children out of this.”

Polly whacked him with her pen. “Shut up Evans.”

“He brings up a good point Polly.”

“Then just whatever their name is… and family?”

“Yes, but then someone is going to bring their third cousin.”

“You are welcomed to bring a significant other and children?” Evans said, “Then we cover married people, married people with children, and engaged people. Done.”

“Alright then,” Major Kestel looked to Polly, “You have all of that down Polly?”

“Yes Ma’am. What did you want for the cover?”

“Right, you were not here yet. The center should be my coat of arms and it should be surrounded by daffodils.”

“Yes Ma’am.”

“And, we shall use my signet ring to seal all the envelopes. With purple wax. Have got to remember to use more purple.”

“Why Demi?”

“It is the color of a duchess or duke. I have to use it for my official letters now. Before I had to seal my letters with Blue. Blue is the color for anyone with the title of lord or lady.”

Meeting

It was a beautiful morning. Evans walked to the center of Major Kestel’s castle’s garden and sat down at a table across from her, “Morning Demi.”

“Morning Jim.”

“Well, first off, what’s your guest list?”

Major Kestel picked up a list and started reading off of it, “Traditionally, I should invite all of Second Battalion Officers, All members of Fox Company, all 202nd staff officers, and all officers above me in the chain of command. I also should invite all nobility of nations we are not currently at war with. The Oligarchs also of course. Other officers to be invited are Captain Reilly from the 137th, Lieutenant Kelly from the 23rd Artillery, Captain Thompson of the 5th Intelligence, Captain Stoddart, Lieutenant Atkinson from the 351st. Captain Campbell, Commander Blair, and Lieutenant Commander Bain from the Indefatigable. Any officers from my Naval Infantry Battalion still alive. I would also like the crew of the Duchess Medway’s Own. Of those, my Honor Guard will be Captain Gates, Captain Reilly, Captain Thompson, and Lieutenant Kelly. And Jim, you will have to serve as my escort, which means you will have to select a team of eight, including you for a rifle salute. Do you have anyone in mind right now?”

“Yes Ma’am, Polly, Tiscornia, Newey, Ustinov, Turner,  and an Ensign Chambers from an Intelligence unit… Is it alright to have an officer in the team?”

“Yes, because, well, due to tradition the team will be named soldiers of Medway and be given traditional Medwayan ranks and uniforms. You will be Pike Sergeant Captain James Evans. So who is this Ensign Chambers?”

“Permission to speak stupidly Ma’am?”

“Yes Jim?”

“She was a runner in Fox before you came along. Every time we’ve met up since she’s asked if I could introduce her to you.”

“So why is she an officer?”

“I believe you mean how is she an officer?” Evans sat back in his chair, “Lucy was heavily wounded in my rescue of that Lieutenant. After all the surgeries, she was too weak to go back to frontline duties, but before they drummed her out, someone figured out that she spoke Vledscan and Moravian and transferred her to Intelligence. And apparently Translators are required to be officers in Intelligence, so she was given a promotion to Ensign and sent to a modified Officers’ Training School. Also, I’d like to have Lance Corporal Jack Shaw of the 351st. I believe he’s in Lieutenant Atkinson’s Platoon. He was my best friend from Halton.”

“I censor all of your letters Jim, I know who Jack is,” Major Kestel sighed, looked at her list, and looked back at Evans, saying, “But that list sounds good. You’ll need to get their sizes for the uniforms. And they will all be named Pike Corporals.”

“What about your Honor Guard Ma’am? Do they need special uniforms?”

“Yes, they’ll be named Knight Commanders of the Medwayan Army and given specially made armor,” Major Kestel giggled, then continued, “They have to wear fancy plate armor from hundreds of years ago. And your wife will not have to make those, we can hire a blacksmith. Unless Anna has some hidden metalworking talent you have not mentioned.”

“Not that I know of Demi. Though I do think some of her cousins are Puddlers back in Silesia. Maybe she picked up some from them.”

“EVANS EVANS EVANS EVANS” Polly ran shouting into the garden.

“What Polly?”

“Anna! She’s…” Polly bent over and took a few breaths before continuing, “Gone into Labor.”

Evans smiled, looked at Major Kestel, and said, “Permission to leave Demi?”

“Yes, go to your wife James.”

“Thank you.” Evans got up and followed Polly, who led him through the twisting corridors of the castle until they found the front gate.

“She’s in your cottage. A nurse and midwife are with her.”

Evans took off at full sprint, leaving the exhausted Polly behind to walk the rest of the way. It took him what seemed like an eternity to cover the distance. He arrived at the door and jiggled the handle. Stuck a bit. He picked up his right foot to kick in the door. As his foot came down, the door opened, and he hit the nurse square in the chest. The nurse fell backward and flailed his arms. Evans tumbled forward onto the nurse, taking both of them to the floor. The nurse muttered something under his breath and pointed to the master bedroom. Evans stood up, ran over, and opened the door.