Luke Hutton's Journey

By James Reid

©2012, James Reid

This is a work of Fiction. It is based in part on the Alternate History World, known as “Dies the Fire,” written and copyrighted by S.M. Stirling in 2004. The author agrees to abide by the Stirling Fan Fiction site disclaimer. This work is copyrighted by James Reid in 2012, except for those parts derived from “Dies the Fire,” and its sequels, which are copyrighted by S. M. Stirling and used here by permission. All characters in this fiction are, in fact, fictional, and any resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental, except where it is intentional and has the knowledge and consent of the named persons, who already know who they are and are mentally ready for the nasty things done to their namesakes.

Some thanks are in order:

To Steve Stirling, for creating the Emberverse; for allowing me and others much more talented than I to play in his universe; and for writing the following two lines that provide the hooks upon which this tale hangs.

In Dies the Fire: [Will] Hutton scratched his head thoughtfully.“…Got my family with me, ‘cept for my boy Luke. He‘s in the Army, stationed in Italy with the 173rd. All I can do for him is pray.”

In Scourge of God: “…and though he spoke in Italian, she recognized his accent as old-fashioned American. Texan, in fact.”

To my loving wife, for putting up with my fixation on Luke Hutton.

To members of the Stirling Group on Yahoo, and the S. M. Stirling Appreciation Society on FaceBook, who made some helpful comments and encouraged me along the way.

To Marco Pertoni, for things Italian, especially getting peoples’ surnames right for the regions in which they live.

To Bob Waldrop, for the details of Catholicism and for general editing.

To Allen Cheesman for his maps of Luke's Journey.

To Kier Salmon, Scott Palter and Pete Sartucci for editing, ideas and pointing out serious glitches.

The errors are all mine.

❀ ❁ ❀

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 — Change

Camp Ederle, Vicenza, Italy; Tuesday, March 17, 1998, 16:15.

Chapter 2 — Plans

Camp Ederle, Vicenza, Italy; Wednesday, March 18, 1998, 3:30.

Chapter 3 — Transportation

Camp Ederle, Vicenza, Italy; Wednesday, March 18, 1998, 08:00.

Chapter 4 — Cavalry

Camp Ederle, Vicenza, Italy; Thursday, March 18, 1998.

Chapter 5 — Departure

Camp Ederle, Vicenza, Italy, Friday, 20 March 1998, 07:00.

Chapter 6 — Water

Day Four — On the Rails, Saturday, 21 March 1998, Sunrise.

Chapter 7 — Skirmish

Day Five — On the Rails, Sunday, 22 March 1998, Early Morning.

Chapter 8 — Rails

Day Eight — South of Verona, Wednesday, 25 March 1998, Early Morning.

Chapter 9 — Changes

Day Fifteen — Marzabotto, Wednesday, 1 April 1998, Morning.

Chapter 10 — Road

Day Seventeen — South of Vergato, Friday, 3 April 1998, Early Evening.

Chapter 11 — Umbertide

Day Twenty-two — South of Le Piastre, Wednesday, 8 April 1998

Chapter 12 — Port

South of Perugia, Italy, Tuesday, 28 April 1998, evening

Chapter 13 — Advancement

The Military Road, North of Nomadelfia, Greater Umbria, 16 September 1998, mid-morning.

Chapter 14 — Shield

Valley of Death, Northwest of Siena, Greater Umbria, 8 May 1999, mid-afternoon.

Chapter 15 — Growth

Siena, Greater Umbria, 10 May 1999, morning.

Chapter 16 — Honor

Badia, Umbria, Michaelmas (29 September) 1999, early morning

— Epilogue —

Umbertide, Sunday, April 9, 2017 (Palm Sunday), Afternoon

❀ ❁ ❀


— Change —

Camp Ederle, Vicenza, Italy; Tuesday, March 17, 1998, 16:15. Change minus 10 hours.

“Sergeant Hutton! You’re sleepin’ on duty,” George Carson said to his roommate.

Sergeant Luke Hutton’s alarm rang. Luke lifted his beret off the upper part of his face and opened his eyes. “Well, not any more. You make enough noise for any six troops. But, this is what I get for hanging around with a blond Anglo who used to push cows in Arizona.”

“So what are you doin’ on the rack?”

“Talked Lieutenant Wilson out of an hour. Got staff duty tonight. A nap helps.”

“Ah, Staff Duty Non-Commissioned Officer. ‘An opportunity for the junior NCO to gain valuable functional knowledge about the internal — ’”

“George! That’s right outta the book. I didn’t know you could read.” Luke grinned. “Heard from your dad?”

“Yeah, letter today. He says the ranch is doin’ okay. I had told him he should ship the cows and convert to a dude ranch. His answer was, uh, ‘impolite,’ but if Dad wrote me a letter that wasn’t full of gripes and cuss words, I’d think something had taken over his body,” George said. “Everything all right in Austin?”

“Yeah. Mom says the stallions and mares keep making foals and the customers keep showing up to buy the results. My parents really understand breeding. I could be a millionaire some day if Dad keeps working so hard.”

“Nah, they’re gonna leave it all to your sister.”

“Thanks! That makes me so confident of my future. I might have to stay in the Army and get rich on my own.”

“Ha! Ha! Ha!” George shook his head, changing the subject. “You wouldn’t have gotten away with that hour off if Atkins wasn’t on leave.”

“Wouldn’t have asked if our illustrious platoon sergeant was present for duty.” Luke paused and shook his head. “The man has his moments.”

“Who you with tonight?”


“Ah, the asshole of Ederle.”

“Cut the guy some slack, George. His wife ‘took a vacation’ with their kids and never came back.”

“Spoken like a true Christian gentleman.”

“Well,” answered Luke, “that’s what my mother tried to make out of me, but I’m not really sure it took.”

Carson watched his slender, six foot tall roommate, who loved to cause consternation by calling himself an “Afro-Hispanic-American,” swing smoothly out of bed and turn back to square away his bunk.

Luke put on his battle dress uniform jacket and beret and said, “Gotta go.” He picked up his notebook and flashlight; then snapped his fingers. He went back to his desk, unscrewed the base of his flashlight and replaced the batteries with two others from a box the roommates kept in Hutton’s bottom desk drawer. After checking the flash, Luke nodded. “In the morning, George.”

“Okay, Luke.” Carson watched his roommate leave and reached for some notes he had made about a private whose minor misconduct had earned him an informal counseling session. The lanky former cowboy scratched his short blond hair while he thought about his errant rifleman.

❀ ❁ ❀

Livorno, Italy. Tuesday, 17 March 1998. 22:30 (Change Minus Three Hours, Forty-five Minutes)

Roberto Morelli was a twenty-five year old thief. He was smart and knew how to steal enough to support himself comfortably without drawing the attention of the authorities, who were after bigger perpetrators, or the crime syndicates, which defended their interests violently. He had also killed twice when his victims had resisted. The first time left him heaving in an alley; the second time was easier. His first victim was an American soldier. His second was an Italian sailor assigned to a training ship in Livorno.

The Italian hated Americans. That cluster of Yankees north of the city is an offense to all Italians, whether they know it or not, he thought. ‘Camp Darby!’ They can’t even call it by a decent Italian name. The war ended fifty years ago! And their attitudes! Why do they all expect us to speak their language? The few who do try to learn it mangle our tongue and yell at us when we don’t understand them.

Roberto had been watching his next victim for about an hour. Came into Livorno with too much money. He thinks showing off that roll of bills will impress the women. Morelli smiled. He’s about to think he’s successful. Perla always does it right.

The young women walking towards his target had a pretty, rounded face and a curvy body clad in a yellow dress. She was Roberto’s partner, Perla Lenzi.

Perla was twenty years old and knew how to act just enough like a prostitute to make oversexed men believe they had some chance for an evening of pleasure. Tonight she was wearing a cheap blonde wig. There she goes. When the victim was ready and Perla was walking with him to “her place,” Roberto would strike.

Roberto followed as Perla led their victim toward his fate. Not too close, Roberto reminded himself. Perla swung her plastic shopping bag and giggled at all the right moments. She brushed and bumped her body against the American’s. The soldier hesitated when Perla turned into a darkened alley, but she pressed herself against him and ran the palm of her hand up and down the front of his trousers. The American smiled and followed her.

Roberto took his knife out of his pocket and opened it with a flick of his wrist. He slipped up behind the American, grabbed his collar and stuck his knife up under the man’s chin. “Your money,” he said in his British-accented English. “Take it out of your pocket, slowly, and drop it on the ground.”

The target hesitated and Roberto pressed just enough with his knife to puncture the man’s skin, allowing a tiny amount of blood to flow. The man put his hand into his pocket, removed the roll of lire and dropped it.

Roberto forced the victim to his knees. Perla slipped behind her partner, removed a roll of duct tape from her shopping bag and taped the man’s ankles together. While Roberto kept pressure on the soldier’s jaw, Perla taped his mouth. She finished by taping the man’s wrists together behind his back.

Roberto put his knife away and carefully laid the soldier on his side, then picked up his victim’s money and said, “Someone will find you soon.”

He and Perla left the alley and started in opposite directions along the street. As Perla turned the corner, she tossed her wig back so the victim could see it hit the ground. Roberto shook his head. She can’t resist the tease, he thought.

They met at Roberto’s apartment fifteen minutes later. “How much?” Perla asked.

Roberto shook his head. “Nine hundred thousand.”

Perla’s jaw dropped and she did a quick calculation. “Five hundred dollars? What an idiot!”

Roberto grinned. “We can take a few days off.”

“First,” Perla said, leaning into her boyfriend and running her hand down the front of his trousers, “Take me to eat, then to party, then to bed.”

With me, she means it. He put his finger on her pert nose. “You’re a real professional.”

“But not that kind,” she answered, raising an eyebrow.

“No, my love, not that kind.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Camp Ederle, Vicenza, Italy. Headquarters, 1st Battalion, 508th Infantry (Airborne). Wednesday, 18 March 1998 0210 hours, (Change Minus Five Minutes)

Although no one in Captain Carl Brandt’s chain of command had quite figured it out, Brandt was an accident waiting to happen.

Marta had no right to take my kids and go off like that, he thought. I’m not getting any sympathy from Dad or her parents, either. “Damn it!”

“Sir?” responded Sergeant Luke Hutton, his staff duty NCO, from the battalion personnel sergeant’s desk on the other side of the office.

“Nothing, Sarge, just thinking out loud.”

“Yes, sir. Mind if I play solitaire on the computer? It’ll help me stay awake.”

“Go ahead.”

Staff duty officer sucks, Brandt whined to himself. And tomorrow I have to be a bright and responsive intelligence officer all day long. Maybe I can sneak in a couple of naps. Good that I have Tinkerman as an assistant S2. Sometimes you get lucky with lieutenants. Maybe I should get out. Marta never liked being an Army wife. But it’s all I know.

Brandt leaned back in the chair at Captain Gerald Kinkaid’s desk and put his feet up next to the adjutant’s telephone. Our little shit of an S1 would go ballistic if he saw this. Who cares?

At the desk across the office, Hutton leaned on one elbow and stared at computer screen with the solitaire game he had just dealt. Strategist, thought Brandt snarkily.

White light flashed painfully into Brandt’s eyes and he fell backward out of the chair and hit his head hard on the floor. He heard Hutton scream and was vaguely aware of the sergeant falling sideways from his chair. Lightning! Would a strike this close give me this God-awful taste? No thunder. I don’t… Brandt realized the pain was already gone. My head. Brandt felt the bump rising on the back of his head. That’s going to hurt for a while.

The desk lamps were out and the room had only the light of the moon outside.

“Jesus H… What was that, sir?” Hutton asked, getting up from the floor and rubbing his shoulder.

“I don’t know, Sergeant. Uh, what happened to the computer? And the lights?”

“Unknown, sir. I’ll check.”

Brandt watched as Hutton tried to restart the machine. No light in the power button, Brandt thought. Hutton stuck his head into the well of the desk and pulled it out again. It was darker further from the windows. Hutton walked slowly to the office doorway and flipped a wall switch off and back on. Brandt watched him step into the open doorway and look up and down the hall.

“There’s no power, sir. The UPS is turned on, but its light is out. There’s nothing coming out of the battery. It should be beeping at us.” Hutton looked up at the ceiling lights that had not come on and shrugged helplessly. “Oh, the fire lights in the hallway are out, too.”

“Okay, so what… Where’s my flashlight?”

Hutton looked around the office in the dim moonlight coming through the window and picked up his flashlight. “Got mine, sir.” He turned it on and nothing happened. “I swapped out the batteries and checked them before we came on duty, sir; it worked then.”

Brandt stared at Hutton then reached out and picked up the telephone on the adjutant’s desk. He listened and shook his head. No dial tone. “It’s dead; try yours.”

Hutton lifted the receiver of phone and held it next to his ear. Shaking his head, he put the receiver back on the cradle. “Nothing, sir.” Brandt watched as Hutton stared into space. Hutton snapped his fingers and walked to a window. Opening the window, Hutton leaned out. Why didn’t I think of that? Brandt asked himself. The young NCO pulled his body back into the room. He began to speak, stopped and leaned out again.

When he pulled back into the room a second time, there was real concern on his face. “Sir, this is big.” He started ticking off points on his fingers. “We get this — ah — blast of light and pain. We have no electricity in the building. We have no phones. That’s a separate power source, but you knew that. They’re no night lights on any of the buildings. There are no street lights. I could see brigade headquarters and there are no lights there, even where their staff duty people sit. Oh, the part of the perimeter that I could see is dark.”

Without thinking, Brandt picked up the telephone and still heard no dial tone. Stupid! He slammed the receiver back into its cradle.

“Okay, here’s what we’re going to do. You go wake up Major Clarke. I’ll stay here and start drafting a report about what’s happened. Questions?”

“I don’t know Major Clarke’s room number, sir.”

“Right.” Brandt picked up the book with the staff duty officer’s procedures and opened it. “Damn it!” He walked to the window thinking, At least there’s a moon. He found the correct page. “Room 112.”

Hutton smiled. “Glad I don’t have to try to walk up some stairway in the dark, sir. And we’re on the first floor here. I’ll be back as soon as possible, sir.”

Brandt answered, “Right,” and watched Hutton make his way out of the office. Brandt felt on the desk for the pad of paper and pen he knew were there. Picking them up, he walked to the window so he could see to write by moonlight.

It was too much, the alien bright stars on top of the loss of his family. Oh, God, I’m never gonna see my kids again.

Brandt dropped the pad and pen and returned to the adjutant’s chair. He pulled a box of civilian nine millimeter ammunition from the cargo pocket of his battle dress trousers and began loading the pistol assigned to him as staff duty officer.

❀ ❁ ❀

Livorno, Italy. Wednesday, 18 March 1998, 02:15:30 (Thirty Seconds after the Change)

Roberto Morelli shook his head. He had fallen to his knees when the pain engulfed him. He looked up and screamed. A small delivery truck was up on the sidewalk next to him and… Perla! Perla Lenzi was crushed between the right front fender of the truck and the wall of a store. From the waist down, the pretty yellow dress was soaked in blood.

Morelli vomited at the sight then forced himself to his feet. He staggered toward Perla. Her eyes were wide open and her mouth moved spasmodically. “Say something,” he begged. Perla opened her mouth one last time and it stayed open.

On the other side of the truck, the driver was struggling to get out. Kill! Morelli walked around the back of the truck and grabbed the driver by his shirt. He shoved the disoriented man back against the vehicle so hard that the man’s head banged against the roof. Roberto pulled out his knife and cut the man’s throat. Blood spurted onto Roberto’s face and clothing. What have I done?

Morelli looked around. So little time has passed, he thought. I don’t think anyone saw what I just did. Roberto stepped toward the front of the truck. He looked across the hood at Perla and said, “I love you.” He noticed a man staring from him to the dead driver and back again. It’s the Amer… No, he was shorter.

He fled.

After running two blocks, Morelli stopped, struggling for air. He did not get much exercise. There were very few people on the street, Just the night people like me and Per… He choked. Looking around, he saw that everyone was looking up, confused.

❀ ❁ ❀

Camp Ederle, Vicenza, Italy. Wednesday, 18 March 1998; 0225 hours (Change Plus Ten Minutes)

Seems to me, Luke Hutton thought as he walked into the early morning air, that Captain Brandt should be going to talk to Major Clarke and this little ol’ sergeant should be sitting next to the phone that ain’t gonna ring.

Luke paused to put on his beret and froze. I have never seen so many stars at one… What are you thinking of, fool? You can always see stars like this when you’re in the field on an exercise. And Texas? Well… “But why can I see them now?”

Luke walked out toward the parade field. When he got to the edge of the grass he stopped and made a three-hundred and sixty degree turn. No lights! The entire city is dark, even the basilica. This is gettin’ to be downright spooky. Oh, yeah, I’m supposed to be hunting up Major Clarke. “Back on mission, dummy.”

Major Edward Clarke was the battalion executive officer and, except for Chaplain Connolly, the only bachelor officer above lieutenant in the battalion. Clarke lived the Army every day and had turned down an option to live off post.

As Luke walked beneath the star-filled sky, the wind was coming in from the farms east of the post. The rich aroma of dirt reminded him a little of home. I wonder how Dad, Mom and Sis are doing on the Idaho trip, he thought as he walked. There’s no way this thing could affect the States… I hope.

At the bachelor officers’ quarters, Luke entered through the end door. There was just enough light to read the number on the first door. “One-twenty,” Luke mumbled. He turned to the other side of the hall and barely made out the number, “One-zero-one.” Luke returned to the first door, turned away from the end of the building and counted as he passed doors. “Nineteen… Eighteen… Thirteen… Twelve.”

Luke knocked three times, firmly.

“This better be good,” came Major Clarke’s voice from the other side. The door opened. Clarke extended a candle and looked at Luke. “Staff Duty NCO?”

Luke looked back at the six-foot, six-inch officer with his shock of white hair and nodded, “Yes, sir.”

“What are you doing standing in the dark, Sergeant…”

“Hutton, sir.”

“Hutton. Report.”

“We have no power on post, sir. The perimeter’s dark. The street lights are out. They’re no lights at brigade or our headquarters. None of the exterior building lights are on. We also have no land lines. Uh, I don’t think there’s power anywhere in the city. The sky… The sky looks like it does on a clear night when we’re in the field.”

“Is there any good news?”

“Uh, no, sir.”

“Okay. Start pounding on doors. Get all the officers out. And the command sergeant major. If any officer gives you a ration, tell them ‘Major Clarke’s compliments.’ And tell the first four officers you wake up that I said to go over to the companies to coordinate. If anyone asks, I’m checking the perimeter; then I’m going up to brigade.” Clarke started to close his door and paused. “Tell them to turn out the troops. I want everyone dressed for combat. Oh! tell everyone to pick up any candles and matches they have.”

“Yes, sir. Ah, weapons and ammo?”

Clarke thought for a moment. “Affirmative on the weapons. I’ll decide about ammo later. Wake up any NCOs you need. You’re in Bravo, right?

“No, sir. Charlie Company.”

“Right. Where’s the staff duty officer, by the way?”

“Uh, Captain Brandt sent me, sir. He said he wanted to get the journal started.” Please don’t ask me any more questions.

Clarke frowned. “Okay, get moving. I want everyone to have protective masks with them.”

“Yes, sir. Sir?”

“Quickly, Sergeant.”

“Did you see a bright white light and feel a real intense pain?”

Clarke looked at Luke and his jaw dropped.

❀ ❁ ❀

“George! Wake up.”

“Go away! Luke? What’s happenin’?”

“I need your help.”

“Well, you could start by turnin’ on the light.”

“Shit’s hit the fan. Both Brandt and I saw a flash of light and felt a terrible pain that was gone right away. We’ve lost all the power on post. Perimeter’s dark as tar. For all I know the fence could be breached. It looks like the whole city’s dark. We have no dial tones on the land lines. Clarke told me to turn out the battalion.”

“Yeah. I woke up when I felt the pain, but I figured it was a dream and rolled back over.” George had grabbed his uniform trousers and had put them on while Luke was briefing him. Reaching for his socks and boots, he asked, “What do you need?”

“Start knocking on the doors of senior NCOs in Bravo and Charlie and tell them Clarke’s turning out the battalion. If anyone questions what you’re doing tell them to check with Clarke. I’m gonna wake up the officers and handle Alfa and Headquarters Company.”

“Have we been attacked?”

“I don’t think so, George. Hell, we’re just a couple of sergeants, but wouldn’t you follow the shock with immediate exploitation, if you were the enemy?

“Yeah. Well, go do what you need to do. I’ll get my part. I need my flashlight.”

“They don’t work, either.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Camp Ederle, Vicenza, Italy. Wednesday, 18 March 1998; 0235 hours. (Change Plus Twenty Minutes)

Ed Clarke did not immediately go to check the perimeter. Captain Brandt first, he thought.

Clarke found Brandt sitting in the adjutant’s chair with his head between his knees. The 9mm automatic that should have been in Brandt’s holster was lying on the floor between his feet. “What are you doing, Captain?”

“It didn’t work.”

“I’m a little short on patience, Captain Brandt; what didn’t work?”

“The weapon? The powder? I don’t know.”

“That would be, ‘I don’t know, sir.’”

“Go to hell! The world’s ending and you’re playing soldier.”

Brandt launched himself at Clarke. Clumsy, thought Clarke. He stepped aside and stuck out a size twelve boot. Brandt tripped over Clarke’s foot and fell at his feet. Clarke winced when he heard the thud of Brandt’s head hitting the floor. There’s concrete under that cheap linoleum. He’s out cold. Kneeling by Brandt’s side, Clarke sniffed. No booze. I think Sergeant… Hutton would have told me if there was a problem. He’s got nothing to gain by covering.

Standing, Clarke stepped past Brandt’s unconscious form and picked up the automatic pistol. He cleared the weapon and looked at the ammunition. Civilian manufacture. Primer’s been struck, but it mis-fired. Clarke looked at the weapon. Ah, why not?

He tossed the apparent bad round onto the adjutant’s desk, reloaded the weapon and inserted another round into the chamber. He looked around the room and shrugged. In for a dime… He fired toward the sofa near the adjutant’s desk. Nothing! He attempted three more shots with no results. “Damn!” This weapon’s mostly for appearance. Why did Brandt have civilian ammo? Where’d he get it? Rod and gun club? They’ll have records. Slow down, Clarke. That’s why the Army appoints investigating officers. It won’t be you.

Clarke reached down and removed the pistol belt from Brandt’s waist and put it on. He holstered the automatic. Brandt did not stir. I’ll deal with you later, Captain Brandt, Clarke thought as he carefully made his way through the semi-darkness to check the perimeter. Brigade is next.

❀ ❁ ❀


— Plans —

Camp Ederle, Vicenza, Italy; Wednesday, March 18, 1998, 0330 hours. Change plus one hour, fifteen minutes.

Headquarters, 1st Battalion, 508th Infantry (Airborne)

“Quiet!” Ed Clarke’s six foot, six inch body made him an imposing figure. In his mid thirties and a graduate of West Point, he had recently been selected for early promotion to lieutenant colonel.

“I’m glad to see so many of you got my orders about candles — or thought of them yourselves.” He smiled. “I won’t ask which.”

A lot has happened since Sergeant Hutton knocked on my door after that flash of light, Clarke told himself. The lieutenants are up doing their jobs. The non-commissioned officers are trying to do theirs. The NCOs have it tougher. Everyone is trained to fight in the dark, but no one is trained to prepare or to deploy in the dark. Even when we tested blackout conditions, people ran around with red-filtered flashlights. It’s almost funny how every person had to be convinced that his personal flashlight no longer worked.

Fortunately, the entire battalion staff had quarters on post. If these guys weren’t all in family housing or the BOQ, I wouldn’t have a staff, Clarke thought.

He looked around the conference room. Even with the candlelight, there were many details that he could remember but not see. Sterile white walls with pictures of airborne drops. A long table for the commander and staff. A table at the back of the coffee pot and, sometimes, a tray of doughnuts. Coffee! No power, no coffee makers. Thank God for field kitchens. Clarke looked down the length of the table at the commander’s empty chair. Here goes nothin’.

“Do I have everyone’s attention now?” He gave them five seconds. “Good.” He smiled grimly. “The battalion commander is in Heidelberg at the 7th Army commander’s conference. So is the brigade commander, by the way, but we’ll deal with that later. I am assuming command of the battalion.”

Clarke left the podium, walked to the far end of the table and sat in the commander’s chair. Symbolism counts. I’ve sat here before when the boss was out of town, but this is bigger. “Let’s be…”

Captain Roger Avery entered the room. “Sorry, sir, it took me longer to find my way from the motor pool than I thought it would. There are some interesting developments.”

What next? Clarke thought. “Okay, Captain Avery. Let’s begin. Administration?”

Captain Gerald Kinkaid paused for a second. “Sir, we’re doing a muster based on paper rosters. We usually print one off every day or so anyway and we didn’t have any gains or losses yesterday. We should have preliminary results by 0700 hours. Uh, we have about 450 family members and fifty civilian employees who are affiliated with the battalion or the brigade. It may take longer to get a handle on all of them.”

“’kay. Intel?”

First Lieutenant Daniel Tinkerman answered, “Yes, sir, I’m here in lieu of Captain Brandt this morning; I think he has the duty. We have no systems. Everything went with the power. My only source about what’s happening outside this installation is observation through the fence. I can tell you that the Moon was full on 13 March and should be at third quarter about 20 March. The Moon rose at 2232 hours last night and will set at 0907 this morning. As we lose moonlight, the Moon will also rise and set later. Sunrise today should be at 0622. The weather forecast was seasonably cool, no projected precipitation.”

“That’s good for now. I want some kind of intelligence estimate by noon.”


“The Operations guys are working up options in another room. Logistics?”

“We have a full stock of garrison rations and a full combat load of field rations,” answered Captain James O’Donnell. “We have a full load of small arms ammunition and claymores, but no mortar ammo. Petroleum, oil and lubricants average about eighty percent full. We have command tents and every soldier has — well, better have his shelter half and a full clothing bag of uniforms, as well as field gear. We can start pre-combat inspections at your convenience.”

Clarke thought, Wait ‘til I tell you about ammo not working.


Captain Paul Martin, the communications-electronics officer, said, “We have zero communications, sir. The radios, even with battery power, don’t come up. As Lieutenant Tinkerman noted, all the intel systems are down. We manage the connectivity for him, of course. One of my troops has a wind-up radio. Nothing.”

“Hmm. Transportation?”

Captain Avery took a deep breath. “Sir, we have attempted to start about two-thirds of the unit vehicles. Nothing will crank. The same is true of the engines that run the electric generators. None of my mechanics can get their personal cars to start. If you ordered us to move out right now, we would have to walk. Oh, we put meters on the batteries and if they have any juice, it didn’t show. We tried to create short circuits by grounding out a couple of batteries. Nothing.”


Captain John Coltrane responded, “Sir, I have myself and a physician’s assistant. Each company has two medics, although one was on leave in Rome and I have no idea of his status. We have a full load of medical supplies we would carry on a combat jump except that we do not have any blood or blood substitutes that will survive without refrigeration. We do have a supply of vaccines. I’ve told my people to review medical records for military personnel or family members who are within three months of requiring boosters. We will administer those boosters when ordered. We have one soldier in a full leg cast and two in arm casts. Four soldiers are in local hospitals for surgery under our support agreements. They were doing well yesterday, but I don’t know their current situations. No other physical profiles that would prohibit full duty performance.”

“Good, people,” Clarke said. “You’ve done well, given the circumstances. There are two things you need to know.” Clarke paused.

“First is that soon after I was notified about our power and communications shortfalls this morning, I checked in with Captain Brandt, who, as Lieutenant Tinkerman has observed, was serving as staff duty officer. He was agitated and annoyed that his weapon would not fire. This weapon.” Clarke removed the nine millimeter pistol from the holster and displayed it in the palm of his hand. “Captain Brandt attacked me and, while I was defending myself, Captain Brandt struck his head and lost consciousness. I left him to recover on his own.”

Clarke paused. They won’t believe this. “Watch.”

Clarke aimed at the podium at the far end of the conference table and pulled the trigger. CLICK.

Clarke ejected the round and passed it to the nearest officer. As the round was passed around the table, Clarke explained, “While in the battalion admin section, I attempted to fire this weapon four times and got four mis-fires. That makes five. Actually, six if you count the round that failed for Brandt. I have trouble believing that a fifty-round box of new, clean ammo will produce six consecutive mis-fires.”

“I should check on Captain Brandt, sir,” Coltrane offered.

“Yes, you should, Doc, but hold on for just a bit and I’ll go with you. Worst case is that we are completely alone here. We have no contact with any other military element of the United States of America. If that situation doesn’t improve, prepare to leave this post. Captain O’Donnell, get your senior NCO to grab a couple of his smart buddies and figure out a reduced clothing bag. Take into consideration that we have to carry our own food and potable water may be at a premium.”

“Yes, sir.”

Five minutes later, Clarke, satisfied that he had the battalion staff on track, went to the battalion administrative section with the surgeon to look in on Captain Brandt.

“Well, not here, sir,” Coltrane said.

“Right.” At least I didn’t kill him, Clarke thought. “Do me a favor, Doc. Grab a couple of lieutenants who look like they have time on their hands and tell them that Brandt is missing and to look for him. Refer all questions to me.”

“Yes, sir. If it’s okay, I’ll substitute my PA, Chief Edwards, for one of the lieutenants. If Brandt needs medical care, he may need it fast.”

Clarke nodded and Coltrane turned to leave.



“Unless there’s a medical reason not to, give shots to everyone. Use it up.”

“Will do, sir.” Coltrane left.

❀ ❁ ❀

Headquarters, 173rd Brigade Combat Team, Camp Ederle, Vicenza, Italy. Wednesday, 18 March 1998. 0430 hours. (Change Plus Two Hours, Fifteen Minutes)

Ed Clarke sat on the front steps of the brigade headquarters building with Major William Morgan. Morgan had been one year behind Clarke at West Point and they had served together before. He was a head shorter than his classmate, and built like a bull.

“Should have some light soon,” mused Clarke.

“Yeah, if the sun didn’t go out.”

Clarke turned toward Morgan and saw his grin in the moonlight. “Please, Bill, we’re going to have enough rumors around here if things don’t improve soon.”

“For your ears only, Ed. That was quite a coup you pulled off in there.”

“I know. I know. If the brigade executive officer hadn’t been evacuated to Naples for surgery, he could have the job. I really do wish the commander’s conference in Heidelberg had been last week. Or next week. I wouldn’t mind commanding a brigade — division — corps — one day, but this sure wasn’t what I had in mind.”

“Oh, I agree. If we are alone, the last thing we need is a brigade telling one battalion what to do. I was a loyal member of the brigade staff, but I also know that battalion commanders here were historically and secretly happy when the brigade commander flew up to Germany to inspect his units there. So, am I your Operations officer?”

“No, I want you for executive officer.”

“XO? Okay, sir, I’m your man.”

“Drop the ‘sir’ crap between us.”

“Okay, Ed. Who’s gonna be S3?”

“I’m going to bring Sam Douglas up from B Company to be Operations.”

“Are you calling this the 173rd?”

“No, most of the people are assigned to 1st Battalion. I’m going with ‘1st Battalion, 508th Infantry.’ The ‘Airborne’ part is problematical. If we can’t start the engine of a tactical vehicle, I doubt that the Air Force can deliver us to a drop zone.”

“Maybe when we wake up tomorrow morning, we’ll have lights and phones.”

“Would be nice,” Clarke answered. “The cooks should have breakfast ready soon. They’re supposed to start using up the perishables first. Let’s go make ourselves visible. People need to see us as a team.”

Morgan stood and sniffed the air. “I smell smoke and it’s not burning food.”

“Yeah, I smell it too. I’m a little worried about what’s going on around us. We need to put something about reporting fires — or smoke — in the guard post special orders.”

“I’ll take care of it.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Camp Ederle, Vicenza, Italy. Wednesday, 18 March 1998. 0630 hours. (Change Plus Four Hours, Fifteen Minutes)

Clarke stood at the west edge of the parade field and looked to the center of Vicenza. Well, we were right about the smoke. There’s not much of it, but enough to make me think nobody’s fighting fires. If we can’t move our wheeled stuff, the city firefighters probably can’t either.

He slowly shook his head and turned to the officers and sergeants from the companies who were standing in a semi-circle around him. “Okay. Listen up. I’ve assumed command of the brigade and, basically, deactivated it.

“I’ve combined the two staffs. There’s going to be some grousing and moaning and I expect that. I also expect leaders to work through it and get over it. If you haven’t guessed, I already made this speech to the brigade and battalion staffs.

“I have accepted the recommendation that we leave Vicenza, assuming that systems are not restored by 1200 hours today. The only thing we can do with Ederle is turn it into ‘Fort Apache.’” He paused for effect. “At 0215 hours, we fell off the Army’s grid. If anyone were coming to our rescue, they would have gotten some kind of word to us. We are an elite battalion of the United States Army. We will march to our destination in tactical order and maintain discipline at all times.”

“Destination?” asked Captain Samuel Douglas.

Wait ‘til I tell him I’m taking his company away from him. “Darby.”

“Darby? That’s more than 300 kilometers, sir.”

Clarke sighed, “I know, but there’s an unbelievable store of rations and other supplies at Darby. There are also other Americans. ‘In unity there is strength.’”

The officers and sergeants standing around Clarke nodded their heads.

“I don’t like the look of the columns of smoke. They tell me — and I may be wrong — that there’s the beginning of a breakdown in services. I am also uncomfortable about the reports from the guard posts of people wandering the streets outside our perimeter who look confused. We’re in the same position as they are as far as knowing what’s happening in the wider world, but there’s no organization out there, no chain of command.” Clarke paused. “Leadership out there is a vacuum waiting to be stepped into. What else?” Clarke asked the assembly.

“What about families?” asked the battalion command sergeant major, Paul Evans.

“Thanks, Sergeant Major, I didn’t mention them. They — all five hundred or so of them — are coming with us, but we’re leaving here — if we leave — no later than Friday morning. Government quarters belong to the S4 and I’ve chopped the MPs to him to collect the occupants. I’ve also chopped A Company to him to try to get to families off post. Captain Hodges of Alfa is sending out patrols to notify the off-post families — and soldiers — but I agreed with his request to limit the radius of our patrols to five klicks.” Clarke watched people wince. “I know. There are Americans further than five kilometers out, but the radius covers most of the city. Once a patrol goes through the gate and around a corner, we’ve lost contact and control. None of us have ever worked under those conditions. I’ll try to expand that radius later. Remember, when we break up here, officers let sergeants do their jobs and senior NCOs let junior NCOs do their jobs. Just ‘cause the world has turned upside down doesn’t mean we’re gonna do that to our Army. Okay, the route of march is…”

❀ ❁ ❀

Clarke stood in the background and listened as Captain Terrance Hodges briefed his troops.

Hodges looked at ten of his soldiers. “Remember, this is an initial patrol. Your jobs this morning are to establish us as a presence in the neighborhood. Each patrol also has one address to check for an off-post family. This is a test to see how well this goes. Work your areas so you notify your target family that you’ll come back for them, run the rest of the route and don’t forget to actually stop to pick up the family. Questions?”

“What if we get challenged, sir?”

“Try to avoid a fight, but don’t back away from your objective. If you haven’t collected the family, it’s your objective. If you have, Ederle is your objective. Now go.”

Hodges watched as his first two patrols moved through the main gate and headed in different directions.

Clarke nodded to Hodges and smiled.

❀ ❁ ❀

Captain Charles Erickson of C Company said, “Company, ‘ten-TION! Platoon leaders take charge. Dismissed.” His platoon leaders saluted, executed about faces and assumed control of their soldiers.

First Lieutenant Alan Wilson of the third platoon said, “Sergeant Hutton, you heard the company commander’s requirements. Take charge.”

Luke Hutton, who was on the duty roster to be acting platoon sergeant for 18 March while Sergeant First Class Atkins was on leave, saluted Wilson, turned and ordered, “Squad leaders, take charge. Hold the second squad. Fall out.” Having had staff duty the night before was just another challenge. I need sleep.

The troops of the third platoon fell out under the watchful eyes of the squad leaders. Squad leaders were staff sergeants except Luke and Sergeant Jason Miller, who were acting as squad leaders because the platoon was short two staff sergeants. I wouldn’t have to play at being platoon sergeant if Wilson wasn’t trying to test people. He should’ve left Miller and me out of this exercise. “Okay, guys, any questions about what the company commander said to do?”

“Get our shit together and be ready?” a private offered.

“That’s not exactly the way he put it, but yeah, Hernandez, go get your shit together. All of you. Sergeant Carson and I will be along to check on you in a while.”

The two roommates watched their charges file into the building. They would find their ways to the bunks in the semi-darkness.

“What’s up, Luke?”

“You heard the rumors at chow?”

“Yeah, we’re leaving. We don’t actually know that, of course.”

“What else are we going to do? Sit here and wait for our food to run out?”

“Point,” conceded Carson. “So drop the other shoe.”

“So, where are we going?”

“Well, we could walk through the Alps and Switzerland — or Austria — to Germany, but the odds of gettin’ through if we tried are about zero. It’s pretty cold up there in March.” George paused. “That leaves south — well, southwest — Livorno. Darby.”

“So how do we carry all the stuff we need?”

“We’re infantry. On our ba…” Luke watched the light come on. “Oh, Luke! You’re sly. What are ya gonna do? Steal ‘em?”

“Steal horses? George, I’m hurt! They used to hang people for that in Texas. No, we’re going to talk Rossi out of his stock.”

“So who actually does this? What’s he got? Thirty-five animals?”

“Um. Closer to thirty, I think.”

“Who handles ‘em?”

“That’s the second part. We need a core of people who’ve had dirty cowboy boots on their feet. I need a list, George.”

“Well, there’s you and there’s me. Guy — what’s his name? — Anderson in Head and Head used to run cattle north of Santa Fe. Brad in Alfa lived on a ranch in Colorado. Potter in Bravo… There’s at least one guy who used to ride dressage. He ain’t a cowboy, but we won’t be herdin’ cattle. Least, I hope not.”

“Write it down, George; we gotta talk to the lieutenant.”

“Okay. Uh, what about the girl?”

“Antonia? She’s over in Milan. Try ‘woman,’ George. She’s twenty-three. That’s a year older than me. She’s also out of my reach. You know that.”

“Yeah, right, but you’re puttin’ yourself down.” More than that, Luke, I’ve seen Antonia watching you, but if you can’t figure that out you don’t deserve her.

“I’m gonna go ask Sergeant Miller to watch our guys while we do this.”

“Miller! He worked a ranch in Oregon, somewhere around Bend.”

“If you say so. I’d have to look up Bend on a map. Put him on your list.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Luke Hutton and George Carson walked up to Lieutenant Alan Wilson and saluted. Wilson returned the salutes. “Looks serious. What’s up?”

“Sir,” Luke responded, “we have an idea. Well, it’s mostly mine, so if it’s all screwed up, I get to wear it around my neck.”

“Okay. Stand easy and tell me about it.”

Luke relaxed a little. He took a deep breath and slowly let it out, thinking, Here goes. “We — all of us — are leaving Vicenza.”

“Says who?”

“It’s all over, sir,” George said. “There have been rumors in this Army for over two centuries, but these make sense. If we sit here, we’re gonna run out of consumables. Uh, sorry Luke, it’s your show.”

“No problem, George.” Luke shifted his attention back to Wilson. “We’ve got a lot of stuff to take with us. Rations. Medical supplies. Admin crap. But we have no transportation.”

“And you have a solution?”

“Horses, sir.”

“Okay, where do we get horses?”

“Riding stables about three klicks east of here. That’s where I spend a lot of my free time.”

“So… Are you saying we should just go take the horses?”

Luke took another deep breath. Okay, Hutton, step off the cliff. “Sir, something really strange happened last night — uh, this morning — a lot of guys are talking about the dream they had of the lightning flash and the pain. But I was awake on duty. Something really happened and the world went dark. Our fixed communications base is always talking to its network and it’s not any more. If we were unique, if the Army had ‘lost’ a battalion, we’d have planes from the air base in Aviano flying recon over our heads. Since we don’t — whatever happened, happened all across Italy — maybe all of Europe. And that means we’re likely on our own for a good long while.

“People are gonna run out of food eventually and if we — well, someone — doesn’t use those horses as transportation, somebody else is gonna use them as food. That would be a crime. They are much more useful alive than dead. They’re beautiful beasts, but that’s all they are. They’re work animals, not pets. We may have to invite the owner and the trainers at the stables to come with us. Call them Government contractors or something like that. I guess that means we have to feed them.”

Wilson asked, “How many horses?”

“There’s about thirty, sir.”

“You think you can manage thirty horses?”

“With a little help, yes. My dad’s a wrangler near Austin. I grew up around horses. So did Sergeant Carson. He was born on a ranch.”

“How much help would you need?”

“About forty, including myself and Sergeant Carson to get them. Less once they’re here. We know of five other troops who can ride. Others can learn. Here’s a list.”

Wilson looked at the list. “Specialist Anderson, Headquarters; Private Bradley, Alfa; Sergeant Potter, Bravo; Private First Class Appleby, Bravo; and Sergeant Miller, Charlie. Our Miller?”

“Yes, sir.”

“What are the odds of having three guys who know about horses in one infantry platoon?”

Luke and George both shrugged.

“How do we feed horses?”

“Parade field, sir. And lawns. I don’t think we’ll be here long enough to use up the grass we have, especially if we can bring some feed from the stables.”

Luke and George stood quietly as Wilson stared into space.

“Okay, you’ve convinced me, but I can’t make that decision. I have to go convince Captain Erickson. He will probably want the battalion commander’s authorization. Be prepared to brief this thing all the way up. I’ll let you know. In the meantime, you two get back to your soldiers. For the record, our leaving here is an assumption on your parts.”

“Yes, sir!” both sergeants said, saluted and left their platoon leader. They stared in disbelief as they saw a detail of soldiers begin stringing concertina wire between two of the barracks buildings. Once out of easy hearing range of their platoon leader, they stopped and Luke asked George, “Why do we need concertina when we have a fence?”

“I don’t know. What’s the threat?”

“Got me. We’ve got enough firepower…” Both halted in their tracks and Luke asked, “Weapons do work, don’t they?”

George Carson opened his mouth, closed it and shook his head helplessly.

❀ ❁ ❀


— Transportation —

Camp Ederle, Vicenza, Italy; Wednesday, March 18, 1998, 0800 hours

With all his formal staff meetings over, Ed Clarke sat on the steps of the battalion headquarters building and watched as his young leaders did what they were trained to do. I hope I don’t have to go back into the brigade headquarters building. That place is grim. And I have too many officers who think that, because they were assigned to a brigade, I need their help running a battalion. They’ll learn… Or they won’t.

Bill Morgan approached. “Good news. Alfa Company’s two patrols came back in. Each brought the family it was assigned to find. One saw some looting at a small store. The NCO leading the patrol wisely did not intervene. Terry Hodges is prepping nine more patrols.”

“Good. I suppose our chances of getting to everyone are slim, but I want to do what we can.”

“Let me go over assignments. The staff first. Kinkaid as adjutant, Tinkerman as intel, Douglas as operations, O’Donnell in logistics, Martin as commo, Avery for transportation and maintenance, Father Connolly as chaplain, and Doc Coltrane as surgeon. The last two aren’t really options, of course.”

Clarke nodded. “Tinkerman’s young, but he performed well this morning at the battalion staff meeting. Where are the brigade ops and intel officers?”

“Colonel took them to Germany with him.”

“Do we still need a dedicated transportation and maintenance officer?”

“Avery and his troops are banging away down in what used to be the motor pool. I’ve been studiously avoiding over-supervising him. I hope he comes up with some idea for something — besides people — to carry stuff.”

“Approved. We’ll have to find a job for Captain Brandt after he and I have a more extended chat than we had earlier this morning. Kinkaid’s a little anal, but that can be useful.”

“‘Kinkaid’s a little anal.’ That’s the understatement of the century.” Morgan smiled. “Anyway, the companies. I want to bring Nathan Carpenter in from brigade Headquarters and Headquarters Company to command the combined HHC. The 508th guy is a lieutenant.”


“Hodges and Erickson keep Alfa and Charlie Companies. I want to pull Schultz from brigade to replace Sam Douglas in B Company. He’s a good steady hand; we’ll need those for all the line companies.”

“Approved.” Clarke raised his voice. “Captain Douglas!”

Sam Douglas looked over, nodded, and approached his battalion commander. He saluted.

Clarke returned the salute, looked at Morgan and said, “Bill, put out an order suspending hand salutes until further notice.” Morgan nodded. “Pull up a step, Sam.”

“Thank you, sir.” Douglas sat.

“Now that you’re my ops officer, I’m giving Bravo to Bob Schultz.”

Douglas nodded and replied, “Good man, sir.”

“Nice collection of tents.”

“Thanks. Intel and Ops are in one general purpose medium tent. Admin and Logistics are in the second. The third is for you and Major Morgan and for meetings.”

“The sergeant major?”

“Told me he didn’t want a desk. He has a folding chair.”

“Good work. Just being in those buildings without lights is depressing.” Clarke saw people approaching. “What’s this?”

Captain Charles Erickson and Lieutenant Alan Wilson of C Company had paused and were waiting to be acknowledged. Clarke nodded to Erickson. Both began saluting until Clarke waved his hand. “I’ve suspended saluting. What have you got for me?”

“Sir, we have no transportation,” Erickson said.

“You have a solution?” Clarke smiled.

“Yes, sir. A couple of NCOs in Lieutenant Wilson’s platoon had an idea. He recommended it to me. I like it and I’m recommending that you adopt it.” Erickson paused. “Horses, sir.”

“Horses… Where are there horses?”

“Apparently there are riding stables about three kilometers east of here. Sergeant Hutton spends a lot of his free time there.”

“Hutton. Was he on staff duty last night?”

“Yes, sir,” Wilson answered.

“Captain Brandt sent Hutton to wake me up,” Clarke explained. Speaking of Captain Brandt, why haven’t they found him? “So how do we get the horses?”

“Hutton,” said Wilson, “says the best answer is to convince the owner of the stables that people will eventually kill his animals for food and to offer to take him and his trainers with us when we leave.”

“Who told Hutton we’re leaving?”

“He and his roommate figured it out,” Wilson answered. Erickson, listening, nodded in agreement.

Clarke stared into space for about a minute. “Hutton talked about using the horses as pack animals?”

“Yes, sir,” Erickson answered.

I wonder, Clarke thought. “Can they be ridden?”

“We’re talking about a riding stable. They gotta be saddle horses,” Erickson replied.

“Gentlemen, give Major Morgan, Captain Douglas and me a few minutes to talk, please. Go do some carbohydrate cramming. We’re trying to use up the perishables.”

When Erickson and Wilson had moved out of earshot, Morgan said, “You have that look in your eye.”

“What look?”

“The one that says you’re about to — what did you once call it? — ‘experiment outside doctrine.’”

“Guilty.” Clarke grinned.

Sam Douglas watched the soldiers of the battalion moving around the post. “‘The mission of the infantry,’” he quoted, “‘is to close with and destroy the enemy through fire and maneuver.’ If we can’t fire, our concepts of maneuver are obsolete. We have no doctrine.”

Clarke and Morgan nodded as Douglas finished. Clarke called, “Captain Erickson.”

Erickson looked up and walked to his commander, Lieutenant Wilson followed.

“How many horses?” Clarke asked Erickson.

“I’m told there are about thirty, sir.”

“How many troops for the mission?”

“Hutton said about forty. I have no reason to doubt his word. Hutton’s roommate, Sergeant Carson, used to be a real cowboy. I have a third NCO, Sergeant Miller, who also used to be a working cowboy. There are some others in the battalion, but I don’t have their names with me.”

Life is changing, thought Clarke. “Okay, Lieutenant, bring Sergeants Hutton and Carson to meet with us; do not mention riding the horses. Captain Douglas, have someone find the sergeant major and ask him to check with me.”

Wilson answered, “On my way, sir.” Douglas nodded and walked toward his operations center.

Clarke looked at Erickson. “Chuck, Lieutenant Wilson is about to become the platoon leader of a cavalry platoon.”

“Sir, I don’t know that Wilson has ever ridden.”

“Well this will be his opportunity to excel.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Clarke finally had everyone he needed; they were seated on folding chairs around the conference table, (which used to be a ping-pong table) in the command tent. Clarke held out a notebook page with the names of people who could ride to Kinkaid.

“Captain Kinkaid, I need the four people on this list who are not assigned to C Company to be transferred into that company ASAP.”

“Yes, sir, I’ll get some orders cut.”

“No, just keep a journal of my decisions. We’ll cut retroactive orders when things are more stable. Grab some left over lieutenants from brigade to convey my decisions to the other company commanders, with questions to be directed to me.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Lieutenant Wilson, what’s your strength?”

“Sir, as of about an hour ago, it was thirty-five, including myself.”

“Your platoon sergeant is on leave. How many staff sergeants?”

“Two, sir.”

“Captain Erickson, find two specialists for Lieutenant Wilson and swap them out for the two staffs.”

Erickson smiled, “Yes, sir.”

Wilson looked confused, then smiled. “You don’t want any NCOs senior to Hutton, right, sir?”

“Right. With the four gains you’re about to receive and the two swaps, that’ll make thirty-nine and Hutton won’t have to deal with any sergeants above his rank who don’t know which end of a horse is the front.”

“Sergeant Hutton, if all goes well, you’re about to gain a thirty-horse herd for us. Lieutenant Wilson is in command, of course, but you are responsible for convincing the owner of the horses — what’s his name?”

“Uh, Rossi, sir.”

“For convincing Signor Rossi to give up his possessions. If he refuses, back off and return to this post. I don’t want Rossi or anyone else hurt. That’s primarily your responsibility, Lieutenant.”

“Yes, sir,” Luke and Wilson said simultaneously.

“Assemble your force. Your weapons are rifles with bayonets.” We’ll see what Sergeant Hutton makes of that.

The group broke up. “Lieutenant,” Clarke called.

“Sir.” Wilson came back.

“You’ve been told about ammo not firing?”

“Yes, sir.”

Clarke handed a full M16 magazine to Wilson. “Use this as a demonstration aid if you need it.”

“Sir.” Wilson slipped the magazine into a cargo pocket of his trousers.

The platoon had fed early. There was some gallows humor about the last meal. Erickson and Wilson had eaten with Luke Hutton and George Carson. “Sergeant Hutton, this was your idea so you get to give most of the mission brief. I’ll make some opening remarks.”

“Yes, sir.”

Alan Wilson briefed the sitting team. “Remember, the whole point of this thing is to gain the horses peacefully. Sergeant Hutton has some points to make.” He nodded to Luke.

Here goes nothing, Luke thought. Yesterday, I was a fire team leader and acting squad leader. Today… I think this may be more than I’m ready for. “Sir. Okay, guys, we’ve got thirty horses to collect. Lieutenant Wilson doesn’t ride and we’ve figured out which of you really doesn’t want to. We’ll position you as required, but think of this as a patrol and act accordingly. Signor Rossi has saddles for all the mounts. They’re not western saddles. They’re English saddles. They kind of look like the ones you see the cavalry using in western movies. When we get to the stables, we’re there to negotiate. The lieutenant and I will do the talking. I want the rest of you deployed in something close to a circle, facing out. Look like a protective force. I don’t want us to look threatening to Signor Rossi or his employees. Okay, get ready move out. We should arrive at Rossi’s at about 1100 hours.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Vicenza, Italy. Wednesday, 18 March 1998. 1045 hours.

Emilio Casarotto peered through the front window of his apartment just off Via Francesco Molon. The sea-surf of sound had been getting louder, and angrier, for a little while. What do they know? he wondered, fear a sharp goad. The world is not working like yesterday. A group of about twenty-five men were shouting and waving arms… and arms. Mostly they were sticks, mop handles, a few firearms, some… Is that a candlestick? he asked himself. He slowly eased the window open so he could hear what was being said. It didn’t help much; he only heard snatches of the angry voices.

“Who has stolen the electricity?”

“My car will not start. What is this, what is happening!? Nobody's car will start!”

“There is no service on my telephone!”

“My mobile is dead, dead, dead!”

“Food!” The roaring shout of that single word crashed through the brabble and stopped it dead. Emilio did not know the man who said the word. He looks like he’s about thirty. The man continued, “What do we do? There is no food! Who has had breakfast?“

Emilio grimaced. There was no food in his little apartment. Mornings he grabbed a bun and an orange juice and a hot coffee on his way to work. Lunch was at a street cart and dinner at one of the little cafes along the boulevards. What need had he for anything but some beers in his little refrigerator? His stomach twinged. This morning’s confused trip to the little bakery had been futile. It had been cracked open and sacked; and clearly, Paolo and his wife had never come.

The man yelled again; his strident voice projecting up to Emilio’s window. “What then? What will we do for food? What is open? What is selling? Our food will run out or has run out. The shops are closed. There are no delivery trucks.”

Emilio ran a hand over his face and winced as his stomach cramped again. True, Emilio thought. What will happen if all the cars, not just these ones do not work? And the autobus do not come? And the delivery trucks? After that pain woke me, the city was so dark… so dark I thought the light had blinded me. But this morning… my car does not start and I cannot call to tell them I could not be there — because the telephone is dead. The three beers in my little frigorifero will not feed me. If I can’t buy food…

What does he think we should do? Emilio decided to go outside to listen. Leaning by the door was the hoe he had bought to take to Lorena’s father’s farm next week. He was sure she was the one, and it was clear he helped the papà, or she wasn't going to take him seriously. He thought of the broomsticks and candlesticks and grabbed the hoe. It made him feel less defenseless.

❀ ❁ ❀

Rossi’s Riding School, Vicenza, Italy. Wednesday, 18 March 1998. 1105 hours.

Antonia Rossi stood near the door of the usually immaculate stable of her father’s riding school. It’s a mess in there. I did what I could this morning, she thought, but having at least one helper would have been nice.

At least the weather is decent. I don’t think it froze last night. Antonia looked west toward the center of Vicenza. I don’t like that smoke rising. Is no one fighting fires? Fortunately, the smell has not reached here. That would upset the animals. If it were not for that blinding light, this would be another pleasant spring — almost spring — day. Instead, I am caught up in something I don’t understand. I am just a little frightened. Her lips twisted at the understatement.

Her attention was drawn to a crowd approaching the school. This is different than the other people who have been wandering around since the pain happened. These people have purpose and they are in uniforms, American uniforms. Yes, there he is. Luke has come, but I think he has not come for me. He does not even know that I am here. Antonia’s heart leapt and crashed immediately into the reality of her world. I must stop deceiving myself. He has flirted with me, but he has never noticed how that makes me feel. He does not know that I care. Perhaps I should have shown my feelings. If I had not allowed myself to be taken in by Arturo… She felt the warmth of embarrassment radiate up her neck into her cheeks. I was a fool then and I must stop acting like a schoolgirl now. She moved into the shadow of the open doorway, hoping that the heat in her face would become less obvious.

❀ ❁ ❀

The march to the riding school had been uneventful. I like it out this way, Luke thought, we’re only a couple of miles from Ederle and the air is cleaner. Most days back at the post there’s all the vehicle exhaust. That’s gone, but now there’s those fires in the city. I hope somebody’s got security on the basilica The route wasn’t much of a problem. The time of the flash probably helped. There weren’t too many cars on the road that time of night.

As the platoon of soldiers approached Rossi’s Riding School, Luke thought, Here goes. “Lieutenant Wilson?”

“Yes, Sergeant?”

“Our weapons have quit working, haven’t they?”

“Yes. Well, specifically, the ammo. How’d you figure it out?”

“George and I talked. It started with troops running concertina wire inside a fence. If we have an eight-foot fence with an apron and rifles for guards, why lay concertina? And why else would Major Clarke authorize bayonets but not issue any ammo?”

“Good logic. You and Carson keep it to yourselves — at least for now.”

“Sir.” As they neared the gate of the riding school’s exercise yard, Luke waved to a tall, rail-thin man with graying hair. “That’s Signor Rossi. He speaks very good British English, by the way. He gets a lot of Brits vacationing here.”


“Signor Rossi!”

“Do you know what is the matter? I have no power. My truck will not start. None of my workers have come today. I have only Antonia to help me.” Alberto Rossi watched the soldiers who had marched to his riding school as they took up positions around the perimeter of his property. “You have brought a lot of people with you.”

Luke looked at Rossi, then smiled at Antonia Rossi, who was standing by the entrance to the stables and smiled back. When did she get back in town? Not that I mind. Come to think of it, I’m glad. “Signor Rossi, something very strange happened early this morning. There was a flash of light like lightning and a terrible pain.”

“I thought I dreamed that. And Antonia thought so. But when we talked, we realized we could not have had the same dream.”

“Right, how could you? I was on duty and awake when the flash happened. It was very, very real. All of our power failed and the telephones stopped working. None of our vehicles will start and none of our generators, either. We are completely cut off from other Americans.”

Alberto looked at the American soldiers in their defensive positions. “This feels like being back in the army. You have weapons. You want something from me, yes?”

“Yes, and we have something to offer you. This is my platoon leader, Lieutenant Wilson. You’ve met Sergeant Carson; he’s over with the guard force.”

“Antonia, come, please,” Rossi called. “My daughter manages the stables,” Rossi explained to Wilson.

“Welcome home,” Luke said when Antonia joined the group. “It’s nice to see you.”

“Thank you, it is also nice to see you. Milano was boring.” She smiled and shrugged. “My brother is boring and has married a boring woman.”

Alberto shook his head and smiled.

Luke was surprised when Wilson removed his M16 from his shoulder. “Let me show you something.” Wilson took the magazine out of his pocket and inserted it into the weapon. He pulled back on the charging handle to chamber a round, pointed the weapon at the ground and pulled the trigger. Following the CLICK, Wilson pulled on the charging handle again to eject the round.

Rossi snatched the round out of the air and looked at it. “Bad round?”

Wilson said, “I can attempt to empty the magazine and I assure you every round will fail to fire.”

Rossi pursed his lip and exhaled. “Nothing works?”

“Nothing works. Oh, by the way, no trains were seen or heard on the rail line near Camp Ederle this morning.”

“So, I think you have come to take my horses.” Luke was not sure if Rossi was talking to him or to Wilson but Wilson gestured for him to answer. That’s a surprise. I must be doing something right.

“Well, yes, but not just them.”

“Oh? What else do you want?”

“We want to use the animals to carry supplies.”

“Carry supplies. My beautiful warmbloods.”

“Yes,” Luke smiled, “it’s a terrible thing to ask of these fine creatures, but it is better, I think, than someone eating them.”

“Eating them? Luke, we do not eat horse meat in Vicenza. Further north they do, but not here.”

“Ah! May I re-phrase that?”

Rossi shrugged, “Of course.”

“‘Luke, we have never been hungry enough to eat horse meat in Vicenza.’”

“‘Hungry enough?’ Hmm. ‘Hungry enough.’”

“Yes.” Luke motioned toward Lieutenant Wilson. “No trains.” He pointed at Rossi’s truck. “No trucks.” He pointed at Vicenza. “One hundred thousand people with no more food than what they have in their houses and the local shops. Oh, no refrigeration.”

“And us?”

“You come with us to help us take care of your horses. We feed you.”


Luke smiled. “I’m only a sergeant, but I think my commander takes us south. To — ”

“Livorno,” Rossi finished. “You march to the sea.”

Luke nodded.

“After your unit reaches Livorno?”

Luke looked at the ground. Big — and good — question. He looked up and glanced nervously at Wilson, who shook his head and shrugged. “I don’t know. I honestly don’t think they know,” Luke told Rossi.

“Antonia?” Rossi asked his daughter.

She smiled and nodded to her father. “Vicenza is our home,” Rossi said to Luke and Wilson, “but my wife is dead and my children, except for Antonia, have no use for horses and have moved away. We — and our horses — will come with you.”

“Thank you.”

“Yes, thank you,” Lieutenant Wilson added.

“Antonia,” Rossi said, “please see to the saddling of the horses.” Luke watched as Alberto Rossi directed his attention toward Wilson. “These men have much work to do. We should leave soon. Let me show you my stables and school.” Rossi and Wilson walked away together.

Antonia Rossi smiled at Luke as her father led Wilson away, “Can you and some of your soldiers help me?”

“Of course.” Luke around the circle of men for the dressage rider, Private First Class Appleby. “Appleby!” Luke watched as the man tensed and turned his head slightly so he could answer without losing sight of his slice of the perimeter.

“Yes, Sergeant.”

“Got a job requiring your skills. Double time.”

“Sergeant.” Appleby stood and ran toward Luke and Antonia with his rifle at port-arms. Behind him, the well-trained troops closed up the space he vacated without waiting to be told. Damn, they’re good. Makes me proud to be airborne. Appleby stopped when he reached Luke and waited for instructions.

“We have to saddle the horses. Signorina Rossi, you and I have handled English saddles, so we get to do that. On second thought… Anderson! Bradley!” Luke waited while the two westerners ran over. He acknowledged their arrival. “We have about thirty horses to saddle.”

“Thirty-one,” Antonia said.

“Make that thirty-one. Miss Rossi, Appleby and I will each saddle one — We’re talking English saddles — while you watch then you join in. Got it?”

“Yes, Sergeant.”


I think I’m back on top of the hill here, Luke thought as he turned to Antonia and Appleby, “Let’s go pick out some horses.”

She’s a nice woman who I like very — very, very — much, Luke thought as they walked to the stable, but this complicates things. Someone is bound to think I came up with this idea because Antonia was here.

Antonia walked to the wall where the bridles hung and removed three. Luke watched her as she walked. She’s perfect. Only about two inches shorter than me. I don’t know whether to call her hair dark blonde or light brown, but it’s thick and rich. When she looks at me, I feel like I could fall into her brown eyes. Nice body, too. I don’t like overblown women. She’s — sorry, Mom — enough to hang on to. Luke noticed Appleby watching Antonia’s hips move as she walked. If I say something to him now, Luke told himself, it’ll only make my wanting to come here seem more suspicious. Antonia handed each of the men a bridal. “Start at this end?” she asked Luke with a smile.

“That’s good,” he answered. “And thank you.” They each entered one of the first three stalls. The three led their horses out to the sunlight. “You guys hold the reins while we get the rest of the tack,” Luke told Anderson and Bradley.

Appleby went with Antonia and Luke to collect saddles and saddle blankets. The three returned and saddled the waiting horses while Anderson and Bradley watched, then tied the animals to posts in the yard. “Three more,” Luke said.

The collection of saddled horses was growing in size when Lieutenant Wilson returned.

“Sergeant Hutton, we need five workers and an NCO to load a wagon.”

Wagon? Oh, yeah, Rossi’s wagon. “Yes, sir,” Luke responded. “Sergeant Carson!”

“Yo!” George answered.

“Pick five troops and go with the lieutenant.”

Luke considered calling Sergeants Miller and Potter in to help with the horses, but backed away from the idea. I need NCOs watching the troops. When did I get to be in charge of all this? Learn to keep your mouth shut, Hutton.

What’s that? Luke looked in the direction of the sound and saw Rossi’s wagon pulled by two mules and driven by George Carson. I forgot Rossi had the mules. That’s his portable smithy in the bed and — feed? — bags of feed!

“I’ve got a new plan for you, Luke,” George said as he hauled on the reins to bring the mules to a stop.

“What’s that?”

“The seven of us who know how to ride do that. The rest of the horses carry bags of feed and the troops lead them. They’re fifty kilo bags, by the way. All of these horses should be able to carry two bags. Some might be able to carry three if we load them right.”

“Three bags would be, uh, three hundred pounds or so. You sure, George?”

“Approximately three hundred thirty. It will be all right,” came Antonia’s voice from behind Luke. “It is only a short distance. The sixteen-hand horses can carry four bags and horses with riders can carry one bag.” She looked at her father. “Papà, we will need feed bags.”

“Yes, Antonia, I know.” Alberto smiled. Antonia blushed.

She is pretty when she does that, thought Luke.

❀ ❁ ❀

Vicenza, Italy. Wednesday, 18 March 1998. 1400 Hours

The arguments went on and on. Emilio Casarotto hadn’t said much. Other men were growing hoarse from yelling and their anger. The man who was hammering on about the food threw his hands up and stomped off, looking disgusted. He only moved in here last week. I was planning to introduce myself, but never found time.

Without him fueling the fire, the crowd began to break up into smaller groups. Nobody seemed to really have any good ideas about where to find food nearby and Emilio was getting hungrier. I should walk to Lorena’s and then we should go to her father’s farm. It’s what? thirty-five, forty kilometers to the north? How soon could I walk that?

Before he could make up his mind, the angry man returned. That’s a… That’s a sword, Emilio thought, what’s he thinking?

“It is all the fault of the Americans! Them and their stupid weapons! They did something and now we all suffer! Let’s go and demanded that they help us; feed us! It’s their fault! We have supported them — for decades! And this is how they repay their debt!”

“How?” an old man demanded. “How do you know they did anything?”

“They always do it!” The man slashed with his sword. Emilio winced. It looked like he didn’t know how to use it. It turned in his hand.

“Anyway! Anyway! They have food and we don’t! The Americans have food delivered for their dinner every day.”

“Bah!” said the old man who had questioned the younger one. “If no deliveries came to our shops, no deliveries went there either.”

“They have the food they take to fight.”

“You want to eat that!” The old man walked in front of everybody and stood, his whole body contemptuous. “You are a fool and an idiot. The Americans can’t feed the entire city with those combat rations they have.” The old man mimed a start of surprise. “Or perhaps you are only thinking about feeding yourself?” He shrugged and turned, walking toward the apartments.

“Liar!” yelled the sword-wielder. “I am thinking of everybody. All the women and children in the city with no food! You are a coward who walks away.”

Emilio frowned. Some of the men were beginning to gather behind the man with the sword. Others were fading back, quietly. He gripped the hoe harder, trying to decide if he wanted to follow the man and find some food or go north looking for Lorena.

The old man stopped and turned. “I am nearly eighty and fought the Americans in the Second World War. Whom have you fought?” He shrugged and entered the building.

“Who is with me?” yelled the swordsman. “Who will come with me? We will go and make the Americans give up their hoarded food!”

“Food! Food! Food!” many voices yelled. The chant took on a life of its own.

They began to punch their broomsticks, mopsticks, butcher knives and tire irons; their weapons thought Emilio, a chill chasing down his back even as he beat the time with his hoe. What am I doing?

The group marched south on Via Francesco Molon for the short distance to Viale della Pace — Avenue of Peace — and turned east toward Camp Ederle.

As they stomped along, following the swordsman to the American post, other men came and joined the group. More stood aside, shaking their heads as they watched them go by.

❀ ❁ ❀

Rossi’s Riding School, Vicenza, Italy. Wednesday, 18 March 1998. 1415 Hours

The horses were loaded with bags of feed. Kind of an early demo of what they can do for us, Luke thought, but we need some pack saddles. The Rossis had gone into their home and returned with a backpack each and a small duffel bag. They had changed into more rugged clothing for suitable for traveling. Antonia had tied a yellow scarf around her head. They added the packs to the load on Alberto’s wagon.

Luke nearly panicked when he realized he was short a rider because he had thought there were only thirty horses. Antonia smiled and mounted Stella, the dun with a star on her face that Luke knew was her favorite at the school. She was planning this all along.

Luke was riding the big gray he liked and Alberto had personally handed the reins of his bay to George Carson.

“Instructions, sir?” Luke asked.

“You’ve done fine so far,” Wilson replied. “Take us home.”

“Yes, sir.” Luke raised his voice. “Order of march is Signorina Rossi, Sergeant Potter and myself on point. Horses with their handlers follow in a column of twos. Men without animals, position yourselves on both sides of the pack train. Sergeant Miller and Appleby follow to keep an eye on the loads. Signor Rossi follows in his wagon. Sergeant Carson, Anderson and Bradley bring up the rear and provide security.”

Luke suddenly saw a purpose to the green, white and red pennants by the gate of the school. He pulled the staffs of two out of the ground and handed one to George. George rolled his eyes and Luke grinned. “Style, partner, style.”

Luke wheeled his mount. “Sergeant Potter, take ‘em out.”

Jake Potter nodded, turned his horse toward the gate and rode at the pace of a human walk. Five soldiers fell in behind Potter.

“Okay, double up and follow. The horses will go where you lead them. Watch where you walk. These critters have no manners and they’ll dump when and where they want.” Luke watched. As the last, single soldier approached with his horse, Luke looked at Antonia and winked. She smiled. Luke noticed that Lieutenant Wilson had climbed up onto Rossi’s wagon. I’m not sure that’s a good sign.

Luke Hutton brought his horse around, Antonia joined him and they trotted to the front of the column to join Jake Potter. Luke kept the base of his pennant pole on his right boot. It fluttered in the breeze and the men in his column had a symbol to follow. If we’d thought about it, we could’ve asked to bring the company guidon, I suppose. This’ll do.

❀ ❁ ❀

Outside Camp Ederle, Vicenza, Italy. Wednesday, 18 March 1998. Late Afternoon

“Sergeant of the Guard!”

Staff Sergeant William McMasters, in charge of the guard detail at the gate, ran forward, suppressing the desire to crouch. Company commander said we didn’t have to worry about being shot ‘cause the ammo’s no good. “What ya got, Smith?”

“Crowd outside the gate, Sergeant. I make it about thirty-five men — ”

“Thirty-seven, Smitty,” called another guard.

“Thanks, Rod! I’ll go with Rodriguez’s count, Sergeant. Thirty-seven, all armed with something, mostly lawn and garden tools. Not much in the way of weapons, but I wouldn’t want get caught without warning if someone swung a rake at my head. Damn!” Smith pointed. “One guy’s carrying a sword. Gotta be the leader.”

“Listen, they’re yelling for food.”

McMasters turned his head away from the gate and yelled, “Runner! Find Lieutenant Samuels.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Emilio Casarotto was becoming frightened. I don’t know how I got myself into this. These men — some are just boys! They look younger than me — but hard, hard. If I leave, if I try to slip away, maybe they will attack me… They are acting like, like… Emilio couldn’ quite put his finger on why they frightened him.

❀ ❁ ❀

Lieutenant Jeffrey Samuels looked at the battalion intelligence officer. “Okay, S2, go work your magic in Italian.”

“Thanks, Jeff, I hope those six months at the language school are up to this little task,” Dan Tinkerman smiled grimly. “Here goes nothing.”

Samuels looked at Sergeant McMasters and nodded; McMasters motioned two squads of ten men each forward through the gate guards.

Tinkerman winked at his fellow lieutenant, turned and walked through the gate. He stopped between and slightly ahead of the two squads. Tinkerman held his M16 diagonally across his chest at port arms; he had intentionally not mounted his bayonet. “This unit has no food we can spare. My commander has suggested that you apply to your civil authorities for assistance. We can not stop you from assembling on the street, but if you try to enter this installation, we will defend it.”

“We know your weapons do not work.”

Tinkerman smiled, unsheathed his bayonet, mounted the blade to the barrel of his rifle with an audible CLICK, and slowly let the smile fade from his face. “Try us.”

The man wielding the sword took one step forward and his group followed. Some seemed more hesitant than others.

Tinkerman tightened his grip on his rifle. Aw, shit.

❀ ❁ ❀

Outside Camp Ederle, Vicenza, Italy. Wednesday, 18 March 1998. Late Afternoon

The march back from Rossi’s Riding school was as uneventful as the march out. They had only one blockage to deal with on the route.

This has all gone pretty well so far, Luke thought, I wonder how long that’ll last. I really thought that one truck stalled in the middle of the road would be a problem until those eight guys rolled it on its side. Adrenalin. I wonder if they could do that on command? Morale seems good, but wait ‘til their butts and legs hurt tomorrow, Luke thought with a grin. If the riders don’t remember what the first day back in the saddle can be like, it’ll come to ‘em.

It’s smelling worse as we get closer to Ederle. I think petroleum is burning. Are people torching gas stations?

The patrol was moving west on Viale Camisano toward the point where it merged with Viale della Pace. Looking ahead, Luke saw an mob of thirty or forty near the main gate. The mob was advancing on the gate guard. One looked to his right. He’s seen us. That man shouted something and the mob turned to face Luke and his people. They’re armed, kinda. Rakes, hoes, and — yeah — a sword. The man holding the sword pointed it at Luke. I suppose carrying the “guidon” makes me a target.

Luke raised his hand to signal a halt. He did not look around, keeping his eyes on the crowd, and listened as the sounds behind him ceased.

As he dismounted, he sensed every other rider, including Antonia, doing the same. He leaned his guidon against his animal and dropped the gray’s reins to the ground. Good, remember that means not to move.

Lieutenant Wilson came forward. “Situation?”

“Crowd — make that a mob, outside the main gate. Primitive weapons.” Luke shrugged. “Garden tools. One man has a sword.”


Luke looked at Wilson for a short moment, turned to look at the crowd and turned back to his platoon leader. Okay, Hutton, step in it. “Charge.”


“Yes, sir, charge. Those men — It looks like they’re all men — average less than two hundred pounds. These animals average a little over a thousand. We’ll take them up to a canter, about ten miles per hour. Not too many men have the courage to face a horse bearing down on them like that.”

“Our goal?”

“Drive them off.”

Wilson was silent for a moment. “Approved.”

“Yes, sir.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Emilio Casarotto watched the riders and their horses group together. I am going to die.

❀ ❁ ❀

“Riders and mounts up front,” Luke called. He looked at Antonia. “Go back with your father, please.”

“Luke… ”

“Antonia, please, it’s time for soldiers’ work.” She nodded and led Stella toward the rear of the column.

When the six experienced riders gathered around Luke and Wilson, Luke carefully positioned himself to Wilson’s left and looked at the troops. “We are going to execute a charge on that mob in front of the gate. We’ll start at a walk and, on my command, bring it up to a trot and, if necessary, to a canter. Ride boot-to-boot. If they don’t break, run into and over them.” Luke felt Wilson flinch next to him. “I don’t really think running them down will be necessary. Ground your bags of feed. We don’t need the extra baggage.”

“I’ll make sure it’s safe.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Luke slid the bag of feed from behind his saddle. It hit the surface of the road solidly but did not break. Thank God for strong bags. Luke reached his mount’s reins and paused to scratch its jaw. “Your name isn’t ‘Grigio’ any more. It’s ‘Gray.’ And I’ll tell Rossi about it later. The young NCO mounted. The makeshift guidon had not moved from where he left it leaning against Gray. Oh, why not? Luke pulled on the pole and rested its base on right boot as he had earlier.

Hutton moved to the center of the street and waited while three of his troops formed up on each side of him.

“For-ward… MARCH!”

The soldiers nudged their animals and, although they had no practice, managed to keep a respectable line.

After about fifty meters, “Trot.”

A soldier can march two hundred meters in just a little over two minutes. For the mounted men, time and distance slid away much faster.

❀ ❁ ❀

Lieutenant Dan Tinkerman watched the approach of the mounted men with his peripheral vision while not taking his eyes off the mob in front of him, which had switched its attention to the riders. He smiled inwardly as about half the men began edging back toward the west. Smart move.

❀ ❁ ❀

Luke was happy when he saw the crowd begin to break up. He would later realize that it happened in two phases. First, about half the men backed away from him and his fellow riders and, second, all but five or six of the remainder fled. Luke would never know that the second group to flee included a young construction worker named Emilio Casarotto.


His soldiers responded and accelerated their beasts.

They were closer and Luke could hear the few remaining men yelling with anger. The one with the sword howled a challenge. Bad move, Bozo. You just insulted my mother. His thoughts and his actions felt oddly divorced.

I do not believe I’m going to do this, Luke thought, sinking into the saddle and shifting his grip on the makeshift guidon. He leveled it at the sword-bearer. C’mon, break and run!

He brought the rounded tip of the guidon to bear on his enemy’s chest. The man snarled at him and started to swing the sword but was too slow. The guidon hit dead center and the man was lifted off his feet and hit the surface of the street several feet from where he had been standing and did not move.

Luke pulled his big gray stallion up smartly as the animal danced away from the fallen man near its hooves. Where's my lance? After the remaining civilians flowed past him, he dismounted and stared back at the site of his fight. The sole remaining member of the mob stood his ground and thrust his rake toward Guy Anderson’s horse. The animal reared and Anderson kicked free and slid back off the animal, landing on his feet. Anderson whipped his M16 off his shoulder and used it to parry a swing from the same rake, then executed a perfect butt stroke with the stock of his rifle.

The man who had challenged Anderson staggered back and wobbled past Hutton holding his face and weeping without looking at the young American. Face is outta kilter. Broken jaw?

Luke came upon the man he struck with the guidon. The three-quarter inch thick lance was sticking up out of the man’s chest. The shattered cap had been pushed down the length. Blood gathered and drooled out of the man’s mouth and nose. The pole’s tapered. I missed the center and took him right between the ribs. The man gasped one last time and his eyes rolled upward. I killed him, Luke thought, curiously distant. I killed him. In disgust, Luke pulled the pole out of the corpse's chest and threw it to the ground.

Noticing the sword lying by the dead man’s side, Luke crouched and picked up the weapon. The scabbard lay a few feet away; he secured it as well and slid the sword home.

He saw Alberto Rossi on his wagon following the pack horses through the gate into friendly territory; Antonia walked beside her father’s wagon, leading Stella. George Carson halted his animal and waited for him. Luke handed Gray’s reins to George and said, “I’ll be along in a few.”

“He had a pair of cojones,” George observed.

“Didn’t do him any good, though.”

George studied his roommate. “Don’t go there, partner.” He rode away, leading Gray.

❀ ❁ ❀

Five hundred meters to the west, Emilio Casarotto was on his hands and knees with a case of dry heaves. He suddenly remembered that he still hadn’t eaten.

Mother of God! I’m alive. I will go back to my apartment, gather my little bit of food and go to the basilica. The Church will know what to do.

❀ ❁ ❀

Luke walked through the gate and shook his head as men pushing empty wheelbarrows passed going out. He noticed Sergeant Major Evans turn and walk toward Major Clarke and some other officers. I don’t see Wilson, Luke thought. He took the bit in his teeth and started in Clarke’s direction. Clarke finished saying something and Evans nodded. Clarke looked at Luke. “Report!”

Luke walked up. “Yes, sir, thirty-one horses, two mules, many bags of feed, one wagon, one, uh, contract blacksmith and his smithy and his stable manager, who happens to be his daughter.”


“I swear, sir, she had gone to Milan and I thought she was still there. She came home early. None of Rossi’s workers showed today.”

“Okay.” Clarke smiled. I know he’s gonna check, Luke thought.

Luke extended the hand carrying the sword he had picked up.

“What’s this?” Clarke asked.

“I figure if anyone ought to have a sword, it’s the commander,” Luke answered.

Clarke took the offered sword and said, “Thanks, I’ll keep it for now.”

Clarke and Evans looked at each other and Evans nodded. Clarke said, “Not bad for a day’s work. That was an interesting demonstration.”

Luke put his hand on the back of his neck and looked at the ground and back at his battalion commander. “It just happened, sir. There was no plan. It… ”

Evans looked at Luke critically. “You all right, Sergeant?”

“I just killed a man, Sergeant Major.”

Evans smiled grimly. “No, Sergeant Hutton, you just killed your first man.” He turned. “Walk with me.” Luke nodded to Clarke and fell into step to the left of the battalion’s senior soldier. “In spite of what’s in all the — mostly bad — war movies, we don’t train our soldiers to want to kill. We train them to be willing to kill when it’s necessary. Today, you saw the necessity. Frankly, I’d be worried if you weren’t bent out of shape. I killed my first man in ‘Nam and — thank God — haven’t killed since I left that swamp.” Evans stopped and faced Luke. “We may have to fight to get where we’re going.”


“Figured it out, huh? Yeah, Livorno, but don’t tell the world. It’ll get around soon enough, I suppose.”

Luke’s right hand suddenly hurt. He shook it and removed his glove. “Let me see that,” Evans ordered. Looking at the palm of Luke’s right hand, he asked, “Is that from your lance or whatever you want to call it?”

“I guess so, Sergeant Major. I didn’t notice it ‘til now.”

“Well, that’s a bad friction burn. You want some medical care?”

“No, thanks, I’ve had worse burns from ropes running through my hands. If I hadn’t been wearing gloves… Sergeant Major, it was… Is ‘surreal’ the right word? I knew what I was doing and at the same time my body was acting all on its own.”

Evans smiled. “‘Surreal’ will do. Get some chow. Oh, if you need to talk more about what happened this afternoon, look me up. Or talk to the chaplain.”

“Okay, Sergeant Major.” Luke turned to walk away.

“Oh, Luke.”

“Sergeant Major?”

“That’s a pretty lady.”

“Sergeant Major!”

But Evans had turned and was walking away. I am never gonna live this down.

❀ ❁ ❀

After he got a plate of food, Luke found George Carson sitting with the rest of the riders from the patrol, Sergeant Jason Miller, Sergeant Jacob Potter and the three troops, Anderson, Appleby and Bradley. “Hi guys, I see the mess sergeant’s burning wood to cook.”

“Greetings, Sir Luke of Texas,” George said.

Luke grinned and motioned as if he were swinging a sword. “Don’t know what got into me. I really wanted the guy to run.” He looked at his plate. “Steak. That’s nice.”

“Yeah, they had a reefer full of them,” said George. “Said we may have steak for breakfast, too, but that’ll be the end of it.”

“Can you spell ‘MRE?’” Bradley asked and they all laughed.

“By the way, you guys all did a great job today,” Luke said. He looked at Anderson. “You okay, Guy?”

“Yeah, thanks, I never really thought that bayonet training would be good for anything.” He shrugged.

They chatted idly as they ate.

“We’re gonna need all the good ideas we can come up with,” George offered as they finished their meal. “We’re probably the only airborne battalion in the Army with a pack train.”

“Roger that,” Luke agreed. “So what’s happened that we missed while we were on our mission?”

“Hang onto your hat. Clarke sent a couple officers to look for your buddy Brandt. They found him hanging by his service belt from a shower head at the gym. It must’ve taken a long time for him to die that way.”

“Jesus! I — we all — knew he was unhappy, but…” Luke shook his head. “If he was lucky he passed out quick. Is there more good news?”

“Desertions and losses,” George frowned. “A couple of guys slipped away early this morning. And then Alfa Company sent out nine patrols to try to contact people living off post. Get this. The guards at the gate logged out eleven patrols. Turns out the two other ‘patrols’ were guys from Bravo.”

“Okay, now pull the other leg,” Luke said.

“I swear,” George answered. “I mean, I don’t know about it personally, but I trust the guy I talked to.”

“Okay, so eleven ‘patrols’ went out and nine came back?”

“Well, no. Eight came back. The commander of Alfa is calling the real patrol that didn’t return ‘missing in action.’”

George waved his hand toward the east side of the quad. “They’ve got a bunch of family members from off post — the ‘non-combatants’ — over there at the bleachers.”

“Why there?”

“Keep them out of the way, I think. They’re lettin’ married guys visit with their wives and kids. There are guys chargin’ around all over the place. Some of them are haulin’ stuff in wheelbarrows. Others are just movin’ pretty fast.”

“Wheelbarrows! I saw guys going out the gate with wheelbarrows.”

George nodded. “They picked up the bags of feed we dropped. Somebody was watchin’.”

Private Robert Bradley warned, “Heads up, the lieutenant’s coming.”

Alan Wilson stopped at the table. The soldiers started to stand, but he motioned for them to stay seated. “At ease. At ease. Good work today, people. Captain Erickson and I just talked to the battalion commander. He said to thank you for your work.” Wilson stared at Luke. “Sergeant Hutton, you look like you’re about to fold. When was the last time you slept?”

“Yesterday morning — ” No that’s not right I had a nap. “No, yesterday afternoon, sir. You gave me some time for a nap ‘cause I had the duty last night.”

“How much did you get?”

“Oh, maybe forty-five minutes.” Why is my vision so fuzzy?

“Go,” Wilson ordered. “Find your bunk while it’s still light and get some sleep. I don’t want to see you until tomorrow morning. Sergeant Miller, go with him and stay with him until he’s in his bunk.”

“Yessir. Come on, Luke, orders are orders.”

“Somebody’s gotta take care of the horses.”

“I’ll get the horses,” Luke heard George say. Why is he so far away? Luke felt a tug on his arm and followed Miller.

❀ ❁ ❀

George Carson watched his roommate walk away. He looked at Wilson. “I think he’s just one of the most obvious, sir. None of us got any real sleep after the pain.”

“I know, Sergeant.” Wilson looked at the horsemen sitting near him. “Bravo Company has perimeter guard tonight. Everyone in his rack by twenty-one hundred. Chow’s from zero seven to zero eight tomorrow, but we — that’s all of us involved with the horses — meet with Major Clarke at zero eight hundred over by the herd. Get some sleep, people.” Wilson turned and walked away.

Funny, George Carson thought, watching the lieutenant stiffly move away. but I don’t think he knows any more about the world than I do — we do. He’s fakin’ it but he’s not gonna last long.

❀ ❁ ❀


— Cavalry —

Camp Ederle, Vicenza, Italy; Thursday, March 18, 1998

Headquarters, 1st Battalion, 508th Infantry (Airborne)

George Carson watched Luke Hutton wake and stretch. Luke swung to a sitting position on his bunk and looked at George.

“What happened? Last thing I remember is a bunch of us talking while we ate.” He stretched again

“Do you remember Lieutenant Wilson arrivin’?”

Luke looked puzzled. He shook his head. “Uh, no.”

“Okay. He did. He’s pleased. Captain Erickson’s pleased. Major Clarke’s pleased. Chow in about thirty. I figure gettin’ there early will help. Meeting with Major Clarke at zero eight by the herd. I’m hungry. Hustle.”

❀ ❁ ❀

A soldier approached Paul Evans. “‘Scuse me, Sergeant Major?” a soldier asked.

“Yes, Specialist?”

“I don’t mean to bother you, Sergeant Major, but, uh, I just had a weird idea. Can I take my bike?”

“Bike. Not motorcycle?”

“No. Bike, you know, with pedals,” the soldier shrugged.

Evans crossed his arms and flashed back to his youth. ‘Nam. Ho Chi Minh Trail. Bicycle convoys. Damn! He looked at the young soldier. “Are you willing to share it?”

“Share… Sure! Oh, I guess I should talk to my squad leader.”

“Never mind, you’re okay. We’re kind of doing rapid development around here. Yes, I think the battalion commander will probably let you take your bike. Keep it under your hat for a while, Specialist Carmody.”

“Thank you, Sergeant Major.” The soldier nodded and left.

I love this Army, thought Evans. We have soldiers who think. I gotta tell the transportation officer about this. I bet he and Clarke haven’t thought about it.

❀ ❁ ❀

Sergeants Luke Hutton, George Carson, Jacob Potter and Jason Miller walked to the parade field. They had seen the three lower ranking horsemen at breakfast and reminded them about the meeting with the battalion commander.

I’m beginning to remember some stuff, Luke thought. “Last night, someone told me they’d look after the horses.”

“That was me,” George answered, smiling slightly.

“Thanks, George.” Luke nodded. “Ah, is anyone else feeling the pain of saddle sores wantin’ to happen?”

There was a chorus of agreement.

❀ ❁ ❀

The herd was at the northeast corner of the parade field. As the four NCOs approached the animals, Luke could hear the buzzing of flies. Horses mean horse dung. Horse dung means horse flies. “And horse flies mean disease,” he finished, without realizing he had spoken.

“Huh? Oh, yeah,” Jake Potter said.

Anderson, Appleby and Bradley were in place. Luke stopped next to Gray, his mount from the day before. He scratched the animal’s jaw and mumbled a couple of things he did not intend anyone to hear. He stepped back and looked at Gray’s forelegs. “Nice hobbles.”

“Signorina Rossi made them up. They had the rope in that wagon of theirs.”

“Incoming,” Robert Bradley said quietly.

The other six soldiers looked and saw Captain Erickson and Lieutenant Wilson approaching. They all came to the position of attention but remembered not to salute. “Good morning, sir,” they all said.

“Good morning, gentlemen,” Captain Charles Erickson replied. “Stand at ease. The battalion commander should be en route.”

“He’s about a hundred meters out, sir,” said Wilson.

They all waited for Clarke’s arrival. He’s bringing enough people with him, Luke thought, it looks like the whole staff.

Clarke walked up to the group. “Good morning, gentlemen, we’re here to do some organizational work. Adjutant, publish the order.”

Captain Gerald Kinkaid said, “Attention to orders.” He paused momentarily and read from the piece of paper in his hand. “‘Headquarters, 1st Battalion, 508th Infantry, Permanent Order One, 19 March 1998. Effective this date, the 508th Cavalry Platoon (Separate) (Provisional) is constituted, allocated to the Regular Army and activated at Camp Ederle, Italy. The 508th Cavalry Platoon is assigned to the 1st Battalion, 508th Infantry. By order of the commander, Gerald Kinkaid, Captain, Infantry, Adjutant.’”

“Thank you, Captain Kinkaid,” Clarke said and held out his hand. Kinkaid gave a clipboard to Clarke. Clarke looked at it and handed it to Wilson. “Lieutenant?”

Wilson read from a sheet of paper on the board. “‘508th Cavalry Platoon (Separate) (Provisional). The undersigned assumes command. Alan H. Wilson, First Lieutenant, Infantry, Commander.’” Wilson signed the document and handed it back to Clarke.

Clarke looked at the men who had accompanied him. “Thank you, gentlemen. Major Morgan, Captain Erickson, Sergeant Major Evans, please remain. Others may return to their duties.” He handed the clipboard to Kinkaid. The officers not told to stay nodded and left, although Captain Coltrane paused to make a low comment to Clarke.

“Captain Erickson,” Clarke said, “I’ve just stolen one of your platoon leaders. There are some lieutenants who used be assigned to brigade headquarters. Go pick the one you like and he’s yours.”

“Yes, sir.” Erickson nodded and left.

“Okay, guys, gather ‘round.” When everyone was in a semicircle around Clarke, he went on. “We’ll take care of the paperwork before the end of the duty day, but you are all assigned to the 508th Cavalry. Now, there are honest and well-meaning men working for me who tell me that I haven’t done a single thing here this morning that’s actually legal. That’s why it’s all written down. Any error, any illegality, is mine. You are following orders which I assure you are legal. Any questions so far?”

Wilson and his men all shook their heads. Luke swallowed to clear the lump the suddenly formed in his throat. He was no expert of Army regulations or the law but it was both comforting and alarming that Clarke thought it was necessary to make the point.

“Okay, you have two missions. The first is the one Sergeant Hutton came up with. That’s transportation of the supplies we require from here to our destination which, as people have figured out, is Livorno. The second is to be our eyes and ears as we move. I would like to tell you that there’s a manual to tell you how to do that, but there isn’t. Do the best you can and no one can complain.”

The cavalrymen nodded.

“Sergeant Hutton.”

“Yes, sir.” Now what? Luke stepped forward.

“Congratulations. You are promoted to the rank of staff sergeant.” Clarke held out his hand.

Luke held his out, palm up, and Clarke dropped some pin-on staff sergeant insignia into his hand. Luke looked at his hand, started to salute and, remembering that saluting was prohibited, checked himself. “Thank you, sir.” I think.

“You are also designated as the platoon sergeant of this platoon. I hear working one level above your pay grade is not new to you,” Clarke smiled.

“Yes, sir.” What else can I say? Luke looked up at the blue sky and a sudden irrelevant thought hit him hard. I’ll never —

Clarke followed Luke’s gaze then turned back. “What’s the matter?”

“Nothing really important, sir.” Luke swallowed then added slowly. “I was supposed to make my quarterly jump next week.” And now I will never again feel that rush of stepping off into space and the SNAP of the canopy deploying. Why does that hurt so much?

“Yeah, me too.” Clarke looked at his troops and shrugged. “I don’t think any of us will ever jump again.”

The men glanced up, shared the moment or looked away. “Okay, gentlemen, do good things for us. Oh, the surgeon said I should tell you to do something about the flies. He’s worried about the health of our people, of course.” Clarke left with Morgan.

“Okay, we need to clean up the dung,” Luke said

Potter said, “The troops and I will take care of it.”

“Thanks, Jake,” Luke answered.

“Sergeant Hutton,” Sergeant Major Evans called.

“Yes, Sergeant Major.” Luke joined Evans as the senior soldier moved away from the group.

“You doing okay today?”

“Uh, passable, but I do want to see the chaplain. I was gonna see him yesterday, but I fell asleep while I was eating.”

“Go. He’s in the chapel. I’ll run interference with the lieutenant if necessary.”

Luke felt a rush of gratitude. This is a man who takes care of his soldiers. “Thanks, Sergeant Major.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Five minutes later, Luke Hutton pushed open the door of the post chapel at the southeast corner of Camp Ederle. He removed his beret and entered the building. I didn’t think about how dark a place like this can be with no lights during the day. He paused while his eyes adjusted. He looked toward the altar at the far end of the chapel. There he is, in the front pew.

He walked toward the front end of the sanctuary, stopping at the halfway point. “Father Connolly?”

Chaplain (Captain) Michael Connolly turned. “Ah, Sergeant Hutton, the sergeant major hinted that you would be in to see me sooner or later. Come and sit down, unless you’d rather use the confessional.”

Luke continued toward the front of the chapel. “No, no, face-to-face is fine, Father. I needed to talk about yesterday.”

“That’s why I’m here. You had a long day yesterday, my son.”

“It was real long. I had the duty night before last — you know, with Captain Brandt — that’s another thing I just thought of. A lot of people didn’t like Captain Brandt and I guess that included me.” His voice dropped to a whisper. “If I had been there, he might not have gone off and… ”

“Why weren’t you with him?”

“Well, he sent me to wake up Major Clarke. Major Clarke sent me — ”

“You were off doing your job? Performing your duties?”


“Then put Captain Brandt’s death out of your mind as best you can. You are not responsible. It’s a choice he made.”

Luke nodded to acknowledge the priest’s point then turned to the harder issue. “But I am responsible for the death of that man outside the gate.” I have a really weird feeling in my gut. “I can … I can … ”

“Take your time.”

“I can hear the CRUNCH when my guidon hit the guy’s chest. I didn’t hear it yesterday — I don’t think — but I can hear it now.”

“Or maybe imagine it?”

Luke nodded. “Uh, yeah, Father, ‘imagine’ is a better word.”

“I am led to believe that the man was the leader of the group that was demonstrating at the gate and threatening our guards.”

“Yes, they were. Uh, he was.”

“Were you performing your duty?”

“Yes, Father.”

“Then you killed but did not commit murder. Murder is what the commandment prohibits. I can and will grant absolution.”

“No, I’m okay, thanks.” Luke was relieved at how much of a load seemed to have evaporated off his shoulders. “I guess I just needed to talk it through.”

“Is there anything else troubling you?”

Luke thought for a short moment. As long as I’m at confession or at least something like it. “Well, I’ve been having, uh, impure thoughts.” Well, there are brighter ways to say that.

“That—” Connolly smiled. “Is the kind of item I normally get from boys around the age of twelve. Would you care to be a little more specific?”

“Well, there’s this Italian woman… lady. I’m attracted to her.”


Oh, yeah! “Yes, Father.”

“Have you been physically attracted to other Italian — or non–Italian — women?”


“Have you enjoyed the pleasures of the flesh with these other women?”

Luke looked down. “Sometimes, Father.”


“Yes, Father.”

“Were those women willing participants?”

Luke’s head snapped up. “Oh, yeah! I could never look my parents — or sister — in the eye if I’d hurt a woman.”

“So, may I assume that the woman in question arrived yesterday with a herd of horses?”

“Yes, Father,” Luke whispered.

“Have you enjoyed the pleasures of the flesh with this young lady?”

“No, sir.”

“Why not?”

“Because… ” Luke had to work on that one for a moment. “It’s not that I don’t want to. But I respect her too much.” That’s it! “I want more than just a roll in the hay.”

“Have you answered your own question?”

Luke’s face took on a remote look and he smiled, “Yes, Father.”

“Your task — note I did not say ‘penance’ — your task is to talk to the young lady. What’s her name?”


Connolly raised his right hand. “God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son” — he made the sign of the cross in front of Luke’s face — “and of the Holy Spirit.” He smiled. “Antonia. Lovely martyr’s name. Talk to Antonia. Now, get out of here in case someone shows up who really needs help.”

“Thanks, Father.”

“Oh, Luke?”

“Yes, Father.”

“We’re burying Captain Brandt at ten hundred hours at the high school athletic field.”

“Thank you, Father.”

❀ ❁ ❀


The men assembled around the open grave of Captain Carl Brandt came to attention and solemnly saluted him in death, an act that overrode the suspension of salutes. That Brandt had, over the past few months, alienated the few who offered help to him was overlooked in death.

The group broke up as officers and troops — the latter mostly from the Intelligence Section — wandered away in twos and threes. Clarke realized that Staff Sergeant Luke Hutton was standing a few feet from the grave.

Luke walked closer to the hole and looked into it. “No casket,” he said.

“No, we don’t stock them. He gets a body bag.”

“I wasn’t trying to be nasty, sir.”

“I know, Luke.”

“Maybe they should have let him go home.”

“Maybe,” Clarke answered. “He never asked, by the way.”

“He should have. Just my opinion, sir.”

“It’s a good one.”

“Thank you, sir.” Hutton nodded and walked away.

Clarke looked at Chaplain Connolly.

“He’ll be okay, sir.”

“Good, Padre, I’m gonna need ‘im.” Clarke left the chaplain and the burial detail behind him.

❀ ❁ ❀

On the far side of the athletic field, a meeting was dragging on too long.

Bill Hamilton grimaced at the outpouring of parochial narrow-mindedness as Principle Jefferson of the Ederle High School continued his diatribe to the gathered teachers. His disgust with the man had been growing for months. He’s a bully, a liar and an opportunist and an empire builder. He’s just been waiting for his chance to wring a few concessions out of the commandant. This sudden shake up must seem like a gift from the Gods to him.

I’m done. I am so out of here. I wonder how many of the rest will stand up to him?

“This Colonel Clarke is completely ignoring us! Ignoring our professional status, our role in this community” ranted Edward Jefferson. “He hasn’t even had the courtesy to pay us a visit and introduce himself. I am going to demand he treat us with greater respect!”

Clarke is a major, you babbling idiot, Hamilton thought. If you paid any attention to what’s going on outside your office, you’d know that. Hamilton looked more closely at his boss. I see Connie is furious. And I know Carpenter came to give her the skinny. Yep… it’s time for me to go.

Hamilton stood, casually waved in Jefferson’s direction and started toward the main part of Camp Ederle.

“I have not called an end to this meeting,” Jefferson said. “Where do you think you’re going?”

Bill Hamilton turned back to his principal. Former principal, he corrected himself. “In case you haven’t noticed, Ed,” he answered with deliberate familiarity, “school’s over. The school year ended when the lights went out.” He paused to let what he had said sink in. “I’ve decided that I can make a greater contribution to humanity elsewhere. I’m gonna see if the Army will let me enlist.”

Jefferson glared at him. “If they don’t take you, don’t come begging for your job back.”

“Are you going to advertise for my replacement on the Internet?” Bill looked at his fellow teachers. “I hope those of you who are staying paid real close attention during those horrible classes on the history of education, ‘cause you’re about to start teaching kids to write on slate tablets. That’s if you can find any.”

He turned his back on his co-workers and left.

❀ ❁ ❀

Sergeant Major Paul Evans walked into the maintenance shop. “Where’s Captain Avery?”

“Shop office,” a voice called over the din.

Evans climbed the stairs to the small enclosure that looked out over the shop floor. Captain Roger Avery was sitting at his desk with his head in his hands. Evans rapped on the glass panel and Avery motioned for him to enter.

“You look like a man who’s run out of options, sir.”

Avery smiled with no humor but more than a little pain. “Our boss wants to know what transportation options we have beside the horses and the only thing I’ve been able to come up with is wheelbarrows.”

“Wheelbarrows.” Evans winced internally and thought, With each passing minute, it’s more and more obvious how much of a hurt we’re in. “How many of those do we have on post?“

Avery shrugged. “As many as I can find. I don’t know yet.”

Evans grinned and said, “Well, I’m here to save your life, sir. Or at least your sanity.”

“Tell me more.”

“Ho Chi Minh deuce and a halfs.”

“Ho Chi Minh what?”

“In the ‘Nam, North Vietnam was supplying their troops and the Viet Cong over a series of trails in Laos and Cambodia. Eventually, they were running trucks up and down those trails, but early in the war the basic vehicle was the bicycle.”


“Right. They didn’t ride the bikes. They removed the seat and extended the vertical support, then extended the left side of the handlebar. The guy detailed to get the cargo to the south walked beside the bike, pushing it.” Evans mimicked a man holding a bike. “They could carry upwards of two hundred pounds per bike.”

“How would we attach the cargo to the bikes?”

“We’ve got all that useless parachute strapping.”

“So we don’t need wheelbarrows?” Avery suggested.

“Well, I didn’t mean to suggest that,” Evans answered. “Consider… ”

❀ ❁ ❀

Edward Clarke was leaning back in his folding chair. If I go to sleep, I’ll fall out of the chair. I really need to sleep. He opened his eyes. “Oh, hi, Sam.”

“Sir,” Douglas replied.

“We have to do something about weapons,” Clarke said. “As near as I can tell, the only functional weapon in our inventory, not counting Sergeant Hutton’s ‘lance,’ is the bayonet.”

“If we mount the bayonet on the M16, we have a very short spear,” offered Douglas. “Hutton’s lance or guidon or whatever is, is lying outside the gate, by the way.”

“Very short spear, indeed. I wish we had something better.”

“Spontoons, maybe pikes,” Morgan suggested. “Swords would be nice, but no one has any training with them.”

“Sabers or real lances or both for the cavalrymen,” Douglas added.

“We can’t do all that today and I want as many people as possible to get as much sleep as they can before we leave tomorrow.”

“Well, that why I stopped by, sir,” Douglas answered. “I don’t think leaving tomorrow morning is doable.”

“Okay, when?”

“Saturday, sir. Jim O’Donnell is still finalizing his supply load in the light of the horse assets. Roger Avery is trying to come up with something on wheels to haul supplies. Jerry Kinkaid is getting the paperwork together. Did you hear about the manual typewriters, by the way? Dan Tinkerman’s ready, he says. He’s packed up the map load we’ll need and dug some historical meteorological and political data for Italy out of the post library.”

Douglas paused to look at his notes. “Father Connolly says everything he needs is in his pack except for his field altar. I put it high on the priority list. Doc Coltrane’s medics have made up four ‘fourth-of-a-horse’ packs. He doesn’t want everything on one horse and I agree with him about that. I’m about ready. I’ve been using up a lot of the company commanders’ time talking about march discipline and that sort of stuff.”

“I heard about Kinkaid’s typing pool,” Clarke sighed. “Bill, tell him he gets to take one portable and one ream of paper. Sam, hide another ream in with your stuff.”

Morgan grinned. “With pleasure, sir.”

Douglas nodded.

“By the way, am I imagining things or are there more birds around?”

Douglas looked at Morgan and said, “Well it’s not your imagination. According to Lieutenant Tinkerman, who seems to be our local renaissance man, there’s some increase in birds but we’re also better able to hear them. Tinkerman thinks there are more hawks in the area. I’m told there were hawks working on the body outside the gate yesterday. The sergeant of the guard started to chase them off, then realized he was wasting his time.”

“Body’s still out there?”

“Well, less of it. The guard log reads that there were dogs worrying the body during the night. Tinkerman says the guards are probably right. He thinks pets will go feral pretty quickly. Add feral pets to the strays already out there and we can't get out of Vicenza fast enough.”

“I want what’s left of that body moved,” Clarke ordered.

“Yes, sir. I’ll get it done,” Douglas answered.

❀ ❁ ❀

“Sir, got a few minutes?” asked Captain Robert Schultz.

“Sure, Bob, what’cha need?”

“This is Mr. Hamilton, sir. He has a request I decided was well above my pay grade. I’ll let him continue.”

“You look vaguely familiar, Mr. Hamilton. What can I do for you?

“I think we’ve nodded to each other at the officers’ club, sir. I’m — I was — the physics teacher at the high school. I was also a Marine in the Gulf during DESERT STORM. I want to enlist.”

“Won’t your students miss you?”

Hamilton smiled. “Today’s lesson plan called for instruction and lab in electrical conductivity.” He shrugged and grinned. “If you can turn on the lights, I’ll be glad to teach the class.”

“Well, you’ve got me there. What was your rank in the Corps?”

“Lance corporal, sir. Infantry.”

“In theory, I’m supposed to send overseas enlistees to the States to be trained.”

“I think if you check your regs, sir, you’ll find the Marines get a pass and don’t have to go to basic training.”

Clarke looked at Morgan, who nodded. “The best I can offer you is private first class,” he told Hamilton.

“That’s more than I expected, sir.”

“Okay, Mr. Hamilton, welcome to the Army. Bob, being in the right place at the right time counts. You’ve just gained an infantryman. We’ll hold the enlistment ceremony before the sun goes down.”

“Thank you, sir. Oh, I think you should expect a visit from Mr. Jefferson. He’s not a happy man.”

“Thanks for the heads up.”

❀ ❁ ❀

“Sir, got a few minutes?” asked Captain James O'Donnell.

“Sure, Jim, come in,” Clarke answered.

“Thanks. I’ve heard that the subject — well, a subject — is weaponry. I’ve been working on a recommendation.” O’Donnell held out what Clarke recognized as a wood ax with a shortened handle.

“Talk me through it.”

“The Danish — ‘Viking’ — war ax came in a variety of sizes and shapes. The head was shaped differently than a wood ax, but the weight is close enough. The length of the haft varied, too. We think of the wood ax as a two-handed tool, but the war ax was a one-handed weapon. I borrowed a saw and cut ten inches off the haft to discourage the thought of it being designed for two-handed use.”

Clarke sighed. “So we’re down to killing our enemies with axes?”

“Yes, sir. And spears. And swords. I don’t know how to make a spear or a sword, but I can make a battle ax.”

“How many do we have?”

“Equipment tables read fifty. They should all be there.”

“How many do we need to cut trees?”

“Hmm. Ten?”

Clarke nodded. “Build us forty battle axes.”

O’Donnell nodded and left.

❀ ❁ ❀

Melissa Kinkaid looked at the obvious inactivity taking place. Does inactivity “take place?” the English literature graduate asked herself — and decided something had to be done.

She sidled over to Nancy Avery. “Hey, Nance?”

“Yes.” Nancy placed a finger on a paragraph without looking up from her book.

“Can you define ‘cluster?’”

Nancy smiled and looked up from the book. “‘Cluster, noun, two hundred family members sitting on bleachers with nothing to do.’” She raised her eyebrows. “Did I get it right?”

“You’re a very perceptive young woman. Do you think you can organize a soccer game?”

“Get me a ball.”

Melissa looked around. “Sergeant Akers!”

“Yes, ma’am,” answered the young sergeant who had been detailed that day to help the family members. He jogged over to her.

“We need a soccer ball.”

Sergeant Akers grinned. “Can do easy, ma’am.” He called, “Hausman, go scare us up a soccer ball. Give it to Mrs. Kinkaid.”

“There’s at least one in the barracks, Sergeant. Be right back.”

Akers nodded as the private ran off toward the B Company barracks. “Nobody put the athletic equipment away before the Change,” he explained.

“The ‘Change.’ Is that what you guys are calling it?”

“Mostly, ma’am. ‘Flash,’ ‘Pain’ are others. The flash is over and the pain is gone but the Change is still here.” Akers paused and flushed slightly. “Sorry, didn’t mean to get carried away.”

“No problem, Sergeant. Ah, do you think we could take the little ones over to visit the horses?”

“I don’t know, ma’am, but I’ll go over and ask.”

“Thank you,” Melissa smiled. Ed Clarke is next, she thought.

❀ ❁ ❀

Private First Class Scott Matthews of A Company looked across the parade field at the bleachers occupied by the non-combatants. “Y’know,” he told Private Phil Gregory, “there’s a lot more skirt hangin’ around this part of the post than there used to be.”

“Lot more what?”

“Christ, Gregory! I said ‘skirt.’ Women. Tail! The kind that used to hang around the officers’ club. Now it’s up here.”

“Ain’t none of ‘em in skirts.”

“It’s still skirt.”

“Still outta your reach.”

“We’ll see. We’ll see.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Image not Found

“When the wind is just right, this place is beginning to smell like a barnyard,” Ed Clarke observed to no one in particular.

“Afternoon, sir,” said Captain Roger Avery.

“Roger, come in. How are things down in Transportation?”

“Not as good as I would like, but I’d prefer to come back to that one, if I may.”


Avery turned, “Brown, bring that thing in here.” He turned back to Clarke. “Sir, this is Private First Class Timothy Brown. He has assembled, if I’m not mistaken, a half pike.”

Brown stood with his feet apart and with a five-foot eave’s pole from a tent at an angle across his chest. A bayonet had been attached to the pole by inserting its handle into a slot cut in the end of the pole and bolting it in place.

Avery said, “Go ahead.”

Brown said, “Defend,” placed the butt of the pole on the ground, braced it with his right foot, stepped forward with his left foot and brought the pole down to a forty-five degree angle.

Clarke called, “Sergeant Major Evans, come look at this!” When Evans arrived, Clarke said, “Do it again, Brown.”

When Brown finished, Evans observed, “A spontoon.”

“How many of these can you make, Brown?” Clarke asked.

Brown shrugged. “About one per hour, sir. Rumor has it that we’re leaving tomorrow. So, if I work all night, maybe twenty?”

“How many if you have help?”

“Depending on how much help, as many as we have poles.”

“Okay. Specialist Brown — yeah, that’s what I said — go back down to the shop and get to work. We’ll get you some help before another hour is up.”

Brown left.

“Okay, Roger, what did you want to tell me about Transportation?”

“Well, two things, sir.”

“One,” Clarke prompted.

“I regret to say that the only ideas we’ve come up with for transporting supplies are wheelbarrows and bicycles.”

“Wheelbarrows and bicycles.”

“Yes, sir. Everything with an engine is obviously — and literally — a non-starter. All of our trailers are single-axle design. Without being attached to the hitch of a tow vehicle, we get no stability. Even if we had dual axle trailers, we have no prime movers.”

“Nothing else with wheels?”

“Nothing really useful. We have carts in the shop for moving tools and equipment around. The mess sergeant has similar carts in the kitchen for moving products. And, of course, there are shopping carts from the post exchange and the commissary. The common attribute of all these objects is that they have solid wheels about four inches in diameter. I’m sure you’ve pushed a shopping cart a time or two. Imagine pushing a shopping cart to Livorno that was ‘trying’ to go somewhere else.”

“Tell me about wheelbarrows.”

“Basic materials transportation tool. Been around for centuries in one form or another. We’ve put a hundred pounds each in three different wheelbarrows and pushed them up and down back streets. It works. And the soldier doing the pushing can still carry all his equipment. Maybe the rifle in the ‘barrow.”

“There’s another point, too, sir,” added Sergeant Major Paul Evans, who had been listening. “Lifting and pushing those wheelbarrows will help improve upper body strength. We can transport expendables — rations — in the wheelbarrows and, if I’m proven to be overly optimistic, discard the ‘barrows as we use the expendables.”

“Okay, explain how we use bikes,” Clarke said.

“Sergeant Major?” Avery invited.

Evans repeated the explanation to Avery about the use of bicycles on the Ho Chi Minh trail.

Clarke said, “That’s okay, but the soldier was asking if he could take his bike. He probably meant ‘take it to ride.’”

Avery and Evans nodded.

“So, we have two uses for bicycles,” Clarke mused. “Maybe even three.”

“Three?” Avery asked.

“Right.” Clarke counted on his fingers, “Cargo transportation, human transportation, and quick response. How many bikes do we need?”

“It’s more a question of how many we can get our hands on, sir,” Evans answered. “And I know that’s a crappy answer. Ideally, we should move through the main gate with every adult on a bike and as many kids as can ride by themselves but, since we probably can’t, we should acquire bikes along the route.”

“Acquire? Are you telling me we should take people’s bikes, Sergeant Major?”

“I’m telling you, sir, that if a bike is unattended three days after the Change, we should consider it abandoned.”

Clarke sighed. “Okay, item two.”

“Sir, the route of march is wrong. We should travel on the rail lines.”

“Railroads?” Clarke wondered and stared at his transportation officer.

“No, sir, rail lines.” answered Avery.

Clarke gestured toward a map hanging on a drop behind his desk. “We’re going to Livorno by highway.”

“Bad choice, sir. Sorry, but it’s true.”


“Several reasons, sir. First, rail lines run straighter than roads. I’m not suggesting that they’re perfectly straight, but straighter. Second, rail is better graded. You can’t run rail up and down hills the same way you run cars and trucks. Up and down is going to matter on a long march. Third, you run through more country and less city. That means fodder for the horses.”

“Why didn’t any of that get into the operations plan?”

“I don’t know, sir. I didn’t write it.”

“Shit! Captain Douglas!” When Douglas entered the tent, Clarke told Avery, “Repeat what you just told me for Sam.”

When Avery was finished, Sam Douglas replied, “Sir, it never even occurred to me. I knew Roger was busy down at maintenance so I just wrote the transportation part of the plan. It’s my fault.”

Clarke shook his head. “I’m not interested in fault. I’m only interested in getting everyone to Livorno alive.” He stared into space. “Okay, we go by rail lines. How does that affect bikes and wheelbarrows?”

“Bumpy, more blowouts… need a lot of repair kits. Still more doable than highways, and safer, I think.”

Sam said, “Roger, come help me plan the route. Tinkerman should have all the maps we need.”

As his two captains left the command tent, Clarke called, “Roger, tell Sam about the bikes.”

❀ ❁ ❀

“I want to see Colonel Clarke.”

Clarke sighed. I was warned. He raised his voice. “I’m in here. And that’s MAJOR Clarke; just as a by-the-way.”

A portly figure was briefly outlined against the tent’s bright entrance. He strutted in and sat in the chair facing Clarke without asking permission. “I am Mr. Jefferson. I am the principal of the high school — ” he announced.

“Yes, I know you are. How are you getting along with the orders Captain Carpenter took over yesterday? I haven’t heard back at all with a can–do or a no-can-do.”

“I’m the senior educator on this post. Your predecessor paid me — well, me and the rest of the faculty — the courtesy of visiting the school after he arrived.”

“Oh! Are you trying to pull some sort of power trip? I, the senior officer on post, needs to go hat in hand to the senior educator on post and beg? Sorry, I rank you and I always will, by any of several counts. So, cut the crap. Have you or have you not put your people to work on preparing to ship out on Saturday?”

“Ship out? Nonsense. The power will be back soon and everything will be fine! You’re breaking ten thousands kinds of regs…”

“Mr. Jefferson, listen carefully. Saturday morning, this command is leaving Camp Ederle and Vicenza. The families are coming with us.”

“I have received no written notice of this — this “movement.’”

“Nor will you. I am keeping a log, but I am not wasting anybody’s time with redundant triplicate copies of orders when we don’t have power, computers, typewriters or phones.”

Clarke looked at his notes. “My records show that Captain Carpenter, my Headquarters Company commander, visited the school. You were not available, so he spoke with Consuelo Martinez, who said she would tell you about the move.”

“Miss Martinez did tell me that someone — I don’t remember who — had called. The information passed to me was woefully inadequate. Who is going to help us pack? Who’s responsible for carrying our equipment and books?”

“Did you hear that we needed to know your minimum requirements?”

“We must have at least three truckloads.”

“Ah! So you have at least put some effort into planning. Nonetheless… Mr. Jefferson, which trucks did you want to load and who will drag them with your party?”


“Mr. Jefferson, have you tried to start an engine?”

“My car won’t start. But your trucks… ”

“Are no different from your cars. Our phones are no different from your phones, and our legs are no different from your legs. Is it all coming together now? We can’t stay. We don’t have any food. We don’t have any supplies that will last us and we don’t have a welcome from Vicenza at this time.”

“But — ”

“‘But’ nothing. I’ll say it one more time. We’re leaving here early Saturday morning. Our families are coming with us. We’re walking. Except for the few who will be on bicycles and even fewer that will be on horseback. If you expect to be educating any of our children, you’ll need to be in line with everyone else. We’re now on a barter economy. If you work, if you teach, you get fed. Thanks for stopping by.”

Jefferson stared at Clarke. He’s mad, Clarke thought. Well, he’s angry. He may be mad, too.

Jefferson stood, kicked over the folding chair he had been occupying, and stomped out of the tent.

Interesting. Clarke heard a rustle behind him and turned. “You heard it all?”

Command Sergeant Major Paul Evans nodded silently.

❀ ❁ ❀

First Lieutenant Alan Wilson sat with Luke Hutton and George Carson. “It’s official. We’re now leaving on Saturday morning instead of tomorrow.”

“That’s a relief,” Luke answered. It’s funny how our relationship has changed. It’s more casual.

“So we have thirty-one horses but we only have seven men? That gives us twenty-four horses for transport.”

“Eight men counting you, sir,” Luke offered.

“I can’t ride. If you started teaching me today, I still wouldn’t be any good before we got to the coast.”

“Okay, sir. It would still be nice to have an even number of skilled riders, though.”


“Standard patrol size. If we could come up with one more man who knows which end of a horse is the front, we’d have two patrols of four each. And I’d like to have a remount for each man. That would mean a total of sixteen. That leaves fifteen for pack animals.” Luke smiled. “You do remember that my original idea was for pack animals, right, sir?”

“You can probably forget more riders,” Wilson answered. “They’d have come forward by now if they wanted the job. You get two patrols of three each plus yourself as the platoon sergeant. Pick your two patrol leaders and I’ll make it official. You can ride with one of the patrols as required. At best, you get four remounts. That leaves twenty animals for pack duty.”

“George Carson and Jason Miller, sir. I know they’re both from C Company. Anyone who’s unhappy can just soldier on.”

“Approved. Sergeant Miller!” Miller approached at a run. “Congratulations, you and Sergeant Carson are appointed as patrol leaders. Sergeant Hutton will explain what that entails. In the meantime, what else do we need?”

“More people, sir,” answered Luke. “We have the cavalry part taken care of, but we need some people to lead the pack horses.”

“Do we need one per horse?”

“At the beginning, yes, sir. The horses have to get used to the idea of bearing loads and working on a lead. We also have to load and unload the critters every morning and evening. Maybe in a few days we can string animals together.”

“Do we have to have the same people all the time?”

“It’s better for the horses, sir, and we want the animals to perform well. We need one man, total twenty-four, for each horse.”

“Twenty-four… Oh, four to lead the remounts.”

“Right, sir.”

“What does Signorina Rossi do?”

“She works the entire herd, checking for problems. She and her father are the closest things we have to vets,” Luke answered and could not help adding, “We’ll be very lucky not to lose horses on the way from injury or — God help us — combat.”

“I’m thinkin’ we might also be able to plus up the animal count while we move,” George offered. “There are a lot of farms in Italy that still depend on horseflesh.”

“They wouldn’t be riding stock,” Luke countered, “and we can’t just take them. Major Clarke put out an order about looting.”

“No, but we’re not necessarily looking for riding stock. Every beast of burden we acquire frees up a riding horse.”

“A couple of big wagons for the kids and the injured wouldn’t hurt, guys,” Wilson added.

Luke looked at George and raised his eyebrows. “Yeah,” he told Wilson, “you’re right, sir.”

“Cargo!” said George. “We need pack saddles.”

“Oh, George, I’m sure glad I met you. I’d forgotten. Let’s go talk to some people in maintenance. Sir?” Wilson nodded and Luke walked with George by his side.

“Ah, Luke…”


“I got this. Why don’t you go coordinate something with Alberto and Antonia?


George looked at him; studied disbelief writ large on his face. “Don’t play dumb, Luke. You don’t do it very well.”

Luke grinned. “Okay. Thanks. I’ll meet you back by the herd in about thirty.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Luke found Antonia among the horses. “Hi,” he began.

“Hello, Luke,” she answered.

“I’m, ah, very glad you came back to Vicenza early.” C’mon, Hutton, don’t trip over your own tongue.

“So I can leave again?” Antonia asked, her brown eyes twinkling.

“No, so that I know you’re safe.”

“Is it worse in Milano?”

“Maybe not worse, not better. I think it will get worse everywhere.” Luke paused for a moment, cleared his throat, and added, “We have talked a lot, but never seriously. I’m glad you are where I have some chance of protecting you.”

“Seriously? My father is getting older. He is not ill, but I think I am all the family he has left.”

“Your father is coming with us.”

Antonia patted the nearest horse on its neck and slipped around it so she and Luke were on opposite sides of the animal. She looked at him over the horse’s back.

Please, God, don’t let there be another man. He felt a churning in his gut.

“I am not a virgin, Luke.”

Luke exhaled without having realized that he had been holding his breath. “Is there somebody now in your life?”

She smiled sadly. “No, he is long gone. He was cold. He got what he wanted. I got what I thought I wanted, but I was a fool. I can not undo what I did.” She dropped her eyes and blinked a few times.

Luke could see the tears forced back. Relief welled up and he felt his legs becoming spongy. “Antonia, I am not a virgin either and I would never expect you to be something I am not.”

“Thank you. I very much want to be with you. No, to be yours. To lie in your arms. I have wanted that for months.”

Luke rested his hand on the horse’s back. Antonia put her hand over his briefly and they smiled at each other. I… want to hold and kiss her. Oh! She went to the other side of the horse to separate us, so it would be us and not our bodies. OK. I can wait until she’s more comfortable with it.

❀ ❁ ❀

“Knock, knock,” Melissa Kinkaid said as she paused at the entrance to the Ed Clarke’s office tent

“Come in, please, Melissa. Have a seat. Should I call your husband in?”

“No,” Melissa answered, lowering herself onto a folding chair, “I just wondered if you knew what a cluster you have out by the bleachers.”

“No, I haven’t found time to get over there today. Tell me about it.”

“People are worried. Wives are worried about the friends who live off post and haven’t been found yet. Children are worried about friends they can’t find. Teenagers have sweethearts — probably temporary ones — they can’t be with. And everybody’s just flat worried. We — that’s Nancy Avery and I — did what we could. Nancy organized a soccer game and I arranged for the little kids to visit the horses. Signorina Rossi was very helpful with that, by the way.”

“Is everyone ready to go?”

Melissa thought for a moment. “Define ‘ready.’ Susan Hunter is breastfeeding. There are two challenged kids. And there’s poor Mrs. Masterson, who weighs close to 300 pounds.”

“How old is the nursing child?”

“Six months.”

“Can Mrs. Hunter walk the distance?”

“Yes, I think so. She sounds confident.”

“That’s a relief in a way. I don’t know how we’d prepare formula on the march. I can figure out privacy. No others nursing?”

“There may be some still on a bottle, but milk might do.”

“Milk!” Clarke made a note on a pad. He closed his eyes briefly. “Anyone pregnant?”

Melissa smiled. “There are a couple with bumps, but no one’s close to popping.”

“Coltrane didn’t mention pregnancies.”

“Bones Coltrane is a good doctor, but he’s as overwhelmed as all the rest of you.”

“‘Bones?’ He must hate that.”

Melissa smiled. “I only do it to pull his chain.” She sobered. “No more Star Trek reruns.”

“Can the disabled kids walk?”

“Maybe, but not all day. One has cystic fibrosis. Trouble breathing. Without modern medicine; well, her life expectancy isn’t good. The other is a Downs child. They’ll try to do anything but their attention spans are short.”

“You have an estimate on how much these kids weigh?”

“I would be surprised if either is more than sixty or seventy pounds.”

“They ride. And their mothers or volunteers walk next to them.”

“You have the spare horses?”

“We have to reserve some remounts for the cavalry. It won’t hurt a one-ton horse to carry a sixty-pound child. Of course, I say that like I know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s a problem for Lieutenant Wilson.”

“How far is all day anyway?”

“Sam Douglas and Roger Avery are working it out. Roger convinced me to change the route.”

“Is my husband working on it?”


“Good. It will go faster.”

That was pointed. And barbed. “Is there something you’d like to tell me?”

Melissa bent over and rested her forehead on her fingertips. Her auburn hair fell over her face. Clarke waited for her to continue.

When she looked back up, her blue eyes were a little misty. “I’ve been on the verge of getting on an airplane for a couple of months. Kind of like Marta Brandt, except no kids involved. One day I actually had my suitcase out on the bed, but never got around to putting anything in it. I put it away before Jerry got home.” Melissa exhaled, as if glad to have finally let it out. “I will, however, be a good Army wife throughout the current crisis.”

“I’m sorry, Melissa. Jerry… can be… difficult.”

“Jerry is a shit. But moving on…” she said crisply.

Give her space, Clarke. “Can Mrs. Masterson walk? And are there others like her?”

“There are others who are overweight but she’s the worst case. She says she can walk, but she will bear watching.”



“You are appointed head of the family council. You’re my link to the family members and the other civilians who are taking our walk to Livorno.”

“I’m not sure the educators are going to like that.”

“They’ll get used to it. I’ve already had one visit by a principal who… ”

❀ ❁ ❀

Head of the family council, indeed, Melissa Kinkaid thought as she tried to relax on the bleachers. That will teach me to keep my mouth shut.

In front of the bleachers, Nancy Avery was refereeing a nearly comical game of soccer, involving much enthusiasm and virtually no strategy, between some really small children. At the far end of the bleachers, a young mother was reading a Dr. Seuss book to a group of even younger kids. We’re going to have to find room for children’s books.

She gradually became aware of a group of men and women approaching the bleachers. About two dozen?

Melissa sat up as the group approached. “Hi, I’m Melissa Kinkaid. May I help you?”

The woman who seemed to Melissa to be leading the group held out her hand and said, “I’m Consuelo Martinez, Mrs. Kinkaid. My colleagues and I work at the dependent schools — most at the high school — and we’re here to teach children.”

“I’m Melissa. Forget the ‘Mrs. Kinkaid’ stuff.”

Martinez smiled. “I’m Connie.”

“I suppose I should ask if your principal knows you’re here.”

“Ah. Well, those of us who work at the high school are in a state of, well, let’s call it insurrection. The elementary and middle school teachers may or may not be in trouble. Their principal hasn’t said anything.”

“So, are you in charge of the group?” Melissa asked. There was immediate tittering and laughter behind Connie, who smiled.

“Yes. Whether I was elected to lead them or I took over depends on which of my merry band you talk to. Regardless, we share a sense of purpose.”

“Well, according to the good Major Clarke, I’m your point of contact. You and I shall work together to make things happen. What do you need??

“Here’s a list,” Connie answered, extending a sheet of paper. “It looks like a lot, but we wanted to take one copy of each text book with us and listed each text book separately. We figure it’s close to a couple of hundred pounds, but that we can carry some of it in our packs along with all the personal items we need.”

“Paper? Pencils? Crayons?”

“We’d like to teach along the way.”

“I think the kids are going to be next to dead at the end of each day and Major Clarke will probably tell you there are books and supplies in Livorno. You should probably come with me and meet him.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Clarke went for a walk. I couldn’t meet two people less alike than Mr. Jefferson and Ms. Martinez, He thought. I need to get some sleep. As he neared an intersection, he saw two soldiers removing a stop sign from a pole.

“What are you guys doing?”

“Making shields, sir!”


“Yes, sir, shields.”

“Carry on.” Clarke turned and walked away. There are just times when I shouldn’t ask questions.

❀ ❁ ❀

When Clarke neared his desk, Doctor Coltrane held out a paper cup and a canteen. “Sleeping pill, sir.”

“Doc, I can’t risk — ”

Morgan said, “Take the pill, sir.”

Clarke looked at his second speculatively. He chewed his lip and turned to look at the busy camp. “Right, I'm really not indispensable all the time. That’s what I have staff for. Okay, I’ll give in.” Clarke swallowed the sleeping pill and chased it with a mouthful of water. “Thanks, Doc. Gotta get to my bunk.”

“Cot’s at the far end of the tent, sir,” said Sam Douglas, who had been quietly sitting in the background.

“That went better than I expected,” Major Bill Morgan commented.

“Yes, it did,” Coltrane answered, pulling another paper cup from his pocket. “Your turn.”

“Major Clarke and I can’t both be down.”

“I’ve got this, sir.” Douglas answered. “Please?”

“Right, tha man said… Okay, you win.” Morgan took his pill and walked slowly to the cot near Clarke’s.

“That went better than I thought,” Coltrane told Douglas.

“It did, John.”

“Do you need a pill?”

“No, I’ve been sleeping. Go ahead back to your medics. I’ll crawl into my rack after I’m sure they’re settled in.”

“Okay, see you in the morning.” Coltrane left.

That did go exceptionally well, Douglas thought. Probably wouldn’t have worked if I’d admitted that I was heading for some sack time myself. But if he were awake, Clarke would tell me that we have staff officers to take the load off commanders. We have enough captains running around here that no one has to pull more than an hour of duty tonight. Tomorrow night, few of us will do more than doze. In the morning, Major Clarke gets to see his “new Army.” If he doesn’t like what we’ve done, it’ll be too late.

Sam Douglas checked on his sleeping superiors and walked to his cot in the operations tent.

❀ ❁ ❀

Luke Hutton, George Carson, and Jason Miller were working their way through the collection of picnic tables that made up the dining area on the way to the makeshift chow line the cooks had set up.

Staff Sergeant Pete Borkowski stood, raised his canteen cup and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, I give you John Wayne and the United States Cavalry!”

The three men stopped short. Luke looked at George and Jason, then back at the “toastmaster.” Well, there’s a couple of way to handle this. Now that I’m a staff sergeant …

Luke extended his arm toward Borkowski, palm up but fingers slightly curled. He raised his middle finger with excruciating slowness and spelled out, “Foxtrot, Uniform, Charlie… ” and the people at the tables around him roared with laughter.

Borkowski gave a mock bow and said, “Sergeant Hutton! Didn’t you hear the battalion commander suspended saluting?”

Luke lowered the hand he had used for his answer, snapped his fingers, and said, “Oh, shucks.”

Borkowski nodded and said, “You’ll do. You’ll do.”

While Luke and his two patrol leaders were eating, Borkowski came to their table, crouched, and offered his hand. “Congratulations on that thing yesterday. The whole thing, not just the last five minutes.”

Luke shook the hand and said, “Thanks, Sergeant.”


“Pete. Join us?”

“Thanks.” Borkowski slipped onto the bench opposite Luke. “Uh, a bunch of us have questions.”


“Is Clarke gonna have us all riding?”

George choked on his drink and Luke smiled. “George will be okay. No, not a chance. That’s my opinion, of course. For example, we’ve got — what? — 800 troops. How many horses does that mean?”

“Eight hundred?”

“Ideally, times three.”

Borkowski whistled. “Why isn’t that obvious?”

“‘Cause most of what most people know about the west comes outta Hollywood. If you watch that stuff enough, you’ll learn that a cowboy had one horse that was his buddy for life and that he’d rather kiss the horse than a girl.”

“That’d be one messed up cowboy,” mused Jason Miller.

“Jase has a talent for understatement,” George explained.

“Then there’s the cavalry,” Luke went on. “Colonel John Wayne — ” He winced and the three men listening to him smiled. “Colonel John Wayne comes thundering across the plains at the head of a troop of cavalry. What’s a colonel doing commanding a troop?” He shook his head.

❀ ❁ ❀

First Sergeant Anthony Jones of C Company shivered in the early evening chill.

He was afraid.

He would not have admitted that even if asked. I’m concerned, he told himself.

Jones knew he was not a coward. He had fought well in Desert Storm and was one of the few American soldiers who had been wounded in the hundred hours. As he sat in front of his empty dinner plate, he absentmindedly rubbed the two circular scars, one on each cheek, that marked where the single round had passed when he opened his mouth to yell. Realizing what he was doing, he stopped. The medics told me my face would have been a mess if my mouth had been closed. I still have all my teeth.

Jones also knew he was a good soldier. He could fire any weapon in the company inventory and some that weren’t. He knew infantry doctrine inside out, but all that was now worthless. I’m a leader with no skills better than the men I’m supposed to lead. He stared at Hutton and the men with him. Why didn’t I think of that? I’ve ridden horses a couple of times.

Anthony Jones was really annoyed at the battalion sergeant major. Evans sure is kissing Clarke’s ass. Only the Department of the Army could have authorized Hutton’s promotion. Anyone who’s been in the Army all day knows that. And those “permanent orders…”

“Please, God,” he mumbled under his breath, “just let me get to Darby.”

❀ ❁ ❀


— Departure —

Camp Ederle, Vicenza, Italy, Friday, 20 March 1998, 0700 Hours

Paul Evans stood in the light drizzle and surveyed the “old post,” his name for the main area of Camp Ederle. There was the parade field which was now the marshaling area — and food source he mused — for the thirty-one horses. To the north and south of the parade field were parking lots with their now-useless vehicles. I’m pretty sure the parking lots used to be grass, but I haven’t been able to prove it. No matter now. In less than twenty-four hours, we’ll be gone. North of the north parking lot was what had been the brigade headquarters building. Three large U-shaped barracks buildings were on each side of the open space. Outside of old post sprawled the bulk of Ederle; newer barracks; clubs; family housing; post exchange; commissary; the American schools, including the football stadium; maintenance areas and motor parks with more now useless vehicles; storage for all the stuff a modern military unit needed to go to war. And we’ve got half a dozen guys in a workshop making spontoons.

Evans turned to first sergeants assembled near him. “Sorry, guys, too many irons in the fire. The subjects are weapons, security and march discipline. Let’s start with weapons. We have bayonets and as many spontoons as we can produce before we leave here. The maximum number will be one hundred eight, by the way. We’re short-handed enough that there are extra bayonets. Soldiers with spontoons still have a separate bayonet. Captain O’Donnell came up with that idea about war axes and the old man loved it. We’ll have forty of them. Every soldier has an M16, which now serves to make his bayonet longer. What else can we come up with?”

“Those M16s are also great for butt strokes to the jaw, as one of our cowboys proved outside the gate, but we have machetes,” said First Sergeant Mark Connors of A Company.

“That’s good. How many do we have? Come to think of it, why do we have them?”

“Don’t know, but I’m willing to bet that those shipping containers are full of stuff we haven’t even thought of. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was one per soldier. Oh, we have them ‘cause we’re — we were — worldwide deployable.”

“Of course. That’ll be your task when we break. Find the records, take a platoon and start breaking into containers.”

“Yes, Sergeant Major.”

“We need canteens and web belts for the family members,” offered James Stark of Headquarters Company.

“Good point, Jim. Mark, add them to your list.”

“Will do. Come to think of it, we need the individual first aid kits. Family members can carry extras.”

“How about archers?” asked Jeff Michaels of B Company.

“Archers? You’re kidding!” Evans replied.

“No, I’ve got two troops who can shoot with real wooden bows. They tell me there are others in the battalion and one at brigade.”

“Where are the bows?”

“We keep them in the arms room along with all the other privately owned weapons.” Nods followed.

“How about those bows at the rod and gun club?” asked Connors.

“How many?”

Connors shrugged. “Maybe a half dozen in stock. And boxes of arrows, a dozen to a box.”

“Okay, that’s not appropriated fund property. I’m gonna have to ask Clarke if we can take the stuff. I’m pretty sure he’ll say yes, but so far he’s been big about keeping a paper trail and I’m not going behind his back. Be prepared to do a break-in, Jeff.”


“Let’s leave weapons for now. I want to talk security, specifically perimeter security here at Ederle.”

“We need to reduce the size of our perimeter,” said Jim Stark, “especially if we’re leaving tomorrow morning. We can’t go looking for people at zero five and expect to have twelve or thirteen hundred assembled by zero six.”

“What’s your idea?”

“Move all the civilians into the original six barracks. Put troops on the ground outside. They’ll grouse, but they’ll be sleeping on the ground tomorrow night anyway.”

“That works for me,” Evans answered. “By the way, the witching hour on your Mickey Mouse watches is 0300 hours — ”

“What?” “Huh?” “Damnation!”

“Clarke wants us gone when the sun comes up in the morning. He thinks that’s gonna cause less disruption in the surrounding community. Right now that’s for you guys only. Your commanders know, but this goes to the senior NCO level. That includes Staff Sergeant Hutton, by the way, because of his position.”

“What do you think of the ‘cavalry’ thing Hutton came up with, Paul?”

“It wasn’t Hutton. It was Clarke. The idea Hutton had was for a pack train. As to the idea, I think it’s a bold move. Frankly, it also makes me just a little nervous. I hope it works. Tomorrow morning, we’re heading out into bandit country. We need eyes and we sure don’t have any radar. Our ability to send out patrols is limited by our inability to communicate. You know, raise your hand if you ever served in an army without radios.”

Evans was among his peers; he shrugged. “Okay, march discipline.”

“The only thing I can think of is to merge the families with the companies,” answered Michaels. “If we put them all together it will be one massive blob expanding and contracting. I say break them into groups, keeping the kids with their mothers — as if there was another choice — and assign a group to a company.”

“I think each group should have a leader to talk to the company commanders — and us,” Stark added. “Most of the wives understand chain of command.”

“Do we put each family with daddy’s company?” Evans asked.

Michaels answered, “Yeah. There are pros and cons, but I think being able to see hubby and daddy at work will help. We’ll all have to work on keeping the dads focused.”

“You’ve missed something, Paul,” said Michaels.



“Pets? Shit! Okay, guys, we need a consensus,” Evans responded.

Stark counted off the categories. “Dogs, cats, birds, fish.”

Michaels said, “Fish get dumped, birds get freed.” Heads nodded.

“Dogs and cats can tag along but they get no food. If they can’t learn to feed themselves, they die,” Connors said.

“That’s cold, Mark. I’m not saying you’re wrong,” Michaels observed.

“I know,” Connors answered and pursed his lips. “I’m glad I’m not a teenager. Or even a young soldier on his first tour. These kids just got their world turned upside down and there’s nothing any of us can do to help them. My son is tied in a knot because his girlfriend is missing. Her whole family’s missing.”

“No idea at all?”

“They were the mission of the patrol that never reported back.”

“Ouch,” said Michaels. “I’d heard the command structure decided not to follow up.”

“Yeah, and it really hurt Captain Hodges. He’s one of the good ones.” Connors added, “Hodges came back from his meeting with Clarke and told me how they’d discussed two very real possibilities. One, that the entire patrol just decided to desert and two, that the area was too insecure to penetrate. Hodges didn’t say it, but I think it hurt Clarke, too.”

“We need a change of subject, that’s for sure,” Stark said. “How’s the demo for the old man coming, Paul? And will we still surprise him?”

“It’s about ready,” Evans answered. “They hope to spring it on him about noon. I think it’ll be a surprise. Clarke caught two troops collecting a stop sign yesterday afternoon. When he asked them what they were doing, they told him the truth. He didn’t say anything before Doc Coltrane got the pill into him.”

“Who’s got the demonstration?”

“My first platoon in the center with the second on both flanks,” Connors answered.

The others nodded.

“Okay, guys, and thanks. I’m gonna to go brief Major Clarke.”

The group broke up. Throughout that entire session, Tony Jones never said a word, Evans thought as he made his way back to speak with his commander at the headquarters-under-canvas.

❀ ❁ ❀

“Eight o’clock!” roared Ed Clarke. “What kind of pill did that broken down saw bones give me?” He came up short when he saw Bill Morgan standing with two cups of coffee, one extended in his direction.

“The same kind he gave me. They worked. I’ve been awake for about fifteen minutes.”

“So who was minding the store last night?”

“A series of captains. There was at least one awake all night. We’re the victims of a small conspiracy. I’ll stop short of calling it mutiny. I thought when I took my pill last night that Sam Douglas told me he was going to be watching things, but he has assured me that he did not exactly say that.”

“I feel like I’ve been hoodwinked,” Clarke said.

“Let it go, Ed. They did it for us and for the unit.”

“I suppose,” the battalion commander grouched.

❀ ❁ ❀

“Where’s Sergeant Hutton?” asked a specialist from A Company.

“Over here,” Luke called.

“Sergeant, First Sergeant Connors said to tell you he has a bunch of weapons that need to be transported and needs your help.”

“Where is he, what weapons and how many?”

“Down in the storage yard, Sergeant. They’re machetes and he’s got three hundred of the things.”

“Hmm… What kind of containers?”

“Boxes, Sergeant, twenty-five to a box.”

“Okay. Heads up, everyone! Pick a good pack animal, saddle it and mount one of Sergeant Carson’s auxiliary pack saddles. We just got an opportunity to test our concept. Hang loose, specialist, you can lead us to your first sergeant.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Clarke called, “I need Mrs. Kinkaid.”

A few moments later, Melissa Kinkaid walked into the command tent. “Good morning, sir, I was pleased to hear that we’re taking bicycles with us.”

“Good. Do you know how many bikes there are among the family members?”

“The short — and inaccurate — answer is ‘a lot.’ We’re mostly a physically fit bunch of folks. I sent some people out to do a survey when I heard. I’m kind of assembling a ‘staff.’ It is not something I had planned to do.”

Bill Morgan entered the tent as Melissa was finishing and said, “Morning, Melissa, I bumped into your survey team and told them to count only adult bikes.”

“‘Adult’ bikes?” Clarke asked.

“Yeah. Little kids get on bikes for fun. Ten minutes later, their interest ends and they want to do something else. We’d be leaving a very short trail of abandoned kiddie bikes behind us.”

“Right. Okay. We have a recommendation from the senior NCOs about the pet population,” Clarke said. Melissa waved and started to leave. “Hang on, Melissa, this is gonna impact on your job.”

“Pets,” Morgan said. “Where was my brain?”

❀ ❁ ❀

“Sergeant Hutton, good work.”

“Thanks, First Sergeant, but we couldn’t have done it without Sergeant Carson’s pack saddle idea.”

Connors nodded and smiled. I came up with the right answer, Luke thought. Leaders like Connors like it when people give credit to their subordinates.

“Where do you want these delivered?”

“Seventy-five to each line company. Fifty to Headquarters and Headquarters Company. Twenty-five to you.”

“If I may, fifty to Head and Head sounds good, but twenty-five more than I need, First Sergeant.”

“Yeah, but if your platoon commander is smart, he’ll offer the excess to the command group.”

Lesson learned. Be good to your boss but, I think, don’t kiss ass.

“Okay, troops, you heard the allocation. Travel so no first sergeant gets his hands on another’s weapons. Gray is big and has a load of seventy-five. I’ll take care of us and Headquarters Company.”

Luke turned to Connors. “What about that equipment you have over there, First Sergeant?”

“I was going to put the ‘wheelbarrow brigade’ to work on that.”

“We can come back as soon as we deliver the, ah, weapons.”

“I’m booked. Did you and your troops hear about the demonstration?”

“No, First Sergeant.”

Connors shook his head. “Be somewhere near the headquarters tents at noon. And, if your commander doesn’t have you scheduled for anything, I could use some help with all that stuff after lunch. It’s canteens, web belts and first aid kits, by the way.”

Luke grinned. “The way I figure it, transporting equipment is part of our training program.”

❀ ❁ ❀

When Luke had dropped off the fifty machetes for Headquarters Company and returned to the herd, the others were already there. Jason Miller called Luke aside. “First Sergeant Jones was absolutely shitty when we delivered the weapons to C Company.”

“Complaining about not enough?”

“No, he didn’t say anything about numbers, just, ‘Oh, a gift from Staff Sergeant Hutton.’ Watch your back, Luke.”

“Yeah, thanks, Jase.” What did I do?

❀ ❁ ❀

Camp Ederle, Vicenza, Italy, Friday, 20 March 1998, 1200 Hours

One, two, three, fower!

One, two, three, fower!

Gimme some, gimme some, gimme some mower!

Gimme some, gimme some, gimme some mower!

Ed Clarke looked up from the typed journal the adjutant had submitted a few minutes earlier. “Bill, I’m as in favor of close order drill as any commander, but I don’t think this is the time.”

“Agreed,” Morgan answered. “I’ll get with the company commander involved.”


The threat was standin’ on our ground!

The threat was standin’ on our ground!

The captain said, “Now take ‘em down!”

The captain said, “Now take ‘em down!”

The el tee said, “It’s one for all!”

The el tee said, “It’s one for all!”

The NCOs yelled, “Form the wall!”

The NCOs yelled, “FORM THE WALL!”

Clarke stared at Morgan for a brief moment and asked, “‘Form the wall?’”

Both men rose from their desks and walked in the direction of the singing. Clarke exited the tent first and came to an abrupt halt. He was almost knocked over by Morgan, who did not see Clarke stop and ran right into his boss.

Jesus Christ Almighty, Clarke thought. “It’s a shield wall!”

“‘Oh, Lord, from the fury of the Northmen deliver us!’” Morgan whispered behind him.

Clarke looked at the force arrayed before him. Platoon plus, maybe even two platoons. Overlapping shields and battleaxes in the center. Pikes sticking out over the shields from the second rank. M16s on the flanks. Over the long term, we’ll have to figure out another answer for that. Archers — I have no idea where they came from — on one flank.

“A guy with a spear has to be able to hold a shield, too,” Morgan offered.

“Yeah, and holding a rifle with bayonet pretty much makes keeping a shield up impossible. Notwithstanding, it’s an impressive sight. I think we’ve been sandbagged.”

“Roger that.”

Clarke looked over toward his left and saw his operations officer standing with his arms crossed and a faint smile on his lips. “Okay, Captain Douglas, come clean.”

Douglas nodded to Captain Terrance Hodges, who ordered, “Stand down.” Douglas walked over to Clarke and Morgan; he stood at attention.

“At ease, Sam, relax,” Clarke said. “Talk us through it.”

“Yes, sir. It started, almost concurrently, with Specialist Brown with his spontoon and Jim O’Donnell with his battleax. Several of us realized how much those things complement each other. The spontoon is basically defensive, while the battleax is offensive. Then we realized we needed shields.”

“Formerly stop signs.”

“Right. You caught two troops taking down almost the last one when you went for a walk. You weren’t supposed to see that, but… They did the right thing, by the way. Their orders were to tell the truth.”

Douglas paused and motioned to one of the shield bearers, who approached, came to attention, and reported, “Sir, PFC Minh Nguyen.”

Douglas said, “Shield.”

Nguyen extended his left arm and relaxed his grip.

Douglas pulled the shield off Nguyen’s arm and showed the creation to his superiors. “As you noted, we started with the basic stop sign. The European standard is ninety centimeters, about thirty-six inches. We cut backing out of plywood or press board that we had in stock. We bolted the signs to the backing in four places, the same ones used to attach the handles and arm loops.”

“Which are cut from cargo strapping,” Clarke observed.

“Right. We have yards and yards of the stuff for securing cargo to pallets. Strictly speaking, it belongs to the Air Force, but they can send me a bill. We put sealant on the wood surfaces and painted the metal faces black. We’ll be applying an image of our airborne wings to each face this afternoon. It wouldn’t have dried in time for our little show. We’re not saying this is the final answer, but it’s a start.” He held the shield so Nguyen could slip his arm back through the loops. “Hold up your ax.”

Nguyen complied and Douglas continued, “You saw the basic result when Captain O’Donnell talked to you yesterday. The troops used wood rasps to clean up the cuts on the ends of the hafts. We already had the helmets, of course, although some of us were thinking that the old steel pots would have been better for the kind of fighting we might have to do. It would be nice to have greaves to protect the legs, but we don‘t have any materials. What are your questions, sir?”

“Just one, for PFC Nguyen.”

“Sir?” Nguyen said.

Clarke motioned toward the battleax. “Can you kill a man with that? Do you have the will?”

Nguyen looked down at his ax briefly, then back up at Clarke. “I won’t know the answer, sir, until I’m facing the man who needs killing.”

“That’s a good answer. I might not have believed you knew what you were saying if you’d said you could do it.” Clarke nodded to Nguyen.

Douglas said, “Recover,” and Nguyen returned to his place in the shield wall.

“That was great, Sam,” Clarke said and smiled. “Of course we need eight hundred complete sets.”

“Ran out of stop signs, sir, but do have twenty more backings. We’re planning on collecting more signs along the route. We have the hardware for the twenty shields and all the tools. And the paint. It’s been suggested that we may be fortunate enough to find more backing material and hardware along the way.”

“Would that make us looters, Sam?”

“Your staff and subordinate commanders have argued that one. We’ve come to a consensus that if objects appear to be abandoned we may take them.”

What does that make us? Make me? Clarke thought. “I’ll have to think about that one, Sam. What’s the operational concept for the wall?”

“Sir, as you can see, we have about a platoon we can put into the shield wall. We can back them up with about two platoons of spontoons. It works out nicely. With three platoons in each line company, you designate the duty company for a three day stretch. The company commander rotates wall and back up among his platoons. Duty then rotates to the next company on the roster.”

“Duty company leads?”

“Not necessarily. With Hutton’s, ah, Wilson’s, cavalry on our point, we don’t think we’ll have to worry much about ambushes.”

“Is there something you’re trying to say about Wilson?”

“Only that when I wander over in that direction, I see Hutton, his troops and the Rossis, but Lieutenant Wilson is rarely present. He may be coordinating with other members of the staff.”

“Ask around, Sam.”


❀ ❁ ❀

“Signor, Do you have a moment.”

Alberto Rossi looked up from a book about horse care and said, “Of course, Luke.”

Luke said. “I want you to know that Antonia and I have, well, come to an agreement.” He paused and took a deep breath. “If this displeases you, I will back away.”

Rossi smiled gently. “If you had told me this last weekend when you came to ride, I might have objected. After all, you would have soon come to the end of your service in Italy and I would not want to lose the only child who shares my life, my love of horses. But I think now that you will never leave this soil.”

“Thank you. I wish you could meet my parents. You and my dad have much in common. I think Mom and Dad would love — I had not used that word this way before — would love Antonia as much as I do.”

“Antonia is a grown woman and does not need my permission to love the man she loves.”

“Loves… ” The truth dawned on Luke and he smiled. “She’s already told you.”

“Yes, but I am pleased that you chose to tell me. And I would like to meet your parents. Your sister, too, but wishing will not make it so. But enough of this talk. Did your major like the demonstration?”

“Yes, he seemed to. I think he wants more. Spears, swords, maybe maces. But we don’t know how.”

“Perhaps that is because they have not asked the right man.”

Luke’s mouth fell open. “You can make swords? From what?”

“Automobile leaf springs, of which there is no shortage in Italy.”

“But leaf springs are curved.”

“Correct. I would heat the springs in my forge until they were hot enough to be beaten flat on my anvil but not so long that they lost their springiness.”

“How long to make a sword?”

“Oh, several days. Curiously, I could also make several swords in several days because I could work on one while others were cooling.”

“Have you told anyone about this?” Luke asked.

“No, I could not have produced a single sword in the time before we leave here. I did not wish to trouble Major Clarke with matters outside our current capability.”

“Maybe you’re right, Signor.”

❀ ❁ ❀

“Sergeant of the guard!”

Sergeant Arnold Akers of B Company was the NCO on duty. He ran toward the guard at the main gate who had called to him. “What’s up?”

“Movement across the main street. Two people, one in what looked like BDUs, the second in blue jeans — maybe — and something that looked like a sweatshirt. They dropped by the side of the street.”

“Yeah, I see ‘em.” Akers approached the edge of the post boundary. He raised his voice. “You people across the street, stand up and approach the gate.”

Two people stood up. Dressed as described, Akers thought. He watched as the two crossed the street. He smiled as they looked both ways before crossing. People are still doing that here on post.

“Who are you?”

“I’m Sergeant John Brickman, Headquarters Company. This is my wife, Silvia. We’ve been trying to get here since last night. We left our apartment after dark.”

“Okay. Welcome. See those tents over there?” Brickman nodded. “Go and ask for the intel officer. He’s gonna wanna talk to you about what you saw. When was the last time you ate?”

Brickman smiled. “We had cold beans and franks last night before we left and some snacks this morning. We could use some water.”

“Lister bag’s over there. Don’t be too fussy about the cups. Don’t waste time getting to Intel.”

“Thanks,” Silvia said, “I feel safe now.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Daniel Tinkerman heard a voice say, “I’m Sergeant Brickman. The sergeant at the gate told me to come to the intel section.”

Tinkerman said, “Right here, Sergeant.” He watched as Brickman and a woman came toward the field table he was using as a desk. “Mrs. Brickman?” The woman nodded. “Have a seat.”

Tinkerman looked at a list. “Viale Dante Alighieri?”

Brickman answered, “Yes, sir, that’s us. Was us. I think you pronounce it better than I do.”

Tinkerman asked, “You live near Sergeant First Class Anthony Zaleski?” He was surprised when Mrs. Brickman covered her eyes and sobbed.

“Yes, sir,” John Brickman answered as he reached out to embrace his wife. “We stopped by their apartment. The building had caught fire. It was a shell.” His voice grew ragged. “There was no sign of life. They may have left.”

Tinkerman shook his head. “They haven’t shown up. The patrol we sent hasn’t returned. Did a patrol stop by your place?”

“No, sir, or at least we didn’t hear them.”

“Okay, check in with your company. Your first sergeant will probably send you to chow. Eat well. You’ll need it. We’re leaving here tomorrow. Early. I’m glad you made it in.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.” As the couple walked away, Tinkerman heard Mrs. Brickman ask her husband, “Leaving? To where?” Brickman shook his head.

❀ ❁ ❀

Camp Ederle, Vicenza, Italy, Friday, 20 March 1998, 1600 Hours

Ed Clarke had ordered the assembly of everyone on Camp Ederle to begin at 1500 hours. But it was well underway at 1400 hours. That’s fine with me, he mused. I wanted everyone inside the smaller perimeter before 1700. Clarke turned to Evans. “That was a good recommendation you and the first sergeants came up with about centralizing people. I know you must have something set up for getting all the heads counted.”

“Absolutely, sir,” Evans grinned. “I took the easy way and subbed the requirement out to the first sergeants.”

“And I know you wouldn’t have done that if you weren’t sure of the outcome.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Bill Morgan walked up and told Clarke, “I just did something you’re going to hear about.”

“What’s that?”

“I took the eleven female soldiers out of Head and Head and gave them to Melissa Kinkaid. I told them that their job was to get the family members to act like soldiers and that they would work where Mrs. Kinkaid told them to work. I reminded them that the world has changed and that a whole lot worse could have happened to them,” Morgan explained. “I suspect that Captain Carpenter is on his way over here to get his soldiers back.”

“If and when he gets here,” Clarke answered, “I want you two to fade out of the picture while I tell the good captain that Major Morgan has my full support.”

“Thanks, Ed, uh, sir.”

“‘Ed’ will do when the sergeant major is the only one with us. Okay, Bill, remind me how we’re set up.”

“Alpha and HHC are on the west side of the quad. Bravo and Charlie are on the east. The Cav is a special case and they get to keep the grass for the night. Signor and Signorina Rossi get billeted with Head and Head. The loads for the pack animals are pre-positioned around the edge of the parade field, along with their saddles. Uh, Lieutenant Wilson appears to have turned the entire operation over to Sergeant Hutton,” Morgan finished.

“Well, if something gets screwed up, I’ll be looking for a lieutenant, not a staff sergeant.”

“Roger that. Tomorrow morning, the order of march is Alfa, HHC, Cavalry remounts and trains, Bravo and Charlie. During the exfiltration to the rail line, the cav will be patrolling the route. After we’re on the rails, Sergeant Hutton — back to the same problem — plans, in his words, on testing concepts.”


“Archers secure the route for Hutton and the lead platoon.”

“Not the advance party?”

“Only on the main street. Two archers protect our flank by facing east on Viale della Pace. The other three double time down to the traffic circle and face west to protect our other flank. The bottom end of the route is secured by the advance party.”

“What if, God help us, something goes wrong with the advance party?”

“That’s a cavalry mission. Hutton rides out. If he doesn’t come back as arranged, we have to re-invent this whole thing. We don’t really have a backup plan.”

❀ ❁ ❀

“Okay, guys, gather ‘round,” Luke Hutton ordered. “You’ve all been picked for some important but pretty easy duty. You’re gonna walk from here to Livorno with a horse. Twenty of the animals will be carrying up to three hundred fifty pounds of consumable cargo — including their own food — when we start out. Four of them will have empty saddles most of the time ‘cause they’re the remounts for those of us Major Clarke calls the cavalry. We’ll be switching around so the same animals aren’t always carrying a load.

“While you’re on duty with us, it’s what you do. You don’t have to pull guard, but you do have to live with a horse twenty-four hours a day. You’ll get used to the smell. If you get tired of the job, I’ve got a waiting list.”

Luke waited while the men around him laughed.

“Tomorrow morning — that’s real early tomorrow morning — one of the seven of us will saddle your animal, show you how to place the pack saddle and help you boost the load onto the beast. The next day, we’ll watch and help you do the work. The day after that, it’s yours. Of course, you always get help loading and unloading the animals. As we travel, the loads get lighter. Any questions?” Luke waited.

“Okay, the seven of us aren’t going anywhere but chow. We normally eat together, but we’ll eat in two shifts tonight. You’re all welcome to join one of the shifts.”

“The horses will be okay?”

“They’ll be fine. They’re all hobbled. The animals may be slightly different spots when you get back from chow, but they won’t be very far away from where you left them.”

“Where’s Sergeant Hutton?” a voice called.

“Right here.”

Five men walked up to Luke. “We’re from the maintenance shop. A bunch of us thought you guys might like to have shields in case you run into trouble out on the road.”

“Hey, thanks. Round ones.”

“Yeah, we thought something smaller than the stop signs would be better for riding. We used the circular signs, the ones that’re sixty centimeters. You know, about two feet. We brought ten of them. If that’s not enough, we can try to make up more at night on the road.” The visitors handed the shields to the cavalrymen.

“Ten is plenty. Who do we thank for these?” Luke asked.

“Oh, just a bunch of guys.” The visitors waved, turned and left.

“Well, someone likes us,” Jake Potter said.

That’s a good feeling, Luke thought.

❀ ❁ ❀

As the shadows lengthened, Lieutenant Alan Wilson sought anonymity by sitting with his back against the wall of the darkening main hallway in what had been the brigade headquarters building.

I don’t think anyone comes in here much, he told himself. Gisella, I need you. You’re the one person I can depend on in all this confusion. I’m coming. Wait for me.

❀ ❁ ❀

George Carson returned to the herd and his fellow cavalrymen. “I’ve been on a raid to the post library. I wasn’t the only one, by the way. I grabbed some history books about mounted combat in medieval times. Then I saw this. Looked like somebody just tossed it on the floor.”

Luke looked at the document George held out. “‘Saber Exercise?’” He took the thin document and opened it. “‘…prepared by Second Lieutenant George S. Patton, Jr.… ’ No, not that Patton!”

“I think it’s him,” George answered. “He was a cavalryman before he was a tank general.”

“But, guys, we don’t have sabers. What’s the point?” Miller asked.

Potter answered, “They’ve been fighting with blades in Europe for centuries. Maybe we can find some.”

Luke smiled. “Let me tell you about my conversation with Signor Rossi. He told me… ”

❀ ❁ ❀

“Tell me again about uniforms and clothing bags, Sergeant Major.”

Evans didn’t turn right away. I hope this doesn’t mean he’s losing it. “Yes, sir. Duty uniform is battle dress uniform with boots. Accessories are field jacket with gloves, scarf, helmet, carrying equipment. Everyone has a rifle with bayonet. Three hundred men have machetes. Bravo Company is the ready company, so they have equipment for the shield wall. We’ve put the Rossis and as many family members in BDUs as we could by raiding the clothing sales store and collecting extra uniforms from troops. Insignia are all off the non-combatants. They’re wearing running shoes or, if they have a broken-in pair, hiking boots.”

“No combat boots?”

“No, the surgeon and Chief Edwards both nearly bit my head off when I suggested breaking boots in on the move.” Evans shrugged. “I knew better, I suppose.”

“Clothing bag?”

“Pack, spare BDU, four sets of underwear and socks, spare boots, long johns, towel, toiletries, both blankets, mess kit. Every soldier carries the risers and a coil of parachute cord cut from our now useless parachutes. Everyone gets a small package of personal items. The no shaving order went out at noon, by the way.”

“We’ll look like Hell when we get to Livorno. I’m going for chow.”


“Captain Carpenter?”

“No, Mrs. Kinkaid and she doesn’t look happy.”

Clarke waited. “Melissa, you look upset.”

“Sorry, no, I just want it to be over with.” Melissa responded.

“Tomorrow morning?”

“Well, that, but the whole damned thing. I don’t want to be in charge of 500 people.”

“I’m sorry, I guess I should have asked instead of telling. I can’t replace you before tomorrow.”

“You don’t have to, Ed, I’m just venting. Sorry, I meant ‘sir.’”

“My first name is fine. This is a very un-military function.”

“In addition to the eleven young ladies Bill Morgan sent to me and after talking to Sergeant Major Evans, I’ve taken it upon myself to appoint a staff. Nancy Avery, Miriam Tinkerman, Patty O’Donnell and Kathy Douglas will each work with one group of family members. The military gals work with them but for me.”

Clarke smiled. “Approved.”

He’s still got it, Evans thought.

❀ ❁ ❀

Camp Ederle, Vicenza, Italy, Saturday, 21 March 1998, 0115 Hours

Image not found

First Sergeant Jeffrey Michaels inhaled, held his breath and slowly exhaled to calm himself. When was the last time I led a patrol? Doesn’t matter. Clarke wanted a senior man leading this one. I know Evans picked me. He sure wasn’t gonna choose Jones. That guy’s retired on active duty.

“Final equipment check. M16s? Bayonets? Machetes? Spontoons? Bolt cutters?” I know they’re ready. It’s important that they know. Michaels felt in his cargo pocket for the candle and paper bag of dirt.

“Let’s go.”

Michaels watched while the archers deployed, then led the ten men from B Company through the gate of Camp Ederle. They formed into two columns and walked 150 meters west on Viale della Pace to the traffic circle. They turned south and walked about fifty meters. Michaels saw the gate in the fence surrounding the warehouse. He dropped into a crouch, held his hand up and sensed his men duplicating his crouch.

“No movement out there,” he whispered. “Security out, bolt cutters on me.” Two men followed him to the gate. They cut the chain and pushed the two sides of the gate on the west side of the warehouse all the way open. “Security advance.” One of the men with bolt cutters collected the men on the perimeter.

“Okay, good so far. Four spontoons on the gate.” A sergeant pointed at three men and himself and nodded. Michaels took the rest down through the parking area surrounding the warehouse to the chain link fence that fronted on the railroad tracks.

“Take it out,” he said but the men carrying the bolt cutters were already moving toward the fence; they knew why they were there. The steel in the fence was no match for the edges of the tools and a three meter long section of the fence collapsed within minutes.

Michaels walked through the gap into soft earth. He proceeded over to the gravel — ballast? — and to the tracks. He looked to his right and left. Like a train’s gonna come, he laughed to himself.

He walked back through the soft earth to his men. Pointing at two, he said, “We have to do something to cover that soft ground. Look around.” They nodded and slipped into the gloom.

They were back in under three minutes with a board resembling a two-by-twelve of the type Italians used on scaffolding. Michaels nodded and held up his thumb. The soldiers placed the board over the soft earth and took off again into the darkness. Michaels pointed at another pair and sent them in pursuit. When the four came back he told the two who had made the discovery to take a breather and dispatched the last two.

Before 0200 hours they had a bridge over the soft earth onto the rail line. Michaels felt in his cargo pocket for the candle and paper bag of dirt. Why did I do that? I know it’s where it’s supposed to be.

He led his fence team back to the security team. “Now comes the hard part. We wait. Down by the tracks. Good work, all of you.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Camp Ederle, Vicenza, Italy, Saturday, 21 March 1998, 0245 Hours

They had begun about half past midnight when the moon rose.

Having the Moon three-quarters full helps. I’m glad the Army’s tactical watches are the kind with hands that you wind up, Ed Clarke thought. The ideas people have brought me are amazing.

The battalion with its hangers-on — Camp followers? Clarke thought — was formed in the order of march and the final roll call had been taken and reported.

Clarke watched as Luke Hutton rode past on one of the horses. He saw Hutton pat his mount’s neck and heard him say, “Come on, Gray, make me look good.” Go with God, Luke, you and the men already out there. Where did he get a shield?

“Penny,” said Bill Morgan.

“Well, first, there’s the pack train. Sergeant Hutton comes up with the idea. Then Avery tells me about railroad grading and ya gotta love the part about ‘horses don’t eat MREs.’” Both men grinned. “Sergeant Carson designs this pack saddle that fits over a rider’s saddle that can be made out of the wood from a single cargo pallet, of which we have many.” Clarke lowered his voice. “For a guy that’s hi-jacked an infantry battalion, I’ve been pretty lucky so far.”

“Don’t think like that, Ed. You’re saving people’s lives. By the way, the cavalry was your idea.”

Clarke shrugged. “One for me, but so many others. Anyway, Specialist Brown re-invents spontoons, even if he doesn’t know what they’re called. Somebody — haven’t found out who — comes up with the idea of turning street signs, especially stop signs, into shields. A troop walks up to the sergeant major and asks permission to bring his bike along. I have a bike, Bill. Why didn’t I think of that?”

“Because we don’t — didn’t — jump out of airplanes with bicycles. More important is the fact that we have people who do think about these things. If we were back in the Cold War, how many good ideas do you think the average Soviet enlisted man would have come up with? Where is your bike?”

“Oh it’s somewhere out there with someone who’s carrying a load. I think the mess steward is bringing every package or can of non-spoilable food from his stock and the commissary that he could load on every bicycle he could beg, borrow or steal.”

“Canned goods are heavy.”

“He convinced O’Donnell, and O’Donnell convinced me, that we’ll need the nourishment. Among other things, he’s got powdered milk for the kids. As we use up the load on a bike, it gets reconverted to transportation for a person. Speaking of which, those wheelbarrows still bother me.”

“Yeah, me too, but they’re mostly loaded with rations. As we go through the consumables, we can dump the wheelbarrows. We are doing something else, though. We’re exercising shoulder muscles.”

Clarke was distracted by a tiny voice in the darkness. “Mommy, I’m cold.”

“Walking will help you warm up, honey.”

“Where are we going?”

“I told you yesterday. We’re going to Livorno.”

“Why can’t we take the car?”

“Because cars don’t work any more.”

“How long will it take?”

“It will be a few days.”

“Where’s Daddy?”

“He’s working. We’ll see him later.”

“Can you carry me?”

“No, I’m carrying your sister.”

A shudder ran through Clarke’s body. “Okay. I guess. The wheelbarrows. I hope we’re not making people too tired. I hope to God this works.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Luke Hutton leaned over in his saddle and spoke to the archers at the traffic circle. “Remember, if I’m not back in ten or less, recover to post. If you see me coming back in a hurry, break and run ‘cause something’s very wrong.”

All three archers nodded and Luke rode south to check on the advance party. He rode through the open gate and looked toward the distant fence. There they are, I hope. A lantern made of a candle and a paper bag illuminated a group of men and the gap in the fence. Luminaria, Luke grinned. That was Guy Anderson’s idea. He raised his arms straight up over his head. One of the figures — First Sergeant Michaels, I hope — duplicated his move. Luke slowly lowered his arms until they were horizontal. The figure lowered only his left arm. Luke raised his right arm so their positions matched and held for a few seconds. He turned Gray and rode at a walk back toward the traffic circle. I want to hurry but the guys at the traffic circle might think it’s time to haul ass. Luke nodded to the archers as he turned back toward the main gate.

When Luke arrived at the gate, he realized that his heart was racing and sweat was pouring down his face. He pulled down on the zipper of his field jacket to vent some heat. Facing the lead platoon huddled on both sides of the portico, he raised his right arm, lowered it and raised it again.

The lead platoon started toward him. They were followed by the color guard. The sergeant major insisted on the colors. The colors were rolled in their green casings, but they still led the formation. Major Morgan, Lieutenant Wilson and the sergeant major followed the colors. That’s right, Major Clarke said he was going to be last.

❀ ❁ ❀

Clarke walked toward the north parking lot as the mass of people sensed the movement at the gate and began to shuffle forward. Hushed voices told them to wait.

Clarke smiled as he caught a glimpse of one of the shields. Since the demonstration of the shield wall, the white deployed parachute and curved wings of the airborne qualification badge had been added to every shield. Including the ones carried by Hutton and, I guess, his troops. How did any of them find the time to do all this stuff? Should I have waited ‘til tomorrow? he asked himself.

My weapons inventory is machetes, spontoons, battleaxes, bayonets, bows and arrows … and, in a pinch, shovels. Wives and teenagers are carrying the shovels.

Clarke stopped and looked at the horse herd. The animals were saddled and loaded. Two of the youngest children and the two disabled kids were riding the remounts with their mothers close by. We came up with that idea an hour ago.

A variety of dogs were, for the most part, sitting quietly by their owners. Cats were walking around sniffing everything. Dogs have owners and cats have servants. We’ll see how long cats and dogs take to learn that they have to earn their keep.

The battalion commander had declined a mount right after the herd had arrived at Ederle. I’ve never been comfortable on horse. It’d be pretty unimpressive if I fell off.

Clarke arrived at the huge pyre in the middle of the parking lot. Wooden pallets had been stacked with all the unit’s weapons that were being left behind pushed into available spaces. The pallets were dripping diesel fuel. A fifty foot fuel-soaked fuse led to the pyre. There was a backup, shorter fuse in case the first one failed. His duty runner stood by idly tossing a lighter from hand to hand. He stiffened when he saw Clarke and the major said, “At ease. We’re going to be here for a while.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Luke Hutton smiled as his cavalry troops rode off post behind the command group. “Okay, guys, spread out and patrol the route outbound on the south and east sides of the roads, back on the west and north sides. Don’t worry about riding through formations.”

“Formations?” Jason Miller commented.

Luke grinned and said, “Smart ass. Jase, after the pack animals get onto the tracks, take your patrol out and work up and down the rails. George you do the same after Charlie crosses. Everyone meets at the rear of the column before we head down the track.” Both men nodded and Luke watched his troops deploy.

It was not easy, but Major Clarke had told the leadership not to expect miracles. Luke decided he was in a position to watch and evaluate the movement of the companies for Clarke so he stood his ground. It took Alfa twenty-five minutes to clear the post. Headquarters Company was smaller and did a little better. Luke looked at his watch. Twenty minutes, he told himself.

The remounts and the pack train were led by Alberto Rossi driving his wagon with the soldier in the leg cast as a passenger; they took fifteen. Antonia was on foot moving from horse to horse, checking tack and loads. Good girl, but don’t wear yourself out.

Bravo and Charlie each took between twenty-five and thirty minutes each, but both had to stop because of congestion ahead of them. While Charlie was waiting, a fire flared in the distance. “There go the heavy weapons,” Luke mumbled. He saw First Sergeant Jones staring at him and rode away to talk to the two archers. “You guys gotta teach me about bows.” They nodded.

❀ ❁ ❀

Ed Clarke watched as the flame raced along the fuse to the pyre of weapons and pallets. He held his breath until the fuel in the pyre caught and the heat intensified. “We dodged another one, private. Let’s go.”

The two men walked quickly at first then more slowly when they left the heat of the fire behind them. They arrived at the gate and Clarke saw Hutton and the archers waiting. “Go ahead,” he said and watched his runner leave the post.

Major (Promotable) Edward Clarke, USMA, 1985, stepped through the gate. Behind him, the electric lights, which had intentionally been left switched on, stayed dark.

Camp Ederle was in their past.

❀ ❁ ❀


— Water —

Day Four — On the Rails, Saturday, 21 March 1998, Sunrise

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“It was a little balky gettin’ Alberto’s mules and wagon onto the tracks, but he’s got everything settled down now,” George Carson reported to Luke Hutton. “The critters were sure-footed enough — they’re mules — but gettin’ the wagon squared away on the tracks was a hassle and I think the animals sensed our frustration. May get difficult when we cross switches.”

“Good observation. Did you tell Lieutenant Wilson?”

George snorted.

“Don’t let it show, George.”

“Roger, that. He’s changed somehow. I mean in the last twelve, eighteen hours.”

“Yeah, but I can’t put my finger on it.”

The 1st Battalion, 508th Infantry was strung out along a couple of hundred meters of railroad track. Major Clarke and his duty runner were the last two soldiers coming through the hole in the fence. They wore no combat packs. Luke was confused about that at first, then remembered them placing their packs on Rossi’s wagon. They needed more freedom of movement. A couple of small children were whimpering and their mothers hushed them. That is not a good sign this early.

Major Clarke looked west toward his column of troops and non-combatants. He nodded and looked east into the lightening sky. “Sergeant Hutton, who are those people out there?”

“That, sir, is a Mr. Jefferson and a party of six. I got the impression that one of them is Mrs. Jefferson. He told me that they are not going with us. They are going to the air base in Aviano.”

“Does he know that’s in the mountains?”

“I — politely as possible — told him that. He said it was none of my business. I started to go looking for someone with a whole lot more horsepower than I have, then I remembered you were still on your way. Should I go try again, sir?”

Luke waited while Clarke shook his head. “No, Luke, I give up. Anyone who’s not in the Army is free to go wherever they want whenever they want. I feel sorry for the people with him.”

He’s never called me by my first name before.

Clarke turned away from Jefferson and his followers as they walked east and walked west toward the head of the column.

Luke addressed his waiting troops. “Our first stop is the main rail station here in Vicenza. It’s about three klicks. Major wants to do it in about an hour. George, you and your patrol recon out front. Not too far — keep your lead between 250 and 500 meters. We’re still inside a city and I don’t want you cut off. Jase, you’ve got drag, same spacing.”

George nodded and rode off with his two. Miller smiled. “At least it ain’t cows,” he said, “I swore I was through chasing cows when I joined the Army.” He and his troops stood fast while the column drew away.

Luke rode toward the head of the column. As he passed the wagon, Alberto and Antonia were conversing. She looked up and blew Luke a kiss. He waved in return. Maybe if I’m a good boy, I’ll get a real one of those this evening.

❀ ❁ ❀

Luke thought the first three kilometers were going fairly well. The column is getting longer, though.

The river! Luke thought as he worked his way toward the front of the column. If the bridge has open decking, we’ll have to be real careful taking the livestock across. At the head of the column, he pulled Gray to a halt and looked for George Carson.

He smiled when he saw his former roommate on the far end of the bridge. George’s arm was extended outward with his thumb up. He had the same thought I did. Luke waved.

❀ ❁ ❀

The advance party of the column made it to main rail station on Clarke’s schedule but the rest was strung out over 500 meters. The cavalry led the mass along a double track between two platforms but not directly next to the terminal building. As A Company proceeded to the west end of the station, Clarke nodded to Sergeant Carson. “Nice position, Sergeant.”

“Thank you, sir. We’re honestly making this up as we go, but we thought leaving some room on our flanks so we could see anyone approaching was a good idea.”

This is a cluster, Clarke thought as he looked east at the straggling column and the twilight spreading across the sky. It’s not the cavalry’s fault. It’s mine. That’s almost twice as long as a nice tight column ought to be. The only thing I can hope is that things move better when we have light.

“Nice three kilometers,” Bill Morgan commented wryly as he neared.

“Yeah,” Clarke answered, “only about 350 to go.”

“Sir,” Luke Hutton said as he rode up, “I can’t find Lieutenant Wilson and I need to go check out the river for the horses.”

“Okay, Sergeant, we’ll be here at least an hour. Take the archers with you for security,” Clarke answered, looking at the archers and motioning with his head for them to follow Luke. The archers sped after Luke.

“Oh, yeah,” he added to Morgan, “effective immediately, archers are assigned to Lieutenant Wilson and his cavalry platoon.”

Before Morgan could answer, Clarke saw Doctor Coltrane approaching with Chief Edwards, his physician’s assistant. They were talking and neither looked happy.

“Looks serious, gentlemen,” Clarke called.

“Yes, sir,” Coltrane said, “there appears to have been a fight in the restaurant in the station. There are three bodies — a middle-aged man, a young woman and a young man. The middle-aged man and the woman were wearing aprons so my guess is that there was an argument over food — and drink. We’ll never know who killed the young man but we can guess that the employees were killed by ‘person or persons unknown’ who wanted food and drink and didn’t want to pay what the employees were asking or at all. Fighting over food. Not a good sign.”

Clarke glanced pointedly around at the silent walls and roofs of the city outside the rail yard. A few faces looked back at them from high windows; he didn’t think it was his imagination that they looked hungry.

One of the archers ran up from the river gasping for breath. “Sir, Sergeant Hutton is on his way, but he wanted you to know that there’s raw shit in the river.”

Clarke shook his head and turned to Coltrane. “We weren’t drinking… ”

“No, sir, when the power went, our supply lines dried up. We were living off gravity fed supply from towers. That’s why we outlawed showers.

“Is shit in the river a usual situation?”

“No, sir, Vicenza has good sewage treatment.”

“But it also uses electricity?”

“Yes, sir. Oh, God, cholera, typhoid. Everything… ” Coltrane sighed. He turned his back on the people near him and walked a few feet away with his fists clenched. Clarke let him be.

❀ ❁ ❀

Luke walked up, leading his mount.

“Shit in the water, huh?”

“Yes, sir. I didn’t notice it right away. Gray wouldn’t drink, so I got down on my knees and sniffed. It was terrible. That’s when I sent Abbott to tell you. Sir, I gotta ride out and find water for the animals.”

“Right, take someone with you, but not Carson. If something goes wrong, I can’t afford to lose leadership.”

Luke nodded. “Gotta get a re-mount.” Seeing George, he called, “Sergeant Carson, I need Appleby back at the herd.” He turned and led Gray back to the re-mounts and pack train, where Antonia was critically examining each animal.

“Hi, I need to swap animals. Can I ride Stella?”

Antonia smiled and nodded. She took Gray’s rein and led him over to her horse, which was carrying one of the disabled kids. Antonia chatted with the girl and her mother for a few seconds, helped the girl change mounts and came back with her dun. “Trouble?”

“The river is polluted. I have to find water.” Luke kissed his fingertips and held them to Antonia’s lips. Appleby rode up and Luke ordered, “Aaron, get a re-mount. We’re on recon.” Appleby slipped off his white-faced chestnut. Antonia had already selected a dappled gray for him and gently transferred the child who had been riding it to the chestnut. The two men pointed the horses toward the front of the column; Luke looked back at Antonia and raised his fingers to his lips again. She mouthed, “Careful,” and he nodded.

Luke rode wide around the column but stayed within the confines of the rail yard. He ignored two children looking down from a balcony of a nearby apartment building. I’m probably imagining it but they look hungry.

Appleby followed and asked, “What’s up, Sarge?” as Luke broke into a trot.

“There’s raw sewage in the river. We’ve gotta find a source of water for the herd — and our people, for that matter.”

“I’m city born and bred, but I think the sooner we’re in the country, the better off we’ll be.” Appleby glanced around at the taller buildings, then back at the narrow corridor of tracks leading through them.

Luke slowed to a walk and nodded. “We have to find some stream or pond small enough that it’s not part of a city disposal system. Otherwise…”

The two soldiers rode. The city was dense but not very wide, they soon left the big apartment blocks behind. “There’s an awful lot of commercial and industrial stuff here,” Appleby remarked. He pointed to his right. “Something tells me that those two guys are less than ideal citizens.”

“Yeah,” Luke answered, “but it is thinning out up ahead.”

“Oh, Sarge?”


“The day we went and got the horses, I was kinda puttin’ the eyeball on Miss Rossi. I didn’t know you and she were an ‘item.’”

“Well, we weren’t, exactly, yet, although we are now. Don’t worry about it.”

“Thanks.” Appleby stopped and stood up in his saddle. He pointed off to the left and said, “A pond in that field.”

The men rode past the pond and found a way off the tracks through a break in the fence. They let the animals graze in the field for ten minutes then allowed them to drink from the pond. They could see movement around nearby houses, but decided to ignore it.

“Success,” Luke said, “Let’s get back.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Ed Clarke stood with his company commanders and members of his staff. Doctor Coltrane had rejoined the group. I’m glad he was able to process his distress at the pollution problem. He is a pro. “Recommendations, Doctor?”

“Get out of Vicenza, soon. Avoid other cities completely if possible, skirting them if not.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Scott Matthews and his constant companion Phil Gregory were among the soldiers detailed to collect the bicycles found at the rail station. They were following an NCO who had bolt cutters. The NCO headed straight for the long bicycle racks, but Phil touched Scott on the elbow and pointed.

“Hey, Scott, ain’t that one of the lieutenants?”


“Over across the street. It looks like he’s leaving.”

“Who gives a shit? It ain’t my problem and ain’t yours. If you keep staring, somebody’ll ask why.”

“I guess.”

This kid’s gettin’ to be a pain, Matthews thought as he pulled a locking cable from a bicycle wheel. I’m gonna have to find another slave.

❀ ❁ ❀

Hutton and Appleby pushed their mounts and returned to the rail station as most people were finishing their breakfast. “A pond with fresh water and a field with food for the critters,” Luke reported to Clarke. “It’s about five klicks down the tracks.”

“Good work. Your guys who stayed here have eaten. Take some time to heat up a couple of MREs. We march in about thirty minutes.”

❀ ❁ ❀

George Carson walked up and tossed an MRE each to Luke and Appleby. Luke looked past George at a crowd of soldiers on the main platform of the station. George followed his gaze. “A patrol searchin’ the station found a bunch of bicycles. They were secured to bicycle stands but Major Clarke decided that they were available and issued the bolt cutters,” George explained. “That gives us an extra twenty-five or so.”

“I’m surprised there weren’t more.”

“George shrugged. “Middle of the night, remember? Only the shift workers would have ridden to the station.”

Luke grunted and dug into his meal as soon as it was warm. Later, he could not remember what he had eaten.

❀ ❁ ❀

Rain or at least a drizzle had been threatening since the sky had begun to lighten, but the clouds had blown off a little before Clarke’s scheduled departure at eight o’clock.

Clarke allowed a little time for some organization now that the sun was up. A double track stretched ahead of them toward Verona. Clarke and his officers stood back and let their NCOs do their jobs. Within ten minutes, marching troops were lined up on the edges of the right-of-way, wheelbarrows and bikes were between the rails so they could take advantage of the hard surface of the ties and the trains, which had come to mean non-combatants and supplies, fit between the two pairs of tracks.

Clarke nodded to Douglas and the march began.

After taking two breaks for which Clarke had not planned, the battalion marched and the non-combatants staggered off the rails near the pond in late morning, somewhat behind Clarke’s target for arrival.

“Sergeant Hutton, sir,” Luke reported.

“Sergeant, I need another patrol.”

Luke took a deep breath. “Sir, I can… I will send one out right away.”

Clarke smiled, “What did you just learn, Luke?”

“Um, to delegate?”

Clarke smiled again and nodded.

Luke sent Miller, Bradley and Potter forward to look for the next supply of potable water.

Clarke put A Company on the perimeter. He assigned B Company, the ready company, to exercise the shield wall. He let C Company rest. Everyone seemed just a little more at ease since they’d left Vicenza’s oppressive cityscape behind them.

“We’ll let C Company have the duty next,” Morgan suggested.

It’s time to bring Hutton up to speed, Clarke decided. “Bill, keep an eye on Sergeant Hutton. When he’s finished his lunch, send a runner for him.”

Morgan knew what was coming and nodded.

Twenty minutes later, Luke reported.

“Sit down, Luke.”

“Yes, sir,” Luke replied with a puzzled look on his face.

“Have you noticed that Lieutenant Wilson isn’t around?”

“Well, I haven’t seen him, sir.”

“He’s gone.”

“Gone. Gone? Sorry, maybe I need more sleep.”

“I’m told he has, had, whatever, a girlfriend — name of Gisella — living on the northwest side of Vicenza. None of Wilson’s friends know her last name or exactly where she lived. He grounded his pack by the side of the tracks and disappeared. The only things he took were his personal bag and canteen. He’s gone, Luke. He’s ‘missing in action.’”

“Oh. Yessir.”

“The 508th Cavalry is yours. You still get to be a staff sergeant, but you attend command conferences.” Clarke handed Luke a case containing a pair of field glasses. “These were among the contents of Wilson’s pack.”

“I understand, sir.”

“You’re a good man — and a good soldier, Luke Hutton. If I had any way of telling your parents that, I would.”

“Thank you, sir. Uh, I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but don’t you have a lieutenant who wants to do this?”

“I don’t have a lieutenant who can do it as well as I think you can. I know I’m laying a lot on you, but I don’t think it’s more than you can handle. You try it. If you can’t handle it, we’ll both know. Go on back to Signorina Rossi. You’ll be busy enough later on.”

“Signorina Rossi?”

“I’m not blind, Luke.”

Luke smiled sheepishly and Clarke watched him walk away.

❀ ❁ ❀

A lieutenant from A Company ran up to Clarke. “Sir, there’s an Italian man with very little English at the perimeter. Captain Hodges has sent for Signor Rossi. The man did say something about ‘wagon.’”

Wagon? “Lead on, Lieutenant,” Clarke said and followed the junior officer through the hayfield toward a row of small houses lining its far edge. The scent of new grass crushed under his boots seemed absurdly pleasant after the smoke-and-sewage stink of the city. When they arrived at the perimeter, Alberto Rossi was just finishing his conversation with his countryman. Mid-fifties, Clarke thought.

“Ah, Major, this is Signor Carlo Sartori.” Clarke and Sartori shook hands. “Signor Sartori and his wife have been hiding in their house since the Change. They are worried about the fires in the neighborhood and are in fear for their lives. Signor Sartori has offered a wagon and two draft horses, as well as canned and dry food if he and his wife can go with us. He added that we can go through his workshop and take anything we want.”

The stranger gestured eagerly toward one of the small houses half-hidden behind gnarled cypress trees; spring flowers bloomed in front and it had the roof of a sizable barn just visible behind it.

“Signor Rossi, does Signor Sartori understand that our future is uncertain?”

“I took the liberty of telling him that. His answer was that he and his wife would rather be with others than die alone.”

“Then he is welcome.” Clarke shook Sartori’s hand. “Lieutenant, I need Captain Avery and one NCO. I also need Sergeant Hutton. And the mess steward.”

“Yes, sir.” The lieutenant turned to go.

“May I suggest also calling on my daughter’s skills with horses?”

“Yes,” Clarke answered, “Lieutenant, add Signorina Rossi. You’ll probably find her near the herd, Sergeant Hutton, or both.”

“Yes, sir.”

❀ ❁ ❀

When Jason Miller and his patrol returned down the long tracks stretching away through the fields to the west, Luke met him. “You’re little later than I expected, Jase.”

“I know, but we discovered something interesting.” Jase removed his helmet and scratched his head, a little smile growing on his face. “First, there’s a river about nine klicks out. The horses were willing to drink the water, although we may want to boil it before we do. By the river is an open field bounded by the river on the east, the autostrada on the north, rails on the south and a secondary road to the west. It would be a great place to stop for the night. The second thing is that up on the autostrada there are trucks that were carrying food when the world went belly up. The perishables are useless, but there’s packaged stuff we can take.”

“Major Clarke — ”

Jase’s head was already nodding as he dropped his helmet back onto his head. “Yeah, Major Clarke said no looting, but this stuff doesn’t really belong to anyone any more. It’s been abandoned. And I’m not talking about cutting the troops loose and letting them go on rape and rampage. This is about putting some officers and NCOs on the ground and recovering abandoned materials. People have been taking part of the loads and they’re gonna take more. I say send George and his patrol out there — they’re fresh — and follow them with troops on bikes. Set up a perimeter and take what’s reasonable to our needs… My God, will ya look at that team and wagon?”

“Yeah, and the horses are Italian Heavy Drafts. I’ll go talk to the major.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Ed Clarke looked at the men in front of him. “Okay, I give in. Major Morgan, talk me through it.”

“The cavalry’s got it right. Get a fresh patrol out there as soon as possible to establish a presence. Follow that with a light platoon on bikes to set up a secure perimeter and another one on foot to reinforce. Once all those guys are on the road, get us in march order with the non-combatants and follow.”

“Okay. Luke?”

“Sir, Sergeant Carson and his two are fresh. He’s getting briefed by Sergeant Miller and can leave as soon as you… as I give the order.”

He’s accepting his responsibilities. That’s good. “We’ll send out a cav patrol and two platoon-sized forces. Captain Douglas, give, uh, C Company the mission. Tell Captain Erickson to task organize and that I want a lieutenant with each of the two efforts. Luke, let me know after you dispatch your patrol and coordinate with the wagon people. Everyone has to understand. If they encounter any resistance, stand fast and wait for the ready company to catch up to them. No heroic stuff.”

Luke and Douglas left to complete their assignments. Clarke looked at Morgan. “Well?”

“Yes. Do it.”

❀ ❁ ❀

The “food capture effort” had been launched and Luke Hutton was conferring with Captain John Coltrane, Captain John Avery, Master Sergeant Edward Schumacher, Alberto Rossi and, through Alberto, Carlo Sartori.

They were standing inside Carlo Sartori’s workshop in his barn, which Avery and Schumacher, Avery’s senior NCO, had agreed was a gold mine of useful tools, many of them designed before electrical power became popular.

Schumacher was busy unbolting an anvil from a work table.

The anvil was a trivial contribution to the load on the wagon, which now consisted of cans and boxes of food, bales of hay, bags of feed, several sheets of press board, and boxes of hand tools that Captain John Avery and his senior NCO had selected from a well-equipped workshop.

“It totals approximately three metric tons,” Rossi explained. “There is still sufficient capacity for the passengers, although space is at a premium.”

Looking at the press board, Luke thought, More shields. To Coltrane he said, “Okay, sir, you’ve got Mrs. Masterson, the two handicapped kids and the seven youngest kids who can walk on the wagon along with all the new supplies?”

“Right, Sergeant.”

I shouldn’t be coordinating what captains are doing, Luke thought. “Signor Rossi, Signor Sartori and his lady are handling the wagon. Is that all right with them?”

The two Italian men spoke and Rossi answered, “Yes, he says it is your wagon he is driving.”

Right. “Right. Antonia, you have four new passengers on the remounts?”


“Okay. Please hold the pack animals and let Signor Sartori slip his wagon in behind the remounts.”

“I will.”

“Thank you.”

On his way back to the head of the column, Luke saw a couple of troops removing a stop sign from a post and smiled. He also saw Melissa Kinkaid. “‘Scuse me, ma’am, did you get the new list of kiddies who are going to ride the wagon and the remounts?”

“I did,” Melissa smiled as she reached up and patted Luke’s mount’s neck.

“Could you do me a favor and tell the moms? I think they’ll take it better from you than from me.”

“Surely, but don’t underestimate yourself.”

Luke approached Clarke and Douglas just in time to hear Captain Douglas say, “I agree, sir.”

“Gentlemen,” Luke greeted his two superiors, “we’re ready. Captain Coltrane selected the passengers, Mrs. Kinkaid is telling the mothers and I’ve arranged for the wagon to be between the remounts and the pack animals.”

Clarke answered, “In that case, Captain Douglas, let’s get them on the rails.”

Douglas nodded and left.

Luke remounted Gray, tasked Miller to take the point, and headed for the back of the column to take up the drag.

❀ ❁ ❀

Ed Clarke and Bill Morgan were walking abreast between the cavalry and the rest of the column. The tracks passed through more fields, most still winter-fallow but some sprouting something that Clarke vaguely thought might be winter wheat. A mild peaty smell rose from a field that was half-plowed. Buds were beginning to swell on some of the trees in an orchard, though the air wasn’t exactly warm even now at midafternoon. There were very few people around. Most people are probably lying low, Clark thought. We’re pretty imposing — and noisy — even without trying to be. A lot are glad to see our backs.

Morgan stepped over to the edge of the right of way to avoid a pile of horse dung. He paused to look back along the column, then ran to re-join Clarke. “It doesn’t look too bad. I think the non-combatants are beginning to get the idea of how to move.”

“Good. We could use another couple of wagons,” Clarke observed.

“We could use a steam locomotive. I wonder if steam engines work.”

“Not unless our luck has changed,” Clarke answered dryly. “I don’t even know if there are any steam locomotives in Italy.”

“If there are, they’re probably kept in a maintenance facility in a major city.”

“Agreed. You know, we made a major departure from our philosophy today.”

Morgan glanced at him shrewdly. “The food expedition?”

“Right, Bill, up until this morning I’ve maintained the position that we’re a U. S. unit moving to consolidate with another unit. Most importantly, we were not taking anything from the Italian people. Then this morning I allowed us to confiscate bicycles. The point I’m trying to get to is that we have no idea what we’ll find at Camp Darby. So far, so good?”

“Yes, so far.”

“As several hundred people have observed, there are no airplanes in the sky.”

“So this thing is at least Europe-wide.”

“Right, and worse. Given air refueling, if anything could fly the Pentagon would have gotten something over here by now to find out why we fell off the grid. If engines don’t fire, that means we have a “zero-ship” Navy. The Coast Guard has one sailing vessel, the Eagle. Her captain’s priority list is probably long and growing. However, I doubt that we are on it. I suspect that the Government, if it’s functional, is concentrating on the security of the borders, including the coasts. That means we, along with all our people in Germany, Japan, even Alaska and Hawaii, are all but forgotten.” “Forgotten.” I wanna spit after saying that.

“The Government probably has no contact with the west coast,” Morgan offered.

“The Government probably has no contact with anything outside the Washington metropolitan area,” Clarke answered.

“Where does that leave us?”

Clarke walked silently a while, then spit to clear his mouth.

“Ed?” Morgan prompted.

The battalion commander sighed. “We become a free battalion of mercenaries. We can hire ourselves out to the highest bidder,” Clarke answered. “Or we can seek some higher purpose.”

“And I would guess that higher purpose would be the Italian government?”

“Maybe. Or the Church. I’m not Catholic, but I have greater faith in the Church surviving than the Italian state.”

Morgan thought for a few moments. “So who do we tell this to?”

“For the rest of today, no one. But we have to bring Sam in soon.”

“There’s another element,” Morgan added. “If we’re a band of mercenaries, what if someone decides to quit?”

“I don’t know,” Clarke admitted heavily. “Yet.”

❀ ❁ ❀

The lead elements arrived at the river in late afternoon. Clarke deployed his companies for a bivouac on the west side of the waterway and went to check on the food expedition with Luke Hutton and the commander of C Company.

“I’m pleased,” Clarke told the troops, who were stacking cartons of boxed food and canned goods by the side of the highway. The security force is well deployed and Carson has the cavalrymen placed so they can respond to a breach of the lines. “There aren’t too many people in the area,” he commented. “Have they given you any problems?”

“No, sir,” a lieutenant answered. “They don’t seem to have any organization and we do.”

“Okay, we’ll get the mess steward up here. I want a substantial amount of food left by the side of the road, even if it means unloading extra. You get the point?”

“Yes, sir, I think so,” the lieutenant answered, “you want to make it obvious that we didn’t take everything.”

“Good man.” Clarke walked back to the command group with a slightly lighter heart.

❀ ❁ ❀

As sundown neared, the food the battalion could use and fit into spare space on bicycles, the pack animals, and the wagon had been carried into the secured area and the perimeter had been pulled back off the highway. It meant that some of the kids who had been riding were back on their feet for a while.

The cooks started preparing the evening meal with Doctor Coltrane watching carefully.

The meal was the uninspiring meals ready-to-eat augmented by pasta — What else? Clarke asked himself — with some type of sauce he did not particularly like but ate anyway. No one’s gonna get fat on this walk.

❀ ❁ ❀

The cavalry platoon was seated in an oval marked out by the animals and the loads they carried. Gray had lain down and Luke was leaning back against his favorite horse’s body. He looked down and flicked a bug of some unknown species from his knee.

Time for a meeting, Luke thought. “Okay, everybody, listen up. First of all, welcome to the archers. My guess is that Clarke assigned you to this platoon ‘cause he didn’t want to create a second separate platoon. We will make it work.” He looked directly at his new troops. “I should have talked to you earlier, got busy today and… well, I just didn’t get to it. My fault. Eventually, you will all learn to ride.”

Specialist Charles Abbott, the senior archer, said, “Huh? I mean pardon, Sergeant?”

Luke smiled. “I don’t expect you to fight from horseback. Actually, I’m not sure the rest of us will do that. But I will need us to deploy as a unit. You need to learn to sit on a horse, ride at a walk, and ride at a trot. Maybe even a canter.”

Abbott looked at his fellow archers and, helplessly, back at Luke. “None of us know what those terms mean, Sergeant.”

“You will. But quit worrying. I don’t expect it tomorrow. Or next week.” He paused. “All you guys who do ride horses did a great job today. We accomplished every mission the battalion commander gave us. We’re gonna help the rest of the twelve hundred plus of us get to Livorno.”

Luke watched his troops smile.

“Second thing. Lieutenant Wilson is history. He disappeared today while we were at our first stop. The only things we know are that he had a girlfriend in Vicenza, he grounded his pack, and he’s gone. I don’t want to hear any chatter. I don’t want to hear any rumors.” He smiled grimly. “You’re stuck with me.”

Luke heard a sound and looked over to see Antonia walk through the line of horses carrying her rucksack and sleeping bag. She placed both on the ground and sat next to Luke.

“I’m confused,” Luke told her quietly.

She answered so everyone could hear. “Major Clarke assigned my father and me to the cavalry. We have decided that we should sleep with our unit.”

“People will talk,” Luke said more loudly than intended.

“If they do, they’ll wish they hadn’t,” Charles Abbott said; his face had a stern expression with a grim smile.

Luke looked around and every head nodded.

“Okay, I give.” He looked at Antonia and asked, “Where is your father?”

“He will be here later. He is involved in the evening’s entertainment.”


“Just listen,” Antonia replied. She grasped his hand and lifted it over her, snuggling in close. “I think I will like you with a beard.”

Pulling Antonia in to him, Luke thought, I could get used to this, but I’m still not sure it’s a good idea.

❀ ❁ ❀

Clark was digesting his food when he heard the first guitar being tuned. “What the hell is that?”

“You already know the answer, Ed,” Bill Morgan answered. “I decided not to bother you with the ‘music decision.’”

From this valley they say you are going.

We will miss your bright eyes and sweet smile,

For they say you are taking the sunshine

That has brightened our pathway a while.

“That’s a beautiful tenor,” Clarke said as he listened to other guitars and voices join in. Harmonicas came from several points around him. “How many instruments are there?”

“We have two guitars and one banjo. I have no idea how many harmonicas. We have a lot of country boys in the airborne.”

Come and sit by my side if you love me

Do not hasten to bid me adieu

But remember the Red River Valley

And the cowboy who loved you so true

“They’re lonely, Ed. Over the past couple of days, reality has been slow to sink in. Sitting at Ederle, they were surrounded by the familiar, even if nothing worked. When we walked them out the gate this morning, reality crashed in. They’ve figured out that they’re never going to see home again.”

A violin joined in and Clarke shook his head.

“That’s Alberto. He’s had the instrument with him in his wagon all along.”

“An Italian riding school owner can play an American folk tune on a violin?”

Won’t you think of the valley you’re leaving

Oh how lonely, how sad it will be?

Oh think of the fond heart you’re breaking

And the grief you are causing to me

“He’s heard the tune before from British veterans. The paratroopers had a version they sang during World War II. Ah, here it comes.”

Alberto Rossi’s recognizable British accent wafted on the night air:

So come stand by the bar with your glasses

Drink a toast of the men of the sky

Drink a toast to the men dead already


“Good work, Bill.”

❀ ❁ ❀


— Skirmish —

Day Five — On the Rails, Sunday, 22 March 1998, Early Morning

Clarke ordered a stand-to from twilight to sunrise. Luke took the watch for the cavalry and got acquainted with the very different noises of the non-industrialized Italian countryside. This ain’t Texas, but there's an almost-familiar air to it. Of course, I guess Texas ain’t Texas anymore. It's… comfortable. Something yipped repeatedly somewhere out in the early light; the small flittering of bats overhead subsided as the animals went to roost for the day. Once something large flew directly over his head with a barely-audible rush of wings. Small rustlings in the grass came and went. After a while he let his ears do the work while his eyes stared at the stars. They seem so much brighter, but I know it’s ‘cause there's zero ground light.

Oh, right. Smog is going away. And no smoke from the city fires in Vicenza or Verona out here, at least not yet. He inhaled the scent of night in green growing countryside. The aromas mingled with those of breakfast being prepared.

Breakfast was served after sunrise. Luke read the handwritten sign:



Right, he thought grimly. If we don’t find more food, soon, we’ll probably be skipping even more meals.

After eating and making a trip to the field latrine, Luke decided to wash the accumulated sweat out of his BDU shirt. Cold water out of a river is better than no water at all. Luke wrung as much water as possible out of the shirt and hung it over a pack animal. He put on his field jacket for warmth.

Gotta make sure the troops stay clean.

❀ ❁ ❀

Clarke had just agreed to keep the same order of march when Dr. Coltrane and Father Connolly approached him.

“Gentlemen, I hate it when you put on your serious faces.”

“Sir, I think you've set a very ambitious goal for today,” Coltrane answered.


“Yes, sir. Verona is about thirty-five kilometers. I don't think the non-combatants will make that. I know you set the mission, but I think it's my job to tell you what people can and can't do. I'm telling you that the civilians can’t do thirty-five. I doubt that the troops can. And everyone will need a day off occasionally.”

Clarke sighed, “Okay, Doc, I'm prepared to deal with the reality. I’ll get the cavalry to find us a place to go to ground this evening. Chaplain?”

“Related issue. It's Sunday, sir. It’s a day of rest, theoretically. I'd like some time to celebrate a mass. I’ll hold a service for the non-Catholics, of course.”

You missed another obvious one, Clarke. He winced a little inside and absently rubbed his neck. “Sorry, Padre, I should have thought about that. Will this afternoon do?”

“That will be fine, sir.”

Coltrane smiled, “Thanks, sir. Oh, I coordinated with the company commanders to make sure people switch off duties. Bikes, wheelbarrows, security. It's better on the muscles to do different things at different times.”

Clarke answered, “Okay, thanks — both of you — for keeping me straight.And Padre, come walk with me some time during the day.”

Both men nodded and left.

Clarke went back to his conversation with Douglas. “Let's see, Sam, I approved your march order. What about the cavalry?”

“I'm going to task Hutton to provide recon and give him his head. He and his troops served us well yesterday.”

“Okay. Let's get 'em moving.”


“Oh, and I need you to start thinking about the concept of a free battalion of mercenaries.”

“Yessir,” Douglas said, his eyes widening a little. His face had the slightly frozen look of a man just thrown a curve ball who wasn’t sure if he should reach for it or not.

Sometimes it can be fun to drop things on people, Clarke thought as he walked away.

❀ ❁ ❀

Luke rode past B company as the battalion was forming up for the day’s march.

“Mommy, I can’t find Pebbles,” a little girl complained.

“Well, Amy, cats are cats. They roam around a lot. Maybe she made friends with some other cats. She’ll just have to find us while we walk.”

“What if she can’t find us?”

“Cats are good at finding people, honey,” a staff sergeant said. “We just have to hope for the best.”

“Okay, Daddy,” Amy sniffled.

The sergeant turned back toward Luke and offered his hand. “Bill McMasters. I had the gate when you brought the horses in. I was more than a little nervous. You and your troops did a great job of breaking up that mob. I’d have been scared with these things coming at me.” McMasters paused, glanced aside where his wife was leading the little girl away, then added quietly, “The cat’s gone.”

“You see something?” Luke prompted.

“Yeah.” McMaster’s face took on a wry expression. “My wife’s been after me to quit smoking so I put one pack in my pocket when we left Ederle. I’m allowing myself two a day for a week, then one a day. Anyway, I was sittin’ there smoking last night. The cat was messing around in the grass when something — I think it might have been an owl — came out of nowhere, snatched the cat, and was gone.”

Luke remembered the sudden rush overhead earlier, the winged hunter passing almost silently. “You want me to say anything to your daughter? You know, about looking?”

“Yeah, if — ” McMasters shook his head. “No. She’s gonna have to figure out that the cat is gone. It’s a helluva note when a nine-year-old has to deal with the realities of the new world. Maybe she’ll see a big bird and — well, thanks for offering.”

Luke nodded to his fellow NCO. Sucks, he thought and rode on.

❀ ❁ ❀

Luke put George Carson's patrol on point and rode with him. Gotta be discreet about this and spend time with Miller, too. They’re both sergeants, but George is the guy I trust the most. They were about one kilometer ahead of the column and far enough away from Carson’s two troops so that they could talk privately.

“Clarke and the others are trying to find more cavalrymen. They figure there's gotta be others who just didn’t wanna stick their heads up — not necessarily like us but maybe like Appleby or just casual riders who can be trained.”

“You gonna to add them to the existing patrols?”

“No, I've been shorting Potter. He's an NCO and I need to treat him like one. If the officers come up with three guys, Jase loses Potter and you lose one to Potter. All three of you get a new guy.”

“Who would I lose?”

Luke shrugged slightly. “I haven't gotten that far yet.”

“Okay. What about remounts?”

“We phase them in as we use up the rations and feed.”

“Clarke wants to get rid of the wheelbarrows.”

“Yeah, George, I know. I also think Morgan's trying to keep them. What's this?” Luke reined in.

“A train, right hand track. Half a klick maybe. Abandoned?”

“Check it out, George.”

“Anderson, Appleby, on me.” George went forward.

I hate waiting. Luke watched as George and his men rode out on the right side of the train. As they disappeared on the far end of the train, Luke thought, I'm glad European trains are short compared to the ones in the States.

Luke moved so he could see the left side of the train and watched George and his men work their way back toward him. When they had cleared the train they came back.

“Freight. Seven box cars, all empty. Not even empty containers. My guess is they were haulin' empties back to wherever. The bad part is the body. Looks like a fight. Serious head wounds, really messy, like from a hammer or a wrench. There’s a bunch of empty food wrappers layin’ around. Does this mean they were fighting over food?”

“Yeah. Listen up, all of you,” Luke ordered. “Tell no one about what you found. This is gonna get worse. Word'll get around soon enough, but I don’t want it coming directly from us. We report to the battalion commander. Leaks are his problem.”

“Are people already short enough of food to kill for it?” Anderson asked, glancing around at the fields and distant houses.

“Some people… There's already a shortage of fresh stuff,” Luke explained. “Stand fast. Column's coming up. I gotta go brief Clarke. Get that body out of sight.”

Luke returned to Clarke and dismounted to talk while walking. “A dead body, sir. It looks like he was killed for his food. The train is empty.”

“By his co-worker?”

“No sign of a second crewman,” Luke answered.

“It would be nice to find a train full of supplies we can use,” Clarke ruminated out loud.

“Yes, sir, but we'd have to find another wagon, maybe a dozen draft animals.”

“Creating an empire, Luke?”

“Oh, God, no, sir. Well, maybe in one sense.” He shrugged. “If we could put draft horses to work hauling stuff, I'd have more remounts. A tired animal doesn't perform any better than a tired soldier. And I can’t tell a horse to do his best for God and Country.”

By this time, they had reached the train. George and his men were guiding the column onto the left track. Luke rode to the right and saw that the body had been moved to the side of the right of way where the column would not be marching and placed close to the locomotive. Good work, George.

Progress was slowed because both Rossi’s and Sartori’s wagons had to be shifted over a rail to bypass the idle train, then back again because they traveled better in between the two tracks. A soldier figured out that shoveling ballast against the rail eased the wheels’ crossing.

Another new trick we’ve learned, Luke thought as he rode back ahead. I got a feeling there’ll be a lot more of those.

❀ ❁ ❀

After passing the abandoned train, the column passed through a station and came to an irrigation pond. Clarke ordered his column to halt so the horses could be watered and the children fed. A man came out of a house, waved his arms and yelled.

Alberto Rossi explained, “He's ordering us to leave his land.”

Clarke responded coldly, “We will, but on our schedule, not his.”

Rossi called an answer back to the man, who turned red in the face and snarled something that didn’t need translation before he stormed back into his house. A moment later a curtain twitched aside and the man could be seen watching them, and glaring.

With Morgan and Sergeant Major Evans, Clarke watched the man watching them from inside his house.

Evans reported. “There are a bunch of people in the houses watching us march. Most of them seem to be neutral or friendly and it's possible they're just happy to see us keep moving, but there are some who are leaning the other way. The man in the house over there is a good example. If he complained about us trampling his crops, that would be understandable, but water's a renewable resource. If people like him get organized, we may have to defend ourselves by doing more than looking tough.”

He's right, Clarke thought. We're eventually going to have to fight. “Captain Douglas.”


“Let's march.”

Douglas nodded. “Sergeant Hutton, patrol out.”

❀ ❁ ❀

“You wanted to talk, sir?” Chaplain Connolly asked as he approached Clarke just after the line began moving again. The fields slowly crept past on either side, separated from the rails by fences; there were a fair number of houses scattered among them. Well back from the railroad, flames licked from the windows of one house while a crowd of people pitched buckets of water. Lost cause, Clarke mused.

I hope he’s open to some unconventional thinking, Clarke thought, and began, “Yes, Chaplain, Major Morgan and I have been discussing our options if things don’t work out as I hope they will.”

Connolly looked at him shrewdly.“You mean if Darby’s a wasteland?”

“Very perceptive, Padre.” Blunt, too; probably a good thing. “Although even if Darby is up and operating, we’re still cut off from the United States. We have two options. The first is to sell ourselves to the highest bidder. Actually, that means selling myself to the highest bidder and hope other people are willing to go with me.”

“Mercenaries,” Connolly answered thoughtfully. “Mercenary armies served European princes well for centuries. Even the Swiss Guards were a hired force. In the twentieth century, ‘mercenary’ took on a less presentable face.”

“Which takes us to the second option. We — make that I — offer service to an existing political entity. That means the Italian state or the Catholic Church. I think I’m watching Italy fall apart around me.” Clarke inhaled for a moment. Here goes.“I’m a Methodist — at least that’s what’s on my dog tags — and I think the Church is a lot less holy than it would like people to believe it is, but I think serving the Church as a defensive force may be the best thing this battalion could do.”

“Well, being ordained was the proudest moment of my life.” Connolly smiled briefly at the memory, then his face turned serious. “But I’m not so stupid that I believe the Church hasn’t been downright mean-spirited at points during its history, even as recently as World War II. But I think the Church, with all its faults, may be the foundation of a new civilization. How do you plan, if ‘plan’ isn’t too strong a term, to connect to the Church?”

“I don’t know yet. Rome is 400 kilometers past Livorno. Naples, where we might find some more Americans is another two hundred plus past there.”

“Find a secure hilltop, set up a community around a fortress, and wait for them to find us? Outside my technical expertise, of course.”

“That’s one option, but it’s too soon to worry about that. There’s one other thing about which I’d like your opinion. It’s a little irregular, but everything I’ve done since Wednesday morning has been… ”

When Clarke was through explaining, Connolly answered, “I think that’s an excellent use of talent, sir.”

❀ ❁ ❀

The battalion had covered about fourteen kilometers since starting that morning when Clarke thought, That’s good enough. He ordered the column off the rails. Hutton rode ahead and got the horses to test the water. I’ve learned that if the horses can drink it, we can with just a little chlorination. I was really annoyed when I first saw those gallons of laundry bleach, but I got smart. Clarke watched as Morgan and Evans worked with the companies to set up the defenses. The cooks started to produce what they were calling “Sunday dinner.” It was the best they could do with the resources they had and Clarke knew it.

“Chaplain, can you get in your religious services before chow?”

“I can and thank you. I'll do the mass first then the ecumenical service. If you'll ask the company commanders to free up as many people available who want to attend as possible I'd appreciate it.”

“Will do, Padre.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Day Six — On the Rails, Monday, 23 March 1998, Early Morning

With one exception, Monday was unadulterated monotony. The battalion walked about eighteen kilometers on a virtually straight and level rail line without encountering anyone. Fields were larger, mostly planted in wheat. If it weren’t for the crazy angles of the occasional property-line fence, Luke would have thought they’d somehow found Kansas.

The exception was that the troops and civilians saw their first dead livestock. Luke sent Miller and his patrol out into the pasture. As the troops approached the carcasses, hawks took flight.

“Four dead cattle,” Miller reported. “The birds were ripping the soft bits off, but the killing was done by something with very big teeth. Wolves?”

“Could be,” Luke answered. “They’ve got them in Italy. I better go talk to Doc — or Chief.”

“Not rabid, I hope.” Miller’s brow furrowed and he glanced from side to side.

“I hope not. It ought to be too soon unless there was an animal already infected.”

❀ ❁ ❀

That night they bivouacked in a pasture on a bow in the Adige River southeast of Verona. When everything was settled, Command Sergeant Major Paul Evans looked for one of his first sergeants.

“Talk to me, Tony,” Evans said.

“What about, Sergeant Major?” First Sergeant Anthony Jones answered.

“Your attitude. You're absolutely reeking with lack of confidence.”

“Okay, so I think this whole idea is crazy!” Jones glared briefly across the camp in the general direction of the commanders. “Clarke is acting like he's king of the world or something. He's exceeded his authority on at least two points.”

“Let me guess,” Evans answered mildly. “You've got a hard on for the cavalry platoon.”

“No! Just the leadership, what they have of it. The platoon leader goes AWOL and Clarke leaves that snot-nosed kid in charge.”

“Let me make you smart about our situation real quick, First Sergeant. Major Clarke promoted a deserving young sergeant because he had the initiative and skills needed for a job that had to be done. He's on the verge of reducing people who are just the opposite. If you want to keep those stripes, get with the program.” Evans stared coldly into Jones’ eyes. “And don't give me any crap about only Department of the Army being able to reduce you, unless you'd like to make a phone call to a buddy at the Pentagon and complain.”

“Yes, Sergeant Major.” Jones barely managed not to sound sullen.

“Good.” Evans turned and walked away.

Jones removed his bayonet from its sheath and began sharpening the blade.

❀ ❁ ❀

The cavalry was drawn up in what was rapidly becoming its standard nighttime configuration. As they went further into “bandit country,” Luke had ordered something new.

“‘Ready response,’ huh?” Jason Miller asked.

“Right,” Luke answered. “When we turn in for the night, two men will each keep a horse saddled and will sleep with their boots on. I hope never to disturb your beauty rest, but if something goes wrong, I want us ready to rapidly reinforce the guys on foot.”

“But what can two guys do?” Robert Bradley asked.

“More than zero guys can do. Remember, the rest of us will be right behind the ready guys. Relax, you’ll probably never have to get out of your sleeping bag until morning,” Luke assured.

“Do I find Hutton among the horses?” a voice called.

“Right in here,” Luke answered.

Chief Warrant Officer Martin Edwards walked between two of the animals.He got a face full of horse tail for passing too closely. He brushed the hair out of his way and asked, “You had a medical question earlier?”

“Hi, Chief. Actually more of an information exchange. Tell the chief what you saw, Jase.”

“Sure. I’m Sergeant Miller, Chief. Those dead cattle we came across this afternoon had been attacked by something with teeth. We were guessing wolves. Then we started thinking about rabies.”

Edwards pursed his lips. “Wolves are possible. They inhabit the mountain spine of the Italian boot, but I’m not convinced they would have come down into the valleys yet. If they have, like all predators, they’ll go after the easy prey, the kind that doesn’t bite back, first. A better probability is feral dogs. Every collection of people has strays hanging around. You troops on horseback are in a better position than I am to see them. As for rabies, we didn’t have any notices about active infections in Italy last Tuesday and the incubation period is longer than six days.”

“No more vaccines?” Antonia asked.

“There’s a lot of stuff we don’t have,” Edwards answered. “Human medicine’s my specialty, but before we left I looked in the post library for veterinary books. Didn’t have a thing about large animals. Well, gotta go.”

“How long do we depend on horses to get stuff done?” Jacob Potter asked.

Edwards looked that troops around him and quietly said. “The rest of our lives, may they be long and prosperous.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Day Seven — South of Verona, Tuesday, 24 March 1998, Early Morning

Morning seemed to come very quickly. Eight hundred soldiers and five hundred non-combatants dragged themselves out of their sleeping bags and bed rolls and heated and ate their MRE breakfast.

“Coffee, real coffee,” Luke moaned.

“Would someone please brew Staff Sergeant Hutton a pot of coffee?” Jacob Potter grinned.

“My exalted position within the United States Army precludes my responding in kind,” Luke answered.

“In other words, Jake, fu — oops!” George Carson stumbled as he remembered that Antonia Rossi was in their circle. That’s it, Carson, let your tongue hang all the way to the ground and walk on it.

Antonia gave George a big grin and wagged her finger.

❀ ❁ ❀

About an hour after everyone rolled out of their “beds,” Clarke called a meeting of his staff, including Melissa Kinkaid, and subordinate commanders. “This morning,” he told them, “we pass through the south side of Verona.” He paused.

“Captain Kinkaid?” Kinkaid shook his head.

“Lieutenant Tinkerman?”

Tinkerman nodded, “Sir. About one klick down the track, we're going to enter Verona's main passenger station. The tracks widen out for about half a klick through the station, then narrow back down. We will then march through a double curve and cross the Adige River in the middle of the curve. After that, we arrive at the rail freight terminal and yards. It's big, about one kilometer long. Rails narrow down after that and curve around to the south. After about another two klicks, we pass under the autostrada and should begin to see less congestion around us. Weather looks good. We've been fortunate so far. Last night, B Company's patrol went as far as the bridge and saw nothing to suggest any problems.”

“Okay, Captain Douglas?”

“Bravo to lead. Ready company switches to Charlie. Cavalry probes out front.”

“Captain O'Donnell?”

“We've used up or re-allocated the loads of two horses. I’ve given up my claim to the animals. I believe Signorina Rossi has moved them in with the remounts.”

“How many wheelbarrows have we disposed of?”

“Well, we’ve emptied one.”

“But, have we disposed of it?”

“No, we disassembled it and put the parts on the wagon. It might come in handy.”

Clarke frowned. “Okay for now.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Bravo Company took up its position at the head of the column. George Carson took his patrol up in front of B Company and the rest of the battalion positioned itself to fall into line.

“I wish we had the option — the viable option — of patrolling on our flanks,” Bill Morgan said to Ed Clarke.

“Agreed, Bill, but without any means of communicating, we couldn't provide any support if flanking elements got into trouble. Everything about the history of warfare before firearms that we suffered through at the Point — and tried to forget after the final exam — is now relevant.”

Morgan twisted one side of his mouth. “Let’s hope nobody we meet has figured that out as fast as you did.”

Clarke snorted. “Fifty million people in Italy? Somebody will. Let’s just hope we turn out to be better at it than they do.”

❀ ❁ ❀

The short distance from the bivouac to the passenger station was covered relatively easily. Once again, the George Carson led the column between two platforms.

When they had come to a halt, Douglas walked back to A Company and told its commander, Terry Hodges, “Send out some troops to try to get us some more bikes.”

Douglas stood by while Hodges dispatched two platoons, one with fixed bayonets and the other with machetes.


“Go out in force,” Hodges replied, “I recognize the need, but I don’t want to lose a single troop over a bicycle.”

“You’re right, my friend,” Sam answered.

The two captains talked while they waited; both were trying to come to terms with the “new” form of warfare.

“Crossbows,” Hodges finally said. “We need crossbows.”

“How do you make a crossbow?”

“I dunno, Sam. Can you build one onto the frame of a M16?”

“Good question. Probably for Roger Avery and his band of mechanics.”

“Weapons artificers.”

Douglas laughed. Clarke’ll love that one. “I’ll pass on the idea… and the new job title. Uh, did the boss ask you a rather unusual personnel question?”

“He did. I said yes.”

Interesting, Douglas thought. “I did, too. Anyone else?”

“Both Bob Schultz and Chuck Erickson said yes.”

The two platoons came back with a few bikes. “Only nine, sir,” one of them reported. “There may have been others further away from the station, but there were some people in the area and I didn’t think it would be worth advancing against a potentially hostile crowd.”

“Excellent judgment, Lieutenant. I don’t want to leave any bodies — particularly friendly bodies — in Verona. You two go get your platoons ready to march. Figure out the bikes between you.”

❀ ❁ ❀

George Carson and his troops were about five hundred meters ahead of the battalion, which had left the rail yard in good order. The mounts were barely moving forward. Luke had told him to stay within shouting range of the formation and it was moving very slowly while everyone worked the stiffness out of their muscles. Up ahead the track curved right toward the bridge over the Adige River.

Seven days, he thought. How long does it take to strip away peace and friendship? Seven days. I really wish we didn’t have to go through more cities, but I know that Bologna’s between here and Livorno.

The patrol had not yet rounded the curve when George heard the buzz of conversation. He told his troops to wait, dismounted and walked forward leading his horse. He could smell a stronger sewer stink, probably rising from the river under the bridge. Another hundred meters brought him within sight of the problem. A crowd was gathered on the bridge. The crowd became silent within seconds of the first person noticing George.

The Arizonan estimated the crowd at about fifty men, all armed with some kind of impact, stabbing or cutting weapon. George knew that he had done his job. He mounted and led his people back toward the battalion, this time at a trot.

I think we’re gonna have to fight, dammit!

❀ ❁ ❀

Image Not  Found

Ed Clarke was reading his map as he marched at the head of the column. He looked up when he heard the Cavalry approaching. They’re moving at more than a walk. Something’s wrong. George reached the command group and was out of the saddle as soon as his horse stopped.

Clarke held up his hand to halt the column. “Report.”

“About fifty armed men, sir, almost certainly hostile, are blocking the bridge about half way across.”


“Mostly farm and garden tools, sir — rakes, shovels, hoes, some axes. Several weapons that look like our spontoons but longer.”


“Didn’t see any, sir.”

“How wide is the bridge?”

“Uh, I’d call it ten meters.”

“Okay, well done, Sergeant Carson. It's grunt time.” Clarke looked at a runner. “Captain Erickson up front.”

Luke rode up as the runner dropped his pack and ran.

Erickson arrived a few minutes later. “Yes, sir.”

“Fifty armed men on the bridge. Primitive weapons. It's time to find out if our doctrine about reinforced shield walls makes any sense at all.”

“Yes, Sir.” Erickson listened as Carson told him everything he had told Clarke.

“Sergeant Hutton, how much can you contribute?” Clarke asked.

“All the archers and four riders, sir, including me. I want to keep Sergeant Miller on watch and I don’t think there will be room for any more.”

“Okay. You are subordinated to Captain Erickson for this action.”

Luke nodded and he and George's patrol followed Erickson to C Company.

❀ ❁ ❀

Private David Nakamura had been in Sergeant Jason Miller’s squad until Miller was transferred to the cavalry platoon. I liked being under Miller. The new guy is okay, but Miller was better. If I’d had more experience than riding at a dude ranch, I’d have asked to go with him.

“All they’d have to do is dress us up in kilts and paint our faces blue and we’d be good to go,” Nakamura suggested to his buddy, Ian Munro.

“Aw, shit, Dave. You getting your history out of the movies, again? If you’re talkin’ about that thing about Wallace, half the ‘facts’ were wrong and the rest were really wrong. Scots didn’t start wearing kilts ‘til 500 years after that slice of history.”


Captain Erickson arrived and Nakamura listened as he issued his instructions.

“The bridge is about ten meters wide. I want a shield wall of fifteen soldiers shoulder to shoulder. Spontoons start out between the first two walls. Their job is harassment. I want those people distracted so the axes can do their work. Give me a second line of shields just like the first as back up. The rest of the shields and axes are reserve. The first sergeant and I will be in the center, behind the third row.” Erickson paused and Nakamura nodded along with his buddies.

“If one of us goes down, walk over him and fill in the hole. We’ll have more people, including our medics, behind you to take care of anyone who’s hurt. We have the bows and riders to support the whole thing. If the crowd up ahead breaks and runs, we advance at a walk and clear our way through Verona. If they stand, we kill. If you wound the enemy, let a man behind you finish the job. There’s no Geneva Convention here. Our mission is to cross this bridge. If this thing starts to fold up on us, I want… ”

Everyone surrounding Erickson nodded.

“We will advance in a column of twos with the archers on our left flank and the riders on our right. When we near contact, I want you to sing out and form the wall on order like the first time back at Ederle. Lieutenant, form your platoon.”

The troops grounded their packs so others in the company could pick them up, then shuffled into position. Nakamura ended up in the left column of the second shield wall. Maybe I won’t have to do this.

Erickson said, “Prepare to advance. Forward, route step, march!” He added, “It's about 1500 meters, so relax. I don't want you whipped before we get to the bridge.”

As they walked, there was a mumbling that began at the front.The soldier in front of Nakamura said, “New lyrics,” and recited the words. “Pass ‘em on!”

Nakamura thought, That’s good! and passed them on.

❀ ❁ ❀

The soldiers of C Company rounded the curve. A breeze carried sewer stench up from the river below. The armed men who had been in the center of the bridge had moved to the nearer end. The squad leader at the head of the column called, “Left… Left… Left, right, left!” and the column fell into step.

Astride Gray, Luke saw that the squad leader was about fifty meters from the mob. They look good. Almost makes me wish I was back in Charlie. He turned in his saddle and nodded to Captain Charles Erickson who yelled, “Sing it and do it, execute!”

The soldiers sang:

A mob was standin’ in our way!

And Big Chuck said, “But not today!”

The el tee said, “It’s one for all!”

The NCOs yelled, “FORM THE WALL!”

The foremost squad leader halted and the two columns behind him fanned out to his left and right, calling, “Hut, hut, hut.” They marched in place after they found their positions. Behind them, the spontoons and second rank of shields mimicked their deployment.

When everyone was in place, the platoon leader called, “Platoon, halt.”

His soldiers responded with, “Hoo-AH!

“Advance at the walk, march!”

The movement was designed to display resolution and frighten those who faced it. Each soldier stepped forward with his left foot, brought his right foot up even with the left, and paused for two beats.

Step, step, pause, pause. Step, step, pause, pause.

It worked. Six or seven of the mob — there was never an agreement — broke and ran westward across the bridge.

A man stepped out of the mob and called, “Halt! You must pay a tax to pass.”

Luke watched as Captain Erickson began to move forward but stopped when the platoon leader, Lieutenant Benjamin Edwards, stepped through the ranks of his troops.

“I am Lieutenant Edwards. You are?”

“That is not important.”

“Okay, Signor Not Important,” Edwards said and paused. “What is the basis for this ‘tax?’”

Score one for the good guys, Luke thought with a grin. Some of the mob seems a little hesitant.

“The people of Italy have a right to levy these taxes on foreign troops.”

“The governments of the United States and of Italy have agreed otherwise.”

“That agreement has been overruled.”

“Not by you, Signor Not Important.” Edwards took three steps forward. He unsheathed his machete and pointed it at the nameless man. “Clear the bridge.” Edwards turned and walked back into his formation.

Wow! Luke thought.

Someone — it may have been the nameless man but none of the Americans was ever certain — yelled a command in Italian which the troops did not understand but took to mean “attack” or “charge.” The soldiers later referred to the order as the “rookie error.” The mob charged.

One of the mob immediately took the point of a spontoon in his eye and went down with a scream. A second paused to lift a wood ax over his head to strike at the shield wall. A soldier crouched to try to bring his shield up to protect his face. Before he could elevate the shield, a spontoon came silently over his shoulder and plunged into the neck of his would-be assailant, severing his major blood vessels. The Italian opened his mouth and bright red blood exploded outward, bathing his intended victim.

Luke saw Private Carlos Hernandez, from what used to be his squad, parry a thrust from a garden rake, smash his shield into his opponent’s face, and bring the blade of his ax down hard onto the left side of his foe’s chest. The blade did not penetrate but Luke thought, Hernandez must have broken the guy’s ribs with that blow. The enemy inhaled with an agonized expression on his face and Hernandez raked his ax across the front of the man’s neck, opening his windpipe.

Half a dozen of the mob lay on the ground. The platoon leader called, “Advance at the walk, march!”

Step, step, pause, pause. Step, step, pause, pause.

As the first rank of shields passed the men on the ground, one of them raised himself on one elbow and groped for his dropped weapon. The platoon leader stepped forward and slid the point of his machete between two of the man’s ribs close to his breastbone. The downed man flopped back, shook once and lay still.

The man at the back of the mob, who carried a sword, began pulling at men close to the walls of the bridge. He motioned toward the center of the bridge and pushed the men in that direction. Leading from the rear, Luke sneered, then suddenly understood what the man was doing.

Luke motioned to draw the platoon leader’s attention. When Lieutenant Edwards looked his way, Luke kept his head faced toward the officer and turned his trunk toward the fighting. He raised he hands and pressed them together toward the center. The lieutenant looked puzzled for a few seconds, then his eyes grew wide and he nodded.

Edwards looked at his reserve shields and motioned them forward to stand on his flanks.

❀ ❁ ❀

David Nakamura stood with his shield in his left hand and his battleax in his right. We’re holding and advancing. NO! Something's wrong.

Ahead of him the first wall of shields was bulging backward as the mob pushed against the middle. The squad leader and the man on his left went down. They held their shields over their chests and turned their faces to the side to protect their eyes.

“Hold the shoulders,” the captain said, Nakamura remembered. He and two others stepped forward through the line of spontoons to shore up the left side of the gap. He would later remember seeing others do the same on the right.

Ten or more of the mob surged through the gap. As they passed, Nakamura felt the pressure on the line ease. Trust your buddies, He thought. “Now!” he yelled and he and the men next to him pushed against the backs of the soldiers on the original line. As the gap began to close, Nakamura slipped to his right to fill in the space left by the soldier who had gone down. To his right, the man who had been standing next to him in the second rank of shields slid left to take the place of the downed squad leader.

Nakamura saw an enemy in front of him staring in apparent wonder at what used to be a hole in the American line. Nakamura gripped his ax as hard as he could and shoved it into the man’s face, shattering his nose. When the man dropped his sharpened spade and reached up to feel his nose, the soldier sliced down with his ax, cutting into the muscle of his enemy’s leg. The Italian screamed and collapsed.

❀ ❁ ❀

Luke watched as the shield wall opened and re-closed, cutting off the members of the mob who had crashed through. He looked to other side of the bridge and nodded to Chuck Abbott. All five archers raised their bows and shot at point blank range into the group isolated from the mob. Four of those men went down, dropping sharpened shovels and a fire ax. Then the spontoonmen plunged their weapons past rakes and more shovels, straight into the chests of the other enemies. In seconds all ten attackers lay bleeding on the ground.

On the far side of the shield wall, some of the men were hanging back. Four broke and ran. The sword bearer screamed something in rapid Italian, then took three quick steps, swung his sword and sliced open the arm of the last running man. The wounded Italian dropped his garden rake and stumbled, but kept running.

Stupid, Luke thought. He just wounded — Hell, maybe killed — one of his own men without accomplishing anything. That’s a man who deserves to die.

❀ ❁ ❀

“Advance at the walk, march!” bellowed Edwards.

Step, step, pause, pause. Step, step, pause, pause.

Again, Nakamura told himself and took the steps forward. We’re winning. They used to look angry. Now they look scared. Well, most them. This one …

Nakamura parried a swing of a steel garden rake with his shield and was flexing his arm to strike with his ax when a voice behind him called, “Shift left!” The private bent his left knee and the business end of a spontoon came through where his head had been and into the mouth of the man holding the rake. The foe’s eyes rolled back and he sagged. The soldier behind Nakamura tried to pull his spontoon back but it was stuck. The spontoon shaft sagged down onto Nakamura’s shoulder and the weight of the enemy’s body pressed down on him. He yelled over his shoulder, “Hold tight.” He put his body weight behind his shield and slammed into the impaled corpse, pushing it off the spontoon. He tripped over the body and went down, losing control of both his ax and shield.

A man over six feet tall ran at Nakamura with a piece of galvanized pipe over his head. As he began to swing the pipe down at the grounded soldier a voice yelled, “NO! Inside!”

First Sergeant Anthony Jones ran forward armed only with his bayonet. He used his free hand to punch the big man. He then grabbed the man’s throat and drove his bayonet in and up right below the breastbone and twisted. The enemy spewed blood and fell.

Jones turned to Nakamura. “They don’t know what they’re doin’. Get inside their fighting zone and ki — ” Jones looked down at the blade sticking out of his chest and collapsed.

Nakamura recovered, fought his way to his feet, and drew his bayonet from its sheath. The man who killed Jones was trying to pull his sword from the first sergeant’s torso. Nakamura stepped inside the reach of the man’s arm and sliced his throat.

When the man with sword went down the mob broke.

Was he that important? Nakamura wondered.

❀ ❁ ❀

We’re not going to let them regroup, Luke thought and yelled, “Make a hole!” His voiced carried over the background noise and soldiers on the right side of the shield wall parted.

Luke led George Carson and his patrol through the hole with machetes drawn and began hacking at men’s heads and necks. Luke pulled up after the cavalry had taken out a dozen men or more. He looked west along the bridge and saw a man running with a sword.

George Carson wheeled his horse and took off after the runner. Luke watched his friend pull even with the enemy and chop down hard with his machete. The man’s head wobbled sideways and he ran two more steps before collapsing.

The entire engagement lasted slightly more than fifteen minutes.

George dismounted and recovered the sword. He used it to cut the dead man’s belt and secure the scabbard. Turning, he led his mount back toward Luke and the others. He handed the re-sheathed sword and his horse’s reins to Luke. “I’ll be right back.”

To Appleby, George said, “Aaron, come help me get rid of the body.” Appleby shrugged and followed his patrol leader after handing his reins to Anderson.

Luke watched his two cavalrymen pick up the body and throw it over the side of the bridge. They walked back, both frowning. George stopped two soldiers carrying a body and looked at it, then approached Luke.

“I thought I was seein’ double! There were two guys with swords. If they weren’t twins, I’ll eat my boot.”

“Brothers, at least. Save your boot,” Luke answered, nodding.

Luke walked to his archers and nodded. “Nice work. Was it hard?”

“I just told myself they were deer,” Bill Baker answered. Abbott nodded grimly.

“Sergeant Hutton!”

Luke turned and saw Captain Erickson motioning. He walked to his former company commander. “Yes, sir?”

“Can you get me four horses? Two for wounded men and two for bodies?”

“Yessir. Who’s down beside the first sergeant?”


“My Hernandez? Well, he’s not mine any more.”

Erickson nodded. “I didn’t see him go down, but he has — had — a pike in his chest.”

Luke went back down the line to the remounts and ordered four brought forward. He dismounted when he saw Clarke.

“Is Erickson on his feet?” Clarke asked.

Luke nodded.

“I’ll walk up with you.” He looked back over his shoulder. “Major Morgan, get them moving, please.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Clarke looked at the battlefield.

The two men who had gone down early had treatable wounds. The medics had everything under control when Captain Coltrane and Chief Edwards arrived.

Some of the American troops from the third platoon were on their knees retching. Others were picking up bodies under the direction of the platoon sergeant and throwing them over the side into the river. Some of the dead men had shat or pissed themselves, adding to the stench from spilled blood and opened bowels. The sewer reek rising from the river didn’t help.

“Sergeant Rodriguez, I think this one might be alive,” a soldier called.

“We’re bringing our wives and children through here in a couple of minutes,” Rodriguez answered. “Get rid of the damned body!”

“Yes, Sergeant.”

Specialist Charles Abbott and the other archers moved in to reclaim the arrows they had shot before those corpses were tossed.

A private covered in blood was kneeling by the body of Anthony Jones. When Clarke, Erickson and Hutton walked up, he stood and said, “I have to tell you what the first sergeant said, sir.”

“Okay,” Clarke answered.

“First Sergeant Jones said that we need to get inside their zone and kill. Actually, he never finished the word kill. He died first, sir.”

“Okay, private, well done.”

“Bullshit. If I'd done well, the first shirt wouldn't have died saving my ass. Sir.”

“Point taken, Private… ”

“Nakamura, sir, David Nakamura.”

“Okay, Nakamura.” Clarke held out his hand. The private shook it. Clarke nodded and turned away. Luke followed and, out of the corner of his eye, saw the platoon sergeant move in to take care of his frustrated soldier.

Luke heard Erickson telling the soldiers to collect anything that had been used as a weapon.

❀ ❁ ❀

Luke Hutton and his men returned to the remounts. He heard Captain Douglas call the forward march and the column began to shuffle forward. By the time they reached the bridge, the bodies were gone although the ballast below the tracks was still bloody and the smells lingered.

Antonia looked at the blood and began to sob. She turned to Luke and said, “It could have been you.”

“But it's not,” he answered.

❀ ❁ ❀

They paused when the entire column was in the freight rail yard to give Erickson a chance to re-organize his company.

They wrapped First Sergeant Anthony Jones and Private Carlos Hernandez in their ponchos and placed them sideways over the saddles of the two remounts.

When Luke's horse-holders tried to take the mounts’ reins they were firmly brushed aside by members of C Company.

Luke motioned to his two men and said, “Go on back with the herd. These guys got a right.” I ought to swap out George's and Jase's patrols since George and his guys were part of the action, but Clarke's leaving Charlie in front.

Clarke signaled and Luke rode to him. “Sir.”

“I want you to use all your assets to examine as many freight loads as you can.”

“Yes, sir.”

Luke mounted and rode to the left of the column. He held his arm in the air until Miller acknowledged the signal then motioned for Miller to join him. He caught Carson's attention and summoned him.

Luke stared north at the smoke rising from the city of Verona. “It's not getting any better. I'll be glad when we're outta here and into real countryside. Okay, Clarke wants us to check the freight cars for useable items. Let's get it done.”

❀ ❁ ❀

The cavalry search netted nothing but empty and — sometimes — burned out rail cars. Using hand signals, Luke recalled his troops and led them back to the head of the column.

He arrived in time to hear Captain Schultz of B Company report had his troops had found and taken five bicycles from the parking lots around the yard. “Lotta mopeds,” Schultz was finishing, “but few people-powered bikes.”

“Okay, Bob, your guys got lucky, so you get to keep them.”

Schultz nodded and returned to B Company.

“Luke,” Clarke ordered, “lead us out of this stink hole. Funeral procession and honor guard up front.”

“Sir,” Luke acknowledged. “George, you and your guys with the funeral party. Jase, loan me Sergeant Potter and you and Brad cover us.”

When the others had ridden off, Luke said, “Up front with me, Jake.”

As Luke and Potter rode forward, Chaplain Connolly intercepted them. “Find us a nice field, Luke.”

“Yes, Father.” Connolly nodded and began to walk away. “Father?”


“It was easier this time.” He frowned.

Connolly reached up and put his hand on the mounted man’s. “I know, my son.”

As they rode, Luke told Potter, “I know you haven’t been all that happy serving under another sergeant. Clarke is convinced they are more guys in the battalion who know how to ride. If he can find them and they don't outrank you — or me — then you've got yourself a patrol.”

“Thanks,” Potter answered, “Jase has been good enough to work for, but it'll be nice.” He grinned. “Patrol. Kinda sounds like the Boy Scouts.”

“Yeah. I was gonna call them squads, but they seem just a bit small for that. Clarke's pretty much let me have my head on running this thing. I almost wish he'd find a good lieutenant to put in charge.”

“He did. Look what happened.”

“Yeah,” Luke agreed.

They crossed under the autostrada; a large truck had plunged off of it and crashed through the fence, most of it landing in a parking lot near the tracks. Smashed TV sets spilled out of the ruptured vehicle and across the pavement. They came to a shipping yard next to a grove of trees and a small lake about two kilometers further on. “Perfect,” Luke said and went back to tell Connolly and Clarke.

The soldiers from C Company dug two graves in the grove of trees by the lake. A patch of spring wildflowers and the sweet sap-smell of the trees defeated the background stench of the dying city to their north. New green leaves dappled the grass with sun and shadow. A shiny new picnic table back under the trees added an almost surreal touch of innocence to the place.

First Sergeant Anthony Jones was Non-denominational by his dog tags; Private Carlos Hernandez was Catholic. Father Michael Connolly said the words over both soldiers.

After the graves were filled in, Clarke decided that they had done enough for one day. He ordered a bivouac in the trees and fields around the lake.

“We’re camping in a graveyard,” Luke heard a soldier say.

He answered, “Private, they’ve been fighting wars in Italy for three thousand years. The whole country is a graveyard.”

❀ ❁ ❀

After dark, Specialist Elizabeth Current was walking back to her sleeping area from the latrines when a shape lunged at her out of the darkness. Liz was five feet, nine inches tall and had the strength that came from convincing animals on her parents’ Iowa farm to do what humans wanted when they wanted. She had also spent winter evenings in the basement of the farmhouse practicing with her three martial-arts inclined brothers. In basic training, she had been tempted to show the unarmed combat instructor a few things the woman obviously did not know.

Liz could tell the shape was male. He put his hand on one of her breasts. She grabbed the figure’s shirt with both hands, fell backward, shoved a boot into his groin and used his own weight against him. He flew over her head and hit the ground hard.

Liz was on her feet in an instant. While her assailant was gasping for breath, she kicked him hard in his right kidney. As he began to double up in pain, she dropped to her knees. He tried to fight back, but one of her knees was pressing against his windpipe. Liz pulled her bayonet out of the scabbard hanging from her web belt and showed it to him.

“I’ve castrated bulls and gelded horses. You try that again, asshole, and I’ll cut off your balls and feed ‘em to you.”

Liz rose and momentarily considered administering a few more kicks to the still-gasping man but decided that she had lost the element of surprise. She went on her way toward her sleeping area. Part way there, she fell to her knees and vomited her evening meal. As she finished, she realized that her assailant had been wearing camouflage paint.

Dammit, I’m gonna miss those calories I puked up. I suppose I ought to tell someone what happened. Mrs. Kinkaid, she’s the one.

❀ ❁ ❀

In the cavalry’s circle, Luke Hutton looked at his troops and held his canteen up. They all followed his lead and softly sang:

So come stand by the bar with your glasses

Drink a toast of the men of the sky

Drink a toast to the men dead already

Three cheers for the next man to die.

Antonia hugged him.

❀ ❁ ❀


— Rails —

Day Eight — South of Verona, Wednesday, 25 March 1998, Early Morning

Majors Ed Clarke and Bill Morgan were talking while they finished their breakfasts. Clarke shivered a little in the morning chill and watched the accumulated dew dripping from the trees. He saw his frowning line company commanders approaching.

“You three are the picture of gloom,” he observed.

“Gloom doesn’t begin to describe it, sir,” Terry Hodges answered. “I’m missing a lieutenant and seven enlisted men.”


“I’m short ten enlisted,” Schultz offered.

“And, before you ask, sir, I’m missing one lieutenant and fifteen enlisted,” Erickson said. “None of them fought yesterday,” he added.

“Where’s Nate Carpenter?”

“Here he comes,” Morgan said, “with Melissa Kinkaid.”

“Do you two have more ‘good news’ for me?” Clarke asked.

“Sadly, we do, sir,” Carpenter answered. “I thought I was at one hundred percent, then I realized that I’d failed to check on the female soldiers working with Melissa. Two of them are missing.”

“And two single female teachers and one male teacher with his wife and young son are gone,” Melissa added.

“Let’s see, that’s, uh, two lieutenants, thirty-six enlisted and five non-combatants, including the child,” Morgan offered.

Sam Douglas had joined the group. “Any NCOs?”

The company commanders shook their heads.

Clarke ordered, “Get the rest of the staff. And Hutton.”

When the leadership had gathered, Clarke briefed them. “During the night, we had forty-one people disappear. That includes one child, whose parents also disappeared. It is my conclusion that they returned to Verona. If they wanted to continued south they probably would have faked it and stayed with us. They are lost, period, to us. I hope they survive. We can not dedicate assets to trying to find them in a city like Verona and we will not try. Are there any questions about that?”

No one spoke.

“Okay, everyone brief your people. Tell them the truth, obviously. If they ask about deserters or desertion, just say that we have no way of dealing with the issue. Dismissed.”

Captain Gerald Kinkaid began to walk away, then turned and asked his wife Melissa, “Are you coming?”

“I have something to discuss with Major Clarke, Jerry,” She answered. “You’re welcome to listen.”

“I have to get back,” the adjutant answered and walked off.

Clarke looked at Melissa. Her eyes were closed and her fists clenched. She took three deep, slow breaths, then opened both her eyes and her hands. She held her hands at waist level with the palms toward Clarke.

“Take you’re time,” he said.

Melissa smiled grimly. “That’s my Jerry. I have a little incident to tell you about.”

“Okay,” Clarke answered.

“One of the troops you assigned to me, Liz Current, was assaulted last night.”

“Assaulted. Do you mean raped?”

“Well, she thinks that was the intent, but Liz is a martial arts enthusiast and, the way she tells it, she took the guy down, kicked him in his kidney and threatened to cut off his testicles if he tried it again. She remembered afterward that the guy was wearing camouflage on his face. She could give you an estimate of his height and weight, but nothing else.”

Clarke sighed and looked toward his stable of runners. “Get me the senior MP.”

A few minutes later, Sergeant First Class Neil Bruce said, “Yes, sir. What can I do?”

“We may have had an attempted rape last night. The victim is Specialist Liz Current. Interview her and get back to me. Talk to her while we move.”


Clarke turned back to Melissa. “Do me a favor, please. Get with the faculty and, uh, assure them of my continued interest in their well-being, but keep them out of my hair.”

“Sure. They’re mostly good people. Connie Martinez is a jewel. Don’t want to predict the future, but maybe all the bad ones left in Vicenza and last night.”

“I hope so.” He looked at the rising sun. “Clear sky. We’ve been fortunate.” Smells good, too. It’s much better out here in the country than in any city.

❀ ❁ ❀

Captain Charles Erickson gathered the soldiers of his company around him.

“First things first. This company is short one lieutenant, Murchison, and fifteen troops. There are no signs of a fight. The battalion commander’s conclusion is that they left us.”

“Deserted?” a sergeant asked.

“Well, that’s what I’d call it,” Erickson said. “I wish I had the time to track them down but I — we — don’t. The other companies lost people during the night but we lost the most. We’re also the only company that has been in a battle. I’m glad to see you all here. Airborne!”


“Okay, part two — of two,” he said, “the Army, from the Chief of Staff on down, has tried to train you men to fight a war when our nation needed you. We — none of us — ever anticipated you would have to fight without the weapons we had trained you to use. The Third Platoon fought well yesterday and I’m confident that either of the other platoons would have done just as well.”

People nodded.

“Yesterday you fought our first battle against a force that did have a minimum of cohesiveness. It obeyed an order to attack a clearly superior force. The shield wall was only the leading edge of the company. That was almost certainly not our last battle. Just before he died, First Sergeant Jones told Nakamura that the key to success is to take advantage of the enemy’s weakness.” Erickson paused. “That’s not a new concept of war, but the weapons are new. At least they’re new to us. Here’s the lesson of the new war: Stand together. Form a shield wall. Get in close. Stab their hearts and slice their throats. Sergeant First Class Rodriguez!”

“Yes, sir,” Rodriguez answered.

“You’re now the first sergeant of Charlie Company. We’ll take care of the paperwork later.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Take charge of the men.”


Erickson and his lieutenants turned and walked away so Rodriguez could do his job.

❀ ❁ ❀

About an hour into the march, Sergeant Bruce reported to Clarke. “Specialist Current was as helpful as she could be, sir. If she or Mrs. Kinkaid had come to me last night, we might have found the bastard — excuse me, the accused — still trying to get up. Anyway she made him to be about five ten and two hundred pounds. Matches a lot of guys. She verified the bit about the camouflage paint. I doubt if he’ll go after her again. I sure wouldn’t! Maybe, if we’re lucky, he was one of the guys who left last night. That’s all I got, sir. I’ll ask the first sergeants to pay attention to rumors. I’m also gonna ask the surgeon to report anyone who’s complaining about pissing blood.”

“Okay, thanks, Sarge.” Clarke thought for a few moments. “If I had had my kidney kicked and were pissing blood, I’d probably live with it for a day or two anyway.”

Bruce nodded. “Yes, sir. I better get back.”

Clarke said, “Okay, thanks, again, Sarge.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Day Thirteen — Northwest of Bologna, Monday, 30 March 1998, Early Evening

We’re back in the stink, Clarke thought.

They had made it in six days. It was more than one hundred kilometers from Verona to Bologna by rail line. It was also almost flat and nearly completely straight. Everyone was dog tired.

And the injuries… I’ve got two soldiers, three wives, and one teen down with stress injuries. One of the soldiers is on a horse and all the rest of the injured are riding on the wagon. Little Becky Carlson’s cystic fibrosis is getting ahead of her and she’s riding on the wagon, too. Coltrane says she doesn’t have long. Her mother and father know that and Connolly working with them, but it still won’t be easy on them.

They bivouacked in a park adjacent to the rail line that signs identified as Parco del Triumvirato.When the advance platoon had entered the park, it found the area deserted but had detected movement in some nearby, burnt-out buildings. A soccer field lay at the southeast edge of the park. When the column was safely off the rail lines, Clarke watched as Luke and his troops led all the horses over to the field so the animals could graze on the uncut grass. I like his emphasis. First, they all look after the horses, then they take care of themselves. Luke is always one of the last through the chow line.

“Pardon, Terry?”

Captain Terrence Hodges of A Company smiled. “I said that I would not call this the most secure area in the world, sir.”

“Noted, Terry, but this is as far as we go today. The surgeon’s really concerned about stress injuries. It’ll take hours to go around the city and we’d be looking for a bivouac site in the dark.”

Clarke looked for Bill Morgan. “Bill, tell every company commander to double his security details for tonight. Oh, and get Hutton for me.”

Luke reported and Clarke said, “I want those two cavalrymen you keep as your ready reaction force awake and intermittently in the saddle patrolling the perimeter tonight.”

Luke nodded, “Yes, sir.”

Clarke looked southeast toward the city of Bologna. It’s a burned out shell. Well, everything’s not burned, but enough is. We can’t get out of here soon enough.

❀ ❁ ❀

Day Fourteen — Northwest of Bologna, Tuesday, 31 March 1998, Early Morning

Ed Clarke and his officers were up when twilight began. They started waking up the battalion and the non-combatants at sunrise. The MREs were served cold and people were lining up on the tracks before 0700 by Clarke’s watch which, except for winding, he had not looked at since Verona. The place is still smoking even with that light drizzle during the night. I guess it will take more than that.

Clarke met with his expanded staff. “Remember, we have twenty-five kilometers to do today. Everyone check your watches. The time is 0710. We go three klicks and stop and rest for the remainder of that hour. Once we’re clear of the city we stop for lunch. Keep everybody focused. Sergeant Major, break out the colors. We’re going across this city like a force to be reckoned with. Questions?”

There were none.

Major Morgan said, “Special orders for Bologna. Pick up nothing. We’ll be moving through a number of rail stations. We’ve managed to acquire some useful equipment along the way, not the least of which has been all those bicycles, but not today. We’re at risk so close to the center of a major city. It’s especially important that we not be looked at as takers. Commanders take charge.”

It was less than one hundred meters to the first rail station, Borgo Panigale. This is the starting point, Clarke thought. He looked ahead and saw the mounted patrol scouting the way ahead. I think I’ve got your additional cavalrymen, Luke, but this is not the time.

It was about seven and one-half kilometers to Borgonuovo. Along both sides of the rails, shells of more burned out building stood in mute testimony to whatever had happened. The fires in some buildings had been out long enough for people to have moved back into the shells. Faces peered out of upper floor windows.

What did happen? Clarke wondered. Those faces looking at me belong to people who don’t come out in the daylight. They hunt in the twilight hours. What do they hunt?

They made it with one intermediate stop, where Clarke ordered a longer break. Hopefully they won’t notice.

“This place is downright spooky,” Bill Morgan commented.

“Amen,” Clarke replied.

Pontecchio Marconi was slightly less than three kilometers further. Clarke looked ahead and saw Luke Hutton standing up in his saddle signaling that he had a good place to rest. And he’s pointing in the direction of the river. That’s the Reno. Clarke looked around. The sky is blue. The land is green and smells of growth. That’s a good sign. Most importantly, Bologna is behind us.

❀ ❁ ❀

Luke had no experience on which to base his instructions, but had told Jason Miller, “Ride out about a thousand meters then turn and ride back about five hundred. When the lead element catches up with you, do it again. Keep your eyes open for other mounted men. Ride easy and don’t tire the horses any more than necessary. I want to save the remounts for when we start up into the mountains. If we have horses, others may have them. Anyone with a horse would be moving through his own country. They can pass messages to allies faster than we can.”

We haven’t done badly, Luke thought. About four hours on the route and we’ve made it out of the city. When he was sure Clarke had seen his signal, Luke left Miller and his patrol in place and rode slowly down to the bank of the river. He dismounted and gave Gray an opportunity to drink. The horse lapped up the river water. Good.

Luke pulled on the rein to keep the animal from water-logging itself, mounted and rode back to the intersection. He looked across the field to the west. He pointed. “Jase, is that a horse?”

“Yeah, sure looks like it to me, but why’s he standing there?”

“Don’t know. Let’s go check. Leave your guys here.”

Miller nodded and told his two troops, “Stay on guard.” Potter and Bradley acknowledged his order.

Miller followed Luke, catching up about halfway to what obviously was a horse and wagon. The animal was in distress and both men saw the reason immediately. A second horse, still in its harness, lay dead beside the beast that was on its feet.

“Jase, go find Antonia. Tell her what we’ve got.”

“On my way.”

Luke tried to approach the harnessed animal, but it tried to bite Gray and he backed away. He was relieved when he saw Antonia and Miller riding across the field.

Antonia, holding a towel in her hands, tried to approach the distressed horse on foot but backed off when it tried to bite her. She stepped back and began to talk to the beast. It’s just a string of nonsense words, Luke thought. Even with my limited Italian I can tell that, but they’re in the same tone. After a few minutes Antonia began to sing.

The horse let her near and she placed the towel over the animal’s eyes. Antonia looked at Luke, then at the dead horse. He followed her eyes as they moved up toward the point where the carcass was still attached to the wagon.

Luke nodded and motioned to Miller. Both men worked to unfasten the dead horse’s harness from the wagon and from the living animal’s harness. While they worked, Antonia had gotten the distressed horse to accept having its jawline scratched. Antonia grasped the bridle and pulled the draft animal’s head away from the smell of its dead harness-mate. Luke got up on the wagon, took the reins and urged the big animal into following Antonia’s lead.

When they were well clear of the carcass, Antonia sang, “I have him now, Luke. Remember to bring the harness.”

Oh, yeah. “C’mon, Jase.” The two cavalrymen moved their and Antonia’s horses away from the dead horse. It took fifteen minutes of sweat and both their strengths for Luke and Jason to get the harness off the ant-infested carcass. When they had finished, they mounted and dragged the harness across the field, following Antonia, who had led her agitated charge to a nearby farm road. Luke held Stella’s reins, but the mare followed easily.

When they reached the road, the riders stopped and beat the harness against the road surface to dislodge the ants that had survived the trip across the field. Just to be sure, Miller dragged the harness all the way back to the battalion’s rest point.

The found horse was drinking greedily from a bucket Antonia was holding. “I don’t want him near the river for awhile,” she explained. “He’s dehydrated.”

Luke nodded.

“He had a little trouble pulling by himself. If the wagon had been loaded, I think he would have failed. We will have to use one of the bigger horses as a harness-mate, maybe Gray.”

My Gray?”

Antonia laughed. “It is fun to — what do you say — ‘pull your chain.’”

Luke relaxed. “You were very successful — with the horse and with me.”

One of the horse-holders returned with a second pail of water. Thanking the man, Antonia took the bucket and placed it on the ground. “Now he can serve himself.”

Alberto Rossi and Carlo Sartori, who had been examining the wagon, approached. “Signor Sartori and I agree that a team can easily pull that wagon with a load of two metric tons. But that horse pulls nothing for at least two days. It needs food and real sleep. We will harness two remounts to the empty wagon.”

“Si, papà.” As her father and Sartori moved away, Antonia stroked her jaw. “Perhaps Gray… ”

“Oh, stop,” grinned Luke.

The horse lost interest in the pail in front of him. Antonia and Luke both looked into the container and saw that it still held water.

“A good sign,” Antonia said.

Alberto Rossi walked up with a feedbag. “We must conserve our feed, but this animal needs the nourishment.”

Major Clarke arrived. “Any misgivings about taking the horse, Luke?” he asked.

“No, if anyone was around who cared, they would’ve gotten it out of that situation. He’s been standing in a muddy field for at least three days, based on the amount of damage ants had done to his dead harness-mate.”

Clarke put his hand on the draft horse’s back. “They’re magnificent animals.”

“Wait until we bathe him, sir, and his coat shines,” Antonia answered, scratching the beast’s jaw.

“I’ll leave you to it. Don’t forget to take care of yourselves. Eat something.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Clarke made his way back to what his staff jokingly referred to as “Headquarters,” a one-foot space at the back of the Sartori wagon. Roger Avery and Dan Tinkerman had a map spread out between them.

Avery nodded to Tinkerman and turned to Clarke. “Sir, we have a challenge brought on by traveling on the rails.”

“Tell me about it.”

“Just before we enter Marzabotto, we pass through a tunnel. It’s only about fifty meters long, but that means a real dark spot in the middle. There could even be a locomotive stuck in there. The wagons… ”

“Gotcha, Roger. Recommendation?”

“Dan agrees that travel on route 64 should be safe. It about four and a half klicks from here to the other side of a town called Sasso Marconi. That’s a bit of a stretch, but we can take a longer break when we’re on the other side of the town.”

Clarke realized that Morgan and Douglas had come over to listen while Avery was speaking. “Comments?”

Douglas said, “Do it the way Roger says.” Morgan nodded.

“Okay, road it is. Is it time?”

Douglas said, “It is.”

“Then brief Hutton and get them on the road.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Luke Hutton rode to the intersection of the country road with route 64. He reined Gray to a halt and turned to George Carson and his patrol. “Remember, we’re moving through Sasso Marconi at an even pace. No waving to or ogling at the women. Route’s relatively straight and I don’t want you more than twenty meters ahead of the color guard. Ten meters is better. Don’t stop until you’re at least three hundred meters south of town. We want to be able to get the entire column out.”

“Suppose the girls wave at us?” Guy Anderson asked.

“You may salute the young ladies and continue. You will refrain from acquiring the — let’s see, how did Major Morgan put it — the ‘countenance of a fool.’ In other words, keep the shit-eatin’ grins off your faces. Now march.”

George Carson laughed, turned his mount south, and said, “For-WARD,”

Luke sat in place. As the uncased colors passed him, he saluted. That feels good.

❀ ❁ ❀

Clarke was pleased with his battalion's performance. I didn’t know ‘til we were en route that we’d be marching on Viale John Fitzgerald Kennedy. The people were friendly enough. They mostly waved. I think I saw a couple of “middle finger salutes,” but that’s their privilege.

“We’ve done about four and a half klicks,” Bill Morgan told Clarke. “The troops behaved well.”

Clarke laughed. “They’re probably too tired to behave badly. Give everyone a half hour to rest then we head on south. Let’s see.” Clarke studied his map. “We have Fontana, Casella Paganino and Casagrande to pass through. Two stretches of three kilometers each with rest periods. I don’t really want to go all the way through Marzabotto. It looks like there’s a way around to the east. Get Hutton.”

Luke arrived a few minutes later. “Yessir.”

“What do you have going on?”

“Just remounting, sir. The critters have done a lot today.”

Clarke nodded. He looks after his animals as well as his men. “I’m gonna want a recon on the north side of Marzabotto to see if we can get onto this road to the east and avoid going through town.”

“I’ll send someone out right away.”

“No, I don’t want stale intelligence. Wait ‘til we’re halted for rest just short of the city.”

“Yessir, I’ll pick a patrol and put it on point. It’ll be easier than bringing people and animals up.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Two hours later, Clarke halted the column just short of the point where route 64 curved to enter the city of Marzabotto. He looked at his watch and slipped it back into his pocket. First day I’ve used a watch since we left the graves. It’s been important today, but I wonder if we’ll have watchmakers in this changed world.

Clarke looked at Luke and nodded. Luke turned to Jason Miller and said, “Go find out if we’re good.”

Miller answered, “Right.” He turned to Potter and Bradley. “On me, at a trot, forward.” Three men headed around the curve into the city.

Out of my sight, out of my control, Clarke thought.

❀ ❁ ❀

Jason Miller led his two troops forward. He rode down the center of the road except when they had to guide around a stalled vehicle. He did his best to keep the railroad tracks on his right in sight, but occasionally buildings blocked his view. No one seems surprised to see us. We haven’t exactly been trying to hide.

After only 200 meters, Miller saw an intersection ahead and thought, That looks good. He signaled for a turn to the left onto a street marked Via Giacomo Matteotti. The street curved slightly to the right and a little more sharply to the left; the riders came upon an underpass that led beneath the rail line.

Jason held up his hand, signaling his men to stop. He judged the hill before him and urged his mount to climb. Not my favorite horse, but gotta take the bad with the good. Cresting the berm, he looked out over a parking area and, beyond that, a road that led toward the River Reno.

The cowboy from Bend, Oregon rode down the far side of the embankment, turned, and came back through the underpass to join his two troops. “Success,” he said.

“Interesting,” Jacob Potter said. “Uh, did you notice all the people watching us?”

Miller said. “Yeah, pretty much. They all seem friendly enough.”

Time for some public relations. Miller looked at the people around him. He saluted both sides of the street and said, “Okay, troops, let’s go.” The patrol rode back along Via Giacomo Matteotti until they came to the intersection with route 64.

The patrol leader looked north on the highway and saw the column approaching. He positioned his men and himself to block the highway. As Luke Hutton approached, Jason motioned to the east and Luke made the turn and Miller joined him.

They rode together until the underpass was in view and Jason pushed his mount up the hill to the level of the rails a second time to ensure that there still was no threat on the far side of the rail line.

❀ ❁ ❀

Clarke led his column through the underpass and to the river. They turned upstream and followed a dirt road along the bank. There was plenty of daylight left when Clarke found the spot he had marked on his map. He turned left and led his weary people across two bridges and a small island of the Reno River into a regional park.

Clarke called Bill Morgan, Sam Douglas and all the company commanders to him. “Set up the security perimeter. And pass the word. Tomorrow we rest. We’ll be here at least two nights.”

❀ ❁ ❀

“Sergeant of the guard!”

Sergeant Arnold Akers ran toward his sector on the south side of the bivouac area.

“What’cha got, private?”

“Man came out of the wood line about fifty meters out. I’d say he’s dressed like a priest. Whether he is one… Well, he’s just standing there. Looks like he’s alone.”

Why does everything new happen when I’m on duty? “Okay, stand fast. I’ll be back.”

Akers ran off and returned in a few minutes with Chaplain Connolly. “There he is, Padre.”

“Well done, my son.” Connolly reached into his cargo pocket and pulled out a Roman collar. He donned the garment and stood. “If someone kills me, bring down the wrath of God,” he said and stepped outside the perimeter.

“One going forward,” Akers cautioned his people.

❀ ❁ ❀

Connolly walked toward the man wearing a black cassock. “I am Father Michael Connolly. I am the chaplain ministering to the men and women of this unit.”

“I am Father Carlo Emiliani,” the man responded in British-accented English. “I am the pastor of St. Thomas of Sperticano. I watched your unit arrive. Everyone appears to be very tired. May I be of any help?”

“My first concern is for the women and children in our party. I should get the permission of my commander before I make any commitment about anything.”

“Of course. Do you wish me to wait here?”

“Not at all. Please come with me to meet Major Clarke.”

“Thank you.”

The two priests moved toward the battalion perimeter. “Two coming in,” Connolly called.

“Two coming in,” the sergeant responded.

Connolly escorted Emiliani to Clarke at the battalion headquarters and introduced the two men to each other. “Father Emiliani has offered to help. I told him my first concern was for the women and children.”

“You are very kind, Father,” Clarke said to the Italian while checking some notes he pulled from his pocket. “We may overwhelm you. We have 390 non-combatants who could benefit from your offer. That number includes women, teenaged girls and all the children under the age of thirteen.”

“You are a combat unit. No military women?”

“Yes and yes. I have nine female soldiers in the unit. I doubt if any of them would avail themselves of your offer.”

“Why… Oh, status,” Father Emiliani smiled.

“Exactly. Our military women are always having to claim their equality.”

“Well, we — I — can accommodate the 390 people at the church. It will be crowded, but the body heat will help warm the structure. The sanctuary depended on a modern heating system until two weeks ago.”

“Thank you, again, Father Emiliani. Someone find Mrs. Kinkaid.”

When Melissa Kinkaid arrived, Clarke explained the offer and his acceptance. “Why don’t you gather your flock and follow Father Emiliani to his church? Perhaps Signor Sartori or Signora Stefani will drive the wagon.”

“I think either will be willing to do that for us.”

❀ ❁ ❀

A short time later, two men on horseback approached the bridge and asked, in English, to speak with the commanding officer. The guards made certain that the men were unarmed and called for instructions.

Ed Clarke was soon talking to Paolo Montanari and Gianni Venturi, who introduced themselves as the mayor and police chief of Marzabotto, respectively.

“We watched you pass through the city earlier,” Montanari said, “and, after we met, decided to ask if we could be of assistance.”

“I appreciate that, but it is more than I expected,” Clarke responded. “My best hope was to be allowed to rest here without bothering you or your people. I would not — can not — turn down your offer, but I don’t understand why you want to help us.”

“Because of the massacre.”

“I'm sorry… ”

Montanari smiled. “It was in 1944, near the end of World War II. The Nazis murdered almost one thousand people from this area. After the war, the United States found the commander of the unit in Austria and returned him to Italy for trial. We are in your country's debt.”

That's unbelievable, Clarke thought. “I've studied the history of World War II, but I had not heard of the massacre.” Sadly, Europeans often have a greater sense of history than we do in the States.

“I'm mostly concerned about our non-combatants,” Clarke said. “We have family members and other civilians. The youngest child is still nursing. The oldest are eighteen. Almost four hundred of them are spending the night in Father Emiliani's church. I fear we are straining his resources. I continue to worry about the children. We have two who are disabled. Our surgeon tells me that one may not last through the night. My intelligence officer tells me that we can expect to pass through an elevation of almost 800 meters above sea level. As we are only at approximately one hundred and forty meters here, I am worried about what the stress of the walk will do to their young bodies.”

“Perhaps we can help,” Montanari said. “I need to talk with some of our residents.”

The men shook hands and the two Italians rode away. I think Signor Venturi is a lot less friendly than he tried to look. I don't like the way he was looking around, especially at the herd.

❀ ❁ ❀

As Luke moved from horse to horse, he walked around the hindquarters of one and found Antonia Rossi whispering to a horse. She was gorgeous, even in her borrowed BDUs. In the waning daylight, her shoulder-length hair framing her face glowed. The two young people smiled at each other. “You’re beautiful,” Luke said and stroked Antonia’s cheek with the back of his fingers. She smiled, kissed his lips lightly and slipped away to look at another animal. Luke started to follow until he heard George call that they had a horse that needed re-shoeing.

“Shit!” The duty day never ends.

Luke found George working with Alberto Rossi to shoe the horse. “Got it under control, Luke. You look like you’re about to fold. Jase is off drawing rations for the platoon and the Rossis.”

“Thanks. I’m gonna go look at a couple of the horses.”

His first stop was the draft horse that had been so agitated when found earlier in the day. The animal was considerably calmer. That’s Antonia’s doing, he mused. “She sang to you all the way here, didn’t she?”

“Well, not all of the way,” Antonia answered from behind him, “only a part of the way. My throat was parched.”

“Is he doing better?”

“Yes, but he needs time to graze. If we load that wagon, he will need to be paired with another horse. We will select one of the bigger warmbloods to pair with this one. He needs a name.”


“Yes, but in Italian. Campo.”

“‘Campo’ it is, then. Let’s go eat our supper.”

Luke and Antonia returned to the area staked out by the platoon saw George Carson swinging two MRE bags from his fingers. Luke sighed. “T-bone steak, with a baked potato and corn on the side, please.”

“No,” George laughed, looking at the rations, “Beef steak and, uh, sliced ham.”

Antonia smiled, “That is fine, George. Someday, we will all sit down at a nice place to eat.”

Luke took both rations and heated them with the heaters that came with the meals. “At least we have the time to do this,” he said.

❀ ❁ ❀

After the meal, the cavalrymen started drifting away. Luke leaned back against his combat pack; Antonia leaned back against him. He placed his forearm on her shoulder with his hand hanging in space. Antonia grasped his hand. She’s the one, he thought, I’m sure of it. Luke looked at Alberto Rossi seated on the far side of what had been the platoon circle. Rossi nodded and smiled then stood and wandered off in the general direction of the latrines.

“Antonia… ”

“Yes?” she asked, her voice both husky and hesitant.

“I love you. Will you marry me?”

“Oh, Luke, Yes! I love you. I will” She pressed herself closer to Luke. “Papà… ”

“Your father — Papà — will always be a part of our family. I bet he is close by the herd. He knows, I think, what we have just agreed to, but you should go tell him.”

“Yes.” Antonia agreed.

“And then, as much as I would like you to stay, you should take your own sleeping bag to the church. Soldiers can be cruel.”

Antonia stood. “Good night, Luke.”

“Good night, my love.”

“‘My love.’ I like.” She picked up her sleeping bag and pack and disappeared into the darkness.

I really wish Mom could meet you.

❀ ❁ ❀

Antonia found her father near the herd, examining the newest horse.

“Papà… ”

“Yes, my dear.”

“Luke… I… ” She took a deep breath and started over. “Luke asked me to be his wife. I accepted. Papà, I am so happy!”

“I am happy for you.” Alberto smiled. “And for myself. I want grandchildren. I wish your mother had lived to see this day.”

“And I. I am excited, but I must sleep.” She added thoughtfully, “Luke sent me away.”

Alberto nodded. “A wise man. Sleep well, my daughter.”

“Good night.”

Antonia walked to church. Melissa Kinkaid looked at her when she walked into the building and said, “Antonia, your face is glowing.”

The young woman nodded. “I am to be wed.”

“To Luke, of course?”


“He is a good man. I think he has a great future.”

❀ ❁ ❀

“Sergeant Hutton?” Specialist Chuck Abbott called.


“Sergeant, there are deer in the woods.”

“Okay, so?”

Abbott held up an arrow. Luke smiled.

❀ ❁ ❀

Nancy Avery was returning to the church of St. Thomas after having sought some fresh air. She sensed movement to her left and paused. She smiled and put her hands in her pockets. She looked at the bright stars while examining the trees through her peripheral vision. There it is. No, there HE is. About five nine, bigger than Roger, one-ninety? BDUs. What’s he doing over here where the women and children are billeted? Time to talk to Melissa.

Nancy turned and walked into the church. I hope my walk is as casual as I think.

❀ ❁ ❀

Day Fourteen — Livorno, Tuesday, 31 March 1998, Evening

Roberto Morelli stood on the front steps of what had been the headquarters building of the Americans’ Camp Darby. Around him were his key supporters. Others worked at throwing bodies into carts pulled by horses and mules. Many of the bodies were clad in United States Army uniforms; others were in cassocks.

The Change — how easily that term came into use — left a power vacuum and I stepped into the empty space. He had convinced others like him to follow. We even recruited some Italian soldiers.

“My brothers,” he called to his supporters, “we have taken a piece of Italy back from the occupying Americans.” He paused for effect. “They are dead.”

His followers cheered.

“When the government in Rome — or the Church — comes to Livorno they will find an Italian city filled with free Italians. This is Republica Toscana. We start in Livorno and take the remainder.” Morelli looked at the blood dripping from the sword that he had taken from a museum and held it up in the air. “Those with weapons that work in this new world, rule the new world. Those without serve the rulers. There is much to be done here. Tonight, we guard what we have taken and rest. Tomorrow, we begin to rebuild and go tell the farmers their new role in life.”

Morelli looked at the group of American women captured during the battle. He walked to one and asked, “Name?”

“Kate Govorov.”

“Kate. Slaves don’t have last names.” He thrust his hand roughly down her neckline. He squeezed hard on a bra-covered breast and told the woman, “The bra goes, Kate.”

Kate Govorov whimpered with pain.

He turned back to his followers. “We do more than just rest tonight.” He grinned broadly.

There was a commotion in the street. Morelli looked toward the disturbance and the crowd around him parted so he could see.

Men with red cloth tied around their left arms approached. They were dragging three men in restraints.

“Sir,” one said, “we found these men stripping jewelry from bodies.”

“So say you all?” Morelli asked and everyone nodded.

“Kill them. Now. Throw their bodies into the sea.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Day Fourteen — Galileo Galilei Airport, Pisa, Tuesday, 31 March 1998, Near Midnight


“Over here,” Lieutenant Joseph Blankenship answered.

“I’ve got a count. We have thirty-seven military, including one woman and six wives. One of the wives is about four months gone, but she’s in good condition.” Sergeant First Class Thomas Urbanski’s voice choked slightly. “No kids. What are your orders, sir?”

“You got your wife?”

“Yessir. She’s the pregnant one.”

“Okay, we exfiltrate this area and fast. There are Italian troops north east of here. I wouldn’t mind if we could link up with the our own paratroopers.”

“Vicenza? That’s a hell of a walk, sir.”

“You’re right, Sarge. Just dreaming. First step is to get away from that madman. See those rails to the east?”


“We go over to them and follow them basically north ’til we get to Lucca. Then we re-evaluate. It’ll probably take us a couple of days. Well, nights.”

“On you, sir.”

❀ ❁ ❀


— Changes —

Day Fifteen — Marzabotto, Wednesday, 1 April 1998, Morning

Luke stretched, then turned abruptly when his peripheral vision caught large bodies moving through brush. They took horses? Specialist Abbott, two other archers, and two cavalrymen with horses came out of the trees south of the encampment. Each of the animals had an adult stag draped across its back.

Luke walked toward his men, putting on his field jacket as he moved. “Abbott, you didn't mention taking the animals.”

Chuck Abbott looked abashed. “Sorry, the idea came up after I talked to you. We realized that packing the kills out on our backs wouldn't be any fun. You had already sacked out.”

“Good work, by the way. They been gutted?”

“Right after the second kill. By the way, there are yew trees in the woods.”

“Yew? The wood they make bows out of?”


“How much?”

“After it’s cut, I’d guess a couple of hundred pounds. That’s enough to make dozens of bows.”

“How long to make a bow?”

“Well, after the wood cures, a couple of days, less if you really know what you’re doing.”

“Do you know what you’re doing?

“Uh, kinda, Sarge. I’d probably waste some wood getting it right.”

“How long for the wood to cure?”

“Depends on temperature and humidity.”

“So you want to cut down some trees and haul the lumber around Italy while it cures so you can maybe make some bows?”

“Uh, when you say it that way, it doesn’t sound so good. Sorry.”

“Oh, don’t apologize yet. I’m just trying to understand. I’m gonna have to talk to Captain Avery about transportation. We can’t pack everything on the horses’ backs. I’ll get back to you.”

The hunters had drawn a small crowd; that drew Ed Clarke's attention.

“Sergeant Hutton, what’s going on?”

“We are supplementing the MREs, sir.”

Clarke approached and lowered his voice so only Luke could hear. “Wouldn't have occurred to you to tell me last night what you were doing, I suppose?”

“Uh, sorry, sir. It seemed like a good idea, so I made a decision.”

“Well, a decision always looks good when the idea works out.” Clarke looked around and raised his voice. “First, Sergeant Hutton and his troops have provided us with some extra lunch — or supper, we'll figure out which. Second, just get back to what you were doing, unless you know how to butcher a deer.”

A private held up his hand.

“You know how to butcher?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Follow the men with the carcasses. And teach them anything they don’t already know about butchering deer, or learn more from them yourself.”

“Yes Sir!” The private grinned and hurried after the pack-horses.

“Thanks, sir,” Luke said.

“You're welcome and thank you, on behalf of all of us. By the way, whose idea was it?”

“Abbott, or at least he's the one who came to me.”

“Abbott. I remember. This afternoon, without fail, you and him come talk to me about archers and archery. Okay. Staff and Commanders call in about ten minutes. Carry on.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Image not found

A few minutes later, Luke Hutton approached the clearing where Clarke had set up battalion headquarters. There are a lot of people here, he thought.

Major Ed Clarke was offering a piece of paper to Captain Kinkaid.

“Last chance to reconsider, Captain.”

“Thank you, sir, but no. I said it was inappropriate before and that’s still my opinion.”

“Okay, Jerry,” Clarke said. As Kinkaid walked away, Clarke turned to face the crowd. “Good morning, everyone. We have three things to do here. Staff Sergeant Hutton, report!”

Oh, shit. Now what? Luke stepped up to Clarke and saluted. Something tells me this is the right thing to do. “Sir, Sergeant Hutton reporting.”

Clarke read from a piece of bond paper. “‘Under the provisions of Public Law of the United States of America, Staff Sergeant Luke Hutton, 458-00-5853, is commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, Infantry, in the Army of the United States effective 1 April 1998.’ The insignia, please.” Sergeant Major Paul Evans extended his hand toward Clarke. The circle of people parted on Luke's right and Antonia Rossi walked hesitantly toward him.

Clarke handed something to Antonia and he and Antonia stepped up to Luke. They each did something with the collar points of his battle dress shirt. Clarke's pinning a lieutenant’s bar to my collar and Antonia's pinning on the crossed rifles.

Clarke extended his hand. “Congratulations, Lieutenant Hutton.”

“Thank you, sir. It’s — unexpected.”

Clarke nodded at Antonia and she stepped in front of Luke and kissed him demurely on the lips; he kissed back. She lay her right cheek against his and said, “Congratulations. I love you.”

“Thank you. I love you, too.”

“Cavalry, post,” Clarke ordered. The crowd parted on Luke’s left and the three sergeants in the cavalry platoon rode up. Each had a troop riding behind him and each troop led a riderless horse. “Specialist Foster, PFC Dennis and Private Nadolski, mount.” Three troops marched to horses and mounted.

Clarke said, “Signore Rossi,” and stepped back.

Alberto approached leading Gray and Stella. “I am pleased to announce the betrothal of my daughter, Antonia Rossi, to Lieutenant Luke Hutton.” He passed Gray’s and Stella’s reins to Luke and Antonia, respectively. “Call them an advance wedding gift,” he told the couple.

Clarke stepped forward again. “Dismissed. Lieutenant, Miss Rossi, please remain.”

The officers and the first sergeants of the battalion lined up to congratulate Luke and Antonia. Several of his fellow NCOs followed. Make that former fellow NCOs, Luke thought. Funny, Kinkaid is slipping away without shaking our hands. What's that tell me?

When the crowd had dispersed, Clarke offered Luke the piece of paper he had read from earlier. Luke saw that it had been signed by the two majors and every captain except Kinkaid; there was a space for Kinkaid’s signature, but it was empty. Kinkaid's attitude toward me has been strange. This explains it. He smiled grimly and looked at Clarke who closed his eyes and shrugged dismissively.

Melissa Kinkaid had remained in the background. She stepped forward. “I'm the official representative of the non-combatants. Congratulations to you both. My husband, by the way, is an ass.” She kissed both Luke and Antonia on their cheeks and left.

Luke started to reach for Antonia’s hand, hesitated, thought, Ah, the Hell with it, and grabbed her hand. He raised their hands to mouth level and kissed the back of Antonia’s hand. “You knew about this, right?”

“I did,” she answered. “Are you angry with me?”

“No,” Luke answered gently, “but I have three sergeants I want to talk to.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Clarke thought, Now that I’ve commissioned Hutton — unless I bump into someone senior to me who undoes it all — what’s next? Uh-oh. He saw Connolly waiting with a somber look on his face. “What’s wrong, Padre?”

“Sir, both Becky Carlson and Joyce Masterson died during the night.”

Two! Clarke shook his head. “I suppose the little girl’s cystic fibrosis got to her.”

“Yes, John Coltrane told me he’s surprised she lasted this long.”

“Where are Sergeant and Mrs. Carlson?”

“They’re in the B Company area. Bob Schultz has set aside some space for them and Sergeant Carlson’s fellow NCOs are keeping the idly curious away. The Carlsons are saying goodby to their daughter.”

“I’ll give them a little time and go talk to them. Where’s Coltrane?”

“He was with the parents.”

“Okay. Do we know the cause of Mrs. Masterson’s death?”

“John says that without a detailed postmortem, it's best to say that she simply wore out.”

“I don’t suppose Sergeant Masterson’s doing real well?”

“He's taking it pretty hard. He thought — heck, I’d have thought — that she was getting better as she walked. I could see she’d lost some weight.”

“Funeral arrangements?”

“I'll do Protestant services for both tomorrow morning. Father Emiliani has agreed to the burials in his graveyard.”

“Okay, but how did you know we wouldn't be on the road tomorrow morning?”

“Because I think you care enough about these people not to run them into the ground.”

It began to drizzle and Clarke looked up. Well, some good and some bad, including the weather, this morning.

❀ ❁ ❀

“Good morning, sir,” Major Bill Morgan said, “It's a shame about Mrs. Masterson and little Becky. I talked with Mrs. Masterson a couple of times before we left Ederle and on the road. I thought she was improving. I'm surprised.”

“Yeah, Doc says she just wore out. Burials tomorrow morning. The padre called me out on my travel intentions. He figured out that we weren’t going anywhere tomorrow. We ought to get back on the road by Friday morning, though.”

Clarke looked in the direction of the horse herd. “What is Signor Rossi up to?”

Alberto Rossi walked up with one of his animals on a lead. “Good morning, again, gentlemen. Major Clarke, I know you are having a trying morning, but may we conduct a review?”

“Certainly.” Where's this taking us?

“To whom do the horses belong?”

“You, signor, except I suppose for the two you just gave away. We are borrowing them.”

“Very well, we left Vicenza with thirty-one horses — warmbloods — which we have put to good use. We have since acquired three coldbloods and two wagons. We need another draft animal to help pull the wagon we acquired yesterday.”

“Okay,” Clarke nodded.

“We have twelve people who can ride. That is, your ten cavalrymen, my daughter and myself. Each requires a mount and a remount. Two remounts would be better, but that's a question for another day. That leaves us seven warmbloods available for other uses. We should be prepared to suffer losses, but I think we can spare one to trade for a coldblood.”

“My guess is that you have a client.”

“Yes, a man named Venturi — he is related to the chief of police — has a gelded coldblood and is looking for breeding stock. By the way, I met with him earlier when he came to the guard post and asked to speak to the man in charge of horses.”

Clarke frowned, “It's just a feeling, but I would be careful of anyone named Venturi.”

“We share that feeling and I shall be cautious, Major,” Alberto smiled, “I shall.” He shook his head. “I did not like the appearance of the chief of police yesterday.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Mayor Paolo Montanari returned a short time later with four empty wagons towed by draft animals.

“I took it upon myself,” he said, “to inquire into the availability of bathing facilities for the women and children in your group. We mean no insult in this offer.”

“None is taken,” Clarke smiled. “None at all. I'm certain the ladies will be most appreciative. Sergeant Major Evans, make sure our female soldiers are notified of the mayor's kind offer.”

“Sir,” Evans replied.

“Signor Montanari, it would probably help if this, ah, expedition took at least two hours. My men and I will be bathing in much more primitive facilities.”

Montanari looked over his shoulder at the rushing river behind him and turned back to Clarke. He shivered. “The Reno’s flow is enhanced at this time of year by melted snow. I wish I could provide indoor facilities for all. But I am sure we can cause the ladies’ and children’s experience to be at least two hours long,” Montanari answered.

“Thank you, Mr. Mayor.”

Clarke turned to Morgan and Evans. “Well, we were wondering how we were going to manage baths with some sort of decency. It’s been handed to us on a plate. So, in the next two hours I want every head, armpit, crotch and foot in this battalion washed. Personnel, including male non-combatants, will bathe at the river.”

Evans said. “Well, I have one advantage. Being bald lets me ‘wash my hair’ with a washcloth. I think we should get some fires started.” Evans pulled a whistle out of his pocket and blew one short and four long tones. Clarke looked at Morgan in confusion. Evans grinned. “Morse for ‘one.’ It means ‘first sergeants on me.’ Why don’t you gentlemen give the first shirts and me about ten minutes to get this under control?”

❀ ❁ ❀

Sergeant Major Evans and the first sergeants took over the bathing project. Luke Hutton had thought about how efficiently they worked. NCOs run the Army. Clarke keeps trying to do everything and even I know he can’t.

Luke had been briefing his troops on their tasks for the rest of the day, including telling his patrol leaders he wanted them to find some straight branches about forty-five inches long and about two pounds in weight. “Getting the length right is more important than the weight,” he cautioned. “I want one for each cavalryman.”

As the newly commissioned officer finished, Lieutenant Dan Tinkerman approached. “Luke, if you don’t mind, I’d like to talk recon while we soak our tender bodies in cold water.”

“Sure, sir,” Luke answered.

“Drop the ‘sir’ stuff, please. Surely you’ve heard the one about rank among lieutenants being like honor among whores?”

Luke chuckled. “Yeah, I have, uh, Dan, it’s just that I don’t quite feel like a lieutenant yet.”

“Well, why not?” Tinkerman grinned. “It’s been almost an hour.”

Luke laughed, picked up his pack and hung it from one shoulder. He nodded to Tinkerman and the two walked toward the bridge leading to the island the column had crossed to get to it bivouac area. It’s about 300 meters long, Luke thought as he walked. It’s so close to running directly east-west that the difference doesn’t matter.

Staff Sergeant McMasters of B Company was directing people. “Officers over to the left, gentleman.”

“That hardly seems necessary,” Luke muttered to Dan as they nodded to McMasters.

“You’re probably right,” Tinkerman answered, “But I think Clarke is doing everything he can think of to maintain the semblance of this being a battalion of the United States Army.”

“You don’t think we are?”

“Not really,” Dan said as they neared a group of more senior officers. “Uh, we can talk more about that later.”

Luke walked to the bank of the river. “Well, it won’t get done unless I start,” he said as much to himself as anyone nearby. He grounded his pack and removed his poncho. Placing the protective garment on the ground, he knelt, took a deep breath and dipped his head into the water. After shampooing, he sat back on his ankles and draped his towel over his head. Don’t stop now. Luke pulled his blanket from his pack. He placed it, folded several layers thick, on the ground. He donned his poncho and began striping off his boots, uniform and underwear. Chilly breezes poked through gaps in the poncho and raised goosebumps on his exposed skin, which he ignored. I’m gonna have a lot more of those in about two seconds.

He walked barefoot to the riverbank, crouched and washed and dried his “stinky parts,” saving his feet until last while gritting his teeth against the cold. He couldn’t help smiling as he remembered George Carson’s terminology back at Camp Ederle. Seems like a million years ago. He carefully dried his feet and put on clean socks. Still wearing the poncho for protection against the wind, he sat on his blanket again and dressed slowly, making sure he was dry first, to avoid breaking into a sweat inside the poncho. Once he had clean BDUs on his body, he peeled off the poncho.

Luke suddenly realized that he had been only vaguely aware of the other officers near him while he was bathing. Most were using the poncho maneuver too, but some just immersed themselves entirely after soaping up. Think I’ll pass on that!

He looked at Dan Tinkerman. “I’d like to talk about what we were discussing earlier.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Luke found George Carson near the herd. “George, it’s cold as Hell, but afterward it feels great. Whose bathing now?”

“Potter and his troops went first. I’m gettin’ ready to go with mine. Miller drew the last shift.”

“Okay, thanks.”

“War’s hell, boss. It’s also a pain in the ass. Had you noticed that each of the company commanders has a runner?”

“We ain’t big enough for that.”

“Yet. Sir.”

The brand new lieutenant sighed and shook his head. George smiled grimly.

❀ ❁ ❀

“Jesus, I am freezing my ass off,” Jake Potter groused. “But I also feel clean for the first time in, what, ten days? Eleven?”

“I’ve drunk snow water before, but I never sat in it,” Guy Anderson answered, twitching his back in something like a shiver at the unpleasant recent memory. “I hope never to do it again.”

Luke let that pass. A complaining soldier is a happy…

“Sir,” asked Bob Bradley, “how do you want us to address you? I don’t want to be overly familiar, but… ”

“Well, normally, ‘Eltee’ will do,” Luke said. Never dreamed that I’d have to answer that question. “On more formal occasions,” he added as pompously as possible, “‘Your exalted lieutenantship’ will suffice.” He smiled.

Carson snorted.

Luke said, “This afternoon, we begin training with the saber.”

“We kinda figured that out,” Jason Miller said. “We took some time to smooth the rough spots off those branches you had us cut.”

❀ ❁ ❀

The women and children returned from their baths on the wagons and Alberto Rossi was not far behind leading a draft horse no one had seen before. Soon after, the lunch of venison stew was ready.

Antonia Rossi hugged Luke and they, Alberto Rossi and the cavalrymen walked to the field kitchen to collect their portions of the noon meal. There was a new hand-lettered sign at the beginning of the line:



“Can they get more, sir?” a cook asked.

“No promises,” Luke answered with a smile. “They gotta sleep sometime.”

The platoon ate together near the herd. When the meal was over, George Carson rose.

“I’m callin’ this meeting to order,” he announced.

“Meeting? To order?” Luke thought.

George then recognized Jason Miller who moved Signorina Antonia Rossi be recognized as the “Lady of the Cavalry.” Jacob Potter seconded the motion. “All in favor?” “AYE!” said all, including Luke. “Opposed?” Nothing. “The motion carries. Meeting adjourned.” George sat.

“You are all magnificent fools,” Antonia laughed tearfully.

A short while later, Ed Clarke approached. “As you were,” he announced as the platoon started scrambling to its feet. “Mayor Montanari was very impressed by the venison. Can you do it again? Say, ten stags?”

“Abbott?” Luke asked.

“Yes, sir, if we can go sack out and someone wakes us a little before midnight. Uh, we’ll need more manpower.”

Clarke smiled, “Manpower is definitely not a problem. The cav platoon will have ten privates attached before evening chow.”

“All the cavalrymen except the NCOs go out,” Luke ordered. “Abbott's in charge. Get two more for us if you can, Chuck.”


❀ ❁ ❀

The 508th Cavalry Platoon was assembled. Luke Hutton faced his troops. Each of the patrol leaders stood with his three men.

“Okay, listen up,” Luke ordered. “We only have one copy of this manual, ‘Saber Exercise.’ I guess they hadn’t started calling them field manuals yet. We only have it ‘cause Sergeant Carson happened to see it when he pulled his little raid on the library back at Ederle. I’ll pass it around so everyone can read it. I want you to go through it once and move it along. When everyone’s had a chance to read it, you’ll all get another chance to study the contents.”

Luke held the opened manual in his left hand and his forty-inch branch in his right. “‘One. For military purposes the nomenclature of the saber is as follows: Blade and hilt. The blade is divided into the forté, the 18 inches nearest the hilt; and the point, the rest of the blade. The saber is two-edged. All the front edge, and half the back edge, is sharp, so that it may be more easily withdrawn from a body, and also, on rare occasions, used to cut. Throughout the text the word edge when used alone will mean front edge. The hilt is divided into the guard, which protects the hand; the grip, which the hand holds, and the pommel, the lower end of the grip, used to strike with in close fight.

“‘Two. The saber is solely a weapon of offense and is used in conjunction with the other offensive weapon, the horse.’” Luke paused. “That’s an important point we all need to remember. That half ton of horseflesh between your legs ain’t your buddy. It ain’t Trigger or Silver or — what’s ‘is name — Champion. It’s a weapon of war. Like all weapons — and soldiers — it can be expended. Don’t fall in love with your horse.”

Appleby said, “Heads up, sir, Major’s inbound.”

Luke turned as Clarke approached. “Yes, sir?”

Clarke extended his hand, holding the saber that Luke recognized as the one carried by the first man he had killed. “I think the commander of the cavalry platoon should be the one with the saber. That’s until we have more, of course.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“You’re very welcome. By the way, I didn’t have you complete a document assuming command. I’ll have one prepared for your signature.” Clarke leaned closer and lowered his voice. “Stop by the adjutant’s empire right before supper and get it done.”


“Carry on.” Clarke turned and left.

“Adjutant’s empire,” Luke quoted Clarke to himself. The major sure didn’t talk like that to me yesterday. Kinkaid must’ve really isolated himself. And his wife’s such a nice lady.

❀ ❁ ❀

The battalion and the people with it — camp followers, no insult intended, Clarke thought — were settling down for the night when the first guitar was strummed. The rushing sound of Reno River beyond the perimeter was constant and calming.

Oh Shenandoah,

I long to see you,

Away you rolling river

Oh Shenandoah,

I long to see you,

Away, I'm bound away

'cross the wide Missouri.

“It's a yearning,” said Morgan.

“Yeah. Listen up, everyone,” Clarke said to his staff. He waited. “Is there anyone here who doesn't understand our fate?”

“We die in battle,” said Captain Jim O’Donnell.

“Well, we die in Italy. Hopefully we live long enough to earn some peace,” Captain Roger Avery countered.

“I prefer Roger's version to Jim's,” Clarke responded. “If — when — we get to Livorno, the Navy's not gonna be sitting there with a battle group ready to take us home. We are home.”

'Tis seven years since last I've seen you,

And hear your rolling river,

'Tis seven years since last I've seen you,

Away, we're bound away

'cross the wide Missouri.

“Trouble is,” said Lieutenant Dan Tinkerman, “no matter where you are in the U. S., you don't actually have to cross the Missouri to get to the Shenandoah.”

“Oh, hush, Dan,” Sam Douglas smiled.

“Yes, sir. Sorry.” Tinkerman smiled, too. “Well, not really.”

Someone played a discordant note, then picked up the tune.

Oh Reno’s flow,

You froze my nuts off.

How I hate your ice cold water.

Oh Reno’s flow,

You froze my nuts off.

Away, I’ll run away

'cross the wide green valley.

Clarke’s staff burst into laughter. Some were holding their sides. He could not help himself and joined in. “I guess I had that coming.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Day Sixteen — Marzabotto, Thursday, 2 April 1998, Early Morning

Private David Nakamura was pulling his two hours of guard duty when he heard the SNAP of a twig breaking. He slowly took in a deep breath, held it and let it out. His eyes turned in the direction of the sound and he watched a figure dressed in black moving in the direction of the horses. Now I get why the old man ordered extra guards. Another thirty seconds to be sure he’s alone. “Halt!”

The figure turned, drew a knife and rushed at Nakamura. The young private had remembered the words of his dying first sergeant outside Verona and already had his own knife ready.

The difference between the two was that Nakamura was trained to fight with a knife and the figure in black was not. The dark shape was bigger than Nakamura and stabbed first. The point of its knife struck the top of the private's chest. Nakamura was surer; he ignored the burn of the cut, slipped inside the figure's defenses. He drove his combat knife up under the figure's breastbone into its heart and twisted. The two collapsed sideways and the young soldier yelled, “Sergeant of the guard!” as he let darkness overtake him.

❀ ❁ ❀

Ed Clarke approached the scene at a fast walk. I knew things were going too well. He found a body in black with a knife protruding from its chest lying on the ground and one of his soldiers leaning against a tree. Chief Warrant Officer Edwards was binding a shoulder wound while saying, “No arteries, no major veins, just muscle damage. I'm gonna suture that for you when I get some daylight. In the meantime, the dressing will hold you. You’ll have a scar you can show your grandsons. Take these.”

“What are they?”

“Happy pills. Take 'em.”

“Okay, Doc.” Nakamura swallowed the medicine. “I need my knife.”

Clarke pulled the knife out of the body in black and placed it Nakamura’s hand. He watched as Nakamura cleaned the blade of his weapon, slipped it into its sheath and passed out. “Report, Doc,” Clarke ordered, smiling.

“Knife wound, sir, maybe a little more than an inch deep. Nice and clean. Nakamura'll hurt for a while but he won't be disabled. I'll do more for him when the sun comes up. And after he wakes up.”

“Okay. Good work.” He pointed at the body. “Does anyone know who this is? Or was?”

Alberto Rossi stepped forward and knelt down to examine the face. “He was at the farm where I traded horses yesterday. The owner said he was a relative from Bologna. It is purely my opinion, but when I looked at him, I thought ‘thug.’”

“Thanks, signor. I am very happy you thought to warn me.” Clarke looked around. “Lieutenant Hutton?”


“Put this over a horse and take it out into the brush and dump it. Questions?”

“No, sir.”

“Okay, people. Everything’s under control here. Everyone back to duty or sleep, as appropriate. Captain Douglas, anything else?”

“No other attempts to penetrate the perimeter, sir. Guard near the river saw a figure he thought was male walking north on the other side of the water. The unknown was wearing camouflage and boots, but our troop said he couldn’t swear that the outfit was BDUs. Whoever he was, he didn’t look like he was carrying anything.”

“Another deserter?” Clarke suggested.

“That’d be my estimate,” Douglas answered. “We’ll find out when they do the role call in the morning.”

“Okay, we’ll leave it at that. We’ve already realized that we can’t keep anyone here who wants to go.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Luke picked his way quietly through the woods. So here I am, riding through unknown country in pitch darkness. The moon’s not even up. I’m leading a horse carrying the dead body of someone who was friendly with the local chief of police. Ah, well, probably no one else is stupid enough to be out here.

The sky lit up and Luke instinctively closed his eyes to preserve as much night vision as possible. That’s a first since the Change. We now know that one kind of electricity works. Luke cautiously opened one eye just as the sky lit up again. It’s way off to the south. So far away that the thunder doesn’t reach us. This is perfect. Without the lightning, I wouldn’t have seen that rill.

Luke carefully dismounted. He untied the corpse from the saddle of the pack horse and heaved it off into the small waterway. Gray nickered and Luke reached out to pat the animal’s neck. “Easy, boy,” he said softly. He remounted and backtracked.

I’ll be glad when I’m back in my sleeping bag.

❀ ❁ ❀

The hunters returned at dawn with eleven carcasses. “One short, sir,” Abbott reported to Luke. “I guess that means only one for us.”

“Good question. I don't know if Major Clarke promised ten to the mayor or if that was just his goal. Take everything over to the cooks.”

Luke found Major Clarke talking with Major Morgan and Captain Douglas. “Good morning, Lieutenant. Both missions accomplished?”

“Yes, sir, I stumbled across a small waterway and left the non-existent body to rot. And all archers and riders are back in.”

Clarke smiled.

“I have a question, sir. The hunters only got eleven animals. Did you promise the mayor ten?”


“Okay, then. Nine for him and two for us?”

“Make it eight and three. We're departing tomorrow morning. Get your guys well-rested.”

“Yes, sir.”

❀ ❁ ❀

As Luke left, Sam Douglas asked, “Okay, sir, I’m curious. What are we getting for the venison?”

“Well, the community has tons of potatoes in root cellars. They were harvested and stored for shipment, but no shipper's going to show up. Signor Montanari said he thought he could talk appreciative citizens out of about two metric tons of them, on a wagon with a team.”

“I think our welcome here could wear out very fast,” Bill Morgan offered.

“That's why we're leaving tomorrow.”

“Sir,” Sergeant Major Evans called, “Captain Erickson is on his way with the mayor.”

“Thank you.”

The three officers watched as the mayor and Erickson approached.

“Good morning, signor,” Clarke said.

“Good morning, major. Your wagon with the potatoes has arrived. A team is included.”

“I am surprised that a family was willing to give up animals at a time like this.”

“Ah. The family, sadly, no longer exists. When the sun went down on 18 March, the husband apparently took his wife's life and then his own. I am the next of kin.”

“I'm sorry.”

“Thank you. There is another matter I wish to discuss with you. Uh, these other gentlemen may hear what I have to say.”

He knows something about what happened early this morning. “Of course.”

“My position here in Marzabotto is becoming untenable. Signor Venturi is consolidating his power and making an attempt to become a dictator — under the guise of being a protector — of the area. I was born here but have recently been described as an outsider because my wife is from a town to the south, Porretta Terme.” Montanari paused. “My wife's family still lives in Porretta Terme and we believe we will be welcome there. We have no children and a move is not difficult. We would prefer to move with some security. I am asking for permission to travel with you. We will have some of our property with us.”

Clarke looked at the men around him and saw only nods. “Signor, you and your lady are welcome to travel with us. We are planning to leave tomorrow morning.”

“That will be no problem for us and it will probably be beneficial to you. Signor Venturi is upset about something and I suspect your sojourn here will become less pleasant in a very short time. You came to this camp by crossing the island in the Reno. On your way out, you should follow the Via Sperticano and cross the river using the southern bridge. That route will take you directly to the road through the mountains.”

“We have been following the rail lines.”

“A wise decision when you were in the valleys and rolling hills. I don't think you will find the grading of the roads much different than that of the rails now that you are entering the mountains. Regardless, you will eventually have to deal with going through or around tunnels. Much longer tunnels than the rail tunnel north of Marzabotto.”

“Very well, we will follow your advice. Will you join us here in the morning?”

“Maria and I will join you where the Via Sperticano meets the highway. Our property is close to Pian di Venola.”

“Do you have a recommended time?”

“I should think meeting at six o'clock would be best.”

Clarke smiled. “We will be there. If you will excuse us, we have funerals to attend this morning.”

“I am here to represent Marzabotto.”

“I appreciate that. My staff and commanders are arriving.”

As Clarke watched the group approaching, his pleasant expression changed to a frown. They staff was present except for Captain Kinkaid and Melissa Kinkaid. Nancy Avery had come. I might have expected Kinkaid to try to get out of anything that didn't fit his narrow view of religion, but Melissa…

Nancy stepped forward. “Melissa sends her regrets. She would like to meet with you afterward.”

“Okay, but where's her husband?”

“I would really prefer not to go into that right now, sir, if I can avoid it.”

“Of course, Nance.” Clarke counted noses. “Lady, gentlemen, shall we proceed?”

❀ ❁ ❀

Budding branches waved overhead in a light breeze as Chaplain Michael Connolly finished, “May Joyce Masterson's and Rebecca Carlson’s souls and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace.”

“Amen,” chorused the members of the battalion — more than one hundred had attended the service. Clarke and Morgan held back as the crowd offered their condolences to the Carlsons and to Herman Masterson then drifted away from the cemetery and back toward the bivouac area in small groups. Roger and Nancy Avery lingered. More to come, Clarke thought.

Finally, only the Carlsons stood by their daughter’s tiny grave and Masterson stood by himself at his wife’s. Morgan then Clarke offered their condolences to the survivors.

The Carlsons started back toward the bivouac. Masterson hesitated. “Sir, I want you to know I don’t lay any blame for Joyce on anyone but her and me. I’ve been tryin’ to get her to lose weight for years, but I could never convince her.” He looked at the open grave. “What I’d like to do is get blind drunk, but I s’pose we don’t have time for that.”

“No, sadly, we don’t. Maybe when we get where we’re going we’ll sit down and have a couple in memory of a good woman.”

“Thanks, sir.”

“You want some time to be alone?”

“No, thanks, I need to work. If you’ll excuse me?”

Clarke nodded and Master walked toward the bivouac.

Clarke joined Morgan and the Averys.

“I suppose you two have something to tell me.”

The Averys looked at each other and Roger nodded to Nancy, who said, “Melissa should be waiting for you at headquarters. She has something to show you. The short version is that Jerry Kinkaid is gone. He wrote a note. That's the something. I haven't read it. That marriage has been on the rocks for some time.”

That accounts for the figure on the other side of the river, Clarke thought.

❀ ❁ ❀

Melissa was waiting when the group arrived at the headquarters fire. Nancy hugged Melissa and the Averys left. “Is it okay if Bill stays, Melissa?”

“Certainly.” They all sat. “I'm looking forward to sitting somewhere besides the ground or a church pew,” Melissa said. “I came back up this way this morning from the church and found the space where Jerry had been sleeping. All of his equipment was gone except his rifle and this note in a plastic bag under a rock.” She handed the note to Clarke who read it silently.


I can't go on. I don't know exactly what Clarke has in mind, but I think he's going to try to make himself into a king. THERE IS ONLY ONE KING! You seem to enjoy the power you have in Clarke's court. Stay and cozy up to Clarke. Maybe he'll make you his concubine until he finds out you're barren.

I'm going to Bologna to join the Church's Mission.


Clarke passed the note to Morgan who read it quickly, shook his head and returned it to Melissa. He looked at her and explained, “During the night, one of the guards saw a figure on the other side of the river moving north away from our area.”

Melissa’s eyes de-focused. “That, I guess, was Jerry.”

“Probably. So, what are your intentions?” Clarke asked gently.

“Well, you may remember my telling you that I had almost left Jerry more than once in the past few months.” Clarke nodded. “I now declare myself to be a free woman. I am a camp follower with no intention of ever becoming a camp whore. You're a nice guy, Ed, but I don't think we're each other's type. I suspect I'll eventually find a man in this unit.” She smiled. “In the meantime, I'll perform whatever ethical tasks you assign to me.”

“There's a lot of hatred in that note,” Morgan offered.

“Jerry was the child of one of those narrow-minded, independent churches whose pastor — who happened to be Jerry’s father — preached that they and only they — all thirty-odd of them — had direct access to the mind of God. Virtually the entire congregation was related to the pastor. I'm a member of a small Christian church, too, but not like that. I was unaware of Jerry's attitudes and those of his parents and siblings until after we married. They kept that from me and I've never understood why. Well, in retrospect, maybe I do.”

“Do you need some time?”

“Work is the best medicine. I can find a shoulder to cry on if I need to. Uh, you're not planning on making yourself a king, are you, sir?”

“I was 'Ed' a minute ago. No, Melissa, even if I wanted to do that, I’m standing on the wrong piece of real estate for me to take over the land and its peoples.”

“Good. If you'll excuse me, I have to go tell the people who work with me what’s happened.” Melissa put the note on the fire and left.

Clarke watched as the piece of paper blackened and Morgan used a stick to pulverize it.

❀ ❁ ❀

Luke Hutton had his platoon, including the horse-holders, gathered around him.

“Okay, it’s time for the archers to learn to ride. Please don’t anyone say he’s surprised. Again, I don't expect you to fight from the saddle, but I need you to have the mobility to respond on horseback.”

“We saw this coming, sir,” Abbott said.

“Okay, you get to pick out an animal. You also get to take care of the beast.” Luke paused. “That also means I need five less horse-holders. I'll accept volunteers.”

Three men held up their hands.

“Okay, you're back to being ground pounders. I appreciate what you’ve done and I'll tell your commanders you didn't do anything wrong. Patrol leaders and Specialist Abbott on me. The rest get back to the herd.” Luke walked a dozen yards to the fire and said, “Grab some dirt. Abbott — Chuck, if you haven't figured it out, you're the NCOIC of the archery section. I'll do what I can to get you some stripes.”


“We fall in early tomorrow to depart for points south. Major Clarke wants it done quietly. We're going out over that bridge south of the island. George, advance party when I give the word. Go to the far side of the bridge and hold.” George nodded. “Jase, point, Chuck, with point, Jake, drag.” Three men nodded. “Be prepared to engage. Chuck, you and your guys go pick out horses. The Rossis don’t own a bad horse. Ask Antonia to help.”


“Okay, I gotta pick two more guys to send back to line duty. Recommendations?

❀ ❁ ❀

“Where’s the sergeant major?” Clarke asked.

“He went into the forest with Hutton’s archers,” Morgan answered.


“To cut down yew trees.”

“Okay,” Clarke sighed, “someone bring me up to speed.”

❀ ❁ ❀

“So that’s a yew,” Paul Evans said. “Grows everywhere?”

“Yep, that’s it, Sergeant Major,” Chuck Abbott responded. “It doesn’t grow everywhere. Elevated areas. Yew likes to have it’s feet dry. It’s the source of English victories in the Hundred Years’ War.”

“So what makes yew so good?”

Abbott held out his bow and pointed. “The heartwood — in the center — resists compression. The sapwood — the outer layer — resists stretching. You make the bow so the heartwood’s closer to the archer.” He mimed stretching a bow. “And you always unstring the bow if you’re not going to use it right away. Keeps it from becoming permanently curved.”

“Good work, Specialist.”

“Thanks, Sergeant Major.” Abbott looked around. “We about ready, guys?”

Joe Hunter replied, “Ready, Chuck. We’ve easily got two hundred pounds of wood here.”

“Why didn’t you bring a horse?” Evans asked.

“Yew is poisonous and those dumb animals would probably try to graze on it,” Chuck explained. “We don’t need any dead horses. I tried horse meat once and I hope never to be that hungry.”

❀ ❁ ❀

As the sky was darkening, George Carson wandered into the woods to relieve himself. As he was finishing he heard a sound. Training took over and he dropped to a crouch. George looked for the source of the sound and saw a woman seated against a tree, head bowed, sobbing quietly.

He approached slowly. “Ma'am, do you need some help?”

The woman raised her head. Mrs. Kinkaid! Oh, shit. And there I was with it whipped out.

She wiped her eyes with a tissue and smiled. “Help me up?”

George extended his hand. She grasped it and he pulled her to her feet.

“Thanks. I'm such a mess.”

George pulled his handkerchief out of his hip pocket. “Here, ma'am, use this. It's clean.”

Melissa, whose tears had not stopped, said, “Thank you. Sergeant… Carson?”

“Yes, ma'am, George Carson.”

“May I ask a favor, Sergeant… May I ask a favor, George?”


“I need a shoulder to cry on. A shoulder… ”

“A shoulder attached to someone who won't talk?”


George looked in the direction of the encampment. “Why don't we just sit down next to your tree?”


They sat down and Melissa Kinkaid tucked her shoulder into George Carson's armpit and put her head against his neck. George wrapped his arm around her upper back. After few minutes passed, sobs wracked her body.

She feels awful good tucked in there. What are you doin' to my life, God?

❀ ❁ ❀

Day Seventeen — Marzabotto, Friday, 3 April 1998, Early Morning

I'm very proud of these men — and women, not just the military ones — and the kids. “Even the educators.”

“Pardon?” Bill Morgan asked.

“Oh, just thinking about how well everyone has done this. I really expected more people to drift away.”

“They have confidence in you, Ed. Maybe Kinkaid was our last loss.”

“God help me.” Clarke and Morgan were walking along the line of people await his command to move. Clarke saw Sergeant First Class Masterson standing with Headquarters Company and nodded to him.

The staff and Luke Hutton were gathered near the head of more than 1200 people. Luke was already mounted.

“We ready, Sergeant Major?”

“Ready, sir,” Evans answered.

Clarke looked at Hutton and nodded. Luke nodded in reply and turned to signal Sergeant George Carson. The patrol leader acknowledged the signal and Clarke saw his lips move. Carson and his patrol took off with their mounts moving faster than a walk.

When Carson and his troops reached the near end of the bridge, Clarke nodded to Luke again and Luke sent the lead element forward. He's got the archers on horseback. Good idea. The companies followed based on each commander's order. Clarke and the command group fell in behind B Company, which had the lead.

❀ ❁ ❀

George Carson led his patrol forward when he saw Jason Miller and his troops reach the bridge. He followed the road north to an intersection that led west toward route 64. Signor Montanari was waiting with his wife and more.

I can't believe this, George thought as he nodded to Montanari. Miller's gonna crap his pants. George's grin widened at the thought.

Miller rode up with his patrol and stared. “Cows?”

“Yeah, Jase, cows,” George Carson replied. “Let the lieutenant or the major deal with it. I don't think either of them know what's waiting, but that's why they get the big bucks.”

“Huh! Do any of us get any bucks?”

“Actually, that's a good question.”

While the cavalrymen talked, B Company was making the turn south onto route 64 toward the mountains. When Bravo passed, the command group approached the intersection. Clarke's face tells me he's as confused as I am, George thought.

❀ ❁ ❀

Clarke strode up to Signor Montanari. “Good morning, signor. You have much more property than I anticipated.”

“Good morning, major. Yes, and for that I apologize. After you agreed to allow us to accompany you and I came home, my wife and I talked and decided not to leave anything that could be useful to Venturi if we could take it with us. As a result, I have brought ten milch cows, one bull, a wagon, my horses, and as much fodder as I could fit on the wagon. There are also two cats, who are self-sufficient. If you retract your agreement that we may accompany you, I will understand.”

“How far can your livestock travel in one day?”

“Easily thirty kilometers.”

“That is further than I ever intend to take our people. No, signor, I will not retract. You are welcome to travel with us.”

“Thank you, please come meet my wife.”

Clarke followed Montanari to the front of a wagon, where a middle-aged woman sat holding the reins of two horses. I'll let someone tell me what kind of horses later, Clarke thought, this gets more complicated every day.

“Major, my wife Maria Bianchi. Maria, this is Major Clarke.”

Maria offered her hand. “Sorry, my English is small,” she said.

Nessuna scusa,” Clarke smiled, “Questa è l'Italia.” I hope I said “no excuse required because we’re in Italy.” It’s I who have to learn to speak another language “big.”

Clarke looked for Rossi and waved him over. “Alberto, where is the best place for Signor Montanari and his party to travel?”

“I would recommend following the remounts,” Rossi answered.

“Then please help Signor Montanari and Signora Bianchi join our group.”

“Of course.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Jason Miller halted his patrol about one hundred meters from the roadblock north of Vergato. “Brad,” he called.

“Yes, Sergeant,” Private Robert Bradley answered.

“Take a good look.” Miller waited fifteen seconds. “Got it?”

“Got it.”

“Go halt the column and find Lieutenant Hutton.”


Bradley took off and Miller looked at the roadblock. It was nicely laid out on a site where the road was close to the rail line. Cars and vans had been placed to block what would have been the oncoming lane of travel. The cars were perpendicular to the route and the line extended to block the railroad track.

Make that from the railroad, Jason thought. They must’ve pushed the first car onto the track, then worked back from there. Somebody’s got a sense of humor. That’s a Maserati sitting on the tracks.

The right hand lane of the road was unblocked, but a second panel truck stood behind the one obstructing the left lane. I bet that thing can be rolled to block the hole.

About ten meters past the first barricade was a second, built the same but with right lane blocked instead of the left.

Miller nodded as he examined the work. One man in particular was watching Miller. Guy in charge. Maybe even the guy who designed it. Jason saluted and his opposite number returned the salute. “Seems appropriate,” he muttered to Specialist Foster.

“Works for me, Sarge.”

Both men remained mounted while they waited for Luke Hutton, who rode up fewer than five minutes later with Bradley and Alberto Rossi right behind him.

“Good call, Jase. Major Clarke had guessed we'd eventually run into something like this. You guys stand fast while Signor Rossi and I go forward.”

Luke and Rossi walked their horses forward and halted about five meters from the barricade. They dismounted and approached the automobiles that blocked the road. Luke halted at the gap and saluted. “I am Lieutenant Luke Hutton of the United States Army. This is Signor Alberto Rossi.”

Rossi began speaking. Good, he's congratulating them on their defenses. “South… ” “One night… ” “Water… ” He lost me there. I gotta learn more Italian. “Montanari… ” I sure did pick a good father-in-law-to-be. The man in charge is answering.

Rossi turned to Luke. “A good result, so far. The supervisor of the roadblock has no objection to our passing, but must seek permission from the mayor.”

“Excellent, Signor.” The two moved back out of hearing while one of the guards on the roadblock mounted a bicycle and headed toward town. “Thank you, Papà. You do not have to expose yourself to this danger.”

“It is my pleasure, Luke.” Rossi smiled, “You have made Antonia very happy. That makes me very happy. Your father would not object to you calling me Papà?”

“My father is Dad. You are Papà.”

“And I thank you,” Alberto said. After a few moments, he asked, “What happens after Livorno, Luke?”

“I don't know. I trust Major Clarke, but I'm not sure that he knows. I am sure we are never leaving Europe. If we never leave Europe, why leave Italy?”

Signor Montanari approached. “The column is longer than I thought,” he said, “I should have borrowed a horse from Antonia. Since I know the mayor, I thought my presence might be helpful.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Ed Clarke had gathered his commanders and staff.

“Right now, we're on hold waiting for permission to pass through Vergato. While I don't doubt that we could force the roadblock if we had to, I would prefer not to do that, from the perspectives of our own possible casualties and of relations with the local people. We don't need to try to walk through these mountains while being harassed by guerrilla forces. Company commanders, go back to your units and pass the word. Everyone be friendly. If people wave, wave back. However, I do not want men waving at women like they think the women are low-lives. No whistling. No cat calls. Dismissed.”

As the commanders left, Luke Hutton rode up and dismounted.

“Okay, sir, we've been cleared to proceed. There's a double roadblock up ahead. First, you'll come to some cars on the road with an opening on the far right. When you pass through the opening, you have to make a left, cross the left side of road and make a right to pass through the gap there. I’m pretty sure the wagons will be able to get through. Then you're back on the road heading south.”

“Okay, Luke.”

“They want us to move through the city without stopping and to stay on route 64. They will provide guides on bikes. There's another roadblock south of town. Once we pass through it, we can stop wherever we like. The mayor pointed out to Signor Montanari that there's a grove on the east side of the road that borders the river. I wouldn't call them unfriendly, just cautious. Oh, the major did point out an exception to not stopping. They have a hospital if anyone needs it.”

“Good report. Please tell Captain Schultz to lead off.”

“Sir.” Luke mounted and rode toward the front of B Company.

❀ ❁ ❀

The column slowly weaved through the Vergato road block. Knowing, Miller supposed, that people would tend to bunch up in unfamiliar territory, all of the company commanders had lengthened their portions of the column to try to avoid breaking the local residents’ rule against stopping.

Miller watched the sides of the street as they passed through the city. I’d be a lot happier if there was more open space. Based on what happened up in Verona, we should be able to take anything a town this size could throw at us but we still might have casualties. But I don’t see a whole lot of people and I don’t think I’ve seen a single kid. That’s good and bad. Parents should be cautious, but I don’t like the idea that they maybe think we’re a threat to them.

Jason was leading his patrol onto a bridge that crossed the Torrente Vergatello when a man stepped into the middle of the street at the far end of the bridge. Aw, shit, Jase thought. A scythe?

“Brad, slow down and stay on me. Foster, I need a spontoon, hustle.”

“On my way,” Specialist Foster said. Wheeling his horse, he headed toward the rear of the column.

Miller held his right hand down by his side with the palm facing back toward the command party. Slow down, he thought without taking his eyes off the man ahead. If I can keep him away from me and my horse, he’s not a threat.

Foster rode back up to Miller’s side and passed one of the pikes the troops had picked up after the skirmish on the bridge in Verona. “I thought this was a better idea but I brought a spontoon, too, in case that was what you really wanted.”

“Longer is better. Good thinking.” Miller tucked the butt of the pike under his arm and extended the point — it reached a good five or six feet ahead of his mount. The horse twitched at the long spear so close to its face. Jason patted his animal’s neck. “Easy, boy, I know you didn’t sign up for this.”

While Jason was talking to his horse, two police officers slipped up behind the man holding the scythe. One came up from behind, put his arms around the man’s chest and pinned his upper arms. The second wrenched the scythe out of the wielder’s hand and threw it across the road. As his partner restrained the former threat, the second officer pointed at his own head and twirled his finger in the universal “crazy” motion.

Miller raised the pike to the vertical and brought his left hand over to touch the weapon in a salute to the officers.

Both acknowledged the salute with nods. They hauled their prisoner in the direction indicated by a sign reading “Ospedale.”

Hospital, Miller thought.

“That was very well done, Sergeant.” — Clarke’s voice came from behind. “The column never had to stop.”

“Thank you, sir, but most of the credit goes to those two Italian cops. If they hadn’t been there, I’m afraid I’d have a dead Italian crazy man on my conscience and we’d have a bunch of unhappy citizens on our hands.”

“Appropriately modest. When we clear town, I’m told, there’s another road block just like the one north of the town. Go 300 meters after clearing the block, then stop.”

“Wilco, sir.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Luke waited while the last of the column, his cavalrymen, cleared Vergato’s southern roadblock; he then dismounted and shook the hand of the man in charge of the barricade. Saluting, he re-mounted and accelerated to take up his place with the advance party. En route, he decided that Gray had had enough for one day and stopped to switch to his remount. As he re-gained his saddle, Antonia blew him a kiss. He winked, knowing he could do that without being obvious about his affection, and trotted forward to the head of the column.

Far ahead, he could see Miller's patrol blocking the road and motioning toward the east. When he closed on their position, he saw a road leading under a railroad bridge down toward the river. He held his thumb up to Miller.

It was early. Short day, Luke thought, Two o’clock by the sun. Those cows don’t move all that fast.

❀ ❁ ❀

“Bill,” said Ed Clarke, “we need an adjutant.” Sam Douglas and Dan Tinkerman suspended their conversation to pay attention to their superiors' discussion.

“Yeah, I've been thinking about that. The only captain we have in subordinate role is LeBlanc. He was at brigade and he’s assigned to S3 Plans, but we're not doing much deliberate planning and hasty planning doesn't require as much of a staff. It's basically you, Sam, Dan and me.”

“Sam?” Clarke asked.

“I can get by without him.”

“Okay, Bill, tell LeBlanc about his new duty assignment.”

“Are you ready for my intelligence brief, sir?” Tinkerman asked.

“Go, Dan.”

“Enemy forces: Unknown. Weather: Seasonably normal; we'll be cold all night and all day tomorrow. Terrain: We're at 200 meters above sea level, which is about where we were this morning. If we go to Porretta Terme — that's about twenty klicks — tomorrow, we'll be at 400 meters. That's an average two percent grade.”

“Sergeant Major, can you find Doctor Coltrane for me?”


“Sir,” John Coltrane said a few minutes later.

“Doc, I intend to walk twenty kilometers tomorrow with an average uphill grade of two percent.”

Coltrane whistled then fidgeted. “Everyone, surprisingly, is in better shape than they were two weeks ago. Do you have a fallback?”


“There's a village a few klicks north of Poretta Terme. Uh, the rail station is called Silla, but I'm not sure that's the name of the village. It's before the last haul up a draw to Poretta.”

“Okay, we'll keep it as an option, but we have to go up that hill sometime,” Clarke said.

❀ ❁ ❀

Melissa Kinkaid leaned against her pack and watched Signor Montanari and Signora Bianchi secure their cows to a rope running between two trees. The two refugees then began to milk the cows. Cows have to be milked, I guess. Every day. Or is it twice a day? What's this? Melissa watched as Specialist Elizabeth Current walked over to the line of cows, selected a bucket, sat on her helmet and began milking a cow. As she milked, Current talked to the two Italians.

“Hey, Patti,” Current suddenly called over her shoulder.


“Come here. I don't wanna yell.”

Private First Class Patricia Monet walked over to her fellow soldier. The two talked for a moment and Monet strode off purposefully.

Melissa decided it was time to learn more. She walked up behind Current, who looked back over her shoulder and said, “Iowa farm girl, ma'am. Oh, good, here's Patti.”

Current took the ladle Monet had brought to her and lowered it into the bucket of milk. “Try it, ma'am.”

“It… It hasn't been pasteurized.”

“Doesn't need to be ma'am. It's fresh.”

Melissa gave in. “Oh! That's good! It's warm.”

“Yes, ma'am,” Current said with a smile, “it's the temperature of a cow, but not for long. Why don't you and Patti go give some to the kiddies?” As she spoke Signora Bianchi offered two more buckets steaming in the cold air.

❀ ❁ ❀

In the early evening, Nancy Avery was making her way to the women’s latrine area when she saw a pair of boots sticking out of a stand of trees. She was frightened but moved closer and saw a partially naked woman’s body.

She screamed.

❀ ❁ ❀


— Road —

Day Seventeen — South of Vergato, Friday, 3 April 1998, Early Evening

Ed Clarke was watching Roger Avery sketch his idea of what a horse-drawn ballista would look like.

“My problem,” Avery said, “is that I don’t know enough physics to make sure the throwing arm is even close to what’s needed.” He grinned wryly. “If the throwing arm is worthless, this is a load of lumber on wheels.”

“Physics,” Bill Morgan said thoughfully.

“Yeah, physics,” Clarke answered. “That Marine we let enlist back at Ederle was the physics teacher at the high school.”

Sam Douglas sighed, “There go my operations. Bob Schultz said our guy — uh, Hamilton — is really enjoying getting back into soldiering.”

Dan Tinkerman said piously, “They also serve who only compute tangents and co-secants and… ”

Morgan moaned.

A woman’s scream pierced the evening stillness.

Avery looked up. “That was my wife —!”

Clarke called, “Doc!”

John Coltrane yelled, “Chief, on me,” and grabbed the overnight bag he was calling his medical bag. Chief Edwards ran for a large medical kit and followed his boss.

While that was happening, Sergeant Major Evans stood and bellowed, “Ready platoon, REPORT!”

In all, about forty people, including Chaplain Connolly, headed in the direction of the scream.

Ed Clarke was fast on his feet but Avery beat him to the scene. When Clark entered the stand of trees, Avery was on his knees holding his wife’s shoulders. She was holding the hand of an obviously dead Antonia Rossi.

Clarke told Morgan, “Send someone for the senior MP.” He then saw Sergeant First Class Neil Bruce approaching and said, “Never mind. Our chief cop is here.”

Coltrane and Edwards were next. Coltrane gently removed the dead woman’s hand from Nancy’s hands and nodded to Avery, who eased his spouse back from the body. Coltrane and Edwards began an examination. Clarke, Morgan and Bruce turned away in respect.

Coltrane stood and reported tensely to Clarke. “Sir, she was raped. The immediate cause of death was a single blow to the head by a hard object, almost certainly that rock with the blood on it. The good news, if there is such a thing, is that I think she marked her assailant. There’s apparent bloody human skin under the fingernails of her right hand. I have a typing kit. I should be able to determine the blood type.”

“Whatever you can get us, Doc.” Clarke met Bruce’s eyes over the doctor’s shoulder and they exchanged small grim nods.

Coltrane nodded. Clarke turned back toward Antonia’s remains and saw with relief that her nudity had been covered. Good, he thought. Coltrane knelt down and closed Antonia Rossi’s lifeless eyes.

❀ ❁ ❀

Antonia had asked Luke to unsaddle Stella while he was taking care of Gray. As he was working, he heard a scream and saw the response but he was more tired than he had thought he would be and did not worry. Everything is not my job. He lifted Stella’s saddle off the mare’s back and put the tack on the ground to take up the curry comb.

As Luke was currying Stella, he saw Major Clarke and Chaplain Connolly approaching. The Major’s face looked grim, the chaplain’s compassionate. A shock ran through Luke. His jaw slackened, his legs turned to jelly and he sat down hard. His world grew fuzzy. He lost consciousness, fell backward and hit his head on the solid earth.

❀ ❁ ❀

Clarke yelled, “Medic at the Cav!” He and Connolly ran to Luke.

Specialist Jacob Taylor ran up with his medical kit in his hand. “What happened, sir?”

“We came to tell him about Miss Rossi, Doc, and when he saw us he collapsed.”

Taylor checked Luke’s pupils, then felt around his skull. “No head injuries. He’s just out cold, sir. He’ll probably come around in a few minutes. Uh, what happened to Miss Rossi?”

After Clarke explained, Taylor said, “Well, sir, in field medic school, they taught us about the kind of wounds that just don’t heal well. I never took any medical oath. If you need someone to inflict some kind of wound, I’m your man.”

“I’ll let you know,” Clarke smiled grimly. “In the meantime, Miss Rossi was discovered by Mrs. Avery. Go check on her if the lieutenant doesn’t need you.”

❀ ❁ ❀

What’s happening? Why am I on my back? Luke blinked once or twice. Major Clarke? The padre? NO! The scream… But it wasn’t her voice. He slipped away again.

A few minutes later, Luke thought, Something horrible’s happened. He opened his eyes and saw Clarke and Connolly. Luke summoned up all the strength his parents had given him. “It’s Antonia? She’s hurt? Tell me?”

Clarke took a deep breath. “It’s worse than that, Luke. She’s gone. Someone murdered her.”

Luke squeezed his eyes shut. I haven’t cried since I was fourteen. “Who did it?”

“We don’t know yet. Doctor Coltrane and the cops are working on it.”

Luke hadn’t intended to speak out loud but the words escaped anyway. “I’ll kill him.” A roaring great grief was growing inside him.

“NO, YOU WILL NOT!” Clarke held Luke’s eyes with sheer force of personality. “We will find him, try him and punish him as a court martial directs. I will not have any revenge killings in my command.”

Luke stared at his commander and clenched his teeth until his mouth hurt.

Clarke said, “Okay. You sit here with the chaplain. I have to talk to some people. We’ll get him, Luke. We will.”

As Clarke walked away, Luke asked Connolly, “He kept saying ‘him… ’”

When Connolly closed his eyes, “Luke asked, “No, that too?”

Connolly nodded.

❀ ❁ ❀

It’s spread like wildfire. People look angry or haunted or stunned. They’re bumping into each other and hardly noticing, Clarke thought, then saw Coltrane heading toward him.

“Sir, I had just enough blood to do a full typing. I had Chief Edwards and Captain LeBlanc witness the test because I knew I couldn’t repeat it. We are hellaciously lucky in one thing — your perpetrator has AB negative blood. Statistically, out of 1200 plus people, we should have fewer than five possibilities. Captain LeBlanc is getting those last computer printouts. They include blood type.”

“Good. And here comes our new adjutant now,” Clarke responded. “And with him is our chief cop.”

“Sir, Sergeant Bruce and I went over the list. We counted four people of type AB negative. One disappeared south of Verona and one is a woman. The two left are Staff Sergeant William McMasters of B Company and PFC Scott Matthews of A Company.”

“Okay, Captain, Doc, be prepared to testify,” Clarke told them both, keeping a bitter satisfaction out of his voice. “Sergeant Bruce, you and your MPs take Sergeant McMasters and Private Matthews into custody for questioning.”

“Yes, sir.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Bruce told two of his military policemen, “I know McMasters. We bowl together. Well, used to. He’s got a wife and kid. We’ll get Matthews first.”

The three military policemen approached First Sergeant Mark Connors. “Top, I need to arrest one of your soldiers on suspicion of rape and murder.”

“That was quick. Which one?”

“We got lucky. PFC Scott Matthews.”

“Follow me,” Connors said.

As the four men approached the group that included Matthews, the suspect soldier stood and stared suspiciously around him..

“Don’t take a step, Matthews,” Bruce cautioned. His two cops were fast professionals. They pinned Matthews arms before the suspect could move. “Private First Class Scott Matthews, you are under arrest on suspicion of rape and murder.”

“I didn’t do nothin’,” Natthews blustered. “I don’t even like Italian meat.”

“Scott, you used to go downtown to get laid all the time,” said Matthews’s buddy, Phil Gregory.

“Shut up, shithead!” Matthews glared at Gregory, then switched his eyes to look at Connors with a hint of fear.

The two military police man walked Matthews up to Bruce and Connors.

“Private, your face is dirty,” Bruce said. He soaked his handkerchief with water from his canteen and wiped his prisoner’s left cheek, then smiled with false nonchalance. “How about that. Three deep scratches.”

“Bitch told me ‘no.’ No bitch tells me ‘no,’” Mathews spat, pent-up anger driving spittle and words. “My daddy tol’ me… I got rights. I’m not sayin’ any more. I want a lawyer. I got a right to a lawyer.”

“On top of everything else, he’s a barracks lawyer,” Connors sighed. He looked at Gregory. “I’ll talk to you later,” he told the private and turned to watch Bruce and his cops escort Matthews away.

“First Sergeant?”

Connors turned toward the voice, which proved to be Private Kent Pierce. “Yeah, watcha need, Pierce?”

“I don’t get it, Top. If Matthews killed Miss Antonia, what’s he doin’ here? Why wasn’t he on the run?”

“‘Cause he’s stupid. Did you hear him? ‘My Daddy done tol’ me?’ Matthews is a walkin’, talkin’ add for ‘Southern Stupid Magazine.’ He gives hillbillies a bad name.”

“Yeah, that’s right,” Private Albert Chester offered. “They’re on us like gravy on rice to stay clean and he goes off and makes his face dirty. And then doesn’t check to make sure he’s done a good job.”

“Right,” First Sergeant Connors answered, looking over at the two soldiers’ squad leader and smiling. “Pierce, you were thinking about re-enlisting, right?”

“Re-upping?” Chester said.

“Knock it off, Al. Yes, Top, I was givin’ it some thought.”

“If you go up through your chain of command, the answer will almost certainly be ‘yes,’” Connors told Pierce and the assembly. “Matthews didn’t — Matthews doesn’t — have a chance. His ‘daddy done tol’ him how to beat up on women and maybe weaker men.” Connors carefully avoided looking in the direction of Matthews’s buddy, Private Gregory. “But he never taught him courage. He couldn’t run because he was too much of a coward to go out there where there are none of us. Matthews is a PFC studying to be a private. Well, you guys get back to whatever your NCOs told you to do. There’s a lot going on around here.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Bruce returned to Major Clarke with his prisoner. “Sir, upon being arrested, Private Matthews spontaneously volunteered that the ‘bitch’ had refused him. I think arresting Sergeant McMasters would be a waste of time.”

Clarke nodded. “Doctor Coltrane, look at this cheek.”

Coltrane nodded slightly as he said, “Three gouges. I scraped blood and skin from beneath three fingernails.”

“Thank you, Doctor.” Clarke turned to Matthews, his gaze and voice cold. “I charge you with the rape and murder of Antonia Rossi, an Italian civilian affiliated with this command.”

“But… ” Matthews choked off whatever he’d been about to say, his jaw locking so hard that the muscles quivered.

“Captain LeBlanc,” Clarke went on, his eyes never leaving Matthews, “convene a general court martial tomorrow morning. I have no choice but to detail Major Morgan as the president of the court. I want three officers and two NCOs on the court. Get me two good lieutenants as trial counsel and defense counsel.”

“Yes, sir.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Clarke found his way back through the bivouac area. On his way, he noticed that there was less tension in the air. All I have to do is keep people trusting me.

Luke and Father Connolly were still sitting where he had left them. They had been joined by Alberto Rossi and Bill Morgan. The four men were talking quietly. When they saw him coming, they made room in their circle.

Clarke sat, looked directly at Luke and said, “We got him.”

Alberto and Luke visibly relaxed. Morgan asked, “You’re sure?”

“I can’t say any more. I had no choice but to pick you as president of the court.”

Morgan said, “I have to prepare. Excuse me.”

Clarke told the remaining men, “We have physical evidence and he made a spontaneous confession.” Seeing confusion on Alberto’s face, he explained, “He admitted his guilt before he was questioned.”

“I still want — ” Luke’s hands were balled into fists so tight his veins stood out.

“I know you do, Luke, but you’re a better man than he is.”

Luke stopped, swallowed, and was still for a moment; his hands relaxed a fraction. “Thank you, sir. Twice.”

“I found a place for her grave. There’s a knoll that’s above the current water level of the river. There are volunteers digging now. Alberto, Luke, I don’t know how one woman could make so many men respect her, like her, love her in so little time, but she did.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Day Eighteen — South of Vergato, Saturday, 4 April 1998, Early Morning

Melissa Kinkaid, Nancy Avery and Kathy Douglas washed Antonia and dressed her in the clothes she wore the day she arrived at Camp Ederle. They had covered the damage to her head with an Airborne beret. Luke and Alberto kissed her goodbye and Alberto placed her yellow scarf over her face to protect it from the dirt that would be shoveled back into the hole.

Father Connolly began the Mass. “In the Name of the Father… ”

Connolly finished with, “May her soul and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace.”

❀ ❁ ❀

“Why don’t you go spend some time with Antonia, Luke?” Clarke suggested.

“Because I need to watch the trial.” Luke’s eyes were wider than usual and his fists were clenched again.

“No, you don’t. Really, you don’t. I am confident in the evidence, but the testimony will be a little graphic at points. We’re never coming back here. Go sit by her grave.”

Luke shuddered. “Yes, sir.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Major William Morgan looked at the assembled mass of people. On Clarke’s orders, each of the company commanders had sent about one third of their people. That’s a platoon from each line company and a gaggle from Headquarters. The non-combatants had been warned about the potential nature of the testimony. Young children were excluded, but adult and teen civilians could attend or not by their own choices.

Morgan said, “This court martial is convened.” He tapped the bed of the wagon with a ball peen hammer and looked to his left at the members of the court: Captain Robert Schultz, Captain Nathan Carpenter, Captain Paul Martin, Master Sergeant Edward Schumacher and Sergeant First Class Alfred Livingston. They all looked back with fixed faces, a mixture grim and patient. They’ll do.

Morgan turned to his right. “Are counsels ready?”

Lieutenant Andrew Pierson said, “Prosecution ready, sir.”

“Defense is ready, sir,” Lieutenant Benjamin Edwards said.

“Clerk of the Court, read the charges.”

The battalion administrative NCO read, “Scott Matthews, Private First Class, 006-11-2769, is charged as follows: Specification 1, that PFC Mathews did, on 3 April 1998, forcibly rape Antonia Rossi; Specification 2, that PFC Matthews did, on 3 April 1998, maliciously murder Antonia Rossi.”

Morgan asked, “Lieutenant Edwards, do you have a plea?”

“Defendant pleads not guilty, sir.”

“Lieutenant Pierson, call your first witness.”

“The prosecution calls Mrs. Nancy Avery.”

Nancy Avery walked forward with her own bible in her hand and took the oath.

Pierson said, “Mrs. Avery, tell the court what you saw.”

Nancy Avery inhaled deeply, chin up, then spoke in a flat, measured tone, stern self-control in every word. “Yesterday evening — I don’t know the exact time — I was on the way to the women’s latrine and I saw a pair of boots… ”

Witness by witness, Pierson ran through the information collected the previous evening. Edwards had no cross examinations until Sergeant Bruce had completed his direct testimony.

“Sergeant Bruce, did PFC Matthews confess to any crimes?”

“No, sir, after he said, ‘The bitch told me “No,”’ he said he didn’t want to say anything else.”

“You already told the court what my client said, Sergeant. Did you attempt to interrogate PFC Mathews?”

“No, sir, after he said, ‘The bitch told me “No,”’ I decided that interrogation would be pointless.”

“You are repeating yourself, Sergeant.” Edwards grimaced slightly before adding, “Stop.”

“Yes, sir. Sorry, sir.” Bruce looked completely unrepentant.

“I’m sure,” Edwards sighed. “No further questions, sir,” he told Morgan.

“Sir, the prosecution rests,” Pierson said.

“Sir, the defense rests,” Edwards said.

Strange, or maybe not, Morgan thought. He walked out of hearing range of the members of the court, beckoning. “Counsel approach.”

Pierson and Edwards walked to Morgan. “No defense, Lieutenant Edwards?”

“No, sir. I asked Matthews if he had an alibi or anything to offer in his defense and he said he did not. When I asked if he wanted to take the stand, he said he did not, then said he wanted a real lawyer. He hasn’t spoken to me since.” Edwards shrugged a little helplessly, a resigned expression on his face.

“Okay. Back to your positions.”

Morgan returned to his “bench” and allowed the two lieutenants time for their closing arguments. Edwards was limited to pointing out that there was no one who saw the crimes being committed and that there was no confession. Pierson reviewed the witness testimony and submitted his opinion that only a conviction would be proper.

Morgan said, “The court will retire to consider its verdict.” He opened a hand at the jury and they all strode off under some trees, heads together and talking ernestly.

Thirty-two minutes later the five members of the court returned to the wagon. “We have a unanimous verdict, sir,” announced Captain Robert Schultz. He handed a sheet of paper to Morgan.

Morgan read the verdict and polled each member of the court. When he was satisfied that all agreed, he said, “PFC Matthews, attention.”

Matthews stood with his hands in his pockets. The MPs hovered within arms-reach of him, but he ignored them with what was either a pathetic attempt at dignity or sheer stubborn cussedness.

Morgan raised an eyebrow, but decided to make no comment. Instead, he read, “To the first specification, forcible rape: Guilty; to the second specification, malicious murder: Guilty. Sentence: To be executed in a manner determined by the Commander.”

Morgan was certain that Matthews tried to spit at him but nothing came out of the prisoner’s mouth.

❀ ❁ ❀

Clarke read the verdict. “Okay. Thank you, Major Morgan. You should not be further involved. Thank the members of the court for their diligence.”

Morgan left and Clarke turned to Sam Douglas. “Recommendation?”

“Hang him.”

“Do we have the rope?”

“Signor Montanari has some on his wagon. I think he’ll let us borrow it.”

“‘Borrow’ is not the operative term. Ask Signor Montanari if he can spare me some time.”

A few minutes later, Paolo Montanari said, “Yes, Major, I can provide a rope. How else can I help?”

“By translating two words for me.” He gave them in English.

Montanari’s lips drew back briefly in a dark smile, and Clarke remembered that it was Italians that gave the world the word vendetta. “I can do more than translate. I will paint.”

“Thank you, signor. Sam, get me Sergeant Carson.”

George Carson arrived and snapped to attention.

“How’s your lieutenant doing, George?”

“He’s kinda drawn into himself, sir. Not sayin’ much.”

“You heard the verdict?”

“Yessir. Can I have him?”

“Can you have him?”

“Yes, sir. My idea is to… ” Carson explained, complete with gestures.

Clarke smiled. “Creative — but that would take too long. We’re leaving this place and we’re going to leave him dead. Where’s Sergeant Bruce?”

“Over here, sir.”

“Sergeant, strip the prisoner, everything but his shorts. Then hold him down so Signor Montanari can do what he volunteered to do.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Every person who had watched the trial stayed to watch the execution.

Luke Hutton came out of the woods where Antonia lay and walked toward Clarke. Damn, why couldn’t he just stay away?

Clarke fretted silently, then told Luke, “One of troops has your horse up on the road, Lieutenant,” Clarke told him. “You should go on up there.”

“No. Sir.” Hutton’s face was stone.


“With all due respect to your rank, sir, you denied me my personal vengeance and you chased me away from the trial. I get to see the bastard hang. Alberto’s here.”

“Okay, Luke, I guess that’s fair enough.”

❀ ❁ ❀

About twenty-five minutes later, they were ready. Two military policemen frog-marched Matthews up to George Carson on his bay.

Carson dangled the rope in front of the prisoner’s face. “This is the instrument of your death, asshole. It’s a good, strong rope and this is a legal hangman’s noose. We don’t hang people much out in Arizona anymore, but boys on ranches still learn how to tie the knot from their fathers.”

Leaning over, George slipped the noose over Matthews’s head and tightened it so the bulk of the knot lay behind the ear. As he worked, he watched out of the corner of his eye as Anderson and Bradley took the slack out of the rope.

“Put him on the horse.” Matthews fought, but the MPs were strong and the condemned man was soon astride the animal’s bare back. Anderson and Bradley took up the slack again.

“You know the horse, don’t ya? Just in case you’re confused, this is Stella. This is her horse. This is my way of letting Antonia reach outta her grave and kill your worthless ass.” Carson looked at the condemned man’s chest. “Nice paint job, don’t ya think? ‘stupratore’ and ‘omicida.’ ‘Rapist’ and ‘murderer.’ Fits. Well, you didn’t want to talk to the chaplain, so I guess it’s time. You’re lucky, you know? This is gonna be quick. I asked Clarke if I could stake you out on the ground and poke a couple of holes in you so the wild dogs and boars could smell your blood. Trouble with Major Clarke, he’s too much of a gentleman.”

George Carson turned and faced his battalion commander. “Ready, sir.”

“Private Matthews, do you have anything to say?” Clarke asked.

“Fuck you.” Matthews’s face worked as if he was trying desperately to think of something stronger, but couldn’t. His chin jerked side to side against the bristles of the rope.

Clarke quietly shook his head and looked at Carson. “Do it.”

Carson nodded and brought his riding quirt down hard on Stella’s rump. The horse whinnied and took off at a run. Matthews was snatched off the mare’s back and swung, feet kicking at the air and the dirt twenty inches below his heels.

George saw a mounted Jason Miller match Stella’s speed and slip the loop of his rope over the horse’s head as she passed him. Miller followed Stella and restrained her gently, allowing her to calm. Carson turned back to the hanging Scott Matthews. Not a real good job, George thought critically. He’s still kicking. He dismounted and waited; his fingers started twitching. After another minute or so, Matthews stopped kicking and feces ran down his leg. George blinked and muttered, “Damn, they really do shit themselves.”

“I could’ve told you that, Sarge,” said Chief Warrant Officer Edwards. “It’s involuntary.” Edward waited five more minutes, put his stethoscope into his ears and pressed the bell against Matthews’s chest. After a few seconds, he glanced up at the slightly overcast sky and said, “He’s dead. Time of death about nine thirty.”

George Carson tightened his grip on his bay’s reins in his left hand. He still couldn’t control the shaking. He shook his head and resolutely followed Chief Edwards.

❀ ❁ ❀

When Clarke saw Edwards and the cavalrymen who had executed Matthews coming toward him, he turned to Luke Hutton. “Come on, Luke. It’s over. Let’s go find your horse.”

“Yes, sir. And thank you. I know you could’ve had me hauled away.”

“Yeah, I could have, but you were right. How’s it feel?”

Luke paused and said, “I’m satisfied… but I’m still empty. There’s no tomorrow.”

“Well, yes, there is.” Clarke looked around to make sure everyone was staying clear. “Luke, I’ve never loved a woman. Oh, there was a girl in high school. She said she’d wait for me but she married some guy when I was a second classman. After the Point, there was Infantry Basic, Airborne School, my first tour as a platoon leader… Never enough time to find ‘Miss Right.’ There have been enough women. Some I’ve known, uh, more intimately than others. I’m occasionally jealous of the married officers. The point I’m trying to get to is that it’s getting late for me but you still have plenty of time and I don’t think Antonia Rossi would want you to deny yourself a happy life. She was a selfless person.”

They had reached the head of the column. “Here’s your horse. ‘Gray,’ right?”

“Right, sir.”

“We have seventeen or eighteen kilometers ahead of us. You ready to run this platoon, Lieutenant?”

Luke took one deep breath, nodded stiffly and looked Clarke squarely in the eyes. “I know how to run it, sir. The rest will come back to me.”

“That’s what I need, confidence.” Clarke held out his hand. Luke shook it and the battalion commander smiled. “Okay, back to work.”

“Yes, sir.” Luke, slipped his shield onto his arm, mounted, and rode toward his waiting troops.

❀ ❁ ❀

Staff Sergeant Bill McMasters held his wife. He could tell by the amount of weight he was supporting that her knees were weak. As a tremor ran through her body he asked, “You all right, Maggie?”

She swallowed and said, “I’m trying not to puke. I need the calories to make it through the day.” Maggie took a deep breath and looked in the direction of Major Clarke talking to Luke Hutton. “Did you see how angry Clarke was when he went by?”

“I think you called it wrong, Babe,” McMasters answered. “He’s not mad. He’s sad. He’s had to do something I don’t think he ever imagined.” McMasters looked around. “You’re doing better than a lot of people. There’s quite a few people — men and women — who are tossing their cookies.” I better not tell her that the dogs are lovin’ it, he thought. “Can you walk?”

Maggie nodded her head.

“Let’s go get Amy and spend a few minutes together before they have us in marching order.”

“How do we raise Amy? How do we keep her safe in a world like this?”

McMasters took his wife’s hand in his squeezed it. “You hold her close to you and keep her warm. And I kill any son of a bitch who even looks like he’s going to hurt either one of you.”

He felt a shiver run through his wife. “You’re harder,” she said.

“It’s hard or die,” he answered.

❀ ❁ ❀

It had to happen eventually, I suppose, Sergeant Major Paul Evans thought. It’s ugly, but it’s more humane than staking the guy for the dogs. I gotta talk to Carson and tone him down a little.

“Sergeant Major?”

Evans turned to see First Sergeant Mark Connors’s son, Eric. “Whatcha need, Eric?”

“I want to enlist, Sergeant Major.”


“I want — ”

“I heard you. Why are you telling me?”

“Well, you’re the senior soldier.”

“I thought you were going to college.”

“C’mon, Uncle Paul, it oughta be pretty clear that I ain’t never gonna see Penn State.”

I’m in trouble when he calls me “Uncle Paul.” I’ve known him since he was nine. “What’s your dad say?”

“Uh, I haven’t actually talked to him. He’s been pretty busy.”

“And you want me to do your dirty work for you?”

“No, I just want to be able to say that I talked to you.”

“Okay, you can tell him I said it was an honorable profession.”

Eric grinned. “Thanks, Sergeant Major!” The young man turned and walked away.

Evans shook his head. We’re going to be taking children to war.

❀ ❁ ❀

Luke rode to his troops. When he was in their midst, he said, “Thank you, all of you. I haven’t been worth much since yesterday and probably still ain’t. Sergeant Carson — George, I know you well enough to know that what you did this morning wasn’t easy or fun. I appreciate it.”

“No, it wasn’t fun, sir,” Carson answered, glad that his hands had stopped twitching. “It was… satisfying. Every man in this platoon held your lady in the highest regard. We will all miss having her with us. She was the ‘Lady of the Cavalry.’ Truth.”

“Thanks again.” Luke took another deep breath. “Back to work. The battalion commander wants to make something like seventeen or eighteen klicks today. We don’t know what’s up ahead, but that’s our job. Sergeant Potter, point. Sergeant Miller, backup. Sergeant Carson, drag. Make it happen, people.”

Luke pulled his mount around and rode away before the tears began to well up.

❀ ❁ ❀

Clarke turned to Morgan and asked, “Ready?”

“Just about. Bravo Company has the lead and Charlie Company has the shield wall. The troops who had witnessed the execution have rejoined their units and the non-combatants have just about sorted themselves out.”

“Well done.”

“Are we going to make Poretta Terme?” Bill Morgan asked.

“I think so, but let me keep myself out of trouble with the surgeon.” Clarke looked around. “Someone find Captain Coltrane. And Lieutenant Tinkerman.”

When both men arrived, Clarke explained his goal.

Tinkerman checked his map. “Seventeen kilometers to the city. Another klick, on the city streets, to get through it. I’m not sure that’s a good idea close to sundown. And I wouldn’t try by-passing the city. Route 64 goes through two long tunnels, one around Riola and one around Poretta Terme. By the way, our elevation goes up about 200 meters.”

Coltrane did some quick scribbling in his notebook and said, “That’s an average one percent grade.”

“Okay, gentlemen, I get the message. But we’re gonna give it a try anyway. Father Connolly has pointed out that tomorrow is Palm Sunday and he would really like a day of rest. We’re a lot closer to Easter than I had realized. I guess I hadn’t been giving it a lot of thought. We’ll get through Riola the best way we can. We need to take advantage of Signor Montanari's — well, his wife’s — family ties to ensure our peaceful transit of Poretta Terme.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Clarke found Montanari by his wagon and asked him if he could assist with the column’s move through Poretta Terme.

“Of course, Major. My brother-in-law is a successful businessman and I believe he both can and will help you. You and your people have been very kind to us. We will be forever in your debt. I think my wife wants to adopt Miss Current.”

“What did Miss — uh, Specialist — Current have to say?”

“I think the young lady wants to stay with people she knows.” Montanari shrugged and smiled. “At any rate, perhaps if we and some of your horsemen approach the city first, it will ease things.”

Clarke smiled back. “Perhaps. Thank you.”

They headed generally southwest and crossed the Reno River. The cavalrymen trotted forward for reconnaissance. In about one kilometer, they came to a second bridge over the Reno. Jake Potter held his hand down to tell Miller to slow down. He took in what was ahead of him and turned his horse.

“Mind the store,” he called to Miller as he cantered past him.

Potter dismounted as he rode up to Clarke, who halted the column. “Sir, something really curious up ahead. The tunnel starts about one kilometer past the bridge. In between the two is a roadblock, but there’s no one there. It’s built as well as the ones back in Vergato, but abandoned.”

“Thank you, Sergeant.” Clarke turned to his staff. “Opinions? Options?”

Dan Tinkerman answered, “The simple answer is that they set up the barricade to defend against bandits or vandals. When they saw us coming — maybe a guy on a side road — they decided to hunker down and hope we go right through their area or, worst case, just absorb their losses.”

Sam Douglas agreed. “Let’s go through the roadblock and down onto the local street. Once there, we walk through without stopping. Pick up nothing. Drop nothing.”

Clarke nodded thinking, Do I prefer this kind of response to our arrival over thrown rocks and arrows? Hell yes. “Okay. Execute. Sergeant Potter, get back up front so we know our route.”

“Yessir.” Jake remounted. That didn’t go so bad, but I’d rather have Luke doin’ it.

Jake cantered then trotted back to the point. Don’t wear out the critter, idiot. He left Miller with his patrol and took Nadolski and Appleby forward with him. As they passed through the roadblock, Nadolski pointed out paper that looked like it had been folded to fit a sandwich. Jake nodded. Someone finished — started? — a meal, Jake thought.

Potter nodded to his troops and they followed down the highway ramp to the city street

❀ ❁ ❀

As Luke rode back along the column, he came upon Chaplain Connolly first. He stopped more out of courtesy than out of a desire to talk. “Thank you for sitting with me yesterday, Father, and for the funeral.”

“It was my privilege, Luke. Are there any questions I can try to answer?”

“I don’t know what they are yet. I only know I’ll never look into her eyes again, never kiss her… I’ll never hear her sing.”

“I don’t doubt that she’s singing for God.”

The words escaped before he could clamp his teeth on them. “Why does He need her more than I do? Excuse me.” Luke rode on.

Luke found Specialist Abbott with his archers. Abbott and Baker were astride horses; the other three were walking and leading their mounts.

“We’re working on it, sir. It seems to work better if we walk for a while and ride for a while.”

Let them figure it out to suit themselves. They know damn well that you don’t have all the answers. “Very well. Carry on.”

❀ ❁ ❀

When the column had completely cleared the city streets and was back on Route 64, Clarke called a halt for lunch. A truck that had rolled onto its side blocked most of the road, the load had been women’s clothes and packages were strewn across a swath of pavement. Charlie Company set to clearing it out of the way while the rest ate first.

After people had rested, Clarke nodded to Douglas, who ordered the column back into motion.

Later in the afternoon, Signor Montanari said, “Major, you are approaching the first of two tunnels bypassing Porretta Terme.”

At that point, George Carson rode up, jumped off his horse, nodded to the Italians and said, “Another roadblock, sir. And another tunnel.”

“Actually two tunnels, Sarge, but stand by.” Clarke turned to the Italians. “Signor, I believe it is time for you to intercede for us. If it will not confuse things, I will go forward with you and your lady.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Day Eighteen — Porretta Terme, Italy, Saturday, 4 April 1998, Afternoon

Maria Bianchi joined her husband and Clarke as they walked to the barricade. He was pricklingly aware that the men ahead were armed, mostly with tools but several had knife blades mounted on poles, crude but serviceable spears. Not unlike our half pikes, Clarke thought. I have to rethink weapons superiority. They were eying the mass of troops behind him with obvious worry and some of them hunkered down low behind their barricade, nervously peeking out between chunks of stone and wood and overturned cars. The man at the front was putting a brave expression on his face as he stepped out to meet them, one hand raised palm out while the other gripped a spear.

“Niccolo!” Maria Bianchi exclaimed.

“Maria!” The man yelled in apparent delight, his grip on the spear relaxed slightly. His raised hand came down to briefly hug her instead.

Montanari shook hands with the man. “Major Clarke, this is Niccolo Melani, my wife’s cousin.” In Italian, he introduced Clarke to Melani.

I understood that much well enough, Clarke thought. He listened as Montanari and Melani conversed rapidly in Italian. I have got to learn more of the language than “Military Italian 101;” it’s what I’m going to be speaking more and more. Maybe Montanari or someone else can tutor me? And the rest of the command group too.

“Good,” Montanari said, turning back to Clarke. “Signor Melani will send a man to bring Maria’s brother here.”

Clarke saw one of the men at the roadblock get on a bicycle and ride down an exit ramp into town. Ten minutes passed while the Montanaris explained to Melani the things they had seen on the way here, including the strange emptiness of the last town, Clarke mostly just listened and studied the men at the barricade.

Locals all, he surmised, shopkeepers, clerks, laborers, maybe some farmers. Most of them barely know which end of those spears to point at us. If we had to fight them it’d be a slaughter, even with their barricade we’d go right through them. But I suspect they aren’t the only armed folks in town, so let’s just be glad we’ve got someone to intercede for us peacefully. We’d also acquire a “reputation” that would not serve us well.

Then two bicycle riders approached the barricade from town. One jumped off his bike and rushed to Maria Bianchi. They embraced and kissed. Montanari turned and motioned Clarke forward.

“Major Clarke, this is my brother-in-law and city councilman Signor Adolfo Bianchi. Signor Bianchi, Major Edward Clarke of the United States Army.”

“A pleasure, sir,” said Bianchi.

“Likewise, sir,” answered Clarke, “I have been very fortunate to meet Italians who speak English over the past two weeks. Your English is excellent while my Italian is poor and tends toward military terms.”

“I operate a resort hotel, or at least I used to,” Bianchi smiled. “I also speak German and French. But that is a side issue. My sister says you saved her life.”

Clarke cleared his throat slightly. “I think she may have overstated what we did. When she and Signor Montanari joined us, there was no immediate threat to their lives.”

“Well, be that as it may, you have a short walk — less than two kilometers — ahead of you to your encampment.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Signor Bianchi spoke to Niccolo Melani, who ordered his men to clear the way; a part of the barricade opened on a jury-rigged wheel. The 508th began the trek down the ramp and into the city while the guarding townsmen showered them with nervous smiles and stayed well to the side.

About thirty minutes later, Clarke arrived at the gates to a luxury hotel nestled in its own gardens adjacent to the river. He blinked at the place doubtfully.

“Signor Bianchi, are you certain you want us all in here?”

“I am most certain. I am the owner of a resort hotel that has probably gone out of business.” Bianchi shook his head sadly, then shrugged a purely Italian gesture. “It is time to re-invent myself. But, in the meantime, I will provide aid and succor to men who would have stood on the wall and protected me and mine. I am told that your men have not had a hot shower since leaving Vicenza. Tonight, with your permission of course, they can do just that.”

Clark nodded in appreciation.

“If it were safe, I would allow everyone to sleep inside. But fires are still possible. If we filled the buildings and something happened, people would begin dying… ” Bianchi shuddered. “There is room for all of the women and children and perhaps you and your officers. Or a portion of your soldiers. How you allocate the space is up to you. For the remainder, you will probably find that you have to use open space on both sides of the street.”

“I’m confused. How are you heating your water?”

“Ah, I failed to mention that. The city sits above hot springs; the water is heated by the Earth.”

“Well, thank you, sir. Major Morgan, please have the S1 set up a schedule for showers for the battalion and the non-combatants. You probably ought to have the women and children use facilities in one building and the men in the other.”

“Yes, sir.”

“We’ll discuss billeting arrangements after the shower schedule is in place.”

❀ ❁ ❀

“It's wondrous to behold,” Morgan commented to Sam Douglas. “Signor Bianchi has expanded his hospitality and let our cooks take over his kitchen to serve a meal — admittedly created from MREs — to all of our people in the dining rooms and bars of the hotel. At the boss’s recommendation, he locked up all his booze.”

Douglas nodded approvingly at that and commented, “Except for sitting on the edge of a wagon, no one's sat anywhere but the ground to eat since the night before we left Ederle. We even have families eating together.”

“Speaking of eating, Major Clarke wants us to see if we can scare up some venison — for us and for the locals.”

“I'm finished eating,” Douglas offered. “I'll go look for Hutton.”

“I saw him leaving a few minutes ago. I think he was going to check on the herd,” Morgan said. “Give him a while. I think going out to spend time with the animals is a kind of therapy for him. That’s from a guy who barely passed his psychology courses. Most of the cavalry platoon is in the lobby.”

“Well, I'll give them a warning order, but I’ll tell the NCOs to wait until they get their official tasking from Hutton. I’m not… Well, it’s not important.”

“Go ahead, Sam, speak your piece.”

“Okay, sir, law or no law, I think I’d have been tempted to let Hutton kill that bastard.” Douglas paused. “There, I said it.”

“Well, Sam, I was the judge at the trial and, between us, I agree with you. But I also think Ed Clarke may be smarter than both of us.”

Douglas nodded and shrugged. “Which is why he’s the major on a promotion list, I guess. I'm going to take a walk in the park with my wife. I'm sure we'll bump into Lieutenant Hutton somewhere out there.”

❀ ❁ ❀

“Lieutenant Hutton!”

Captain Douglas. Trouble? “Yes, sir.”

Douglas and his wife walked into view. They're holding hands. This can't be too bad.

Douglas followed Luke's gaze and raised his hand, still grasping his wife's. “The Army calls this a ‘public display of affection,’” he said, “but I figured if I can wear a beard I can hold my wife's hand.

“Major Clarke wants you to try to get some deer for the townspeople and for us. I took the liberty of warning your NCOs that you'd be around.”

“No problem, sir, they've probably already planned the mission. I got lucky. I don't have a bad man.”

The S3 nodded. “Will it bother the horses if we walk around?”

“No, they love to have their jaws scratched, but pat them on their rumps first to get their attention and make sure they’re awake.”

“They sleep on their feet?” Kathy Douglas asked.

“Yes ma’am, they can go for days without a sound sleep. If you see any lying down, there’s a good chance those’re in a deeper sleep.”

“I guess we all get to learn more about horses as we go,” Sam Douglas offered.

“Yes, sir, you and all the other officers should probably expect to be mounted when — if — we have the animals.”


“Yes, ma’am?”

Kathy Douglas placed her hand gently on Luke’s shoulder. “You take care of yourself. We’re all going to benefit from what you know.”

“Uh, yes, ma’am. Thank you, ma’am.”

❀ ❁ ❀

George Carson was walking in the garden of the resort when he came across Melissa Kinkaid sitting on a bench.

“Evenin', ma'am, how are you doin'?”

“I'm fine. And George?”


“When a man offers me a shoulder to cry my heart out, I stop being ‘ma’am.’”

“Yes’m. I mean yes, Mrs. Kinkaid.”

“George, I’m not Mrs. Kinkaid any more. That ended when ‘he’ left.”

“Yes… ”


“Yes, Melissa. That's a pretty name.” He added huskily, “For a pretty lady.”

“George Carson! I do believe you're blushing.”

“I… Probably. Melissa, I've been with a lot of women, but I've never been with — uh, I mean around — anyone I felt so comfortable with as you.”

“Why don't you sit down, George?”

❀ ❁ ❀

Day Nineteen — Porretta Terme, Italy, Palm Sunday, 5 April 1998, Morning

The archers and their escorts had walked out of the woods near sunrise with ten horses and six deer carcasses. “Sorry, sir,” Abbott reported to Luke ruefully, “we weren't as successful as last time.”

“No apology required,” Luke answered, “something's better than nothing. Take 'em around back to the kitchen. The cooks will take care of it from there. Get some sleep after you eat. You've got all day, unless you’re going to mass up at the big church.”

❀ ❁ ❀

“Excuse me, Major,” said John Coltrane, “but some of these people are about to fold. If you're going to march them up into the mountains, they need a couple of days to rest.”

“And,” Chaplain Connolly added, “today is Palm Sunday. I'd like the Catholics in the column to be able to attend mass in a real church. I'll still do the ecumenical service for the others, of course.”

“Okay, if Signor Bianchi agrees to our staying through Monday night, we'll stay, but that's it. Tuesday morning we're on the road and, yes, up the hill.”

“Thanks, sir,” Connolly said. “There's something else you should know.”

“Now what?”

“The governing council met and voted not to grant an exception for Signor Montanari to their earlier policy of excluding new settlers.”

“So they're showing the Montanaris the door… No! They're telling his wife she can stay?”

Connolly nodded. “She was born here. He wasn't.”

“So she's staying and they're sending him back to Marzabotto?”

“Well, they're only telling him he can't stay, not where he has to go. As for Signora Bianchi, she's following her husband. I believe they are going to ask to accompany us. There’s a background issue. I think the locals want the Montanari’s livestock.”

Clarke leaned back, put his hands behind his head and exhaled. What have I done to myself? “You gentlemen have recommendations?”

“It's the Christian thing to do,” Connolly offered.

“And we can use the milk,” Coltrane added.

❀ ❁ ❀

“Signor Bianchi,” Clark greeted their host.

“Major Clarke,” Bianchi answered, “thank you for the venison. It will help us all get through the time until our crops are due for harvest. Most of us, including me, know little about farming.”

“You're quite welcome. It's one of the few things we can do for people who are kind to us as we move through their cities.

“Our chaplain, Father Connolly, would like to celebrate mass for the Catholic members of the battalion in a church for Palm Sunday and my surgeon wants our people to have an additional day of rest before continuing. I ask your indulgence to remain an additional night. We will use the outdoor space only. That will make it easier to get everyone started in the morning.”

“Of course, but please have another meal inside the night before you leave.”

“You're very generous. I accept your offer to use your dining rooms again.”

Eccellente! Your people are very clean. I believe my property is cleaner now than it was when you arrived.”

“It better be at least as clean. There is another matter. I do not wish to become involved in a family matter, but your sister has asked to continue with us.”

“I suspected she would do so. Other members of the council thought otherwise. I think at least two of them expect her cows to remain.” Bianchi paused and chewed on his lip for a moment. “I would not for a moment tell you how to organize your force from a military perspective, but, when you leave, I would put the livestock near the front of your parade and fill the road from side to side.”

Clarke smiled. “That sounds like a very good idea.”

“Sadly, sometime Tuesday I will have to tell the council of my sister's decision.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Day Twenty-one — Porretta Terme, Tuesday, 7 April 1998, Morning

The battalion and it’ hangers-on were assembled before 0600. Clarke said “Pracchia,” and Sam Douglas signaled the lead element to step off. Luke Hutton and Alberto Rossi rode forward to coordinate with the barricade watch at the north end of Ponte Venturina, the city where they would turn away from route 64 onto route 632 so they could stay with the Reno and its increasingly fresh and increasing cold supply of water.

Jake Potter and his patrol had the point. Behind them came the Montanaris, Specialist Elizabeth Current and Private First Class Patricia Monet. They had the ten cows, the bull and a wagon.

I suppose I should ask, Clarke thought, but Melissa hasn't done me wrong yet.

Beside the distance, there was a tension running through the people. I think it's mostly that they're worried that we'll run out of good luck. In my case, it's concern that the people of Porretta Terme might come after us for “stealing” the cows.

Late in the afternoon, Tinkerman said, “It's about one more klick to the center of Pracchia.”

“Then we keep marching,” Clarke answered.

On their way to the rail station. George Carson and his troops, who were on the point, returned briskly. George said, “Carabinieri.”

Clarke said, “Lieutenant Hutton.”

Luke and Alberto mounted their horses. “Got it, sir,” Luke said as they trotted away.

❀ ❁ ❀

Luke and Alberto Rossi reined in near a man in a Carabinieri uniform with lieutenant's insignia. Luke saluted. The Italian officer's English was not as good as that of other people they had met along the way, but it was good enough. If only Antonia was standing beside me, Luke wished.

“We are the 1st Battalion, 508th Infantry and are moving south from Vicenza. Because of the women and children traveling with us, we have reached the furthest point we can travel today. We will need to spend the night in your rail yard.”

The lieutenant hesitated. Don't make his hard on any of us, Luke thought.

“The people here do not have much.”

“And we want nothing but flat space to spend the night and water from the Reno.”

“How many are you?”

“We have eight hundred combat effectives,” Luke answered, thinking, That's if you call the support types effectives.

The lieutenant gulped visibly. “And others?”

“Five hundred.”

“You may stay. One night.”

Okay, mister superiority. “One night,” Luke agreed and extended his hand to clinch the deal.

❀ ❁ ❀

An hour later the last of the troops and the drag cavalry pulled into the parking lot of the rail station, most shivering in a chilly breeze. Captains Avery and O'Donnell worked together allocating space to the units. The three wagons stayed in the parking lot with Headquarters Company and the cavalry platoon. The three line companies took up their allocated space in the yard. “Some day, I'm gonna sleep in a bed,” more than one private was heard to grouse.

The guard detail from A Company took up its position at the entry to the parking lot. Others took up positions at both ends of the rail yard and anywhere there was a way to enter the bivouac area. Clouds covered the sinking sun and the breeze rose to a definite wind. The gray buildings of the town huddled away from the tracks and the fence had too many openings, but there were enough troops to cover them all.

A man who spoke no English wearing a uniform the troops did not recognize came to the guard line. The guards called Alberto Rossi, who spoke with the visitor and explained, “This is the station master. He wants to unlock the building for us.”

Clarke gratefully accepted and within twenty minutes they had moved all the women and children into the cold building where they would at least not be exposed to the wind. It made what promised to be a dismal night a little less so.

After that a handful of curious folk came to different parts of the fences, looking them over. There was no consistency — individual men, a couple small groups of men and women, three elderly women with faces like old stone. None tried to talk to the troops or even get particularly close. But two of the individuals and one of the small groups waved and smiled.

Which is probably about as much as we can hope for, Clarke thought. And we’re leaving behind us a reputation for responsible behavior and honest treatment. I’m not sure there’s more we can do — yet.

❀ ❁ ❀

As the sky darkened, the troops and everyone else ate their MREs, using the excess heat rising from the heat packs to warm their hands.

When the cleanup detail had collected the waste from the meal, the encampment fell strangely silent. It's amazing how quiet the world has gotten, Clarke thought. Even a little town like this would have some traffic. I can hear the river running across the yard. He heard a guitar being tuned and that rich baritone started the solo:

Oh Shenandoah,

I long to see you,

Away you rolling river

Oh Shenandoah,

I long to see you,

Away, I'm bound away

'cross the wide Missouri.

“I have to find out who that is,” Clarke said to no one in particular.

“If you get too close, he'll stop singing,” Paul Evans replied, “and no one will have any idea who he was.”

“Do you know, Paul?”

“No, actually, I don't. I don't want to know and I submit that you don't either, sir. Just enjoy.”

'Tis seven years since last I've seen you,

And hear your rolling river,

'Tis seven years since last I've seen you,

Away, we're bound away

Across the wide Missouri.

“Trouble is,” said Jason Miller, “no matter where you are in the U. S., you don't actually have to cross the Missouri to get to the Shenandoah.”

“Oh, shut up, Jase,” George smiled.

“Okay, okay,” Miller grinned unrepentantly.

“It is a very sorrowful song,” Alberto Rossi said.

His face was drawn and sad; Luke thought there had been no joy for him since Antonia’s death. Nor for me — but I’ve got a duty to my men.

“It's yearning,” said Luke. “Listen up, everyone.” He waited. “Is there anyone here who doesn't understand our fate?”

“We die in the saddle,” said Aaron Appleby brusquely.

“Well, we die in Italy. Hopefully we live long enough to earn some peace,” Specialist James Foster said.

“I prefer Jim's version to Aaron's,” Luke responded. “If — when — we get to Livorno, the Navy's not gonna be sitting there with a battle group ready to take us home. We are home.”

Oh Shenandoah,

I long to see you,

And hear your rolling river,

Oh Shenandoah,

I long to see you,

Away, we're bound away

Across the wide Missouri.

Luke nodded to his troops and went over to his sleeping bag near where Gray lay on the ground. He crawled into the bag and pushed up against Gray for warmth. He thought he could get to sleep but without warning his body jerked and the first sob erupted from his chest. He was unaware of George Carson pausing for a moment and nodding before proceeding to his own sleeping bag.

❀ ❁ ❀

In the cold and darkness of the parking lot, one of the privates saw movement at the other end of the bridge over the Reno. He snapped his fingers three times.

“What'cha got, Kelly?”

“Movement across the bridge, Sarge. One man came outta that yard, real slow. His was carrying a bike on his shoulder. He was headed south. I lost him when he got behind those buildings to our left.”

“Good work. Stay alert. Shift's almost over.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Day Twenty-two — Pracchia, Italy, Tuesday, 7 April 1998, Morning

“Did you see the log entry on the guy with the bike?” Bill Morgan asked Clarke.

“Yeah, I did. What was he doing? Running? From us? Warning someone? Whom? Does Hutton know about him?”

“Not yet. Staff and commanders call in about five minutes.”

When the meeting convened, Clarke started as he always did. “S1?”

“No losses. Personnel status is stable. Waking up with snow on my sleeping bag was a real thrill, but I guess that's Dan's bailiwick.”

Clarke shook his head. “S2?”

“Weather:Sir, it snowed last night.”

Everyone laughed.

“You guys are awful cheerful,” Clarke commented drily.

“That's because of the next part of my report,” Tinkerman explained. “Terrain: It's about nine kilometers to Le Piastre. That's our maximum elevation. We also leave the river at that point. The next water we'll see will be down near Pistoia. Enemy: Last night, a single person was seen leaving the city with a bicycle. His intentions are unknown.”


“This morning we march to Le Piastre. Nine kilometers, three hours. If all goes well, we start down the mountain.”

A sigh of relief ran through the assembly.


“Never thought I'd live to hear you say that, Sam,” O'Donnell said. “We're getting low on rations, sir. We'll barely make it to Darby.”

“Thank you all. Lieutenant Hutton, we may actually have a threat out there. I want the entire cavalry platoon, including archers, out front.”

“Sir,” Luke nodded.

“Let's do it. March order, Sam?”

“Cav, Bravo, Head and Head, trains, Charlie, Alfa.”


❀ ❁ ❀

Luke discussed the threat with Clarke, Morgan and Douglas en route and Clarke agreed to hold the column short of Le Piastre and allow the cavalry to conduct a security sweep.

Clarke held the column at the bridge over the Reno and started having groups refill canteens.

Luke and his sergeants knelt on the highway around a road map of Le Piastre.

“Jake, you go down to the second intersection, hang a left and go south to the intersection with the highway. George, follow Jake but hold at that intersection until he signals you. Jase and Chuck, you're with me. We follow the highway and meet up with the others here. Clear?” He got four nods. “Let's go.”

Le Piastre was eerily like the town they had passed through before Prachia, but this time there wasn’t even a barricade. The road was empty, a couple cars had obviously been pushed aside to clear it and many more were parked off-street, but signs warned of penalties along both sides passing through town. Several crows perched on power lines and occasionally soared overhead, all of them silent.

Luke thought absently, Buildings clustered close, their windows blank. I didn’t see a single face peering out at us. God, I’d almost rather see a bunch of hostile faces than all this emptiness. Where is everybody?

When they had all met at the center of the town, where a small roundabout circled an empty fountain and more crows watched from atop dead lampposts, Luke asked, “Did anyone see any sign of life?”

“You mean other than the damn crows?” Chuck asked, scowling at the nearest one.

“Couple of stray cats,” Guy Anderson offered.

“Hmm. Jase, Chuck, hold here. George, Jake, follow me.”

The seven cavalrymen rode forward another two hundred meters or so until they reached the sign that told them they were leaving the town. Luke stood up in his saddle and looked around. “Recover.” They all trotted back toward the intersection, joined the men Luke had left in place and returned to the battalion waiting by the Reno north of town.

Luke dismounted and reported to Clarke while his men took the horses, including Gray, for water.

“Place is like a ghost town, sir. We went to the far side of town. There's either no one there or they're all hunkered down.” Morgan and Douglas listened.


“Penetrate a little further and see if we can scare something up,” Luke answered. Morgan and Douglas both nodded.

“Not without infantry,” Clarke answered. “Sam, I need a company.”

“Bravo's up front,” Douglas answered signaling to Captain Schultz.


When Schultz arrived, Clarke said, “Okay, Lieutenant Hutton, give me a plan.”

Luke paused for a second. “Order of advance is me, Carson's patrol, you, and Captain Schultz and Bravo. There's a double curve up ahead, with a few buildings and a lot of trees close to the road. One person — me — goes around the curve to recon. If I don't come back, reinforce.”

“Approved. What about the rest of your troops?”

“Leave them with… Major Morgan?”

Clarke nodded.

Luke led “Task Force Hutton” through town.

In bad moments, Luke Hutton’s confidence slid. Will I ever have a home or will I be walking — or riding — for the rest of my life? Suppose Livorno is useless? It's a city like Vicenza. I never expected to cry like that. I think it helped. God, I miss Antonia. Luke shook off the memory of the columns of smoke rising all over the city that had been his temporary home, but he could not free himself of Antonia. Vicenza was nothing like Austin, but I was comfortable there. Suppose I'd never gone to check out Papà's riding school?

Luke had ridden less that a kilometer when he thought he saw some movement in the trees off to his right. He halted and held his right hand up in the air to stop the people following him. He unfocussed his vision and scanned the woods but did not see any further movement. This is starting to irritate me.

He motioned George and his troop forward. “Watch my back, George,” he told his friend. “When I give you the sign ride up to where I am and stop.”

About two hundred meters to the start of the curve. Map says one hundred and eighty degrees to the right then back another one hundred and eighty to the left. Luke carefully picked his way along the road, there was broken glass and plastic here from some car collision, though no car; he was happy to be on Gray. Luke stopped short of the first loop.

Luke looked back over his shoulder and waved to George Carson, who brought his patrol forward. “Two minutes, George, then come save me.” George nodded.

Luke nudged Gray into a trot and rounded the curve at speed. As he finished the hairpin, Gray shied and Luke fought to regain control. He kicked free of the stirrups and slid back over Gray’s rump, hitting the ground hard.

He rolled backward until his helmet hit the ground. Realizing that Gray was rearing, Luke rolled over twice to put distance between himself and the horse’s hooves. He sat up and looked at the glittering things that had caused Gray to panic. Holy Mary, Mother… Pikes!

❀ ❁ ❀


— Umbertide —

Day Twenty-two — South of Le Piastre, Wednesday, 8 April 1998

Those aren’t spontoons like we put together at Ederle. Those are honest-to-God pikes! Three ranks of ‘em. Luke looked more closely and saw that the men were in the uniform of the Italian army. That explains the movement in the woods. Behind the third rank stood a single soldier. Officer.

Luke stood and dusted off his rump. See if I can get my dignity back. He walked over to Gray and grasped the horse’s reins. The animal was still skittish and Luke patted and stroked his withers while he spoke to calm him. “That’s okay, boy. You did just fine.”

Gray nickered and Luke hugged his mount briefly before turning to face the Italians.

The officer passed through his lines toward Luke. I can’t get my brain to decode his rank but he looks familiar somehow. When the Italian was within range, Luke came to attention and saluted. “Sir, Lieutenant Luke Hutton, United States Army.”

The officer returned the salute. He extended his right hand and addressed Luke in English. “Good morning, lieutenant. I am Lieutenant Colonel Parodi of the Folgore Parachute Brigade.” He smiled. “Relax. You are among friends.”

Luke accepted the extended hand. “Thank you, sir.”

Luke heard noise behind him. Uh oh! he thought and looked over his shoulder to see almost twenty soldiers come around the curve at a trot. Luke’s count included Carson’s patrol, mounted archers, spontoons, edged weapons and an anxious-looking Major Edward Clarke.

The Italians were still in their defensive pose. Luke turned and held up his hands. “Everyone stop! Well, not you, Major.”

Clarke, however, did stop. He then walked forward until he was in saluting range of Lieutenant Colonel Parodi and the two men exchanged salutes.

Parodi extended his hand to Clarke and said, “I think I remember you. Your battalion jumped with Folgore during the last NATO exercise.”

“Yes, sir,” Clarke responded. “Folgore hosted for us a tour of Livorno and Pisa afterward.”

That’s where I saw him, Luke thought.

“May we talk privately?” Parodi asked.

“Of course, sir, but first…” Clarke looked at Luke. “Lieutenant Hutton, send someone to tell Major Morgan that we’re in a non-threat environment.”

Luke nodded and looked at George Carson, who wheeled his mount and rode back toward the main body of the battalion. I hope Clarke is right, Luke thought.

❀ ❁ ❀

Clarke followed Parodi off the road. I hope I was right when I declared this to be a non-threatening environment, Clarke thought. Oh, well, if I’ve screwed up, I’ve screwed up in spades. As best I remember, I liked this man the moment I shook his hand back during that exercise. Let’s hope that counts for something.

“Your move this far south is an impressive accomplishment,” Parodi offered.

“Thank you, but how did you know we were coming?”

“The — ” Parodi paused and shook his head, smiling grimly. “The ‘Government of the Republic of Porretta Terme’ sent two delegates by bicycle to Pistoia. There is another route than you took. They were allowed to meet with the Bishop, who has, for all practical purposes, taken over administration of the city. Among other things, they demanded — not asked, but demanded — the return of Maria Bianchi and a herd of cattle which they claimed were stolen by Bianchi with your assistance.”

Clarke opened his mouth to speak.

“Wait, please, there is more. When the bishop asked what appeared to be the more senior of the two, uh, delegates to swear to the truth of his allegations on a cross, the other man attempted to attack his grace. The attacker is dead and the delegate is in a damp cell. My commander has expressed the hope that the prisoner may catch some incurable disease.”

“Well, I can assure you that Signora Bianchi — and her husband, Signor Montanari — brought the cattle with them when they joined us at Marzabotto.” Clarke thought for a moment. “I am concerned about the welfare of Signora Bianchi’s brother, who was very kind to us in Porretta Terme. I wish I had asked him to accompany us, but at the time he seemed secure.”

Parodi nodded.

“If the bishop is running Pistoia, what happened to the civil government?”

“The mayor hanged himself. The chief of police asked the bishop to step in to provide spiritual guidance.” Parodi held out both hands. “One thing led to another…”

“Yes,” Clarke said, somewhat remotely. “One thing leads… What about the Government of Italy?”

“As near as we have been able to determine, there is no such thing.” Parodi looked Clarke hard in the eye. “And, not that I expect you to know with certainty, the United States Government?”

“The same, I suspect,” Clarke answered. “A much larger area and the same inability to communicate over long distances as the Italian government would have had. My officers, senior NCOs, and I have discussed this at some length. We haven’t raised the subject with the junior enlisted personnel, but few them are fools. Sometimes I don’t know why they’re still following me.”

“I propose,” Parodi said, “that you and your command accompany us to our barracks in Pistoia. But that would be our second destination. First, we will make a stop at a local farm whose owner has agreed to help us. We will get some hot food into your stomachs and see to other creature comforts. In Pistoia, we actually have something resembling showers. My brigade commander wants to speak to you. Frankly, we need your help. However, my orders are to see first to your welfare.”

“I appreciate your offer,” Clarke responded, “but my stated mission is to move to Camp Darby. I have promised myself to surrender to the senior officer at Darby. You are now the only person other than my executive officer who knows that. I have done a few things in the last three weeks which should be examined by a board of officers.”

“That’s admirable, Major, but, for all practical purposes, there is no Camp Darby.”

Clarke closed his eyes briefly. “What happened?”

“Most of the buildings have been ransacked and the people murdered. Let us face reality. These were not combat soldiers as you and I are. We had a relationship with the police in Livorno before the city collapsed. There is a man named Morelli who was a small-time thief before that morning and is apparently something of an opportunist. He has become a warlord in a very short time.”

“Are all the Americans dead?”

Parodi frowned. “Some probably wish they were. Some of the wives were taken into what Morelli is calling captivity. I would call it sexual slavery. Some escaped. The senior American to come out of Darby is a first lieutenant. He’s in Pistoia.”

“Then everything was a loss in the city?”

“Not everything. Our naval academy was in Livorno and one of my lieutenants who sails for sport told our commander that we needed to save Amerigo Vespucci. It is the only sailing vessel in the Italian Navy. We sent a company to wake up the navy and tell them to set sail. Because the vessel’s crew was dispersed in the city, some of our infantrymen had to become sailors, but they will get over it.” Parodi smiled grimly. “I hope to see them again. I’m two platoons short. The rest of that company had to fight its way back to our barracks. When they joined us we marched to Pistoia. Morelli has declared something called ‘Republica Toscana.’ For the time being, we are unable to take the city back from him.”

“Where did they take it — her? Unless I’m asking too much.”

“Ah! Amerigo Vespucci? No, you are not. I do not know, although I would have sailed her to Sardinia. I think you would probably refer to that island as a ‘bread basket.’ The problem is that Morelli’s little empire sits between us and this potential source of food.”

“If my S2, who is a very bright young man, were sitting here, he would probably pull me aside and tell me that you have a source of information in this Morelli’s camp.”

Parodi smiled and put on what Clarke would have called an innocent face. “I am certain that I have no idea what you are talking about.”

Clarke returned the smile. “What is it you need us to do?”

Parodi frowned. “Although I know the answer, I am prohibited from providing it. Colonel De Angelis has reserved that privilege for himself.”

Clarke nodded. That’s not all that unusual, he thought.

While Clarke and Parodi talked, B Company came up and halted. Clarke could hear the sound of the remainder of the column moving in behind. Clarke saw Bill Morgan coming around B Company and said, “Let me introduce my XO to you.”

“Of course.” After Morgan and Parodi exchanged courtesies and the three men talked for a while, Parodi said, “Let us move down to the farm at least. If it were not for the trees you would be able to see it.”

“We accept,” Clarke answered. “Bill, please tell Captain Douglas to get us underway.”

In the center of the road, Luke Hutton was standing by his mount and looking back at the foot soldiers.

“What are you looking for, Lieutenant?” Clarke asked.

“Oh, not so much ‘for’ as ‘at,’ Sir. I can’t quite believe we actually did it.”

Clarke clapped Luke’s shoulder. “You brought us here, Luke,” he said quietly. “Go check on your unit.”

“Uh, th— th— thanks, Sir.” Luke nodded and led his horse back toward the mass of Americans. He and Parodi nodded to each other as Luke passed.

Clarke saw Parodi signal to a young officer who gave a string of commands. That resulted in the Italian troops turning and heading down the mountain road.

Bill Morgan rejoined Clarke and Parodi. “We’re ready.”

Clarke nodded. “Will you join us?” he asked Parodi.

“With pleasure.”

The three men moved to the head of the American column. “Your cavalryman is an outstanding young man,” Parodi observed as they started down the mountain.

“He is and I fear I’ve just about used him up,” Clarke answered. “He’s been through as much emotionally as any two others in this column. He needs some rest.”

“How so?” Parodi asked.

“He is the son of a man who raises horses for sale in Texas. It’s because of his initiative that we have a cavalry capability. He thought of acquiring the animals as a pack train. I decided that we could use some mobility and I wanted the unit under close control, so I activated a separate platoon. Well, it’s barely more than a squad. The man who actually owns our horses, at least the ones the troops ride, owned a riding school in Vicenza. Lieutenant Hutton and Antonia Rossi — the riding school owner’s daughter — became close and she accepted his proposal. Three days later another soldier raped and murdered Antonia.”

“What did Hutton do?”

“Less than he wanted to do. I couldn’t let vendettas start so we found the man and tried and convicted him of the crimes.”

“Where is he?”

“Hanging from a tree north of Porretta Terme. That’s if the wild animals haven’t gotten to the body.”

“And Hutton is still functioning. Is he checking on his men?”

“Yes, and his horses. And anything else that has four feet. We also acquired some draft animals along the way and, of course, recently became the custodians of Signora Bianchi’s small herd of milk cows. And a bull.” Clarke paused, shaking his head. “It’s been an interesting three weeks. I’ve claimed to be in command of the only airborne battalion in the world with a horse cavalry platoon.”

“Do you have a veterinarian?”

“Uh, no.”

“Good, then I can still claim to command the only parachute battalion in the world with a veterinarian. We have draft animals and mules, but no horses for riding. Our veterinarian will enjoy looking at some animals as fine as yours. Major, I think we can do great things together.”

“I hope so,” Clarke answered. Out of the frying pan in to the fire?

❀ ❁ ❀

Luke stood by the side of the road and watched as Bravo Company passed by. Several people yelled out some congratulations and thanks. He could not tell who yelled, so he just raised his hand in thanks.

Luke watched with a wrangler’s eye as his cavalrymen passed leading their mounts. They’re getting there. Save the horses ‘til ya gotta ride ‘em. Luke stood until the last of his troops came up and joined them.

Jake Potter said, “Word is you almost took one for the team.”

Luke snorted. “‘The word’ is out of proportion. I went around a bend and Gray got a little skittish about three rows of pikes — that’s real, honest-to-God pikes. When I think back, it was weird. The first rank had their weapons at about a thirty degree angle, the second at about forty-five and the third sticking straight out at me. I ended up on my butt but when it was over it was easy to see that the biggest danger I’d been in was having Gray step on me.”

Luke looked ahead and saw that the battalion was turning off the road to the right onto a large farm. Sergeant Bruce, the senior military policemen, had put his cops to work managing traffic and people were flowing easily out on to fields. Luke took a deep breath, drawing in the aroma of the rich soil. Looks like good land, ready for planting. Smells like new earth. George Carson was standing next to an Italian sergeant. Both men saluted.

“Sir, Jake, there’s a veterinarian working in the barn behind the farmhouse. Major Clarke said to tell you to get all the animals back there to be checked out. There’s a field kitchen on the south side of the farmhouse. They started servin’ when we came in off the road.”

“They’re handling the traffic well,” Luke said. He led his mount to the back of the main building where they found a blacksmith and a veterinarian at work. A soldier stepped forward, said a few words in Italian and held out his hands. Luke placed Gray’s reins in the man’s hand. “Grazie,” Luke said. Grey nickered and Luke patted the animal’s neck. “It’s okay, fella.”

Luke and Jake walked around the farmhouse to the food line set up by the Italians. Jason Miller was standing nearby.

“All of our troops have been through the line, Sir,” he told Luke. “I saw George Carson heading toward one of the fields. I think he’s looking for someone.”

“I suspect you’re right,” Luke answered. I can handle this, he thought. It’s important that I let my NCOs and troops be happy even if I’m not.

Luke and his two sergeants went through the line for food. The meal was simple but good. Stew with large chunks of meat, vegetables and potatoes, with dark, coarse bread on the side. There were spices that the battalion’s cooks had had little of to start and had long since exhausted.

The three men approached the cavalrymen seated on the ground under some trees. “May we join you?” Luke asked.

Everyone nodded. “Absolutely,” Guy Anderson said.

Luke looked up through the budding foliage of the tree. “I wouldn’t call this a shade tree just yet, but in a couple of weeks… It smells good, too. Like a farm should in the spring.”

“Agreed, sir,” Anderson replied. Looking past Luke, he smiled and added, “Here comes our missing sergeant… and a friend. Good for him.”

Luke turned and, as he expected, saw George Carson and Melissa Kinkaid leaving the chow line. They look happy together, he thought. But she looks a little hesitant.

As the couple neared, Luke smiled and said, “Hi, George. Mrs. Kinkaid, welcome to our little group.”

Melissa returned his smile, “Thank you, Lieutenant. May I say something to you and your troops?”

“Of course.”

Melissa stepped forward and looked around. “You all know… ” Her voice faded and she coughed. “You all know what happened back in Marzabotto. Captain Kinkaid deserted this battalion and he deserted me. He left me a very nasty note which I burned. Eventually, I hope to forget its contents. Before I married Gerald Kinkaid, my name was Melissa Cooper and now it’s Melissa Cooper again. We can’t change the Army’s records but, for me, Gerald Kinkaid never existed.” She paused and took a deep breath, “Hi, I’m Melissa. I’m a friend of George Carson.”

Everyone applauded. After a moment, Luke said, “All right, all right! At ease.” He turned to George and Melissa. “Why don’t you two grab a hunk of grass to sit on? No telling how soon Major Clarke will think of something for us to do.”

❀ ❁ ❀

“Major, please bring your battalion to Pistoia. Let your men recover from their march. They can actually sleep in beds for at least one night. Speak to Colonel De Angelis.” Parodi paused. “I think you will be pleased if you come.”

Decision time, Clarke thought. “If I feel compelled to look at Darby?”

“Then my men and I will accompany you to the road that leads west and salute you as you march into contact. We will also wait for you to return.”

“All right, we will come with you to Pistoia.”

“Good,” Parodi said. “Thank you.”

❀ ❁ ❀

When the meal had been eaten and Parodi’s cooks were beginning to clean up the mess line, Parodi looked at his watch. “These will become a valuable commodity,” he commented.

“Can you tell me what happened in Le Piastre?” Clarke asked. “It’s the only town we came to that was unaccountably deserted.”


“There was another, larger city in the mountains that seemed abandoned. When I think back to it, it seemed eerie. There was something ‘not quite right’ about it. I can’t properly describe it, but it seemed like it deserved to be empty. Le Piastre was just empty except for some stray animals.”

Parodi nodded. “We evacuated the populace yesterday. We do not think we can defend the people. The town can be defended as a military outpost. You passed by another town that was off the main road, San Marcello, that we evacuated the day before for a different reason. It was an industrial center. The machines are quite useless, but the people have skills we need.”

“Evacuated to where? Or am I asking too much?”

“Not at all, although the brigade commander will be allowed to tell you more. First they go to Pistoia. They rest and head further east. Their final destination I must leave unanswered for a time.” Parodi shrugged.

“I understand. Ah, did a man on a bicycle come down the road?”

For the first time, Parodi laughed out loud. “A man from Pracchia rode his bicycle all the way here to warn us about the Americans. He’s been a ‘guest’ since his arrival. We’re letting him go when we leave.”

“He probably did the right thing,” Clarke offered.

“He did his duty as he saw it,” Parodi smiled. “Well, it will take about four hours to get to our barracks, even allowing for the fact that it is mostly down hill. Shall we begin?”


Parodi nodded and left, calling out ranks and names which Clarke presumed to be members of the Italian officer’s staff. Clarke did the same. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Luke Hutton sending his riders toward the back of the property.

When he had the staff and commanders assembled, he asked, “Who wants a shower?” Every man raised his hand. “Well, they’ve got ‘em at the barracks in Pistoia and that’s where we’re going. I need to coordinate some actions with the Italian army. Sam, get me a march order. We’re guests, so put the cavalry all together in formation. I want the colors broken out when we close on the Italian barracks.”

“Yes, sir,” Douglas answered, “Order is Headquarters, Cavalry Platoon, trains, Alfa, Bravo, Charlie.”

Parodi returned. “We’ll lead off with one company. You fall in under your own plan behind them. We’ll follow you with the rest of the battalion.”

“Yes, sir,” Clarke saluted. It’s a pleasure to do that. Oddly, it’s also a pleasure to be on the receiving end of an order.

❀ ❁ ❀

Luke watched as an Italian company that included pikes formed up on the road. He didn’t recognize any faces. Don’t know for sure, but those are probably the guys who were blocking the road. They sure got my attention!

When the rear of the Italian company cleared the gateway, Clarke signaled and Headquarters Company followed him and his staff out onto the road.

When Headquarters Company was moving, Luke gave his signal and moved out with his troops behind him in three ranks. Looking over his shoulder, he saw the first wagon in the trains begin to move. All we need is a flock of chickens.

They walked easily down the mountain, with the drivers of the four wagons exercising care not to let them accelerate too much. When they had traveled about six kilometers, they reached ground that began to level out. Last night we got snowed on, Luke thought, now I’m sweating in the spring sunshine. As they neared the outskirts of the city, they entered an area with farms and the combined column diverted so both animals and humans could drink.

Luke watched as groups of laborers in civilian clothing were maneuvering automobiles until they were end-to-end on the autostrada then using long steel levers to tip them on their sides with the undercarriages facing out, forming a wall.

“Those vehicles have been stripped,” George Carson said as he walked up. “Axles, springs, drive shafts, everything that you don’t want an enemy to take and find a use for.”

Luke smiled as he saw the color detail remove the cased colors from the wagon on which they had been stored. The color bearers and honor guard moved toward the head of the column.

❀ ❁ ❀

On order, they resumed their march south along the west side of the Pistoia until they came to an underpass beneath the autostrada. The areas under the highway on either side of the road had been filled with cars and small trucks. On the road itself, larger trucks had been positioned to create a roadblock similar to those the battalion had encountered on its march through the mountains. However, these were manned by Italian soldiers armed with pikes and crossbows. The troops were well disciplined. They did not interfere with the column’s movement past the barricade, but they also did not smile very much. The apparent senior man at the roadblock saluted each American officer as they passed. After Luke returned the salute, George asked, without leaving his place in the formation, “Where’d they get crossbows, sir?”

It took Luke a second to realize that his old roommate was addressing him. “Well, I’m not sure, Sergeant, but I think we’re on our way to find out.”

“Sorry, I’m not following you.”

“Have you noticed that Livorno is behind us?”

“Oh. Yeah. Uh, yessir.”

Luke looked around. “Not too formal, George. We’re past the Italian troops.”


They marched about another two and one-half kilometers. As they neared a traffic circle, Luke saw the green covers being removed from the national and brigade flags. The flags flew at the front of the column as it marched south toward what was clearly a military barracks.

There was a band waiting as they entered the Italian barracks. It played “The Star Spangled Banner” and “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”

Strong men, including Luke Hutton, wept.

❀ ❁ ❀

Image not found

Major Edward Clarke presented himself to the adjutant of the Folgore Brigade. Colonel Antonio De Angelis came out of his office and he and Clarke exchanged salutes. “Welcome, Major Clarke. Please come into my office.”

“Thank you, sir.” When the door was closed, both men sat.

“Major, I am certain you are exhausted, although, I am equally sure that as a professional, you will claim otherwise. We will brief you and your staff in detail later, but the following is the essence of our situation. I am here because we have lost Livorno. You will probably remember that the brigade was headquartered there. The Americans who escaped about whom we know are being quartered here in the city and you will have an opportunity to meet with them tomorrow.”

Clarke nodded.

“The Government of Italy has collapsed. Regional officials are claiming sovereignty in a system of neighboring “republics” that is barely functional and will, in my opinion, become completely dysfunctional within months. It is my opinion — and that of my staff — that the only entity that will survive this crisis, at least on the Italian peninsula, is the Catholic Church. As I’m sure you are aware, the sole military force of the Vatican is a light infantry company known as the Swiss Guard. What I have to say next is the sensitive part, which I ask you to discuss only with me and Colonel Parodi.”

“Yes, sir, of course.”

“The Vatican State and the Government of Italy entered into an agreement for Italy to provide assistance to the Holy See in the event of a number of catastrophes. The Change was not one of them, but who could have conceived of such a thing?” De Angelis shook his head. “At any rate, the commandant of the Swiss Guard was designated as the lead official for planning. The Italian Government allocated several units to assist for planning purposes. Those units were an armored cavalry brigade and a mechanized infantry brigade located in Rome with a battalion located in Spoleto. And the Folgore Parachute Brigade.”

“Rome is a long way from Pistoia, sir,” Clarke offered. “And terms like armored and mechanized don’t have much meaning anymore.”

“It is indeed. And you are correct; everyone is a foot soldier except that the armored cavalry brigade has horses used for parades in Rome.” Clarke raised his eyebrows and De Angelis smiled. “Fortunately, none of us have to go there. The Commandant, Swiss Guard, has selected OPLAN UMBRIA for implementation. A copy of that plan was kept here in Pistoia. The plan provides for the leadership of the church to, uh, ‘temporarily redeploy’ to an abbey — a badia — in the hills southeast of Umbertide. Umbertide itself is a manufacturing center that lies in a valley on the Tiber River north of Perugia. North of it is another valley that is primarily farmland.”

“And we — that is, Colonel Parodi and I — are providing security for the movement?”

“Very astute, Major. I need you and Colonel Parodi to plan and execute road security from the badia near Umbertide to a still undetermined point on the road from Rome south of Perugia. We have standard NATO maps.” De Angelis looked at the large clock ticking on his office wall. “Now, I must ask you to forgive me. It is nearly 1700 hours and even now I am nearly overcome by paperwork. If you mention Umbertide to Giuseppe — Colonel Parodi — his tongue will loosen and you will learn much more about what I hope is our joint future. I hope you and your officers will join me and mine for dinner at 1900 hours.”

“Thank you, sir.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Clarke left the headquarters building and recognized Parodi’s back as the lieutenant colonel sat on the marble steps. He thought, Out of the frying pan… and sat next to the Italian.

“Productive talk?” Parodi asked.

“Yes. ‘Umbertide,’ you say?”

Parodi smiled. “You have the password, Major.”

“I know Americans are less formal than many Europeans, but I go by ‘Ed.’”

“I am Giuseppe. ‘Peppe’ to my friends. Umbria is a stunningly beautiful area. There are lush, fertile valleys… ”

❀ ❁ ❀

Luke Hutton walked up to his waiting cavalrymen. “Okay, listen up! We have our billeting assignment. Those wimps in the infantry are going to be sleeping in barracks borrowed from the Italians tonight.”

Someone said, “Bend over, here it comes again.”

“At ease. We real men in the 508th Cavalry Platoon have other arrangements.” He frowned and counted to ten to himself while he waited for the troops to settle down. “It’s not that bad. The worse part will be the smell of the animals.” Luke grinned. “We’re going to sleep in general purpose medium tents, on real cots with real, honest-to-God stoves. We’re billeted at a sports stadium a couple of blocks from here. To make space here at the barracks, all the pack and draft animals and cows go with us. NCOs, get ‘em in line.”

Luke watched as George, Jason and Jake supervised their troops. He saw Major Morgan approaching and saluted him.

Morgan returned the salute. As he stopped by Luke he asked, “Back in garrison, huh, Lieutenant?”

“Yes, sir.”

Morgan handed Luke an envelope that Luke could tell contained several sheets of paper. “The Italians made several assumptions. Keep in mind that assumptions are not necessarily a bad thing. Colonel De Angelis had his staff work up some concepts about what a cavalry troop should be. Major Clarke liked them. You may brief your troopers on as much of what’s in that envelop as you desire.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Major Clarke has decided that since you have the wagons, you get to host our two Italian couples who were so generous to us.”

“Where do I billet women, sir?”

“You’ve got two general purpose medium tents and a GP small. Figure it out. You also get Specialist Current because she works with the animals.”

“Yes, sir.”

“One last thing. Mrs. Kinkaid — correction, Miss Cooper — has requested attachment to the cavalry. Look me in the eye Luke and tell me if it’s too soon for you to handle that one.”

Luke smiled grimly. “Miss Cooper had lunch with the cavalry today and explained what’s going on with her life. I can handle it.”

Morgan looked at Luke for a long moment and said, “Okay. I see your NCOs have already got your people moving. Go ahead and catch up. The rest of your charges will be along.” Morgan turned and began to walk away.

“Yes, sir. Uh, sir, did you say cavalry ‘troop?’

Without stopping, Morgan looked over his shoulder and smiled.

❀ ❁ ❀

At the stadium, Luke was letting his troops relax while he read the “Cavalry Organizational Concept” Major Morgan had given him and had decided how he was going to present the information to his troops. Troopers, he reminded himself. When he was finished, he pulled his Army whistle out of his pocket and produced a shrill blast. When he knew all three of his NCOs were looking at him he motioned for assembly and pointed toward one of the wagons.

Luke climbed onto the wagon and stood before his men. “Okay, listen up. I’ll start with some information on our table of organization and equipment. A cavalry troop is commanded by a captain with a lieutenant as an executive officer. The troop first sergeant is part of the troop headquarters and supervises the support section. That’s basically the clerk, supply clerk, cook, horse master and medic. A troop has three platoons, each composed of a sergeant and twenty troopers. By the way, if you ride into contact with the enemy, you’re a ‘trooper.’ We are also responsible for our own camp followers. Miss Cooper — Melissa — is our first official camp follower.” Luke paused for effect. “I will reach down the throat and rip the heart out of the first man who makes a crude joke about camp followers in general or Melissa in particular. Temporarily, we mess with Headquarters Company. Questions so far?”

“Does that mean they’re going move some captain in and bump you to XO, sir?” Jason Wilson asked.

“I doubt it, at least not right away. Right now, it’s about as likely as us having a total strength of seventy-odd people by tomorrow morning.” Luke smiled. “I mean, who but me would put up with all of you?”

“Can we get Chief Edwards for our medic?”

Luke grinned. “Forget it. We might get one of the enlisted medics from the battalion or we might just get support. We’ll know if somebody shows up.”

“Can you get us Jacob Taylor?” Bradley asked.

Luke watched as his patrol leaders all nodded then answered, “I’ll see what I can do.”

“Is the horse master anyone we know?”

“Signor Rossi.”

“How’d we go from being a platoon to being a troop?”

“You can do wonderful things with a piece of paper and a pen. Effective immediately, the first sergeant of the cavalry troop is Sergeant Carson. The platoon sergeants are Sergeants Potter and Miller and Specialist Abbott. I haven’t forgotten those stripes, Chuck, but I have been distracted. Sorry.”

“No sweat, sir. Uh, sir, and Melissa, this is not the crude comment you were talking about but could you explain ‘camp followers?’”

Luke nodded. “Sure. Go back at least to the nineteenth century. The Army didn’t have a budget for transporting dependents. When a regiment moved, officers — ‘and gentlemen,’ remember the old term — were expected to provide transportation for their wives. Sergeants didn’t have that kind of money. A regimental commander did have a budget for hiring support personnel, like washer women who took in the regimental laundry. A smart regimental commander hired his sergeants’ wives. The commander was allowed to pay to transport them, his ‘camp followers,’ when the regiment moved. And, yeah, let’s get it on the table, there were other camp followers who weren’t official. There were saloon keepers, professional gamblers and whores. Questions? Anyone?”

Bradley asked, “What other camp followers — legal ones — are we authorized?”

Luke shook his head. “Don’t know. Maybe washer women?”

“Blacksmiths,” Aaron Appleby said. “Arrowsmiths, bowyers, veterinarians.” He paused. “Schoolteachers.”

“We don’t have any schoolkids with us,” George Carson offered. “I bet any school would be up to Battalion.”

Luke watched as his troopers absorbed the details. “Okay, equipment. A horse is equipment. Every trooper is authorized three, but you can expect to see them sometime after you see all those extra troopers. Each trooper gets five lances, a saber, a war hammer, a buckler and a bow. Arrows come by the hundred. Again, we’ll count them when they get here. There’ll be a tent for the headquarters and each platoon. Note that so far we have two general purpose mediums and one GP small. Each tent gets a field stove. We’ll talk about the organization of infantry companies and artillery batteries later.”

“What’s a war hammer?” “What’s a buckler?” “What’s artillery?”

Luke ignored the outbursts. “In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s Holy Week. Tomorrow at sundown, the Easter Triduum begins. The more devout the Catholic, the more important the Triduum. Our leadership is also practical. Colonel De Angelis knows we have work to do. Friday is a reduced training schedule but not a training holiday. So is Saturday.”

❀ ❁ ❀

“Sir, Lieutenant Blankenship reports.”

Clarke returned the salute and offered his hand. “Glad to meet you, Lieutenant. I’m told you accomplished something of a small miracle. Tell me about it.”

“Colonel Edmunds — he was Quartermaster Corps like me — told us to start making plans for small groups to escape from the Livorno area. I worked with Sergeant First Class Urbanski to set up short routes to our rally point at Pisa’s airport. We managed to collect thirty-seven military, six wives and no kids. Not much in terms of percentage. From there, we followed the rail lines to Lucca. My original goal was Vicenza. I guess we might have bumped into you.” Blankenship smiled. “However, I realized that my planning had come up short. We didn’t have enough food and we probably would have frozen to death in the mountains. We headed east. When we saw an Italian patrol, we surrendered. Fortunately, it was the right choice. We were treated and fed well. Everyone’s inside. I’m sure they would like to meet you.”

“Did you get here with everyone you started with?”

“Yes, sir.”

“That’s better than I did. Lead on, Lieutenant.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Day Twenty-three — Pistoia, Wednesday, 9 April 1998, 0730 Hours

“Ah! Colonel Parodi, Major Clarke, come in and sit, please. I wanted to discuss your mission,” Colonel De Angelis said.

“Thank you, sir,” answered both men.

“First, Major Clarke, I want to thank you for putting up with our almost all-Italian briefing this morning. It was much faster to do it that way.”

“Of course. It was good for me to listen. I recognized some terms and place names. I’ve come to realize that Italian will become my ‘native language.’”

“I thought you might come to that conclusion.” De Angelis smiled. “We are establishing our line at Pistoia with an outpost at Le Piastre. At the outset, we are barricading the city on the west and south. The western wall will extend northward into the mountains along the route the 508th used. We will also barricade routes 64 and 24. This will require moving heavy loads. We have much to learn. Fortunately, we have oxen to pull heavy loads and engineers who started building cranes that can be operated by human beings. The southern wall will extend to a point southeast of the city. We will patrol the remainder of the perimeter. Colonel Parodi, I am transferring one of your companies to the Pistoia garrison.”

“Of course, sir,” Parodi said.

He’s polite, as he should be, but he’s not happy, Clarke thought.

“The local people appreciate our presence, but are concerned about our food consumption,” De Angelis explained. “That is one reason your battalions are being sent on to Umbertide. One of the things I truly forgot to tell you yesterday, Major Clarke, is that we had a member of the Swiss Guard and an Italian cavalryman here at the barracks. They arrived from Rome to communicate the request from Colonel Hans Brandenberg, the commandant of the Swiss Guard. They rested their animals for two days and departed for Perugia this morning. It was refreshing that they were more concerned about their horses than themselves.” De Angelis shook his head. “It’s a new era. All three of us, at a minimum, gentlemen, will learn to ride.”

Parodi and Clarke looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders then nodded to De Angelis.

“Is there anything in particular that concerns you, Major Clarke?”

This is as good a time as any, Clarke thought and said, “I have two, uh, possibly contentious personnel issues.”

“Should I excuse myself?” Parodi asked.

“Not as far as I’m concerned, Peppe,” Clarke answered noticing De Angelis’s slight smile at the use of the nickname.

“Go on,” the colonel said.

“The first is Lieutenant Hutton,” Clarke began, “I commissioned Hutton as a lieutenant in a field outside Marzabotto. As far as the United States Army is concerned, if there is a United States Army, Luke Hutton is a sergeant. I had promoted him to staff sergeant before we left Camp Ederle. The commission was granted after I conferred with Major Morgan and each of the captains in the battalion. Essentially, we ‘elected’ Hutton to be a lieutenant. I would greatly appreciate it if you would honor our action.”

“From the stories I heard last evening, I think Lieutenant Hutton deserves to be considered an officer. Was the vote unanimous?”

“All but one. My S1, Captain Kinkaid, disagreed.”

“Captain Kinkaid is the man who disappeared, leaving behind a wife?”

“He is. I hope he survived his journey, but doubt it. He left his wife an extremely insulting note, which she burned after showing it to me. She, ah, has since grown close to one of the sergeants in the cavalry troop. That’s issue number two.”

De Angelis stared at Clarke for a moment. “I did hear about the lady’s service in coordinating the activities of your family members. If it is in the best interests of your battalion to retain the services of Mrs. Kinkaid, it would be better if she were attached to a soldier in your command. The Church, of course, recognizes only one form of attachment, marriage. It would probably be helpful if you found in your files a record of Captain Kinkaid having lost his life. I am a pragmatist, Major.”

“As am I, sir. I would not wish to cheat two fine people out of an opportunity to be happy,” Clarke answered.

❀ ❁ ❀

Luke sat on his cot listening to the activity outside the tent. This is hard. I have to let the NCOs do their jobs but I can’t let the troopers think I’m curled up in a ball ‘cause of Antonia. I need to talk to Papà Rossi. It’s settled down a little. Time to make an appearance.

He stepped out of the tent and saw his three sergeants standing in a group pointing at troops — troopers, he reminded himself — charging down the length of the athletic field with what looked like long poles under their arms. “What’s the program?” he asked.

“Morning, sir,” they all responded and saluted.

“We’ve got the troopers practicing lance attacks,” Jake Potter answered. “We’re using those ‘pike wannabee’ tree trunks that got cut down back near Marzabotto as lances.”

“Those suckers are heavy,” Luke observed.

“Yes, sir, but it’s good training,” Jason Miller said

“We think that if we don’t really plus up our upper body strength we won’t make it when push comes to shove,” George Carson finished.

United front; I like that, Luke thought. “Okay, but remember that you leaders have to be able to do what you have the troopers doing. I gotta go find Major Morgan and see what surprises he has in store for us.”

Luke saw that Alberto Rossi had finished looking over the horses that were not being used in training. “Papà,” he called, “Did you want to visit the infantry?”

“Yes, I need to speak with Captain Avery.”

The two men left the stadium together.

“Have you noticed anything about the city, Papà?”

“Several things, starting with the fact that it did not burn as Vicenza did. It also smells better, cleaner.”

“Part of that is no cars,” Luke offered.

“True, there will be other smells. Farmland, forges…”

❀ ❁ ❀

“I’m looking for Lieutenant Blankenship.”

“Right here.”

“I’m Luke Hutton,” Luke said extending his hand.

“Oh, the cavalryman. Good to meet you. You getting all the supplies you need?”

“No, but I don’t think it’s your fault. We need more horses, but I know you don’t have them. Congratulations on becoming S4, by the way. Where’s Captain O’Donnell?”

“Thanks. O’Donnell is now commanding the artillery battery,” Blankenship grinned.

“We have artillery?”

“We have a table of organization and equipment.”

“Sounds like a cavalry troop. So what makes up artillery?”

“Catapults, ballistas and these really wicked machines that throw a meter plus long lance with fins a very long way. Of course, no one’s actually built any of these things yet. Have you seen the oxen?”

“No. Where’d we get them?”

“The Italians. They pull the ‘artillery pieces.’ They’re staging from your stadium, by the way.”

“My stadium. That’s news. Since I don’t own the place, I can’t really complain. The horses have never been around oxen that I know of. That could get interesting. Are you in charge of the beasts?”

“No. That would be Captain Avery.”

“Okay, my horse master is over talking to him,” Luke said. “Lot different than five-ton trucks. You haven’t brought it up, but I hear you have some troopers for me.”

“Yeah, I do. Major Clarke said I didn’t get to keep my ‘empire.’ One of the guys is from Alabama and the other is from Georgia, but they say they can ride.”

“Well, if they can’t, we’ll find them another job.”

“Specialist Brookfield, PFC Daniels, get your gear and go with Lieutenant Hutton.”

Luke nodded. “Welcome, troopers. Nice meeting you. Gotta go see Major Morgan so I’m gonna hook you up with Signor Rossi. He’ll take you to the stadium and introduce you to Sergeant Carson and the others.”

“Carson?” Brookfield gulped. “Is he the one who hung a guy?”

“He’s the one, but wait ‘til you hear what he wanted to do,” Luke answered. I’ll let George deal with that one.

He turned back to Blankenship and extended his hand again. “Nice meeting you, Lieutenant.”

“My pleasure. And it’s Joe.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Day twenty-six — Pistoia, Sunday (Easter), 12 April 1998

Luke entered the chapel at the barracks for Easter mass. He was amazed to see George Carson and Melissa Cooper sitting in the chapel. And that’s a near miracle. Luke joined the two in their pew.

“So, you are the last two people I expected to see at mass.” Luke said as they were leaving the chapel afterward.

“Well,” George answered. “it’s the only church in town.”

“That’s a little harsh, Honey,” Melissa offered. “We’re both Christians,” she explained, “and we want to marry — ”

“Whoa! When did that happen?” Luke interrupted.

“Well, Friday evening,” George said. “I meant to say something but we’ve been so busy and with you losing Antonia…”

“Anyway, my experience with you-know-who has left me kind of turned off about small, uh, splinter churches. Being in the Catholic Church makes me more of a part of the greater community,” Melissa explained.

George added, “I went to church when I was a kid ‘cause Mom took me. After she died, Dad never went back. I have faith but no real structure. I’m hoping the Church can give me some.”

Melissa stepped closer and hugged Luke. “I know you had hoped to be getting married and the last thing we want to do is hurt you.”

Luke sighed and returned Melissa’s hug. As she stepped back he said, “I gotta move on. Even Signor Rossi told me that. Now all I have to do is make it work.”

“You will, Luke,” Melissa said. “You’re tough and what I said back up on the mountain about being available to talk applies double to you.”

“I appreciate it, really, and I’ll take you up on the offer. But back to practical stuff. To get married, you have to convert and the Church normally does that before Easter.”

“Chaplain Connolly told me that he and the Folgore Chaplain are talking about accelerating conversion for those of us who want it,” Melissa explained.

George asked, “They’re talking about Michaelmas. Connolly told us that they’re getting ready to announce a special rite of initiation for any Christians in the battalion who want to convert.”


George and Melissa grasped hands. “We want you to be our sponsor,” Melissa said as George nodded.

“Michaelmas is at the end of September.” Luke counted on his fingers. “So I get five and a half months to turn you two heathens into true believers?”

“It’s okay,“ George responded. “You love a challenge.”

“You’re on, both of you,” Luke smiled.

George sighed, “It kind of puts us in a bind. We don’t want to ‘live in sin,’ so to speak, and I want Melissa protected by being a recognized camp follower.”

“So we announce your engagement. Sooner’s better than later. We’ll get Clarke signed up. Let’s get back to the stadium. I think Papà has something up his sleeve. He’s been spending a lot of time here at the barracks.”

“I’m glad he’s still ‘Papà,’” Melissa said.

❀ ❁ ❀

As Luke, Melissa and George entered the stadium, it was immediately obvious that Alberto Rossi was doing something on his portable forge.

The smell of hot metal hung in the air near the forge. Rossi was modifying a saddle. He was carefully welding something to the outside edge of the right stirrup ring. The saddle turned out to be Luke’s. “Let it cool,” Alberto cautioned.

The attachment proved to be a socket wide and deep enough to hold the butt of a lance. While Luke was examining the modification, Jason Miller rode up holding vertically one of the still curing tree trunks they were calling lances while allowing the butt to rest in the socket welded to his own stirrup.

“Smart man,” George said.

A runner from the battalion headquarters entered the stadium. He saluted Luke and said, “Sir, the battalion commander’s compliments. He would like to see you at headquarters.”

“Offer the commander my respects and tell him I’m on my way,” Luke answered. I wonder if this formality means something special or just the way we’ll be doing business.

❀ ❁ ❀

Luke found Ed Clarke studying a map in the office allocated to the battalion with Major Morgan and Captain Douglas. “Morning, sir.”

“How’s everything going, Luke?”

“Well, sir. Our two gains from Lieutenant Blankenship’s party are fitting in well. They’re still in awe of our ‘little walk’ from Vicenza and they’re scared to death of Sergeant Carson.”

“Why?” Morgan asked.

“Word got to them about the hanging.” Luke shrugged.

“Well, you’re here because Colonel De Angelis has informed me that battalion commanders ride to their destinations. You have until tomorrow morning to get me trained.”

“We probably should start now, sir,” Luke deadpanned.

Clarke sighed, “Major Morgan, you’re in charge. Let’s go, Lieutenant.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Back at the stadium Luke told Alberto Rossi, “We need a reliable horse for Major Clarke to ride. He has to start learning today.”

“Yes, I saw this coming. I have an excellent animal for you, sir. Come with me, please.” Alberto led Clarke to a mature, sixteen-hand sorrel stallion that Luke suspected he loved almost as much as he loved Stella. He watched as the man who would have been his father-in-law talked Clarke through mounting. Luke then turned his attention back to his command.

“The horses are well rested,” George Carson said. “But I’d still like to put them out to pasture for about a month after we get to Umbertide.”

“That’s a good idea, George. I hope we’re able to do that.” Luke said.

❀ ❁ ❀

About the middle of the afternoon, two wagons arrived at the stadium. They were pulled by oxen and manned by two Italian soldiers each.

All four dismounted and one explained, “Sir, we have been ordered to deploy from here when ordered. The oxen could use some fresh grass.”

“Welcome,” Luke replied. “By the time we leave on Tuesday, there will not be any grass left.” He smiled and turned to George. “Sergeant Carson, please see to our comrades’ needs.” That seemed to impress them, Luke thought.

He blew an assembly call on his whistle and climbed up on the nearest wagon. “Tomorrow, we get another light training day. Saber exercises on foot. I want the horses left alone except for care. Tuesday, we’re back on the road again. The good news is that we’re traveling to a known destination and allies are waiting for us to arrive. The danger is to our west. You’ve all heard about the man there named Morelli who’s trying to set up a dictatorship in this valley. ‘Reports’ — and I’ll let you figure out what that means — are that he doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing. He’s a small time hoodlum with a bunch of followers who aren’t any smarter than he is. That doesn’t mean they can’t learn. For the time being, Morelli is another unit’s mission. When we set out, we march in peace with a known source of support. Tonight we eat and rest to prepare for the labor ahead. Chow in two sections. Dismissed.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Day twenty-eight — Pistoia, Italy, Tuesday, 15 April 1998

It was time.

The 1st Battalion, 508th Infantry, was preparing to move on.

A battalion headquarters, three companies of infantry, and one artillery battery with no artillery weapons stood in formation inside the caserma belonging to the Folgore Brigade. One undermanned cavalry troop, five cargo wagons and a dairy herd stood at the stadium. Nearly five hundred camp followers stood in various locations as close to their uniformed loved ones as possible.

I am not looking forward to riding a horse to Umbertide, Major Ed Clarke thought as he walked to the stadium to claim his mount. He had turned down Luke Hutton’s offer to have it delivered. I need a couple of minutes by myself.

As he entered the stadium, he saw Luke standing in front of his cavalry troopers holding the reins of both Gray and the sorrel. He took the reins when Hutton offered them. “Day twenty-eight of the Change, Luke,” Clarke said.

“Comment, sir?”

“Sure, Luke.”

“It’s time to stop counting days. It might as well have been twenty-eight weeks or months or…”

“Yeah, you’re right.”

Clarke mounted and rode out to the main street that ran between the barracks and the stadium. While he was gone, Bill Morgan and the battalion staff had formed in the middle of the street. Sergeant Major Paul Evans had had the colors uncased and the national flag was standing part way out from its staff in the light breeze. It’s nice, but we can’t do that all the way. He reined in his mount, saluted the colors and proceeded to the front of the column. He turned to look over his shoulder, called “Forward, march!” and urged his horse into a walk.

The battalion headed south to route A11, which had been an autostrada, then southeast toward Perugia and Umbertide.

❀ ❁ ❀

West of Perugia, Italy, Wednesday, 22 April 1998, late afternoon

Major Ed Clarke reined in his horse and dismounted. I’ve actually gotten used to riding, he thought. Looking south at Lake Trasimeno, he said, “Bill, Hutton called it right again. This is our bivouac for two nights. I want us looking fresh when we pass through Perugia. That’s… how far again?”

Morgan looked at his map. “About thirty-seven klicks. Two days.”

Clarke turned toward Sam Douglas. “Let’s get ‘em off the road, Sam. Give everyone a chance to get settled in before dark.” To Morgan he said, “Three more days. One between here and this side of Perugia, one on the other side of the city and the last day will take us to our new home, whatever that is. Then we’ll get an updated mission brief.”

Douglas started issuing orders to the company commanders and Clarke thought, I couldn’t have picked a better ops officer. He saw a man in civilian work garb approaching.

“Americans?” the man asked.

Si, Signor,” Clarke answered.

“How long do you stay?”

“Two nights.”

“Excellent, we plant next week. May we collect the manure?”

“Of course.”

“Grazie,” the man said, offered a civilian version of a salute and left.

When the Italian was out of voice range, Bill Morgan asked, “Did you ever imagine that you’d think of horse shit as a commodity?”

Clarke laughed. “Not in a million years.”

❀ ❁ ❀

East of Perugia, Italy, Friday, 24 April 1998, late afternoon

Luke Hutton was in the advance party as it rounded a curve in a suburban area. He rode until he could see past the buildings on the sides of the road. He was happy to see Lieutenant Colonel Giuseppe Parodi with about a dozen troops; the troops had pikes but they were not pointed at Luke. Like to scared me to death, Luke thought as he remembered the last day in the mountains north of Pistoia. Luke was less pleased to see a crowd of people in civilian clothing, some carrying American flags. Between a hundred and two hundred, he thought. As the soldier surveyed the crowd, a murmur ran through it and people began waving their flags.

Oh, boy! Luke turned to Jake Potter. “Go tell the major we’ve met Parodi but that there’s a substantial crowd ahead of us.”

“Yessir,” Jake answered and wheeled his horse around.

When did I start using words like “substantial?” Luke asked himself.

❀ ❁ ❀

Luke, who had ridden forward and dismounted to greet Parodi, watched with the Italian officer as Clarke rode forward at a canter. He’s doing much better.

Clarke dismounted and saluted Parodi. The men shook hands and smiled at each other. Watching, Luke thought, They’re friends. That’ll make whatever we have to go through easier.

“Is this crowd something special just for me, sir?” Clarke asked Parodi, leaning so the two officers’ heads nearly touched.

“‘Special?’” Parodi answered with a shrug. “Possibly. They are your countrymen who have been living in and near Perugia. They are expecting protection from their government.”

“Here goes nothin’,” Clarke said and remounted his horse. Luke watched as Clarke stood in his stirrups and looked out over the crowd. “Good afternoon,” Clarke said. “I am Major Edward Clarke of the 1st Battalion, 508th Infantry — ”

“Airborne!” someone in the crowd yelled.

Clarke smiled and Luke thought, That helped. We owe that guy one, whoever he is.

Clarke looked in the direction of the voice and answered, “Not recently, I’m sorry to say.” He paused. “The first battalion and its supporting elements are here to assist the Italian Army. I can’t talk to all of you at once. I will speak with up to five representatives…” He looked around briefly. “At that bus stop over there.” He dismounted.

Parodi said, “We have a bivouac area for you.”

Major Morgan had come forward while Clarke was speaking to the crowd. “Major Morgan, please work with Colonel Parodi to get the unit into quarters while I deal with this crowd.”

Morgan nodded and Clarke headed for the bus stop, leading his horse.

❀ ❁ ❀

Clarke sat on the built-in bench at the bus stop and waited, holding the reins of his mount in his hand. He watched as three men and a gray-haired woman approached. When the four people stopped, he asked, “What can I do for you?” The horse chose that moment to nicker, shake its head and dump an impressive amount of manure on the sidewalk. Clarke smiled in spite of the aroma.

“Does that thing have to be here?” the woman asked. “They frighten me.”

“‘That thing,’ madam, is a horse. In the past five weeks he’s walked all the way from Vicenza, about half the distance with a human being or a couple of hundred pounds of cargo on his back. Since leaving Pistoia, he’s been carrying me and we’ve become quite close. His name’s Victor, by the way.”

“I’m sorry, let me try again,” the woman answered. “I’m a city girl and I’ve never been comfortable around large animals. I’m Dorothy Patterson — Mrs. Patterson, although my husband died when it happened — heart condition. I worked in human resources all my professional life and I’ve become the ‘personnel officer’ of our random collection of people.”

“My condolences, Mrs. Patterson,” Clarke answered. He smiled. “Victor’s a pretty neat guy when you get to know him.”

“Guy?” one of the men asked.

“Yeah, well, horses have personalities. The commander of my cavalry troop has attempted to impress on me the importance of thinking of my mount as a tool. Of course, if Lieutenant Hutton had a bed, he’d probably let his own horse sleep in it.”

The man smiled. “I’m Edgar Wilkinson. We had a meeting the day after things Changed and I got elected as ‘Chairman’ of our group. I don’t claim any particular leadership skills. I am here because I was filling a position as an exchange professor at the University for Foreigners here in Perugia. I speak fairly decent Roman Italian. My grandmother was a Bonanni. My grandfather walked up the boot with first the Italians then the Germans trying to kill him. Mrs. Patterson has the list of our membership and our skills. Uh, in many ways, we have not been treated well by the local government. We’ve been assigned to work details and fed minimal amounts of food. I’m not saying that Americans have been singled out, but that non-Italians have.”

Clarke frowned. “It is very important that your people not discuss this with any of my troops. I don’t need anyone in my command deciding to hand out ‘justice.’”

“I will pass that around to our sub-group leaders,” Wilkinson answered. “I suppose I should introduce the others. You’ve already met ‘she-who-loves-horses,’ who was an out-and-out tourist.” He smiled. “Greg Alison is the leader of our students. He was the president of the American students. Sam Tyson was among those Americans who had settled in the area.”

“Is your group fragmented along the lines you’ve described?” Clarke asked.

“Not severely. We are plagued with some in each sub-group who suffer from a superiority complex.”

“Well, everyone who feels superior is about to get a lesson in humility. I’m leading a group of a little over twelve hundred people. About seven hundred and fifty of them are soldiers. The rest are family members, who have already been informed that if they work, they eat. Well, not the children. I can not… I will not treat the Americans in your group any better — or any worse. Anyone who brings nothing to the table takes nothing from it. That is an absolute. Anyone in your group who is not willing to live by those rules or thinks he or she can get around them might as well stay in Perugia.”

“Getting here must have been hard,” Dorothy Patterson said.

“It’s the single most challenging thing I’ve ever done,” Clarke answered. “Well, we’re spending the night in Perugia. Tomorrow, we leave for Umbertide. Anyone who’s coming with us needs to be at our bivouac area at 0900 hours.” Clarke stood. Now it’s time for the command performance exit. He mounted Victor and started away at a steady walk.

“Uh, ‘scuse me, Major?” Greg Alison called.

Clarke reined Victor to a halt and turned back. “Yes, Mr. Alison?”

“Did you really hang a man?”

“A murderer and yes, I did,” Clarke nodded. “You can tell any doubters.” He turned away and moved off, this time at a canter. As he left, he saw his staff officers approaching the Perugia leaders. Good people. I couldn’t have gotten this far without them.

❀ ❁ ❀

East of Perugia, Italy, Saturday, 25 April 1998, morning

The battalion was formed in good order. Everyone knew what to do by now.

No cats and no small dogs, Clarke thought, they’ve all become prey at some point along the road, possibly to some of our larger dogs. Some kids cried but they got over it. When we get settled, we’ve got to find out how many of the little ones remember what. Oh, well, back to business.

Clarke led Victor over to the four people he had met the previous afternoon and had studiously avoided all evening. “Good morning, Mr. Wilkinson, how many of your group are coming with us?”

“All one hundred seventy-three.”

“All? You mean I didn’t scare anyone away?”

“Some of us asked about the hanging, Major,” Alison said. “We found out what else the bastard did. Sorry, Mrs. Patterson.”

“It’s okay, Greg. I happen to agree with you.” Dorothy looked at Clarke. “Your Captain Coltrane was very helpful finding space for those of us with mobility problems. Lieutenant Blankenship helped rearrange things on the wagons to make space. Others told us where to ‘fall in’ this morning.”

“I’ve been very fortunate. I only brought one officer with me whose attitude was troubling and he disappeared about the time of a minor engagement. It’s possible he fell in the River Reno and washed downstream. And we’ll let that version of the tale of Captain Kinkaid circulate. With time, it will get more and more muddled.

Clarke mounted. “Let’s go to Umbertide. Excuse me.” As Clarke rode toward the front of the column, Giuseppe Parodi approached on a horse.

“Good morning, Ed. As I’m certain you have determined, we will be ascending about two hundred meters today. The Tiber River will be on our left the whole way. As we come near to the city, you will be able to see Badia in the hills to your left. It was only a badia, but the abbot has taken it upon himself to declare his facility a separate city. That is where the Church will be making its temporary home.”

File not found


Parodi laughed. “If any organization thinks in the long term, it is the Catholic Church. Anyway, there is an intersection leading off to the right. You — I will still be with you — will follow that road to your temporary area. It’s a large field which will be good pasture for your horses and an acceptable bivouac area for two nights for your infantrymen. Tomorrow is Sunday and, because we have no emergency, a day of rest. Monday you and your troops will move to permanent billeting. Your cavalrymen will probably have to leave a guard at the pasture.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Southeast of Umbertide, Italy, Saturday, 25 April 1998, late afternoon

Luke Hutton was riding with Alberto Rossi as they approached the area Lieutenant Colonel Parodi had marked on a map as the cavalry’s pasturage. Luke looked ahead. That’s interesting. I expected nothing but an open field. “Papà, look, wagons, hay, bags of what has to be feed. Horses. Easily fifty of them. And men who look like they know how to move around them.”

Alberto said, “Yes, but those men are women. You worry me, Luke.”


“Yes, I know. You truly loved Antonia. I loved Antonia also, but she would want you to be happy. That begins by noticing other women. Somewhere in Italy is a woman who will bear your children. Go, live, love.”

“I’ll… try.”

The entire cavalry troop was riding together as a unit. I was pleased when Clarke told me we were in safe territory.

As the troop approached the gate to the pasture, Luke noticed a parking lot. He signaled for a turn into the lot.

“Halt! Left face.”

The troopers turned their horses and Luke rode to the center of the formation. He saluted Major Clarke as his commander rode by then saluted the flag as it passed.

“Dismount. Lead your horses into the pasture.”

Luke led Gray toward the women standing by one of the wagons. He greeted them tentatively and one pointed at the woman who was standing by herself.

As he walked toward the woman, whose back was toward him, Luke was taken by shape. She’s, ah, “comfortably padded,” he thought. But what’s she… Oh, she’s tied up a mare for breeding. The stallion’s obviously happy and the mare… she’s willing. And mount! Thank God for all those years growing up with a father who bred horses.

Luke’s boots crunched in the gravel near the makeshift breeding pen and the woman turned toward him. She was darker than the Italians he was used to seeing. Pretty. I like the way she keeps her hair jaw-length. It’s practical. Nice smile.

“Buon pomeriggio,” he said.

“Good afternoon,” she answered, her smile widening.

“I am Lieutenant — ”

“Hutton, right? I was told to expect you. I was not certain you would all arrive today.” She extended her hand. “I am Signorina Luisa Maria Bruzio. I am contracted to provide horses and support to your unit.”

“‘Bruzio,’” said Alberto Rossi from behind Luke. “That is not an Umbrian name,” Alberto continued with a smile and an extended hand. “I am Alberto Rossi, horsemaster.”

“You are right about my name,” she smiled. “My father was a native of Calabria.” Luisa looked at Luke. “That’s the toe of the Italian boot. Father and Mother met at university. Father’s parents had passed. When they married, he came to Umbria with Mother. Mother inherited the horse farm. Our female workers are over by the wagons. Their husbands have been put to work to support our new manual industry.”

“Are your parents at the horse farm?” Luke asked.

Luisa shuddered and closed her eyes for a moment. Uh-oh, Luke thought.

“My parents flew to Austria for a week of skiing on 15 March. Mother called me that evening to tell me they had arrived safely. After that… ”

“I’m sorry,” Luke said.

“And I,” Alberto added.

“Thank you both. They may be alive but I doubt that either will walk these valleys again.” Tears formed at the corners of her eyes and she sniffled. “Ridiculous! I have too much to do to mourn people who are probably alive.”

Whistling in a graveyard? Luke thought.

“But to business,” Luisa said. She looked at Luke’s Gray and at Alberto’s mount. “Those horses need rest.”

That’s not an insult. It’s a caring comment, Luke thought. He said, “You’re right. They’ve come 400 kilometers.”

Luisa smiled. “Well, we have good grass here. You and your soldiers have the horses I brought with me to use while the ones you rode rest. How many need to be re-shod?”

“They are all well enough shod to pasture,” Alberto answered, “but I would want to re-shoe all of them before they go back into service. We also have draft horses.”

“I saw them pass while we were talking. I hope to have a long — and profitable — relationship with your army.” Luisa held out her hand a second time. “I am Luisa.”

Luke took her hand. “I am Luke.”

“How do you come to be a cavaliere?”

“A long story. The short version is that my father and mother raise horses for sale. They sell to ranchers. In Vicenza I used to — I used to ride at Signor Rossi’s stables.” Something changed in her face when I stumbled.

“Were your parents at home at the Change?”

“No, home is in Austin, Texas. They and my sister had traveled to Idaho in the Pacific Northwest to deliver some horses. They were nearly 2500 kilometers from home.”

“I hope they survived,” Luisa said somberly and looked past Luke. “Your soldiers seem to be working with my employees to care for the animals. That is good. We will be done sooner. We three have reservations at a hotel where there are bathtubs. That was a part of the agreement with the army. We will leave our mounts here, if that is all right?”

“Perfectly all right. My soldiers can do what has to be done here. I suggest you and your employees quit for the day.”

“Thank you. I will see you tomorrow.” Luisa whistled. Her two employees looked up and nodded when she motioned toward the road. “Buonasera.”

“Buonasera, signorina,” Luke and Alberto responded. As Luisa walked away, Luke studied the roll of her hips. Alberto lightly punched him in shoulder and grinned.


“There is hope for you, my son.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Southeast of Umbertide, Italy, Sunday, 26 April 1998, late afternoon

Luke Hutton and Luisa Bruzio knelt in the dirt next to the foreleg of a horse that had walked from Vicenza. After Luisa removed her hand, Luke grasped the leg gently.

“Tendinitis?” he asked.

“Tendinitis,” Luisa answered. “He may never recover completely.”

Unseen by Luke, Edward Clarke strode into the area the cavalry troop had staked out as its temporary home near the pasture. “Where’s Lieutenant Hutton?” Clarke called.

That does not sound good, Luke Hutton thought. He stood up from where he and Luisa Bruzio had been examining the horse’s leg.

“Over here, sir. Just checking an injured horse.”

“Serious injury?”

“There’s a good chance he’ll never go to war. But what can I do for you, sir?”

“Signorina,” Clarke nodded to Luisa. “Let’s go talk, Luke.” Clarke led Luke off to a private space under a tree. “I have a mission for you. Sorry you don’t get to have more rest.”

“Not a problem, sir. Unless we’re moving to contact, we can take turns sleeping in the saddle.”

“Okay, here’s your mission.” Clarke pulled a map out of the cargo pocket of his BDU trousers. He used a pencil to point out key locations. “South of Perugia, there’s an interchange here where E45 heads for Rome. Less than a klick south of the interchange is an outpost manned by two squads of Colonel Parodi’s troops. There’s a convoy coming up from Rome. It’s not moving very fast because it has a lot of people who aren’t used to traveling in primitive conditions. The Pope, Cardinals, bishops, priests, nuns and lay workers escorted by parts of what used to be a brigade of mechanized infantry, parts of what used to be an armored cavalry regiment, and last but not least, the Swiss Guard. By agreement, the commandant of the Swiss Guard is in charge of the movement. We need to meet them south of Perugia and escort them to Badia. I’ll be along with two companies, but it will take me at least two days to get there. I want you and your troopers in position in case the Church party gets to that interchange before I do. What’s your plan?”

Luke thought for as moment. “Myself and two patrols, Miller’s and Potter’s. Carson will provide route security for you with the archers. I’d like to take a medic, but Taylor isn’t ready for a ride like that. He can come with Carson for the experience. That’s seven men, each with a remount and two more animals to pack sleeping bags, a first aid package and chow. We’ll leave here at first light tomorrow. The horses will be wiped out when we arrive. I’ll need Rossi to come with you leading remounts for the trip back.”

“Approved. To take care of the niceties, you’ll have a sealed letter for the sergeant in charge of the outpost from Colonel Parodi. Is Victor ready for me to ride?”

Luke shook his head. “No, sir, he’s in pasture. All the animals that came south with us are. We’ve picked out another mount for you. It’ll be ready in the morning.”

“That’ll do. I don’t want to injure that horse. I’ll see you on Tuesday south of Perugia.”

Luke saluted. “Yes, sir.”

Clarke returned the salute and left.

Luke took a deep breath and blew assembly on his whistle.

❀ ❁ ❀

South of Perugia, Italy, Tuesday, 28 April 1998, late afternoon

Luke returned to what he jokingly referred to as his command post after checking on the horses. They all did well. They’re temporarily on “light duty” but they’ll recover. The command post was the tailgate of a truck that had last moved under its own power that fateful morning in March. Don’t try to count the days, he thought. You told the major he shouldn’t do it so don’t you start.

Luke was impressed by the outpost the Italian troops had set up. They moved a lot of vehicles to create the “increasingly ubiquitous” double turn with a back-up vehicle that can be rolled into position to close the road.

He looked up in response to a whistle from the bridge over his head.

“Large group approaching from the south, sir,” the senior Italian NCO called. “If it is not the people from Rome, we are in deep trouble.”

Luke smiled at the American slang “Thank you, Sergeant Bartolini,” he answered. “It should be them.”

Approximately fifteen minutes passed and the lead element of a very long convoy stopped one hundred meters from the outpost.

Aaron Appleby stood next to Luke. After borrowing Luke’s field glasses he said, “Those carriages look like the ones they use for tourists in Rome.”

“That’s good. We can assume that it’s not a strike force.”

Appleby laughed, “Thank God!”

Well, the major isn’t here, so I guess it’s up to me. Luke began walking toward the mass of people. That obviously is the Church convoy. Those are Italian soldiers on those horses, but the man standing on the ground is in the uniform of the Swiss Guard. He’s having what Major Morgan refers to as a “spirited conversation” with a man who is obviously a cardinal. Luke stopped when he was five meters from the white-haired man in a black cassock with scarlet sash and a scarlet zucchetto. The cardinal motioned for him to approach.

Do it right, Hutton, Luke thought as he closed the distance. Speak English and don’t screw this up by speaking Italian and butchering it. He genuflected. The cardinal offered his ring to be kissed. Luke lightly grasped the cardinal’s hand and kissed the ring. “Greetings, Your Eminence, I am Lieutenant Luke Hutton of the United States Army.”

“Rise, Lieutenant. I am Joseph, Cardinal Ratzinger.”

“Thank you, Your Eminence.” Luke looked down the line of carriages. “Pardon, Your Eminence, but I don’t see His Holiness.”

Luke could sense Ratzinger’s pain as the cardinal said, “His Holiness…”

❀ ❁ ❀


— Port —

South of Perugia, Italy, Tuesday, 28 April 1998, evening

“How?” “When?”

Luke Hutton held up his hands. “At ease! Quiet down and I’ll tell you everything I know.”

The troopers quieted relatively quickly.

I can imagine what Captain Schultz and Captain Erickson are going through. Well, maybe I can’t. “Okay, that’s better. Pope John Paul II celebrated mass on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica on Easter. It was his last official public act. That afternoon, he approved a plan for the evacuation of the Vatican, but he refused to go. The Swiss Guard evacuated the cardinals and their personal staffs to Castel Sant’Angelo — that’s right next to the River Tiber — through a tunnel built during the middle ages. The Pope was last seen walking in the Vatican gardens. It was a moonless night. Just after midnight, the Guard got everyone into boats on the Tiber and rowed to the north side of Rome where they had staged those carriages and wagons you saw this afternoon.”

He took a deep breath. “That’s where it went wrong. The commandant of the Guard thinks there must have been a leak. Some soldiers from Italian Army units in Rome helped with the staging. Others… Well, no one will ever know. There was a mob waiting in a side street. They attacked and the Guard and the loyal Italian soldiers defended. Some of the Italians just kind of disappeared. If it wasn’t for the cavalrymen, it might have all come apart. These were armored cavalrymen before, by the way. They usually rode those horses in parades. One cardinal was killed by the mob, along with a couple of bishops and some priests. One of the priests was an American. The soldiers had no choice but to stage a strategic retreat. The Guard lost half a dozen guardsman and a sergeant. The Italian units lost about twice that. But that mob wasn’t prepared to face cold steel. When we get back home and you get a chance, ask one of the halbardiers to show you his weapon. Anyway, after the column was free of the city, they found out that the Cardinal Secretary of State had died after he had boarded a carriage. They’re guessing it was a heart attack.”

“And the Pope is dead?” Jake Potter asked.

“Almost certainly, although no one actually saw him die,” Luke answered. “The Church is not used to the idea that a Pope doesn’t die in bed of old age, but as the column worked it way north, Churchmen and Guardsmen could look back and tell that Vatican City was burning.”

“So what happens now?” asked a voice.

Luke said, “‘Now’ comes in slices. Immediately, we walk back up the road to that interchange. Colonel Parodi’s representative found some hotels for the Church people, or at least the cardinals, and an open field for us. By the way, there’s at least one American cardinal in the convoy. Stachowski, Stankowski, somethin’ like that.” He shrugged. “Tomorrow, it’s back to Umbertide. That’ll take two days. Unless some other crisis has come up, we go into training and refit.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Livorno, Tuscany, 1 May 1998, late evening

Marco Bernardi, naked except for a brown robe, knelt on the grounds of a sports stadium southeast of Livorno. He was to be initiated or executed. The difference will be how well I perform, he thought. He looked at the sky. Light overcast. Why do they always do this below an overcast sky?

At the far end of the athletic field, a stage had been erected with a rectangular frame on the far side. Braziers rested on pedestals on either side of the stage.

A hush came over the stadium as a man wearing a white robe and surrounded by a protective guard entered and proceeded to the stage, leading a naked, manacled woman by a leash attached to a wide leather collar. Other guards standing among the “initiates” watched as everyone placed his hands on the ground and bowed until his head touched the back of his hands. The initiates waited in that position until a deep voice announced, “His Excellency, President Roberto Morelli!”

As Marco raised his head, he saw Morelli trip the woman so she fell. She landed smoothly. She has to do that a lot, Marco realized. She anticipated being tripped. Curious, she’s the only woman in the stadium. At least I presume all the guards are men. Every one of us had to lift his robe to prove he was “properly equipped.”

There was some commotion at the side of the stadium. A group of men carrying an x-shaped frame with a naked man tied to it entered and marched to the stage. Altar? They leaned the x-frame against the rectangular one and secured it. Marco studied the man on the cross. It is a travesty. A mockery of my faith, of all our faiths.

Morelli stepped to the edge of the stage and spoke. “The prisoner has been found to be unfaithful to our cause. He has been imprisoned for two weeks and has no illnesses. Tonight, he is our sacrifice.” Morelli stopped at a pedestal for a moment, then approached the sacrifice then turned and faced the assembly. “The purity of his flesh will make you pure.” The president of Republica Toscana held up a filleting knife between his hands. He turned and began carving muscle off the raised right forearm of his victim, who screamed once and passed out.

❀ ❁ ❀

I have become very good at this, Morelli thought. Once I learned to stand where the sacrifice couldn’t piss or shit on me, this ceremony became more solemn. It is amazing how men who have eaten the flesh of other men become so united with those who have gone before. It is helpful to have a doctor as an initiate.

Morelli placed the freshly carved muscle into pans held by his acolytes. They, in turn, placed the pans over the coals in the braziers.

When he had cut enough meat, Morelli knelt facing the sacrifice. It is time for prayer. Of course, I don’t pray to any supreme being, for there is none. But it looks good. Sometimes I dream. I can remember little from my dreams, but sometimes Perla is there. Sweet Perla, killed by that bastard and his car the morning it happened. Fortunately, there is always an acolyte to nudge me back to reality.

As he knelt, Morelli sensed something in the air. Ah, a light breeze. Perhaps it will bring rain. The crops could use it. The irrigation system is not working as it should. Maybe I should not have sacrificed those engineers who displeased me so. An acolyte came and stood next to Morelli. He nodded and thought, No dream tonight. That is all right. I will dream when I am through using Kate.

He rose and observed the ceremonial cutting of the cooked flesh. When the meat was ready, he took a slice, faced the assembly and put the nourishment into his mouth. It really does not taste too bad. He took another slice and approached his woman.

She rose to her knees and said, “I am Kate. I serve.”

Her Italian is atrocious,  Morelli thought as he placed the slice on a spoon and slipped the spoon into her mouth. He watched as she swallowed. She tried to bite me once when I tried to feed her with my fingers. That earned her a beating.

❀ ❁ ❀

Marco watched as Morelli ate and fed his woman. I suppose concubine is the polite word.

Acolytes ate, feeding each other, then proceeded out to the assembly. As they approached, a man to Marco’s left threw up. Two guards walked to him; one held him while the second slit his throat.

Marco listened as the servers moved down the lines and he was ready when they approached him. He complied as the commands came. “Open. Tongue. Close. Swallow. Open. Tongue.” The serving acolyte nodded and moved on.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our deaths. He had survived.

Without warning, the light breeze turned stronger. Marco looked skyward and saw the clouds scudding across the sky. The clouds broke up and the brightness of the stars shined down on the assembly. On the stage, Morelli screamed. Marco looked and watched as Morelli stared at the star field and collapsed. Attendants rushed to the screaming man’s aid.

That, Lieutenant Marco Bernardi thought, is what I would call a key piece of intelligence. It’s time to exfiltrate. If Parodi ever wants me to do something like this again, he can court martial me first.

❀ ❁ ❀

Sword Works, Umbertide, early June 1998

“Try that,” Alberto Rossi said, as he handed Luke Hutton a saber in a scabbard.

Luke and George Carson examined the scabbard first. It was made of wood to nestle the blade of the saber and was covered in a medium brown leather. Near the throat was a free-wheeling mount designed to lock into the holes on the standard equipment belt that all the soldiers had worn on the trek from Vicenza.

“I like the leather cover,” George said.

Alberto nodded. “The people in the shops worked to dye it a color that complements your uniform colors. Fortunately, one of the things they manufactured in Umbria was leather covered furniture.”

Luke grasped the scabbard and withdrew the saber. He held the weapons up in the sunlight and whistled in appreciation.

“The blade is ninety centimeters long and the hilt twenty. The basket, in addition to protecting the hand, counterbalances the weight of the blade. Of course, you can also use the basket to smash an enemy’s face. That will distract him while you are doing other things. The weapon’s weight is about two kilos, heavier than the Patton Saber you described as the model and the blade is wider.”

Rossi finished by handing a sheathed saber to Carson. “The sword smiths begin delivering sabers to the warehouses tomorrow. And I go back down to the troop to earn my salt, so to speak. They have been very kind to allow a simple primitive blacksmith to look over their shoulders while they created these works of art.”

“Where did they get the steel?” George asked.

“Automobile leaf springs. They say it will be a very long time before they run out. But they do have two men studying older methods.”

“How many sabers are they making?” Luke asked.

“Two hundred.”


“Yes,” Alberto smiled. “I think Colonel Parodi — or Colonel De Angelis — envisions another troop of cavalry based on those cavalrymen who came up from Rome.”

“We barely have a platoon, as described by the table of organization, let alone a troop.” George snorted.

“Thank you, Papà,” Luke told Rossi. “Now George and I have to go look at war hammers. I cringe when I think about using them in combat, but we had best get used to the idea.”

Alberto Rossi politely saluted Luke, mounted the stallion that had recovered from its tendinitis, and rode away at a walk toward the cavalry’s post southeast of town. Luke and George mounted their horses and headed toward the next factory.

As they neared the river, George reined in his mount and stared at the waterwheel turning with the current. “Neat, ain’t it? They partially dammed the Tiber to create a millrace and they use the power from the wheels to drive the machines. They can even step it so they can get a high enough speed for lathes.”

“I like the way they also use the power to drive the smaller belts that lift water up to the viaducts so it gets carried to the armor shops where they use it to weigh the presses that mold sheet steel into cuirasses without —” BANG. Luke winced as the sound interrupted his sentence. “…without having to beat the sheet metal with hammers. Then the water flows back to the river.”

“I heard the north factory started routin’ the leftover water to the public baths. It doesn’t get dirty runnin’ through the plants. They say.”

Luke sniffed. “This is rapidly becoming the ‘wrong side of the tracks.’ if you get my meaning. The people who work here get to live close by and smell hot steel day and night.”

“Yeah, literally. The factories are between the railroad tracks and the river.”

A half hour later, each man had a war hammer hanging from a loop on his saddle.

“A kilo of death that looks like a roofin’ hammer’s ugly big brother at the end of a meter of handle,” George mused. “I hope I’m always fast enough never to be on the receiving end. Although I suppose that’s a quick way to go.”

The two cavalrymen dismounted a short while later to allow their animals to rest as they walked.

As the men led their mounts southeast on Via Giuseppe Garibaldi, they passed Captain Dal Lago, who commanded one of the Folgore companies, and saluted him. Dal Lago, like other Italian soldiers, still wore his Italian battle dress. Most of the American soldiers still donned their battle dress uniforms every day. The cavalry troopers had switched to uniformly brown riding breeches with grip panels for comfort and to make it easier to stay mounted. They still wore their BDU shirts. They had drawn more than a few sarcastic comments.

“Still comin’ to Melissa’s for dinner this evening?” George asked.

“Absolutely, it’s study night for you two candidates.”

“Right. What’s the subject?”

“Annointing of the sick,” Luke answered.

“Cheerful thought. Uh, you do know that Melissa and Luisa are getting along real well, right?”


“Melissa’s invited Luisa to dinner.”

“Huh! Are you telling me your intended is playing matchmaker?”

“Well, I won’t say she is. I also won’t bet she isn’t.”

“George, I like Luisa. I really like her. She’s pretty, smart…”


“Yeah, sexy. But I’m not sure I’m ready to… Let me put it another way. I’ve lost my parents, my sister and a woman I loved. I’m not sure I can go through that again. Plus, I have to work with Luisa. She’s built nice. I have to worry about whether what I’m thinking is physically obvious in these breeches we wear. If so, everything goes to hell in a hand basket.”

“That is a potential problem.”

“I hope you and Melissa are being careful. There’s a lot of very nosy people, including priests, walking around.”

“There’s one priest in particular who’s always walkin’ around the areas where we Americans are billeted. I don’t think he’s particularly holy. I think he’s anti-American.”

“We’re gonna have to live with that, George. To some, we’ll always be Americans. Name your first born son ‘Georgio.’ By the way, I noticed that Melissa’s been taking occasional riding lessons from Luisa and that you’ve been going for afternoon rides about the same time. Just don’t embarrass Major Clarke.”

“Uh, yes, sir.”

“So, what’s for dinner tonight?”

❀ ❁ ❀


Ed Clarke watched as David Nakamura relaxed and peered downrange at the target he had just hit dead center with a bolt from his newly-manufactured crossbow. Nakamura pointed the business end of the crossbow at the ground and turned to face the evaluators.

“It feels good, sir,” the young soldier said to his company commander, Captain Charles Erickson. “The weight isn’t too much and the balance is right.” He pointed at the target. “I can’t guarantee I can do that every time, but with training, I’d say any one of us could bat 500.”

First Sergeant Jesus Rodriguez said, “Passes the ‘soldier test,’ huh?”

Nakamura looked at the weapon with obvious admiration. “This thing is beautiful. I mean, those guys in the factories in town built a crossbow that fires like a rifle. The cocking function is smooth and easy to learn. I think the sooner we get used to shooting it, the better off we’ll be. If it’s okay to ask, how do we defend?”

Erickson said. “I’m glad you asked. While you and other crossbowmen are engaging the enemy, you stand behind a line of defensive weapons, like pikes.”

Nakamura nodded. “Yes, sir, but do we get cross-trained? You know, in case the whole thing starts going to hell in the middle of a battle.”

Erickson answered, “You do, but at least half your training is on your primary weapon.”

Clarke thought, Good answer, Chuck.

❀ ❁ ❀

Headquarters, Folgore Brigade, Umbertide, 1 July 1998, morning

“Good morning, Ed.”

“Good morning, Peppe,” Ed Clarke responded to Giuseppe Parodi. “I have a feeling we’re about to learn something about our future. Unless you have a head start on me.”

“Head start? Oh, no, Colonel De Angelis has treated me no differently than he has treated you since he arrived here last week. The only trivial difference is that I regained one of my platoons which he used as a road guard on his trip from Pistoia. Of course, he had not ‘borrowed’ any of your troops so in reality I am not yet even with you. I still have those two platoons at sea with Amerigo Vespucci. I suppose by now my infantrymen have become sailors.”

“Or Marines?”

Parodi shuddered. “Perish the thought.”

The door to the private office of Colonel Antonio De Angelis opened and De Angelis himself invited Clarke and Parodi to join him and his principal staff and two other people.

Colonel Brandenberg of the Swiss Guard attending is logical. But a bishop in attendance? Clarke thought.This is much more than a simple staff meeting.

When everyone was seated, De Angelis announced, “We will conduct this meeting in English for Colonel Clarke’s benefit. If anyone misses a point I make in English, he should hold up his hand.”

Colonel? He knows as well as I that I’m a major. Something’s going on.

“So, Colonel Brandenberg is here as a guest and observer. Bishop Geracioti is here to represent the interests of the Church. As you have probably observed, the Italian units that helped escort the surviving leadership of the Church to Umbria are not included. No one above the rank of captain was in either formation. I will speak more about that later.”

De Angelis looked at his notes. “The cardinals who survived the journey from the Vatican have met, but not in conclave. As you have undoubtedly heard, the Cardinal Secretary of State, who would normally function as the Cardinal Camerlengo, died of an apparent heart attack just north of Rome. During the trek north, the remaining cardinals asked Cardinal Ratzinger to take on that task. The cardinals have also decided that the Church has survived before in an extended state of Sede Vacante and will again. The cardinals could elect a new Pope, but they choose not to without first determining if others of the college survive elsewhere in the world.”

Looking first at Bishop Geracioti, De Angelis went on, “The cardinals have also concluded that the Church’s residence in Umbria will be an extended one and have decided to make the Church the established church of a state to be named the ’Umbrian League.‘ They will not prohibit other faiths. They have also agreed that in these uncertain times the Umbrian League will require a military force, an army and a navy. The Church fathers are not military men. They have no desire to interfere with the day-to-day operation of the military.”

There was a stirring in the room and De Angelis smiled. “We are here to constitute the ‘Army of the Umbrian League.’ It will consist of all land forces in service to the League. Because the Swiss Guard is in direct service to the Pope, it will remain a separate organization. Colonel Brandenberg has agreed to coordinate his operations with us. As of this moment, ‘us’ means ‘me’ as I have accepted a commission as a colonel and appointment as the commander of the Army. Persons who accept a commission or choose to enlist in the Army will serve under my — or my replacement’s — command.”

De Angelis reached to his left and pulled away a cloth which had covered a chart. “The Army will consist of a headquarters based on the headquarters of the Folgore brigade. As you can see, the brigade has three battalions, which have names in the Italian style: The Livorno Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Parodi; the Roma Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Pintus, currently my executive officer; and, if Major Clarke chooses to meld his forces with ours, the America Battalion, named for the origin of our American comrades, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Clarke. I have caused Major Clarke some consternation this morning by referring to him as ‘colonel’ and I hope he will forgive my attempt at humor. Major, your selection for promotion in your army was common knowledge even before the Change. If you choose to join us, you will be commissioned as a lieutenant colonel.”

Well, the moment I expected and dreaded has come. If I decline, I’m an outcast here. If I accept and an advance party of the U. S. Army shows up next week, I could be taken back in chains. It’s more certain for the Italians — maybe an obsolete term — who can see that their country has died. But as much as it pains me, I know the United States is gone. I can imagine that local governments will call themselves “The United States of America,” but it won’t be true. There will be war there if anyone survives. Oh, De Angelis is waiting.

Clarke smiled. “Sorry, sir. I’ve known this moment was coming, but now that it has arrived, it’s still a shock. You gentlemen are all better able to see what’s happened to your country than I am to mine. The United States is — was — bigger, of course, and because of that I think probably fell more spectacularly. I doubt that I have a country at this moment… Except for the Umbrian League. If the US has survived and it sends someone to get me, I’ll go willingly, but thank you, sir. I accept. I think most of my officers and men will follow me but I can’t guarantee that I can field a battalion of more than one person.”

Parodi held out his hand and Clarke grasped it.

“Colonel De Angelis, will I be correct if I tell my officers and men that service conveys citizenship for themselves and their families?”

Without a pause, Bishop Geracioti said, “Absolutely, it would ungrateful of us in the Church to treat you otherwise.”

“Thank you, Your Grace,” De Angelis said to the bishop and turning back to Clarke added, “And thank you. You have greatly simplified my life.”

Turning to address the whole room, he added, “The lone print shop in Umbertide that is functioning is printing blank commissions as we speak. They will be delivered before lunch. You will find them very interesting. They are in Latin. This afternoon the shop will print enlistment forms. Of course, no officer or soldier may be forced into service with the standing Umbrian Army. Let’s pause for coffee, a beverage soon to become a premium item.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Headquarters, 1st Battalion, 508th Infantry, Umbertide, 1 July 1998, early afternoon

Ed Clarke stood by the makeshift podium at one side of the building that used to be an automobile dealership and looked at the men he had asked Bill Morgan to call together. Obviously curious, he thought. All the officers are here and all the NCOs sergeant first class and above and, by special exemption, George Carson of the cavalry. His spread out arms and helpless shrug when First Sergeant Michaels gave him a curious and critical look means that he passed my test.

“Good afternoon, Major Morgan has called you together at my request.” He took a deep, even breath. “My name is Edward Clarke. I am a lieutenant colonel in the Army of the Umbrian League. My current assignment is as the commander of the America Battalion. The current duty strength of that battalion is one. I’m seeking volunteers for the battalion.”

Clarke paused for a moment. “I’ve made a personal choice. I have, by some standards, deserted my post. And I’m standing here suggesting that you do the same. That’s based on the premise that the United States and its Army still exist. You and I all know the rules of that army. If any one of us decides he no longer wants to serve, he can submit his resignation. But a resignation goes to the Department of the Army and the officer stays at his post until properly relieved by competent authority. I have no way of submitting anything, including a decision to leave Camp Ederle, to Washington. I’ve made my choice and am prepared to pay the price if I’m judged to be disloyal to the United States. Each of you gets to make his. And each of you gets to live with the results.”

He looked at Bill Morgan for a moment then back at the men sitting before him. “We are being offered an opportunity to transfer our men, our families and our equipment to a new jurisdiction intact. The 1st of the 508th is a unit. The America Battalion will be a unit. I can’t tell you what will happen if you say no today and try to join next week or next month. I can’t tell you what will happen if you decide to move on — to go rogue. Where will you get your support? Will you end looking at the men you once stood next to over the points of swords? I don’t want to see that happen. Nearly thirteen hundred of us walked out of Camp Ederle that morning. Not all of us got here and that saddens me. But I would like to lead those that did arrive into service with a nation that represents a bulwark against the cold of a new Dark Age. Let’s not shred this unit. I have the authority to choose the people I want. I choose all of you. You’ll notice no one has been left out. Join me. Let’s see what we can do together. I will need to know your answers by tomorrow at noon.”

Clarke stepped away from the podium. “Thank you, Major Morgan. Would you like me to leave the room?” Morgan shook his head and Clarke sat in a chair near the wall.

Bill Morgan walked up to the place Clarke had been standing. “Well, you knew something was coming. The brighter among you had to know it would be something like this. I have also accepted a commission in the League but will be remaining in the 508th until it’s time to turn out the lights, uh, so to speak.”

“Extinguish the candle,” offered Captain Bob Schultz of Bravo Company.

Morgan laughed. “Excellent, Bob.” He looked around. “Questions?”

Lieutenant Daniel Tinkerman held up his hand. “I’ll be lining up to take the oath, but what happens to people who choose not to join?”

“Any soldier or any civilian affiliate who chooses not to join the League’s army will be free to seek employment or pack his or her bags,” Morgan answered. “It’s decision time people. Anyone who does not want to join the Umbrian forces, leave the room. You have two minutes.”

When the two minutes ran out and no one had left, Morgan turned to Clarke, said, “Colonel Clarke, it’s your meeting, sir,” and stepped back.

Clarke returned to the podium. “Thank you, all of you. I’m pleased — very pleased — that everyone stayed. Okay, there are some special circumstances to deal with. Sergeant Carson, Colonel De Angelis has decreed that every company level unit must have two officers assigned. Effective today, you are a second lieutenant in the Umbrian Army.” As George’s jaw dropped, Clarke heard some mumbling in the room. “By the way the regulations of the Umbrian Army currently take up less than one page of paper. Among the statements in the regs is one that provides that a battalion commander is the ultimate arbiter of qualification for service. That means that if you don’t like my decisions, I can conclude that you don’t really want to work for me. If there’s a lieutenant here who feels qualified to help run a cavalry troop, he should hold up his hand. He should also be prepared to explain why he did not volunteer back at Ederle.”

The mumbling ceased.

“Chief Edwards, you may be the only warrant officer on the Italian peninsula. You just became a first lieutenant.”

Edwards nodded. “Yes, sir.”

“The powers that be outside the Army are also not certain about what to do with the only physician’s assistant in Umbria. You will probably be meeting with a board of physicians within the next week. That board will determine your qualifications to be licensed as a doctor of medicine.”

“Yes, sir. Looking forward to it.”

“Finally, Lieutenant Hutton.”

“Yes, sir,” Luke answered.

“Colonel De Angelis thought a cavalry troop should be commanded by a captain. If you get mad at me, you’ll get over it, but I thought you should spend some time as a first lieutenant and work your way into a captaincy.”

“Sir, there are days when I still feel like I’m a sergeant.” Luke paused. “I’m proud to serve.”

“Good man. Two more points. First, senior NCOs in the room will transfer in their current grade. There will probably be fewer than nine enlisted grades when we shake this out but no one will lose any status. Second, infantry companies will have a strength of about one hundred men and will be numbered instead of lettered. I’ll get back to you on with details, but I’ll be needing more company commanders and first sergeants. Now, I want all of you to leave the room and come back in if and when you’re ready to take the oath of office.”

❀ ❁ ❀

“How are we doing, Captain LeBlanc?” Clarke asked.

The adjutant quickly scanned a sheet of paper. “Sir, all the captains have signed up. Of course you and Major Morgan were already were on the Umbrian roster. No one has left the building. I recommend we swear in the two cavalrymen and the chief next, then do all the remaining lieutenants by company.”

“Okay, do it.”

After Luke Hutton, Martin Edwards, and George Carson had been duly sworn, Clarke called for a break.

“I want Major Morgan and the unit commanders to stay for a few minutes,” Clarke said. “Take some chairs.”

When Clarke was alone with Morgan and his subordinate commanders, he asked, “Has anyone heard rumors about people dying?”

Morgan and Erickson held up their hands.

Clarke said, “Here’s the deal. We’ve been through a couple of waves of die-offs. First were the people like Mrs. Patterson’s husband whose hearts gave out the morning of the Change. Captain Brandt took his life, as far as we can tell, because he couldn’t face the future without his family. Then we saw little Becky Carlson’s lungs quit. We’ve heard rumors about cannibalism. We saw one completely deserted city. Now the medicines are running out. People — mostly the aged — who depended on modern drugs to stay alive for one reason or another are quietly dying in their sleep.

“The city fathers are digging mass graves. Most of the dirt gets used in the defensive walls but the open graves are awaiting dignified burials. That’s important to remember. The city government doesn’t want people to conceal deaths. Dead bodies are a source of contagion.

“Make sure your people understand that there are no mercy killings and that no one is withholding drugs so the rich can have them. If anything, we want the elderly — the ones who know how to make things without computers — to stay with us as long as possible. We’ve ‘re-reached’ a point where the wisdom of old age is an asset. Tell your people.”

Clarke smiled. “Now go get me some volunteers for this battalion.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Headquarters, America Battalion, Army of the Umbrian League, 1 July 1998, afternoon.

“Lieutenant Hutton!”

Luke and the newly commissioned George Carson turned and saluted the battalion Adjutant, Captain David LeBlanc. “Sir?” Luke said.

“I didn’t give you the enlistment contracts for your troops — troopers. They’re in English for us. The enlisted guys don’t get a commission or any kind of certificate and they don’t get a copy of the contract. We’re really going to have to get used to working with almost no paper trail.”

Luke hefted the cloth sack of paper. “How many of these things are there?”

“Should be a hundred.”

“I have fewer than twenty people.”

“For now,” LeBlanc grinned. “I got work to do.” He turned and walked away before Luke could salute. This is beginning to look like something I need to check on. We better get back to the post.

“‘For now?’ Sir, I think we ought to get back,” George said.

“Took the words right out of my mouth. Let’s give these beasts a chance to trot.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Alberto Rossi was standing near the gate to the troop’s area when Luke and George arrived. Luke dismounted. “Papà, strange things are happening.”

“Then you already know.”

“Know what?” Luke answered.

Rossi opened his mouth, closed it, and handed him a document in Italian. “I know you can’t read that. I will tell you what it says. The civil authorities of Umbertide have determined that, since the owners of this property are absentee owners — the man who delivered the document said they were from Naples, of all places — that the land has reverted to the city. The city, in turn, has loaned the property, including the farmhouse and stable, to the Army.”

Luke looked at George then back at Alberto. “It has been a very busy morning. I have announcements to make.” He blew on his whistle and headed toward a wagon. He climbed onto its deck and said, “Get up here with me, George.” He waited until all the troopers, Alberto, Melissa and Luisa and her two employees had gathered around the wagon.

“Good afternoon,” he said formally, “I am First Lieutenant Luke Hutton of the Army of the Umbrian League. Standing beside me is Second Lieutenant George Carson of the same army.” I love the way Melissa’s face just lit up. “I am the commander of the Cavalry Troop of the America Battalion. Lieutenant Carson is my executive officer. Currently the assigned strength of the troop is two.” Hey, it worked for Clarke. Luke held up his hand with that stack of papers LeBlanc had given him. “These are enlistment contracts for the Umbrian Army. The 1st Battalion, 508th Infantry no longer exists. If you were in that battalion and are not interested in joining the Umbrian Army, step away from the wagon.

“If you choose to stay in the 508th, you will give up all logistical support from the Umbrians. You might as well pack your bags and leave.” That’s not exactly what Clarke said, but it’ll do.

“Look, I know it’s a tough call. There are very few of us who don’t have family somewhere back home. You can pretend that you’re a bunch of Americans waiting for transportation back home to show up but when you wake up, you know the truth. We’re here and here is home. We have a chance to make sure the light of civilization doesn’t go out.“ When did I start talking like that? “There’s a real threat out there. I don’t think the rumors about people living like animals are jokes. There are nasty people out there and the people of these valleys and these mountains need protection. I need you to not get hung up on the past. I need you to stop counting the days until you’re due to rotate. You’re not rotating out and your ‘replacement’ ain’t rotating in. Join me. Help me and the others form a strong army. You get a week to decide. At the end of seven days, we will assume that you don’t want to be a part of our effort.”

Jake Potter moved one step closer to the wagon. There would be my new first sergeant except that Miller’s senior. Everyone else followed. Wow, I hope the other commanders have it this easy. “Okay, thank you. Term of enlistment is four years.” People shifted their weight. “Oh, come on, what else do you have going on? Besides, it’ll take us a year to teach you which end of the saber to hold.” He smiled to take any sting out of words. “Raise your right hands and repeat after me. ‘I, state your name, do solemnly swear…’”

❀ ❁ ❀

Luke watched as George managed the signing of the enlistment contracts, then he sat on the bed of the wagon, looked at Luisa and smiled. “You may want to ask about your contract. I think the Italian Army went out of business today as well.”

“I will do that. Luke…”


“I know about Antonia. And about what happened to her. And about what they did to him.”

“Who told you?”

“Several people, including Signor Rossi. Please do not be angry with him or anyone else.”

Luke jumped off the wagon to place himself so his head was closer to Luisa’s. How do I explain myself? He looked at Luisa’s face and, before he realized what he was doing, scanned over her body. He looked back up at her face. “I’m sorry. I should not have done that.”

“It is all right.” She smiled. “I enjoy being looked at — appreciatively and respectfully. Being touched without consent is something else.”

“That is fair. Any good woman from Texas would feel the same way. I promise not to do that.”

“Not to do what?” she smiled. “Touch or touch without permission?”

“I — I’m still trying to say goodbye. By the time I have done that, you may have found someone else to whom you have given permission.”

“I doubt that. The few men who have pretended to be interested in me were clearly interested in gaining control of my property,” Luisa answered and looked past Luke. “We — you — have company.”

Luke turned and watched a wagon drawn by oxen stop outside the gate. I guess that’s the new, permanent version of a truck. Elizabeth Current jumped off the wagon, grabbed her pack and weapon, and yelled goodbye to the troops still riding.

She walked up to Luke, saluted and said, “Sir, Specialist Current reports.”

Luke returned the salute. “Welcome, Current, but reports as what?”

“I’m your cook, sir.”

“We’ve been eating with the battalion headquarters.” Luke looked around. “What are you supposed to cook?”

“There’s supposed to be a wagon bringing rations and kitchen supplies.”

“Hang loose for a second.” Luke glanced over at the troops assembled to sign the enlistments. “Sergeant Miller, Sergeant Potter, if you’ve signed up, I need to talk to you.”

Both men looked at Luke, nodded, and walked toward him. Luke looked at Liz Current. “Now that you’ve reported, we don’t salute in the unit area unless there’s some obvious reason.”

Liz nodded.

“Yessir,” Miller and Potter said simultaneously.

“Organizational stuff, guys. Jase, you’re now First Sergeant Miller. Jake, you’re the training sergeant of the troop, a position that does not exist on the books, but that I need. Your joint job, along with our XO, is to grow us some platoon sergeants. Until then, you both also get to keep your platoons. Calling us a troop is a pipe dream. Jase, Specialist Current is our cook. That means she works for you. We need to check on —”

Luke was interrupted by the clatter of a wagon loaded with utensils and stacks of food.

“Rations,” Liz Current finished for him. “Sir?”

Luke nodded. “First Sergeant, detail some people to help the cook.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Luke belched. “That was good, Liz! Will you be able to do that for seventy people?”

“I hope so, sir, the battalion mess steward said we should expect to eat a lot of stew and bread. There are dairy herds in the valley north of Umbertide, but we can expect to see more cheese than raw milk because there’s no real good way of keeping milk cold enough in bulk.”

“Do the companies have their own messes?”

“Yes, sir. The way I heard it, Colonel Clarke said trying to run a centralized mess with us scattered all over the city was impossible.”

“Works for me,” Luke answered. “Okay, I want all the leadership to come with me. That includes the horse master.” Luke stood and headed toward the house that had been included in the description of the land allocated to the troop.

When the group arrived at the front entrance of the structure, Luke faced his subordinates. “The authorities basically declared this land to be abandoned. The farm was owned by someone who did not live in Umbria and who has not been seen since the Change. So, between us, the cavalry post is now ‘the farm’ and this is ‘the farmhouse.’ Officially, of course, it’s troop headquarters. Look around and tell me how we should set this up.” It was nice of the city people to punch the lock out of the door, I think.

When they had surveyed the property, Jason Miller spoke up first. “The top floor is all sleeping space. That becomes officers’ quarters. The biggest room is for the commander, then the XO and — I don’t know — call it a guest room. You commissioned types get the perks. You also need to be near your command, sir. I suppose you can be thankful they are no telephones to ring in the middle of the night.”

“Why not the third room for the first sergeant?”

“Because we have to formalize this thing. When I kick back in the evening and take off my boots and shirt, I don’t want the brass hanging around me.”

I suppose he’s got a point, Luke thought. He looked and George Carson. They both shrugged. “Okay, what about the downstairs?”

Potter took over. “Living room becomes the company office. The little den becomes your and maybe the XO’s office. First sergeant is out with the staff. The kitchen’s interesting. That monster in there is a real wood stove that’s been modified for gas, not some mockup. The cook — Liz — can fix food for seventy people easy if all she’s doing is making stew and baking bread.”

“Yeah, but if she’s burnin’ wood there’s a fire hazard,” George said.

“Right, we have to get it out of the kitchen and into a shed of some kind and re-install a chimney. If necessary, we’ll punch through the wall then repair it. We’ll build a covered mess area with picnic tables for the troopers. The dining area here becomes the officers’ mess.”

Luke looked at executive officer again. “I think we’ve been sandbagged, George.”

Looking at Rossi, he asked, “Where do you sleep, Papà?”

“In the stable,” Rossi answered. “I looked at it before you returned. It is a warm, dry building with an office next to the tack room. It will do fine for me. I am an old man and I need my peace and quiet. I do have one recommendation for this house. Put bunk beds in the third bedroom upstairs. Signorina Bruzio and her two employees can be offered space. It will keep them closer to the animals than the hotel.”

U-huh, Papà, I noticed you carefully did not call her ‘Luisa.’ Is there anyone around here who isn’t trying to get me fixed up?

“I’ll think about that one.”

Luke turned to Jason Miller. “If my memory is right, that former auto parts store and garage you guys are billeted in has something like an office, right?”

“Right, sir, a sales area, an office and a stock room.”

“Okay, I want the NCOs billeted separately from the troopers.”

“Will do.”

“Oh,” Luke said, “and I approve third bedroom upstairs for the use of Signorina Bruzio and her horsewomen, but Specialist Current and any other females assigned or attached get priority.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Headquarters, Livorno Battalion, Army of the Umbrian League, 1 July 1998, evening.

“Sir, Captain Bernardi,” Marco Bernardi said.

“It is good to see you, Captain, and congratulations on your promotion,” Lieutenant Colonel Giuseppe Parodi said, returning the salute and extending his hand. “I hope you are well rested from your mission.”

Why do I feel like I’m about to get another “special” assignment? Bernardi asked himself. “Yes, sir, I am well rested and well fed. And I have been shriven. It was…” He shook his head.

“Good. I know it had to be horrible. I need you to go meet with your brother.”

“My brother? Davide? I thought he had gone to try to take Amerigo Vespucci to sea.”

“He did. We know that the vessel successfully cleared its berth in Livorno and that Morelli went on a rampage when he learned about it. My instructions to your brother were to try to convince the captain of Amerigo Vespucci to find a safe port — maybe anchorage is a better term — and to sail to Marina di Grosseto on the Tyrrhenian Sea, arriving on the fifteenth of every month. It is south of Siena. I do not know if he was successful in that endeavor.”

“Davide is a very persuasive person. When we were boys, he could always convince me that his current plan had merit. Usually, he was right but he occasionally got me in trouble with our father. Of course, he is having to convince a naval officer to do something. Sorry, I have probably spoken out of turn.”

“Possibly, but I will not tell the Navy if you do not,” Parodi responded with a smile.

Bernardi returned the smile. “It is the first of the month. May I assume you want me to be in, uh, Marina di Grosseto on 15 July?”

“You may. That is you, a sergeant, five crossbowmen and five swordsmen. And, yes, there are actual weapons. Come with me and meet your detachment and be introduced to your weapons. Don’t worry about the quality of your men. This is an important mission and I would never give you ‘conveniently available’ soldiers. On the way to the coast, I want you to scout the area around Siena.”

“Yes, sir.”

“For the time being, no one is to know about your mission. The only exceptions to what I have just told you are Lieutenant Colonel Pintus, who now commands the new Roma Battalion, and Lieutenant Colonel Clarke, who commands the America Battalion. Both were present at the meeting when Colonel De Angelis conceived your mission. None of the staff officers at Regiment or at the battalions have been briefed.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Cavalry Post, Umbertide, Umbrian League, 5 July 1998

Luke Hutton looked up as heard the snap of a whip. The only thing we use whips on are the oxen and we’re not due any deliveries. He frowned as he saw two wagons loaded with people approaching on the main road.

The wagons halted in front of the gate of the farm and Command Sergeant Major Paul Evans jumped down from the first wagon. He walked toward Luke, turning to call over his shoulder, “Everyone stay put until you’re told to move!” Evans stopped in front of Luke and saluted. “Good morning, sir.”

Luke smiled as he returned the salute and extended his hand, which Evans grasped firmly. “How are you, Sergeant Major?”

“Fine sir, thank you. I have some personnel for your troop. A gift from the battalion commander, so to speak.”

Luke looked past the senior soldier of the battalion toward the wagons. “How many?”

“I’ve brought fifty with me. Two more will be arriving on a wagon you get to keep.”

“I don’t have mounts for that many people. I know that’s not your problem, but it’s still true.”

“More are coming, possibly as early as tomorrow. It turns out there were a lot more horses around here than we knew about. Up in the north valley; down in the southeast. The president of the region of Umbria has looked around and realized that his future lies in cooperating with the Church. And that means supporting its objectives. The regional president wants to be the lay leader of the Umbrian League and sees that as a real possibility, since the Church isn’t interested in being a secular power. I’m getting most of this from the sergeant major of the Livorno Battalion, by the way.”

“No ‘Papal states,’ huh?”

Evans shrugged his shoulders. “No Pope.” He looked back at the wagons briefly. “That gaggle over there is yours to train. Individually, each is known as a ‘recluta.’ Think of it as the new term for ‘private.’ When each finishes basic training, which we’re still designing, he — or she — will be known as an ‘apprendista.’”

“‘Apprentice,’” Luke said.

“Right. The colonel’s looking for former drill sergeants to supervise basic. When he has a handle on them, one’ll get attached to you.”

“Did these people all come from that mob that met us when we got to Perugia?”

“Yes, most of them have been digging to provide dirt for the city ramparts to earn their food. Others have been working in factories. Colonel De Angelis agreed to pull younger people out to fill up holes in our formations. After working in the factories, being in the Army probably seemed like a step up. The offer applied to Italians, too. Lieutenant Pintus is actually building up the Roma Battalion. He has a minimal cavalry presence.”

“Tired of digging graves?”

“Oh, yeah, the old man briefed all of you, didn’t he?”

“Okay, as long as these people don’t get their ‘cavalry doctrine’ from Hollywood. Wait a minute. You said ‘or she.’”

“Yes, sir, your female supply clerk is one of the two en route.”

“Who’s the other?”

“Taylor, the medic. He used to be in A Company, but Captain Hodges had two medics so the old man took Taylor for you.”

“That’s good. I like Taylor. What other news do you have?”

“Well, you’ll hear the first officially tomorrow. The battalion has been reorganized. We have a Headquarters Company, six infantry companies, an engineer company, an artillery battery, and, of course, a cavalry troop. There have been some questions about whether a battalion commander can control that many companies. We’ll see.” Evans shrugged. “I think Headquarters Company is bloated, but the old man didn’t ask me.”

“Are the newbies sworn in?”

“They are.”

Luke looked around and called, “First Sergeant Miller! Sergeant Potter!” Both men ran up and Luke explained, “On those two wagons are fifty pieces of fresh… fifty new soldiers who need to learn how it’s done. They’re all yours.”

“Yessir!” the sergeants responded in unison and turned toward the wagons.

“Stay for chow, Sergeant Major?” Luke asked.

“Thank you, it’d be a pleasure.”

“Specialist Current! One more for lunch.”

Current responded, “Uh, looks like more than one, sir.”

“All those guys were fed early,” Evans interjected.

“Oh, good. How are ya doing, Sergeant Major?”

“Good, thanks, Current. Lieutenant, you got a table the three of us can sit at?”

“Sure, in what my NCOs insist on calling the officers’ mess.”

When the three were seated Evans said, “Specialist… Liz, we found Patricia Monet.”

Current sucked in her breath. “Dead?”

“No, but she might as well be. She’s working the streets in downtown Umbertide.”

“Whoring,” Current finished.

Evans nodded. “When you told us she was missing, I sent Sergeant Bruce and some of his MPs to scout out the areas where we know there are women plying their trade.”

“How did you guess?”

“Liz, she was a whore before we left Ederle. Do you actually think the senior NCOs don’t know who the potential trouble makers are?”

“I’m no virgin, Sergeant Major.”

“That’s between you and the men you spend time with, but I never heard about you renting yourself out.”

“No, I’ve never done that,” Liz whispered. “I could go talk to her.”

“She’s made her decision. I’d rather not lose another soldier, possibly not by her own choice. That is a nasty part of town, day or night.”

“You need some time, Liz?” Luke asked.

“No, sir, if it’s okay, I’ll go finish fixin’ lunch.”

Luke nodded.

❀ ❁ ❀

When lunch was finished and the plates cleared, Luke sat at the table with George Carson, the two sergeants in the troop and the sergeant major. “Any more good news for us?” he asked.

“No, sir.”

“How about rumors?” Jake Potter put in.

“Well,” Evans answered, “what time is it?”

Luke looked at Evans’s wrist, saw a watch and shook his head. This is gonna be good. He looked at his own watch. “1305.”

“Maybe,” Evans answered. “It’s 1305 — or so — central European time.”

George Carson laid his head on the table. “They’re gonna convert to sun time? God Almighty… ”

Luke smiled. “George and Melissa are studying to become Catholic. George is trying not to take the Lord’s name in vain. So noon will be noon in Umbertide?”

“Maybe. Or maybe Badia.”

“Is this coming from the cardinals, Sergeant Major?”

Evans nodded. “That’s the rumor.”

George said, “They have too much time on their hands.”

❀ ❁ ❀

South of Siena, Italy, 10 July 1998

Marco Bernardi finished packing his equipment which, in addition to that he carried before the Change, included the short sword the Romans called a gladius and a shield they called a scutum that was mostly rectangular but curved along its long axis. He thought, I was born an infantryman — well, maybe not born — and I suspect I’ll die one, even if my weapons have changed.

He looked toward his troops where Sergeant Bartolini was conducting a pre-combat inspection and nodded in silent approval.

Bernardi and his soldiers mounted their bicycles and turned south. We have four days to go ninety klicks. I guess this is “mechanized infantry.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Marina di Grosseto, Italy, 15 July 1998, mid-morning

Marco Bernardi sat on the breakwater at Marina di Grosseto watching the horizon through his binoculars. Ah, there she is. “Right on time” isn’t exactly right, but she made it on the right day. I hope Davide is aboard.

“What do you think about the Americans, Sergeant Bartolini?” Bernardi asked as they waited.

“I was favorably impressed, sir. The only ones I have had an opportunity to talk to are their cavalrymen. My troops and I — different troops than these — were guarding a road block south of Perugia. Lieutenant… Hutton rode down from the city with his troopers. He presented me with a letter stating that he was in charge then told me he had no intention of interfering with my operation. He asked me to teach him as much Italian as I could and told his troopers to learn from my soldiers. We did not have a long time together. He has a good ear, but his accent is unlike anything I have ever heard in Italy. Understandable, but…”

“And he greeted Cardinal Ratzinger?”

“Yes, sir. He knew the right forms. I had not expected a black man to be a Catholic. It turns out that he is part Mexican. ‘Black’ is not the right term, but it is one that the Americans use.”

“The Americans are complicated people, Sergeant,” Bernardi answered. “The coming years will be interesting. When Morelli comes out of Livorno…” He shrugged his shoulders.

“How do we know he’s coming, sir?”

“Well, I suppose we don’t know, but he has established that thing he calls a republic. We know he has killed priests and other religious. Those rumors about ritualistic cannibalism are based on reliable sources.” No need to tell the good sergeant that I’m one of the sources. “We are the enemy.”

Sergeant Bartolini nodded.

❀ ❁ ❀

Bernardi watched as Amerigo Vespucci slackened sail and drifted to a stop in a gentle swell about 200 meters from the breakwater off Marina di Grosseto. Earlier, he had untied his left combat boot, smiling at Sergeant Bartolini’s obvious consternation. “An old recognition sign between me and my brother,” he had explained. When he saw a face that looked familiar, he stood on his right foot, removed the left boot and waved it. The figure at the rail waved once with his right arm and twice with his left and a longboat was slung outward over the water.

After the longboat made a short crossing from the ship, Davide Barnardi scrambled up an iron ladder embedded in the wall of the breakwater.

When he was safely at the top, he and Marco embraced. “I feared I would never see you again, my brother,” Davide said.

“And I,” the elder Bernardi answered. He looked down at the coxswain of the longboat and said, “Lieutenant Bernardi will be returning to Amerigo Vaspucci with you in about fifteen minutes.”

“I will?”

“Yes. Quickly, Davide, we don’t have much time.” Marco led his brother away from the edge of the breakwater. “First, Italy has collapsed. Our country does not exist. Second, Holy Mother Church survives. Cardinals and their staffs were evacuated from Rome by the Swiss Guard with the assistance of some members of the cavalry regiment and the mechanized infantry brigade, but most of the Army had deserted. And I didn’t mention the Pope because His Holiness refused to leave the Vatican. After the survivors had successfully fled Rome, they looked back and saw that the Vatican was on fire. The Pope is presumed to have perished.”

“Where does that leave us?”

“The Church fathers have formed a nation called the Umbrian League, governed from Badia near Umbertide in Umbria. The commander of the Army is Colonel De Angelis. The Army consists of a brigade headquarters and three battalions. The Livorno battalion is, with the troops who came from Rome, being reorganized into the Livorno Battalion and the Roma Battalion. The third battalion is the America Battalion — ”


“Yes the American paratroopers marched from Vicenza nearly to Pistoia before they were intercepted by Colonel Parodi and their commander was convinced to join us. They were going to Camp Darby, but Morelli had burned it out.”


“Oh, sorry, he’s a petty thief who managed to become the president of the ‘Tuscan Republic.’ A more correct term would be dictator. He’s a long-term threat. To business.” Marco handed his brother an envelope. “This contains your commission as a first lieutenant in the Army of the Umbrian League. Read the oath of office, out loud. If you accept, sign it and we will proceed from there.”

Marco watched Davide speed read the commission. Without being prompted, Davide raised his right hand and read it aloud to his brother. They both signed the document and Marco said, “I’ll take that and keep it safe for you in Umbria.”

“Very well.”

Marco handed two more envelopes to Davide. “These you get to take with you. The first is for Captain Marangon. It is similar to yours except that it offers him a commission as an admiral in the Umbrian Navy which, if he accepts, will consist of one ship. He is authorized to offer commissions to his officers and enlistments to his sailors. The second is for Cardinal Leonardi of Palermo. Do you know if he lives?”

“He did when we left Sicily. There have been very strange things happening there, particularly in Enna, but no one is being very specific to outsiders.” Davide reached into his pocket. “This is my report. I’m glad there is someone to give it to.”

“I am glad to be here to accept it.”

“Our parents?”

Marco shrugged. “The Americans left Vicenza before a total breakdown, but they think one was close. By the time they arrived in Verona, they had to fight a skirmish to move through the southern part of that city without leaving the rail system. North of there? Who knows?”

Davide sighed. “It is time to get back aboard, I suppose.”

“Yes. You’re the sailor in our family, but it wouldn’t hurt to encourage Captain Marangon to examine the sailing craft in the marina. My guess is that they could be used in coastal transport or even to reach some of the nearby islands. Oh, the first envelope asks Captain — Admiral — Marangon to present the letter in the second envelope to Cardinal Leonardi but to allow you to accompany him. The letter to Cardinal Leonardi invites him to visit the new Holy See in Badia. Stay nimble, my brother. I hope to see you on 15 August.”

Davide smiled. “Yes, sir,” he said and saluted. When Marco returned the salute, Davide stuffed the documents under his shirt and climbed down the ladder into the longboat.

The coxswain of the boat ordered his crew to cast off and the small craft headed back to its mother ship.

On the breakwater, Marco Bernardi whispered, “Go with God.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Headquarters, Army of the Umbrian League, Umbertide, 29 July 1998, morning

Lieutenant Colonel Ed Clarke arranged his notes on the table in front of him. Luke Hutton watched and thought, Ed Clarke is everything I want to be as a commander. Luke looked around the room. Let’s see, Lieutenant Colonel Parodi, Lieutenant Colonel Pintus of the Roma Battalion, Captain Dal Lago who just took over Livorno’s engineer company, two Italian captains I don’t know, Captain Erickson of Charlie — make that 3rd — Company, and Captain Avery of the engineer company. And little ol’ me.

A voice announced, “The commander,” and they all stood at attention at their places. Colonel De Angelis took his seat at the head of the table and said, “Take your seats, please.”

When everyone was seated he continued, “We are preparing to launch a relatively long range operation in terms of our current ability to move between cities. By now, the worst kept secret in Umbria is that we were able to keep Amerigo Vespucci out of the hands of Morelli and his mob right after the Change. We may have been driven out of Livorno, but we took a critical asset with us. Captain Bernardi has established tentative contact with the vessel. Captain?”

“Thank you, sir. I am Captain Marco Bernardi. Early this month I was sent to recon the area around Siena and to attempt contact with Amerigo Vespucci on 15 July at Marina di Grosseto on the Tyrrhenian Sea. One of the officers sent to help our Navy secure the vessel was my brother, Davide. That substantially simplified recognition. My brother accepted the commission in the Umbrian Army that I presented to him. When he re-boarded the vessel he took with him offers of commissions in the Umbrian Navy for the captain of the ship and his officers and enlistment contracts similar to those we offered our enlisted personnel. He also took a letter from Cardinal Ratzinger to Cardinal Leonardi, the Archbishop of Palermo. The ship sailed away from the coast and I do not know what Captain Marangon of Amerigo Vespucci decided or what the cardinal archbishop decided. We hope to learn that on 15 August. I exceeded my brief. I told my brother to suggest to Captain Marangon that he examine the sailboats moored in the marina and evaluate their usefulness. As for Siena… It is another city occupied by people who are descending into some sub-human state.”

“Thank you Captain. To the mission. We are going to establish a fortified base for Amerigo Vespucci at Marina di Grosseto. For that to work to our advantage, we need a secure road between this valley and the marina. The practical road skirts the southern side of Siena. Captain Dal Lago’s and Captain Avery’s engineer companies are going to build a fort south of Siena to secure that area. It is good arable land and there are a lot of industrial buildings that can be razed for building materials. Captain Cappelli’s 2nd company will eventually occupy that fort. Captain Erickson and Lieutenant Hutton will provide route security to Siena.

“While the fort at Siena is under construction, Captain Cappelli and Lieutenant Hutton will continue on to Marina di Grosseto with their forces. Captain Bernardi and one lieutenant with engineering skills will accompany the expedition to the marina. Upon arrival, the lieutenant will conduct a site survey for a fort at the Marina. If Cardinal Leonardi is aboard Amerigo Vespucci, he will be escorted back to Badia by way of our military road. Otherwise, the entire force will return to Siena. Captain Cappelli and his troops will occupy the fort at Siena and the remainder of the force will return to Umbertide.

“I would like to send elements of the Roma Battalion as well, but Colonel Pintus is still building his unit. They will need another month. When that month has passed, a company from the Roma Battalion will occupy the fort to be built at Marina di Grosseto. I will discuss other matters with the battalion commanders. You depart Umbertide on 2 August. Gentlemen, prepare your plans. What are your questions?”

About four days to get ready, Luke thought. He looked at Clarke.

“Go ahead, Lieutenant,” Clarke said.

“Thank you, sir.” Luke turned to De Angelis. “Sir, if we are going to secure a military highway, I would be more comfortable if we planned on having remounts available at the fortified sites.”

“An excellent point, Lieutenant. Do we have the animals available to establish remount stations?”

“Not yet, sir,” Luke answered.

“Very well. The civil government, with the Church’s blessing, is preparing to announce the extension of freight rail service to Castiglione del Lago, west of Lake Trasimeno. The Army will be providing security for that terminus. Because there will be draft animals in Castiglione del Lago, we might as well station some cavalry assets there as well when they are available. We will let the civil government provide handlers. We will work to establish a remount point in Siena when even more horses are available.”

“Yes, sir, thank you,” Luke answered and began writing in his notebook.

❀ ❁ ❀

“Marina di Grosseto?” First Sergeant Jason Miller asked.

“Right,” Luke Hutton answered. “It’s on the Tyrrhenian Sea about 220 klicks from here. It’s important because the command wants a base of operations for Amerigo Vespucci, which was the Italian Navy’s training ship. Kind of like Eagle that the Coasties use — or used. God only knows what’s happening on the other side of the drink. Where are you guys on recommending some platoon sergeants to me?”

“Anderson, Appleby and Bradley,” George Carson answered. “I know Abbott is senior to both Appleby and Bradley, but he told me he doesn’t want a leadership position with the cavalry. Down deep, I think he and all the archers want to go to the infantry companies ‘cause they see a better chance of advancement there. In the infantry, they come with a skill that most people don’t have.”

“Okay, approved. Jase, verify that Abbott and the archers want to go. Make sure they understand I’m not angry. But… I wanna keep one archer as an instructor. Who’s the best on a horse?”

“Baker,” Jake Potter replied without delay.

“Then we get to keep him. The others can go, if Clarke approves, after this operation. I have a meeting with Clarke and the other company commanders this afternoon. I’ll find out who has the authority to promote then. What do you see as a logistics tail?”

“Both wagons hauled by the regular draft animals with that pair of Calabrians as backups. There’s a lot of ‘admin’ in this move so we bring the field kitchen. No camp followers. One remount for each trooper. The newbies can learn horse management en route.”

“Go with it, but leave five apprentices from each platoon here to manage the post. We’ll leave the battalion training NCO in charge. Signor Rossi can help. You three pick who stays. I don’t want to dump that on the new platoon leaders before they’re even official. We leave on 2 August. Get ‘em ready.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Cavalry Post, Umbertide, Umbrian League, 1 August 1998

Luke saw a carriage, which he guessed to be one that had come from Rome, approaching the farm on the main road. He watched for a moment and thought, Two priests in cassocks with a driver. Wait a minute, one is Chaplain Connolly.

As the carriage neared, Luke ambled toward the gate where a recruit stood on each side with the sergeant of the guard at a desk nearby. Not really a sergeant. Just one of the recruits who’s a little ahead of the others.

Luke waved the sergeant back into his seat. The guards stood at ease but snapped to attention when they saw him approaching. “As you were,” he ordered.

Then Luke saw the red biretta on the man who was with Connolly. He turned back to the sergeant of the guard. “Important company coming. Get the XO and the first sergeant! Double time!” A cardinal? Stankowski? Is this good or bad? “Atten-TION!”

Luke stood at attention with George Carson on his right and Jason Miller on his left. When the cardinal stepped down from the carriage, Luke stepped forward with his left hand on the hilt of his sword. He genuflected, kissed the cardinal’s ring and said, “Your Eminence, Lieutenant Luke Hutton.”

“Please stand, Lieutenant,” the cardinal said in an accent that came from somewhere north of Texas. “I am Michael Stankowski, Michael Cardinal Stankowski, you want to get formal about it.”

Luke stood. “Thank you, Your Eminence, and welcome to the cavalry post of the America Battalion.”

“‘The farm?’” Stankowski asked with a twinkle in his eye.

Luke shrugged and said, “Well… Yes.”

“Word gets around, Luke,” Connolly said.

“The farm I grew up on smelled more like diesel fuel,” Cardinal Stankowski said with a grin. “But that was in Nebraska a very long time ago.”

“Welcome to our ‘fertilizer production facility.’”

“Thank you, my son. To business. I have asked to have your battalion included in my ministry when not doing ‘cardinal stuff’ and the committee of the whole agreed. I’m in no condition to deploy with you. Father Connolly will remain your chaplain. You depart on a mission tomorrow. I’m here to grant general absolution to the Catholics in your command and to offer my blessing to the others.”

“I’ll call the troopers together, Your Eminence.”

❀ ❁ ❀

An hour later, after Stankowski had boarded the carriage, Connolly walked around the back of the vehicle to take his place. He looked at Luke, smiled and held out his fist with his thumb extended upward.

❀ ❁ ❀

South of Umbertide, Umbrian League, 2 August 1998, early morning

Luke watched as two lieutenant colonels, Edward Clarke and Giuseppe Parodi, rode toward him. Two? He thought and saluted. Both returned the salute.

Clarke asked, “Patrol out front, Lieutenant?”

“Yes, sir, First Platoon has the honors this morning. Lieutenant Carson is with them because there are so many apprentices.”

“Who has the First?”

“Sergeant Bradley, sir.”

Clarke nodded and said something to Parodi that Luke did not catch. The two battalion commanders continued on toward the front of the column. As Luke watched he saw lightning off to the southeast. Funny not to hear thunder, even when the lightning is closer. Can’t estimate the distance any more. I hope it clears before we ride into the area.

❀ ❁ ❀

South of Siena, Umbrian League, 8 August 1998, late afternoon




Luke Hutton reined in Gray and patted his favorite horse’s withers. He dismounted and approached Lieutenant Colonels Clarke and Parodi. Other company commanders were approaching as well.

Parodi said, “Reports, gentlemen.”

When the captains were finished, Luke said, “All is well. We had several recruits thrown out of their saddles by cantankerous mounts but they landed like we taught them, even if it was on concrete. No serious injuries and Taylor has seen to the bumps and scrapes. We’ll be ready to march as scheduled at dawn on 10 August.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Marina di Grosseto, Tyrrhenian Coast, 13 August 1998, early evening.

Lieutenant Colonel Giuseppe Parodi called, “Column, halt!”

Luke Hutton pulled back on the reins of his remount and let himself slouch into the saddle for a few seconds before dismounting. Thank God, that’s enough for one day. Captain Cappelli, Captain Bernardi and he walked toward the task force commander.

“Excellent work today, gentlemen,” Parodi said. “We will probably be here at least two days. We will take some time to discuss our observations about the route, including security.”

The three men nodded to Parodi and the group broke up. Luke turned toward his command, which was short one platoon. Although I can’t argue the logic of Clarke wanting to keep a platoon to patrol while the castle is under construction, I’d still rather have George and the extra men with me. I did not like the narrowness of parts of that road. I could worry about whether my troopers are doing their jobs, but I have First Sergeant Jason Miller to do that for me. I just have to wait for his report.

❀ ❁ ❀

“Lieutenant Hutton?” Parodi said.

“Thank you, sir. I’m concerned about the stretch of highway between Paganico and Nomadelfia. The gap between the hills is narrow and leaves us few options if we are attacked. We can very easily be blocked and subjected to artillery.”

“I agree with Lieutenant Hutton,” Captain Bernardi said. “I have been through that pass three times. The first two were with something resembling a squad backing me up. We had the ability to maneuver if attacked. I would not want to be ambushed with two companies and their trains in that situation.”

Captain Benedetto Cappelli nodded his head.

“Do you have an option?” Parodi asked.

“Yes, sir,” Luke answered. “We should follow the rail line that runs west of the mountains and intersects our highway near Paganico.”

“Are you three gentlemen telling me I should put a prince of the Church on a wagon and have that wagon bounce along the stringers of a rail line for thirty kilometers?”

Somehow, I think Clarke would have listened to me — us, Luke thought. “Yes, sir, I would rather get His Eminence to Badia with aches and pains than have him die on my watch.”

Parodi smiled. “He is an old man, Luke. If we take him along a rail line, we will kill him.”

Reluctantly, Luke nodded.

❀ ❁ ❀

Marina di Grosseto, Tyrrhenian Coast, Assumption of Mary, 15 August 1998, early morning.

Luke Hutton stood by the central fire with the other officers in what had become, more or less by acclamation, “Task Force Parodi.” He sipped from his cup of broth and thought, Coffee it ain’t, but it does warm the belly.

Parodi asked Luigi Adami, the engineer officer, “Survey completed, Lieutenant?”

“Yes, sir.” Adami’s eyes widened. “Sir, there is a ship on the horizon.”

Parodi turned, looked toward the sea, turned back, and said, “Captain Bernardi, this is your opportunity to shine.”

Bernardi nodded and he and Parodi walked toward the breakwater.

❀ ❁ ❀

Marco Bernardi smiled as he recognized his brother’s face in the bobbing longboat that was approaching land. There was another passenger in the boat whom he concluded was Captain Marangon of Amerigo Vespucci.

When Davide Bernardi and Marangon climbed to the top of the breakwater, the men exchanged courtesies and Marangon handed one of two envelopes to Parodi. “The Cardinal Archbishop of Pelermo’s reply to the cardinals in Badia,” he explained. “It’s in Latin, but essentially, the cardinal accepts the invitation but can not travel to Umbria before September. That means we get to make the trip again. I had hoped to spend the time surveying islands in the Mediterranean. This second envelope is the oaths of office of me and my officers and the enlistment contracts of my crew. We should speak privately about an issue.”

As Parodi and Marangon walked away, Marco said, “Well done, Davide.”

“You will be less happy when you hear the rest. I have asked to be transferred to the Navy.”

“You what?”

“Do you not remember our last conversation, my brother? I know you did not do an inventory, but there used to be a very well crafted twenty meter sailing yacht moored here. I now command that vessel.”

“Where are you going in a twenty-meter yacht?”

“To survey the islands lying off the coast of the Italian peninsula.”

“My brother Davide, off on another adventure.”

“Marco, I am not sailing to Antarctica. I’m sailing around the Mediterranean. We will see each other between missions.”

“I suppose I have no choice but to bow to the inevitable. Well, what do you make of Cardinal Leonardi’s decision to travel in September instead of now?”

“I think he’s telling the cardinals in Umbria that he appreciates the invitation but that he is a cardinal archbishop and that Sicily is his to oversee.  Ah, our superiors have finished their conversation. I suspect Admiral Marangon will want to put to sea as soon as possible.”

As the longboat pulled away from the breakwater, Bernardi said, “My brother…”

“Has transferred to the Navy,” Parodi finished. “I approved the request. Now that we have a ‘two-ship’ navy, I suppose we’ll need a minister of defense or something similar. If Marangon is an admiral, doesn’t De Angelis deserve to be a general? My head hurts. We leave for home tomorrow.”

❀ ❁ ❀

The Military Road, North of Nomadelfia, Greater Umbria, 16 August 1998, mid-morning.

Luke Hutton guided his horse to the side of the road to avoid interfering with the moving column of men and wagons. He unfolded a map and called, “First Sergeant Miller!”

Jason Miller joined his commander. “Sir?”

Luke used a pencil to trace a road that branched off toward the left. “This road is supposed to meet up with the main road up near Paganico. I want a patrol to check it out.”

“Wilco, sir.” Miller rode toward the platoon led by Bradley. Luke watched as the two sergeants spoke and Bradley pointed at three of the new men and sent them on their way.

Miller rode back. “My first thought was to tell Brad to include himself, but I gotta let them learn. If we don’t like the quality of the report we can send another patrol out as a ‘training exercise.’”

Luke nodded. “Approved. We’re in a strange combination here of leading from the front and supervising and teaching.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Hours later, Bradley’s three troopers were waiting where the back road intersected. Bradley rode forward to meet them. Luke waited a minute. Feels like I’ve been waiting five. He then rode with Miller to join them. When Luke reined in, Bradley nodded to him then looked at one of his troopers. “Report, Baranski.”

“Apprentice Baranski, Sir. The road we scouted is a good, hard-surface road. It’s a little steep at both ends. I’m surely not an expert at handling a team of animals, but I think going up and down the hilly portions would be difficult. Possibly the down more than the up. What really concerned all three of us was that when we passed behind the two hills, we could not see this road. My conclusion is that someone on this road would not be able to see anyone behind the hills.”

“Good report,” Luke nodded. “Good work, all three of you. Back in formation.”

“Sir,” they said in unison and rejoined their platoon.

“Brad, please get Guy Anderson and you and him join the first sergeant and me.”

Less than two minutes late the four cavalry leaders were gathered in a circle. “Now I’m even less happy about this road than I was before” Luke said. “I’m better informed — thank your troopers again for me, Brad — but less happy. This end of the road is potentially the most dangerous.”

“And there’s not much we can do about it when we pass through except suck in our guts and pray it works,” Bob Bradley offered.

“Yeah, chargin’ down a road at a gallop only looks good in a movie,” Anderson agreed.

❀ ❁ ❀

Cavalry Post, Umbertide, 27 August 1998, morning

“Thanks, Luisa,” Luke Hutton said as she finished her briefing on the status of the troop’s riding stock. Alberto Rossi was down with a chest infection. We’re running out of modern — pre-modern — drugs and I don’t want to lose him or anyone else. He realized Luisa was hesitating. “I’m sorry, was there something else?”

“You know that if you are going to ride Gray to war we should geld him? He has too much spirit.”

Luke turned and easily spotted Gray among the animals in the pasture. He turned back to Luisa. “You’re right.” He smiled. “You’re always right where horses are concerned. When we get back from this mission to the sea, we’ll let him cover a few more mares that are ready then we’ll get the vet in with his knives. The same with any others you think are ready. After this mission, we’ll be going into winter quarters and we’ll finally be able to devote ourselves full time to training.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Perugia Station, Perugia, Umbria, 2 September 1998, early morning.

Luke Hutton and George watched as Jason Miller spot checked the pre-combat inspections conducted by the platoon leaders. Luke could not hear what First Sergeant Miller was saying but he knew anyway. An encouraging word here, a terse reminder there, a sharper word there for a more serious infraction. Maybe he was a better choice than Potter. I think he has more management skills than Jake has.

George Carson said, “Appleby will catch it for that last one. And he’ll deserve it. A glitch that obvious shouldn’t have gotten past any platoon sergeant.”

“Right on, George. Well, here we go again. Formed up at a rail station to go somewhere we don’t particularly want to go. What is that monster over on the rails?”

George shrugged his shoulders but the answer came from Lieutenant Colonel Ed Clarke.

“That’s the answer to the high-speed transportation problem. It a rail-only vehicle powered by people. It’s operated by eight people with an option for two seated passengers who don’t help propel it and a cargo section. It’s an either/or situation, cargo or passengers.”

“So what are they doing here, sir?” Luke asked.

“They’re going to Grosseto. There are no tracks down to the marina. The idea is to see how long it takes to get there.”

“Are they troops?”

Clarke smiled. “No, they’re apprentices of the engineers who invented that contraption. They should have fun. Because of the lay of the land, the rails snake around all over the map. They leave when we do.”

“What’s the cargo?”

“Food for the trip and tentage for their ‘camp.’”

Luke shook his head and George laughed. Luke looked at his executive officer and motioned with his head. George nodded and led his mount toward the assembled troopers.

“Sir, I’ve got people asking me a question that I don’t have an answer for.”

“Yeah, Luke,” Clarke replied. “I think I know the question, but go ahead and ask it.”

“Did a soldier in the Livorno Battalion get a lashing for some minor offense?”

“Well, the short answer is ‘no.’ What did happen is that one of the soldiers in Parodi’s 3rd Company was caught stealing from his fellow soldiers. Parodi held a hearing under what you and I would call non-judicial punishment. He was found guilty and forced to run the gauntlet of his fellow soldiers. Officers and sergeants stood back but the man still had to run past eighty-odd soldiers who each got a chance to lay one on.” Clarke paused and his face seemed to Luke to harden. “He’ll recover. Colonel Parodi said he hoped he never has to give such an order again but that he will if it’s called for.”

“And you, sir?” Luke asked, his voice barely above a whisper.

“Let’s cross that bridge when we come to it, Lieutenant.”


❀ ❁ ❀

Grosseto, Greater Umbria, 13 September 1998, early evening.

Luke Hutton looked with disgust at the rail vehicle that had beat the column to Grosseto by nine days. “A hundred klicks a day?”

“Yes, sir,” Jason Miller answered, “but they’re only good as couriers on secured routes. They can’t respond overland.”

“Yeah,” George Carson agreed. “If you need to take a unit to war, it’s gotta be the road network. We’re not out of a job.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Marina di Grosseto, Tyrrhenian Coast, Our Lady of Sorrows, 15 September 1998, noon.

Lieutenant Colonel Edward Clarke watched as two longboats from Amerigo Vespucci passed through the gap in the breakwater into calmer waters. Four passengers and an officer whom I assume is Admiral Marangon. The cardinal; a young priest wearing a cassock, call him an attendant; an older priest with an attaché case, call him a secretary or aide; and nun carrying a plain black bag, call her a nurse. Funny, but the question of the cardinal’s health never came up during the briefings.

Clarke turned to the man beside him. “Captain Bernardi, do we have any information that would cause us to be concerned about the cardinal’s health?”

Bernardi answered, “No, sir, I am certain my brother would have told me if he knew of any problems. His Eminence is almost seventy. I hope that the presence of the sister with the medical bag is a precaution.”

“I hope so, too. Badia suddenly seems to be much further away.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Marco Bernardi stood to Edward Clarke’s left and watched as the American genuflected to Cardinal Leonardi, kissed his ring and said, “Buongiorno, Eminenza, io sono Colonnello Clarke del battaglione americano.”

Bernardi thought, Excellent, Colonel, but don’t overdo it.

Clarke waited until Bernardi paid his respects to the cardinal, turned to him and said, “Please explain to His Eminence that we will be remaining in Grosseto overnight and will depart for Badia in the morning if that is convenient to him.”

Bernardi did as Clarke asked while thinking about the cardinal’s aide. You understand English and choose to keep us ignorant of that. Your master is a prince, but you have drawn a line in the sand. And why did the cardinal not use his aide as a translator? I need to tell Clarke to be wary of this man. Or these men.

Admiral Marangon was waiting patiently while Cardinal Leonardi and his party proceeded to the carriage. Marco exchanged salutes with Marangon, who shook his head, smiled and said, “He is yours and welcome to him. I don’t think His Eminence has quite come to terms with the fact that there is no limousine waiting to transport him. I will return on 15 October to transport him to Palermo. Then I will stop acting as a taxi. The Navy will continue its exploration of the Mediterranean.”

“Continue, sir?”

“Yes, your brother sends his regards. I sent him to Naples under the flag, which I invented, of the Umbrian League. There is a cardinal archbishop in Naples. I told Davide to be very careful. I need him.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Grosseto, Greater Umbria, 16 September 1998, early morning.

Luke Hutton mounted and looked up and down the assembled column. If it took nine days to march here from Perugia, I know it’ll be at least that going back. The engineers are building Fort Grosseto — which the Navy insists is Grosseto Naval Base — and it’ll be at least as good as Fort Siena. They’ve learned a little more about building. Now that Cardinal Leonardi arrived on Amerigo Vespucci and he seems pleased with the arrangements. At the same time, he seems a little remote. Not my problem. The carriage we brought got polished up last night and the animals pulling it make a good team.

Captain Charles Erickson rode up on his chestnut. “Never dreamed I’d be riding a horse for duty,” he said.

Luke smiled. “Yes, sir, by next spring, we should be able to get all the executive officers on horseback.”

“If I can do it, so can they.”

“Column…” Both Erickson and Luke looked toward the front of the formation where Ed Clarke was preparing to get underway.

Responses came from the subordinate units. It’s good for George to take this as his training, Luke thought.

“Forward, march!”

“Forward march, forward ride, forward shuffle,” Erickson offered, smiled and rode down the line toward his company headquarters element.

❀ ❁ ❀

Late afternoon came sooner than Luke anticipated. The column had cleared Nomadelfia and was approaching the side road that they had reconnoitered on the last trip.

“Recon out,” Luke ordered and George Carson signaled the requirement to Aaron Appleby. He and two of his apprentices cut to the left and trotted up the hill. They’re almost troopers, Luke thought.

The column continued north toward Paganico, where they had negotiated space for the night with the keeper of an inn housed in an old castle. “I hope to God that no one said anything about a cardinal while we were in Paganico on the way out,” George said.

Luke nodded.

Half an hour passed. There was a light breeze coming from the north. Luke had ridden forward to find out if Clarke had any new requirements for him when he heard the sound of several horses galloping and breathing hard coming from ahead of the column. There was some kind of commotion at the rear of the formation as well.

Two apprentices bent forward in their saddles came down the road. One had an arrow in his shoulder and the other had one in his saddle. George Carson came up the side of the column at a gallop. “Patrol got ambushed. Appleby’s down and the troopers barely made it out.”

Luke looked at Clarke. “Hunker down, sir.”

Clarke nodded, held up his hand and yelled, “Column, halt!”

God, I wish we’d had more time, Luke thought then saw a platoon of Erickson’s foot soldiers charging toward the front of the column. They stopped when they passed Clarke and Luke. The platoon leader yelled, “Wait… wait… make a hole.” The returning cavalrymen thundered through the gap left by their brothers on foot. “Get him back to Taylor,” Luke yelled, only half conscious of Lieutenant Benjamin Edwards, the infantry platoon leader yelling, “Form the wall!”

George Carson called out, “First Platoon, reinforce front. One half of 3rd Platoon back ‘em up. Think in the saddle, people! We’re not formin’ a plan, here. The rest of 3rd follow me.” He wheeled his horse and galloped back toward the rear of the column.

“If we’re half lucky”, Luke yelled to Clarke “2nd is already deployed to the rear.”

The attack began from the front. Luke estimated twenty to thirty men on foot with a variety of weapons, from short swords to pole arms. “Steady, steady,” Ben Edwards said. “Watch them. That’s not a unit. It’s a mob.” He waited. “Crossbows, now!”

The sound of the crossbows seemed as loud as the rifle range. But that can’t be true. That’s their only shot. Half a dozen of the mob went down. All but one of the crossbowmen slung their weapons over their shoulders and braced the wall; the other reloaded his bow and waited.

The rest of the attacking mob hit Erickson’s infantrymen at a run. I don’t know what they’re trying to do, but that’s a riot, not an attack. Luke watched as the mob crashed into the trained soldiers, who stood but gave slightly, to absorb the shock. The lone crossbowman walked almost casually to the line, slipped his bow between two of his fellow soldiers and shot an attacker in the side of the head. At point blank range, the bolt went through the enemy’s makeshift helmet as if it were not there. That’s Dave Nakamura. He stood up to that thug outside Marzabotto.

The attacker screamed and went down.

The wall began to bend at one end and part of the mob slipped past. Worst mistake of their short lives, Luke thought. He watched as the attackers entered cavalry country and each apprentice tried to earn the title of trooper. There’s no doubt they know what to do with war hammers. Chaplain Connolly’s gonna be busy counseling men when we get home. He winced as an apprentice whose name would not come to him ripped an attacker’s helmet off with a backhand swing of his hammer and, on the forehand swing, crushed the side of the man’s head.

Luke watched as the attack at the front of the column failed and the soldiers of the America Battalion began mopping up. “Get me two prisoners,” Edwards called. “Kill the rest.”

“Hutton, check on the cardinal,” Clarke called as he galloped toward the rear of the column.

Luke trotted toward Cardinal Leonardi’s carriage. He was about half way there when nearly twenty men came over the railing from the tall grass at the side of the road.

The real attack, Luke thought with terror. “Noooo!” he screamed as loud as he could and rode to put himself between the cardinal and the mob. He barely made it in time. The leaders of the third attack slammed into Luke and Gray, pushing both into the carriage.

Luke heard something crack and felt an intense pain in his left leg. He fell, he thought, into a hole and watched as the entrance grew smaller and smaller. Somewhere in the distance, a horse screamed and the entrance to the hole closed.

Luke Hutton’s world turned black.

❀ ❁ ❀


— Advancement —


Luke was thrilled. I’ve never been on the back of a grown horse before, but Daddy said that now that I’m six I’m big enough. He heard the screen door at the back of the house squeak and turned to look at his mother. “Look, Mommy…” Uh-oh, Mommy looks mad. I hope she’s not mad at Daddy. He’s holding onto the leg of my jeans and I can’t fall.

“Okay, son, time to get off.”

“Oh, Daddy, I wanna ride.”

“No, I said you could sit. He may only be a cow pony, but he’s too big for you to control.” Will Hutton grasped Luke by his waist and pulled him off the animal. “What do you do?”

“Land on my toes and bend my legs?”

“Right.” Will dropped Luke about nine inches. He landed on his toes, flexed his legs and fell onto his butt.


Will laughed kindly. “Nice try.” He held out his right hand, grasped Luke’s and pulled his son to his feet.

❀ ❁ ❀

The Military Road, North of Nomadelfia, Greater Umbria, 16 September 1998, mid-morning.

Ed Clarke pulled back hard on his mount’s reins when he heard a horse scream behind him. He knew instantly what it was without ever having heard the sound before. There is no worse sound, he thought. Turning his horse and turning in his saddle he saw the crowd of men trying to reach Cardinal Leonardi.

Where’s Hutton? Oh, no! “Breach! Breach!” he yelled as he started toward the melee.

❀ ❁ ❀

George Carson heard the scream as well, but had heard it before in Arizona, when a horse stepped into a prairie dog burrow and snapped its cannon bone. He turned toward the sound and saw the pile up near the cardinal’s carriage.

He looked at the support people, including Liz Current. “To arms! Get on the far side of that coach and keep it upright!”

To the cavalrymen he had been leading toward the rear he yelled, “Ride to contact. Dismount to fight!” There’s no way to fit all these horses into that space!

❀ ❁ ❀

Chuck Erickson stared at the lieutenant leading his reserve platoon. Before he could say anything, the lieutenant yelled, “Form the wall, south!” Erickson got out of the way as shields came up, pikes extended over the shoulders of the shields and crossbowmen called, “Clear!” No such thing as friendly fire, he thought and got out of the way.

❀ ❁ ❀

Clarke reached the attack first. He had the advantage of coming down on the attackers from the rear with sword drawn. He hacked at the exposed neck of a man, slicing open the skin and crushing the spinal column with a smashed vertebra. A polearm passed within inches of his face. Clarke turned toward the bearer of the polearm and guessed that the man had tried too hard and was off balance. Clarke brought his sword around and drove the point into his enemy’s neck. He twisted the blade, not knowing he had already severed one of the man’s carotid arteries. Blood spurted into Clarke’s face. His horse reared. As he began to slide backward, he kicked free of his stirrups and hit the ground on the balls of his feet.

Without warning, there were horses all around him, the troopers dismounting with shields and war hammers ready.

Someone yelled, “Hold the horses!” at him. Only after he had gathered the reins did he realized that Lieutenant George Carson had given him an order. He grinned, shook his head and led the horses away. They don’t really need me right now.

❀ ❁ ❀

Liz Current had quietly donned a belt with a spare saber when the attack started. I may not know a whole lot about using this, but I’ll go down fighting. When Carson said to reinforce the carriage, she grabbed her crossbow, looked at the troop clerk and supply clerk and said, “Now!” She headed for the cardinal’s vehicle. Okay, Amy and Raul listened but what’s … “Jacob, whattaya doin’ here?”

“The trooper’s okay but if they overturn this carriage we’re all in trouble,” the medic answered.

All four soldiers braced themselves against the carriage, which rocked as the attackers tried to reach the cardinal. From her position, Liz could look right into the seating area. What a buncha wimps, she thought. The nun’s on the bottom and the cardinal’s laying on top of her. The two priests are on top of the cardinal, but it’s hard to tell if they’re trying to protect him or themselves.

A man in a khaki jacket fought his way to the far side of the carriage. He was wielding a sword and looked as if he knew how to use it.

He ain’t one of ours, Liz thought. “Hold, I’m stepping back.” Liz stepped away from the carriage, brought up her crossbow, checked for a bolt, aimed and put the bolt right between the swordsman’s eyes from a distance of six feet. The light went out of his eyes and he vomited impressively into the passenger compartment of the carriage before collapsing.

Liz braced herself against the carriage again, but it didn’t seem to be pushing back.

“You guys can ease up,” a voice called, “it’s all over.”

“I better get over there,” Jacob Taylor said.

❀ ❁ ❀

The metallic smell of blood was in the air. And shit and piss and puke, Ed Clarke thought as he took in the scene around him.

“Start pulling the bodies off the pile,” he called. “Throw the enemy dead back into the grass. Finish off the near-dead and add them to the pile. Help our wounded to Taylor’s aid station. Lay our dead out…” He looked around and pointed. “Over there.”

Clarke heard a man say, “Hutton’s under here. Looks bad.”

“Well get him out,” he answered.

“Don’t touch him!” another voice called.

Clarke looked around, angry until he saw that the call had come from Taylor, the cavalry troop medic.

“I need to look at him. Make a hole.”

Men fell back from the mass of man and horse that was Luke Hutton and his mount Gray. Clarke and George Carson stepped forward to remove a body that was hanging on the door of the carriage. Carson looked at the crossbow bolt buried in the man’s face and asked, “Who did that?”

“I did,” Liz Current answered with no compromise in her voice.

Carson looked at her and raised an eyebrow. “Good work, soldier.”

Liz nodded and smiled.

With the last body removed, Taylor knelt and began probing Luke Hutton’s extremities. He paused, took out his knife and slit Luke’s trouser leg from mid thigh to boot top. “Damn, he’s got a fracture of his left tibia. It’s sooo close. Another quarter of an inch…” He shook his head. “Well, it coulda been compound.” The medic put his hand on Gray’s side. “And this animal’s still alive, but not for long. If he starts to thrash, he could ruin the lieutenant’s leg. I need him put down.”

George Carson walked to Gray’s head and knelt. “Somebody kneel on his haunches.” He felt for the horse’s jugular vein, drew his combat knife, and slashed hard. It turned out that the animal did not have the strength to thrash and bled out quickly, adding his blood to puddle of drying, sticky blood of the men who had died minutes before.

“Your show, Doc,” George said to Taylor.

Taylor nodded. “Lieutenant, I’m gonna need some splints so I can immobilize this leg. Shelter half tent poles from will do. And I need two service belts.”

“I’ll get the poles,” Jake Potter said from behind George.

Before Taylor could answer, at least half a dozen men offered their service belts.

No one needs to be told what to do, Clarke thought, even the apprentices. But, then, they’re not apprentices anymore.

Potter returned with two sets of tent poles. Taylor assembled the poles. He placed the splints on the inside and outside of Luke’s calf and, while George Carson held them in place, cinched them into place with the belts.

Someone brought a litter and Taylor supervised several men lifting Luke and placing him safely on its surface. Away from the carcass of the horse, he began examining Luke in more detail. After a couple of minutes, he stood and approached Clarke.

“Okay, Doc, let me have it all.”

“Yessir. It’s not all bad. He ain’t gonna die. First is the break in his lower leg. I can set that. It’s not super time critical and it can wait until Gutierrez from C, uh, 3rd Company can give me a hand. His right shoulder’s dislocated. That’s easy to fix. Well, easy for me. I’m glad he’s unconscious. When he came off the horse… That’s a good thing, by the way. If he’d ended up underneath the beast… Well, we’d be having a different conversation.” Taylor took a deep breath and shook his head. “Anyway, he tried to plow a furrow with his head. That’s not easy to do in asphalt. The left side of his face is torn up behind the cheek and his left ear is about half torn off. His face is torn up right at the right eyebrow. He probably took a blow right on this bone called the supra-orbital ridge.” He touched his own face to illustrate. “There’s a good chance he really had his chimes rung. He could be blinded — temporarily. If he wakes up too soon, he’s going to have one hell of a headache. So… First, I clean out the wounded ear and face to keep infection down. Then I reduce the dislocated shoulder and tie it to his torso to let it heal. Next is the ear. That should be done by a doctor, but… I’ll bandage everything when I’m done. I’ll set the leg last. I figure forty-five to ninety minutes for the whole thing.”

“You’re the senior medical guy on the ground, Doc. Go to it.”

“Yes, sir. Thanks.” He turned to the men by the litter. “Okay, carefully carry him over and put him down next to the wagon. Position the litter so I can kneel down on both sides.”

In the carriage the nun stood then carefully exited, using Gray’s body as a step. She walked to Ed Clarke and said in accented English, “I am Sister Elizabetta Maria. I am a nurse. I have behaved shamefully and beg God and you and your men to forgive me. May I help?”

Clarke looked over the nun’s shoulder at a slack-jawed Jacob Taylor then said, “Of course, sister, I’m certain Specialist Taylor will appreciate any assistance you can offer.”

Taylor said, “Thank you, Sister. This way, please.”

The nun nodded and followed Taylor.

“What other surprises are coming down the pike?” Clarke muttered, mostly to himself.

“Assuming you want an answer, sir,” said Captain Marco Bernardi, “be careful what you say around the older priest; I am certain that he speaks English.”

“Do they not know that we’re on the same side?”

“Sicilians have always had a separate society.”

“Christ on a crutch!” Clarke fumed. “Thank you, Captain Bernardi.”

Lieutenant Edwards came up. “Sir, I have two prisoners.”


Bernardi asked, “Sir, may I take care of this for you?”

“Yes, thank you, Captain.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Marco Bernardi approached the two prisoners. “Where are you from?”


“No, you lie. Where are you from?”


“No, you do not remember me but I remember the scar on your cheek. You and I knelt together on an athletic field near Livorno. We ate human flesh.”

“No, signor.” The prisoner began to sweat in the cool air.

“‘No, signor.’ Yes, signor. It was the night Morelli screamed.”

The man struggled.

“Let him go,” Bernardi told Edwards.

Edwards shrugged and motioned to his troops.

As the prisoner began to run, Bernardi said, “Kill him.”

Edwards nodded, looked at David Nakamura and said, “You heard the captain.”

“Yes, sir,” Nakamura answered. He raised his crossbow, aimed and shot the runner in the back. The soldiers watched as the man fell, kicked for a few seconds and lay still.

Bernardi drew his sword, walked to the remaining prisoner and cut his throat. “Lieutenant, have your men throw the bodies into the grass.”

“Yes, sir. Uh, sir? Wasn’t there a chance the second prisoner knew something?”

“Nothing important. I learned everything I needed to know from the first prisoner.”


Now I need to explain something to Colonel Clarke, Bernardi thought as he turned and walked back toward the center of what had been a battlefield.

❀ ❁ ❀

Ed Clarke looked at Chuck Erickson. “Chuck, I have one more for you. We need to bury our dead.” He looked toward George Carson. “Lieutenant Carson, by chance do you have a count of friendly killed?”

“Yes, sir. Fifteen, including First Sergeant Miller and Sergeant Appleby.”

“I’m sorry about them. When did Miller get it?”

“Don’t know, sir. We didn’t even know he was down until we started counting heads after we got Luke out of trouble.”

“I’m sorry, George,” Erickson offered. “I know you guys were all close.”

“Can you get us fifteen crosses, George?”

“I can do that, sir, but it’s fourteen. Appleby needs a Star of David.”

“I never knew. Thanks for setting me straight.”

“No problem, sir. Aaron didn’t talk much about his faith. Maybe to Chaplain Connolly. Anyone could — can — talk to the Padre. Uh, sir? How do we get Luke home? Wagon all the way to Umbertide?”

Clarke smiled grimly. “Well, wagon to Perugia. We’ll get him into a hospital there and let a doctor with a degree see if he’s any smarter than Jacob Taylor. Meanwhile, the Cavalry Troop’s yours.”

“Thank you, sir, I’d prefer to think of it as Lieutenant Hutton’s troop.”

“The troop is temporarily yours. Back to work, guys.”

Marco Bernardi stepped forward. “A moment, sir?”

“Of course.”

“I know you are aware that I had entered Livorno to collect intelligence. I am possibly speaking out of turn, but there is something you need to know. While I was in Livorno, nearly one hundred of us who had been judged worthy were selected for initiation into Morelli’s cult. We were taken…”

When Bernadi was finished, Clarke studied him. “I don’t know how you managed to do that,” he said. “I probably would have been one who had his throat cut. What does he gain by leading the woman around on a leash?”

Bernardi shook his head and held out his hands.

❀ ❁ ❀


Life is good, Luke Hutton thought as he sprawled on the living room couch. Without realizing what he was doing, he put his feet on the coffee table.

“Feet down, son,” his mom called. “You know better.”

“Yes, ma’am, I do,” he said as he put his feet down. “Sorry.” Maybe she really does have eyes in the back of her head. He smiled. Life is good. I’m sixteen. I can drive a car — legally. I have a warm place to sleep. A loving family. It’s Saturday and I have a date. Maybe I’ll get lucky. No, Juanita’s not the type. She’s the kind I might want to marry. Marry? I’m sixteen.

Luann Hutton exploded into the room. “C’mon, Luke, let me show you how I can ride the barrel course. Daddy says he’s never seen anybody as good as me.”

“Aw, Luann, I’ve been working with — and smelling — horses all day. I’m showered and I have a date.”

“Oh, it’ll only take ten minutes. You won’t get so smelly watching me that you’ll scare off Jua-neeee-ta.” Luann grasped her brother’s right hand and pulled until he groaned and stood.

Sisters, he thought.

❀ ❁ ❀

The Military Road, North of Paganico, Greater Umbria, 17 September 1998, early morning.

Jacob stayed up all night with the lieutenant, Liz Current thought. He’s a good guy.

“You doing okay?” Taylor asked, snapping Liz back to the present.

“Yes. Jacob, I never killed anyone before.”

“So what did Carson say?”

“He said, ‘Good work, soldier.’”

“Guy like Carson doesn’t hand out higher praise.” Taylor leaned closer. “You want to go someplace private and talk when we bivouac tonight?”

Yes, — but no, she thought and smiled coyly and said, “I think you want to do more than talk.”

Taylor smiled. “Yeah, but if that’s all you want, that’s all we’ll do.”

“That’s sweet. Maybe.”

❀ ❁ ❀


A freshly showered Luke Hutton sat on the sofa in the living room. His sister Luanne sat on the floor, reading a magazine about rodeo riding. He could hear his parents’ shower running as his dad, Will, rid himself of the grime of a day’s labor.

All told, I’m not doing all that bad for a nineteen year old. I’ve got a year of junior college under my belt, some money in the bank and a new future ahead of me. I expected Dad and Mom to argue more about me wanting to enlist, but Dad came around first. He does believe in service. Mom took a little longer, but having Dad on my side helped. My last night at home. I leave for basic tomorrow.

Luke heard his dad’s shower stop and stood to go set the table in the kitchen for supper. My turn, he thought, but when he stepped through the kitchen door, the table was already set. “Mom…”

Angelica Hutton smiled. “I can’t have my soldier son doing kitchen work his last night at home.”

“It wouldn’t have hurt me.”

Angelica’s eyes watered slightly. “I’m so proud of you, son, but I’m worried, too.”

“There’s nothing to worry about. I just have basic training and I’ll be home after that. Then I go back for — whatever — advanced individual training.”

And the airborne school,” Angelica reminded him. “Jumping out of airplanes!”

Luke laughed. “I think it’ll be fun.”

Angelica took her son’s right hand in both of hers, pulled him to her and kissed his cheek.

❀ ❁ ❀

The Military Road, South of Siena, Greater Umbria, 18 September 1998, mid-morning.

Ed Clarke made his way to the wagon that had been converted into an ambulance. He looked at Luke Hutton, who was wrapped in a blanket and whose feet were slightly elevated. “That’s a nasty looking lump, Doc.”

“Looks worse than it really is, sir. That ridge over the eye can absorb a lot of punishment. If his head had been turned slightly and he took the blow on his temple, he’d be a whole lot worse off.”

“And he’ll be blinded?”

“Maybe, sir, but it’ll be temporary. We’ll know when he wakes up.”

“That’s a ‘when,’ not an ‘if?’”

“I can’t make promises, sir, but I’m pretty confident.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Siena, Greater Umbria, 19 September 1998, early morning.

“All right, troopers. You have your mission. We should be out of bandit country. You probably won’t run into the wrong people. Your message, again, is ‘Require medical clearing at Perugia Station no later than 1 October 1998.’ Deliver that to Captain Coltrane at battalion headquarters. You’ve each got two remounts and you have a load of oats. Don’t kill the horses but get it done. Get goin’.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Perugia Station, Perugia, Umbria, 1 October 1998, afternoon.

“Column, halt,” ordered Edward Clarke. He looked ahead and saw a medical clearing station set up on a platform. Fantastic. John Coltrane is always dependable. He rode on up to the platform where Captain John Coltrane came to attention.

“Good afternoon, sir,” Coltrane said. “We got your message about medical backup.”

Clarke returned the salute. “Right. Everyone seems stable, but the company medics are about used up.”

“No problem, we’ll relieve them and get them some care. Where’s Taylor?”

Clarke turned in his saddle. “Specialist Taylor, front and center.”

Taylor almost stumbled as he approached Clarke and Coltrane. “Yes, sir?” he asked.

Coltrane answered the question. “Taylor, the messengers expanded on their official message. They said you’re a pretty good doc. They said you did a great job.”

“Thanks, sir. A lot of the credit goes to Sister Elizabetta Maria.”

Coltrane shrugged. He looked closely at Taylor. “You’re relieved. I want you in the sack. That’s a medical order. We’ve set up billets. The guys will show you where. Get out of here.” He smiled.

Taylor saluted and walked toward one of the medics at the clearing station.

“You might want to say a few words to Signorina Bruzio,” Coltrane told Clarke. “She’s in the waiting room.” He around. “Murchison, show Colonel Clarke where to find Signorina Bruzio.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Clarke dismounted near the door of the terminal. Private Murchison took the reins of Clarke’s mount.

“He’ll be over on at the corral, sir, unless you want me to wait.”

“Go ahead, thanks. I’ll find my way back.”

After nodding to the private, Clarke entered the building. He saw Luisa Bruzio sitting on a bench. She looks like she hasn’t had a whole lot of sleep. I think my dashing cavalryman has captured another heart.

Luisa smiled while Clarke nodded to her and stood. “Hello, Colonel, it is nice to see you. Were the losses bad?”

“Fifteen dead,” Clarke answered. “About thirty wounded. Luke’s wounds were the worst, but there’s one man who may limp for the rest of his life. Do you want to see Luke?”

“Yes, please. I fear the doctors at the hospital where Doctor Coltrane is sending the wounded may not let me in to see him.”

“How do you say ‘fiancée’ in Italian?”

“That would be ‘fidanzata,’ but…”

Clarke smiled. “I have two opinions about that. The first is that not all medicine comes out of a bottle. The second is that doctors are not always as smart as they think they are.”

“Thank you, sir. Very much.”

“Okay, let’s go see him.”

Clarke and Luisa found Luke Hutton’s room where a doctor was listening to his heart.

The doctor stood. “Colonel Clarke?” When Clarke nodded, the doctor introduced himself. “I am Dr. Rosato. You have a very fine medic working for you, Colonel. Most of Lieutenant Hutton’s wounds are well on their way to healing. The bone will heal completely. If I could verify my diagnosis with an x-ray, I would probably put him in a walking cast, but such things are gone forever. The muscles in the calf are damaged. He will walk again but, may feel stiffness in the leg more often than an uninjured man.”

“At the risk of seeming unsympathetic, when do I get him back?”

“Well, there is nothing else that we, uniquely can do for him. He can be transferred to Umbertide. He will awaken when his leg is closer to being healed. He will require physical therapy. He is your cavalry commander?”

Clarke nodded.

“You get him back early next year. Perhaps late this year. Excuse me, there are others.”

❀ ❁ ❀

The next day, they transferred Luke Hutton to a pedaled rig and took him to the hospital in Umbertide. He did not require medical care, so his “fidanzata” Luisa was allowed to ride with him. As she boarded the rig she thought, Colonel Clarke is kind, but I think I should not push him for too much.

❀ ❁ ❀

Ospedale di Umbertide, Umbertide, Umbria, 12 October 1998, morning

The nurse who was bathing Luke Hutton looked to her right as she heard someone come into the room. It was too early for visitors. She gasped and dropped to one knee as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger walked toward Hutton’s bed followed by Colonel Antonio De Angelis and Lieutenant Colonel Edward Clarke. The cardinal took a few seconds to allow the nurse to kiss his ring. He said, “Bless you, my daughter.” He then stopped by the side of the bed.

Ed Clarke smiled as the nurse rushed out of the room. Poor woman. Someone should have given her a warning.

The Cardinal made the sign of the cross over Luke’s emaciated, but still living body. He turned and asked De Angelis, “Not to interfere with your leadership, but why is your cavalry commander not a captain?”

De Angelis turned to Clarke and raised his eyebrows.

“That was my decision, Your Eminence. Seven months ago, Lieutenant Hutton was a sergeant. I thought he needed to grow into the rank of captain. I think that has now happened. Yes, it’s time.”

Ratzinger smiled. “Thank you. We in the College owe him much. If he had not placed his body between that of Cardinal Leonardi and those bandits, I fear that my brother in Christ would not have survived the engagement to be able to anoint this brave man.”

A doctor entered the room. He genuflected and kissed Ratzinger’s ring. “Dr. Nardi, Your Eminence.”

“Ah, Doctor,” Ratzinger said after Nardi had risen to his feet, “will Captain Hutton recover?”

“I believe so, Your Eminence. His body is strong. Of course, he must regain consciousness.”

“Excellent. Care for him, doctor. I fear that we will need him and others like him.”

Ratzinger rested his hand gently on Luke's uninjured shoulder and prayed, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our deaths.” He made the sign of the cross over the unconscious man.

I don’t get the whole Marian thing, Clarke thought, but that is impressive.

Ratzinger said, “Let us go, gentlemen, and visit the other brave men who are recovering here.”

As the trio filed out of the room, Dr. Nardi mouthed “Captain?” Clarke nodded his head and smiled.

❀ ❁ ❀


Luke Hutton lay in a bed. Where am I? Why is everything so gray? Am I dead? Is this purgatory? What’s that noise?

A figure approached out of the darkness. Antonia? Antonia! But you’re dead. That bastard from A company raped you and killed you. You’re dressed the way you were when we buried you. Am I dead?

A figure came into sight from another direction. Mom? Angelica walked to Antonia and embraced her. Mom is dead, too? For sure? What about Dad? Luann? Wait a minute. Something’s crazy here. Mom and Antonia never met.

Luke held his right hand out toward Antonia but she looked at him and, with tears in her eyes, raised a hand to her lips and blew him a kiss. Angelica Hutton took Antonia’s right hand in both of hers and kissed Antonia on her cheek.

Mom kissed my cheek like that the evening before I shipped to basic.

Antonia turned and walked back into the darkness.

Angelica Hutton sat in a straight-backed chair about six feet from Luke’s bed and stared into the distance.

Mom? Why don’t you sit closer to me? Don’t you see me?

❀ ❁ ❀

Ospedale di Umbertide, Umbertide, Umbria, 12 October 1998, early afternoon

Luisa Bruzio walked into Luke Hutton’s room and smiled to the nurse. “How is he, Allegra?”

“Better, I think. His temperature was up during the night but it’s normal now. You should have been here this morning.”


“I was just finishing his bath when Cardinal Ratzinger walked through the door. I almost died! The cardinal blessed the lieutenant — excuse me, the captain — prayed an Ave and left. He also visited and blessed the other wounded.”


“His Eminence said something to Colonel De Angelis. When they all left, Dr. Nardi changed the sign on the door.”

“Well… May I sit by the bed?”

“Of course. Don’t you want a more comfortable chair?”

“No, the stool is fine.”

“All right. Call if you need anything.” Allegra left the room.

Luisa sat and looked down at the man in the bed with a feeding tube running up his nose. Wake up, Luke. Come back to us. Come back to me. I want to feed you and put some meat back on your bones.

She looked at the straps that still bound his upper right arm to his chest and took his right hand in both of hers.

❀ ❁ ❀


Luke lay on the bed watching his mother stare at… Nothing? he asked himself. He heard the sound of booted feet approaching. Luisa Bruzio came into view. I could see her when she was further away than Antonia was. There’s more light.

Angelica Hutton stood and embraced Luisa. She seems more affectionate toward Luisa than Antonia. But I’m still confused. Mom and Luisa have never met either.

Luke’s mom kissed Luisa on both cheeks. She looked at Luke and blew him a kiss with her right hand, turned and walked away.

It seems even brighter, Luke thought.

Luisa walked to the left side of the bed and sat on a stool. She stroked his right arm that he suddenly could not move and she took his right hand in both of hers.

Where’d that ache come from? My butt hurts. Maybe if I can move just half an inch…

Warm sunlight streamed into the room through the window.

Luke gasped.

❀ ❁ ❀

Ospedale di Umbertide, Umbertide, Umbria, 12 October 1998, early afternoon.

Luke Hutton gasped.

“Luke! You’re awake!”

“God, I hurt everywhere.”

“Oh, Luke, we… I was so worried.” Luisa said. She stood, bent over Luke and gently kissed his lips. She sat and said, “I suppose I should not have done that.”

“Maybe not,” he smiled. “Why don’t you do it again so we can be sure?”

She smiled, bent over him again and gave him another kiss. This kiss was longer. I love this man. As she kissed him, she opened her mouth and extended her tongue to tickle his lips. At the same time, she placed his left hand against her right breast. I really shouldn’t have done that. There are too many nuns around here.

Luke gently squeezed the breast in his hand and smiled. “I could get used to doing that.” His hand slipped away and fell onto his groin. He smiled and closed his eyes.

No! Breathe! Luisa thought in a moment of panic. He let out loud snore.


Luisa looked toward the doorway, where Allegra Brunetto was wagging her finger as she smiled broadly. Luisa shrugged sheepishly. At least Allegra is not a nun.

Allegra turned and called, “Doctor Nardi, he woke.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Cavalry Post, Umbertide, Umbrian League, 20 October 1998

“Carefully,” Jacob Taylor said as two troopers carried Luke Hutton’s litter through the door into the largest bedroom, the “commander’s quarters,” of the farmhouse. “Put the litter over on the left, then we’ll lift the captain over to the right-hand side of the bed on the sheet. I need to have the leg in the cast where I can get to it.”

I need to have this cast off, Luke thought. “How much longer ‘til I’m rid of this thing, Doc?”

“About another week, sir.” Taylor looked at the troopers. “Okay, lift, carry toward me and set him down easy.” The medic looked down at his commander and smiled. “That’s good, guys. Let me have some working room and take the litter with you to the aid station.”

“Where’s the aid station?” Luke asked.

Taylor looked toward George Carson, who stood in the doorway. “Sir?”

Carson nodded. “Give us a minute, Doc.”

When Taylor had moved into the hall and closed the door, George sat on a chair by the bed. “Alberto Rossi’s chest infection turned into pneumonia. He said it was time he joined his family and refused medication. His words to me were ‘Save it for the young.’ The aid station is in his old room.”

Luke’s eyes misted. “My only ties to before the Change are my brothers from the 508th.” He blinked a few times. “George, what’s that on your left hand?”

George held up his hand. “We call this a ‘wedding band,’ even if it is made of steel.”

“What’s the date?”

“20 October.”

“Where’d the month go?”

“You were unconscious for the first part of it.”

“But you two got converted?”

“Yep. Baptized, confirmed and blessed on Michaelmas. Father Connolly celebrated the mass and Cardinal Stankowski delivered the homily and confirmed us. They cut us a little slack since we’d been kinda busy down near the coast. The padre married us the next day. Captain O’Donnell stood up for me — wish it coulda been you — and Patty O’Donnell was the matron of honor.”

“Couldn’t wait, huh?”

George shrugged. “You were right back in the summer. Melissa and I were meeting up in the hills to make love. We were tired of hiding. So Mrs. Carson and I now occupy the ‘executive officer’s suite.’ The local authorities don’t have a rule about wives’ last names so they said we could follow American custom and Melissa could change hers.”

“Who all’s living here?”

“You, now, of course; Melissa and I; Luisa and Current.”

“What about Johnson?”

“Ah, Johnson. She’s gone. I traded her for a guy named Collins from Bravo. She got too close to a horse that was havin’ a bad day. It tried to take a chunk out of her arm and she wanted out.”

“Okay. What other personnel changes?”

George looked at the floor for a long moment. Raising his head, he said, “We lost Jason Miller and Aaron Appleby.”

“On the road that day? How?”

“Aaron got ambushed by the bunch that hit the rear of the column. Nobody saw Jase get it, but his throat was cut.”

“How many all together?”

“Fifteen dead for the battalion. About thirty wounded. Most have recovered. One guy in 3rd Company will hobble for the rest of his life. Did you know about Taylor and Current?”

“What about them?”

“They’re an item.”

“Okay. Good for them. And I’m really a captain?”

“That’s what the old man said. Signed orders are downstairs in the file cabinet.”

“George, seven months ago I was a sergeant trying to do a staff sergeant’s job. This just doesn’t make sense.”

“Tell that to Colonel Clarke, not me. I can’t solve that problem for you. By the way, I’ve been actin’ and I made Jake Potter first sergeant, subject your approval. He and I gave Aaron’s Platoon to John Foster. By the way, you know we had to put the horse down?”

“When I was passing out, I heard a horse scream. It seemed very far away. I guess…” He shrugged.

“Yeah, it wasn’t far away at all. We only lost one horse so what you heard had to be yours. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m gonna leave and let Taylor back in here with his assistant.”



“That’s okay.” It’s very okay.

❀ ❁ ❀

He looks much better, Luisa thought as Taylor left, closing the door behind him. “Are you comfortable?” she asked.

“Yeah, but I’ll be a lot more comfortable when this cast is gone.”

“Soon,” she smiled.

“Uh, some things happened the day I woke up. I think.”

He does remember! “Yes.”


Luisa held Luke’s hand. “…kissed you, like this.” And she did. “You liked it, so I kissed you again, but like this.” And she did. Then she placed his hand against her breast and said, “I also did this and you —”

“Said that I could get used to it. I could.”

Enough. Luisa lift his hand away from her body and kissed his knuckles. “But not now. I have to go check on the horses, including a mare that will be foaling in a couple of days. Liz has your supper ready. I’ll come back later.”

❀ ❁ ❀

The farmhouse had grown noticeably quieter when Luisa returned to Luke’s room.

She was wearing a flowered peasant blouse and sweat pants with wool socks. I’ve never seen her without her being completely dressed for work. I don’t think she’s wearing a bra.

“Are you comfortable?”


“I brought you another blanket. We can not keep the fire going at night without keeping a fire watch.”

“Stay awhile?”

“You want me to sit with you?”

“Luisa… I love you.”

“Are you sure I am the one?”

“Yes. Very sure.” I want to feel her warmth and breathe the scent her hair. I want to put my arms around her and hold her close to me. Luke looked toward the empty side of the double bed. “Will you…”

Luisa smiled and looked at the closed door. She crossed her arms in front, grasped the hem of her blouse and pulled it up over her head.

Oh. Wow.

❀ ❁ ❀

Luke woke during the night. I’m alone? The other side of the bed was empty. In the moonlight coming through the window, he could see a shape in the easy chair. There she… No, that’s Melissa. I don’t understand. He raised his head to speak to her but had no energy. He let his head fall back. He slept.

❀ ❁ ❀

In the soft dawn, Luke woke again and looked toward the easy chair. Specialist Liz Current smiled at him. “Morning, sir.”

“Current? What are you doing here?”

“My shift, sir. Doc wanted you taken care of.”

“Oh. Okay.”

“If it’s all right, I’ll go tell Lu — tell everyone you’re awake.”

“Go ahead.”

When Luisa entered the bedroom carrying a tray, Luke said, “I think something very nice happened last night.”

“I’m glad you think so.”

“I think I owe you something.”

“I will collect that debt.”

“Come here, please.”

Luisa put down the tray and stood by the bed.

“Like I said last night, I love you. Will you mar—”

She placed her index finger on his lips. “I will allow you to ask that question when you can stand on your own two feet.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Cavalry Post, Umbertide, Umbrian League, 3 November 1998

“Okay, come on down,” called Captain Martin Edwards, the newest medical doctor in Umbertide.

Final exam, Luke though as he stood up from his bed on the second floor of the farmhouse. Jacob Taylor nodded at him and Luisa Bruzio smiled. He used his cane to help his weakened leg but that and holding the banister, Edwards had said, were both “legal.” He paused at the top of the stairs, took a deep breath and started downstairs. He saw Edwards watching.

“Well, how’d I do?” he asked at the bottom of the stairs.

“You pass. You are released to duty, sir. Please use the cane.”

“Great. And please don’t ‘sir’ me, Captain. Congratulations, by the way, Marty.”

“Thanks. They decided all doctors are at least captains. It’s a Medical Corps commission, of course. I think they think I gotta be a captain so people like Taylor, here, will listen to me.”

“It won’t work; Sir,” Taylor said, deadpan.

“See what I mean?” Edwards asked.

“It’s cold outside. Have something warm to drink before you leave,” Luke said.

“With pleasure.”

Luke smiled at Taylor. “Your penalty for being a smart ass is to go tell your girlfriend we need some broth.”

Luke, George, Edwards and Luisa drank warm broth while they chatted. When they were done, Luisa stood and donned her coat. “Time to check the animals,” she said as she blew Luke a kiss.

After Edwards had left, Luke and George sat for a moment.

“How’s the leg? Really.”

“It’s good. There’s some soreness in the thigh muscle, but it’s better than I imagined it could ever be in the days when I first woke up.” Luke thought for a moment. Yeah it’s time and I can tell from George’s face that he knows what I’m thinking. “Check on Luisa for me, please, George.”

Carson walked to a window that looked out onto the corrals. “She’s by the corral fence, about a hundred meters out. Are you planning what I think?”

“Roger that.” Luke stood and put on his field jacket. He added his beret. “We gotta make sure the supply guys are keeping these in stock.”

George smiled and opened the farmhouse door. Luke marched toward Luisa. One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four. When he neared her, he called, “Luisa.”

She turned and said, “Luke, please go back inside. It’s too cold.”

Luke stopped in front of her, dropped to his left knee and said, “Luisa Maria Bruzio, I love you. Will you be my wife?”

He watched as her eyes welled up. “Yes, yes, yes,” she answered. “Now get up off your bad leg and hug me and kiss me.”

He did.

❀ ❁ ❀

Cavalry Post, Umbertide, Umbrian League, Christmas Day 1998

Christmas Mass was over and the leadership of the Cavalry Troop had returned to the farm after stopping to make an appearance at the warehouse where Christmas dinner was served for the troops. There were only Luke Hutton, George and Melissa Carson and Luisa Bruzio. They sat together at the table in what was once a family’s dining room. I wonder what happened to them, Luke asked himself and shrugged.

“Interesting that Colonel Clarke had Mrs. Patterson on his arm,” Melissa offered.

“She is one of the Americans trapped here, yes?” Luisa asked.

“Right, she was one of the group who met with Clarke when we arrived in Perugia that day,” Luke said. “She doesn’t — or at least didn’t — like horses and Clarke’s mount dumped on the sidewalk right before the meeting started.”

Melissa snickered. “She’s working at Army Headquarters. She’s picked up Italian in an amazingly short time. Are she and Ed a couple?”

“Could be,” Luke answered after realizing that Melissa still occasionally referred to their commander by his first name. “When Clarke was trying to bring me out of the dumps, he told me that he had never loved a woman ‘cause he’d never had time. Maybe he’s decided it’s time to look for a little comfort and warmth and companionship.”

“He has as much a right as we do,” Luisa declared and the rest nodded their heads.

The women removed warm cider from what was once a refrigerator and was now just an insulated box.

“Liz prepared the cider for us,” Luisa said, “but she declined my offer to join us.”

“I think she wants to spend the day — and night — with Jacob,” Melissa said. “That girl’s gonna get herself pregnant.”

“Just as well,” George added. “We need to keep that separation between us and the troops.”

Luke thought Luisa looked confused and Luke said, “If I have to order the troops to do something distasteful or downright dangerous, I can’t afford for them to be my friends.” I won’t even mention having to order George into danger.

After moving her chair closer to Luke’s and wrapping her arm around his, Luisa snuggled against him. “I understand. I had to be remote to my employees even if there was no, or at least not much, danger in what I asked them to do.”

“We still have to live with the fiction that Liz spends every night in that third bedroom upstairs,” Luke said.

“And the fiction that I do as well?” Luisa asked.

“Yes,” Luke answered. “I’m very happy that you moved in with me after you said yes.” He tapped her nose with his finger. “It helps keep the bed warm.”

Luisa swatted his arm. “Don’t talk like that. You will embarrass George and Melissa.”

Melissa snorted. “Not likely.”

“That reminds me,” Luke said. “At the risk of being too personal, are you two planning on making babies?”

Melissa nodded and George said, “Yeah. Actually, we’ve been working on it.” He looked at his wife and she nodded again. “Mel may have caught, but it’s too soon to be positive.” He sighed. “So I’m just gonna have to keep doing ‘my husbandly duty.’”

“I like ‘Mel,’” Melissa said. “I never had a nickname before.”

“Well, the reason I asked,” Luke continued, “is that Luisa and I have the same plan — once we’re ‘legal’ in January of course. Eventually, this house could get crowded.”

“There’s always the third bedroom… as a nursery,” Melissa offered.

“That would work, but we still have to have space for Current,” George answered. “Sometimes I wish I had quietly shipped her when Johnson wanted out. But she didn’t do anything wrong. She’s also the only woman in the battalion with a combat kill. She kind of wears that like a badge in front of the guys who haven’t seen the elephant yet. Anyway, she and Taylor can snuggle up at the aid station as many nights as they want — they don’t make a secret of it — but if they’re serious and get hitched, they can’t really live there. Suppose she has kids?”

“Well, just among us four, Clarke is discharging a pregnant soldier. She still stays with us as part of the train, but she has to stay back from the action.”

“Are you saying that Melissa and I should move?” George asked.

“Oh, no. I’m saying that eventually we all need to. This is a headquarters building, not a housing area,” Luke answered with a smile. “Enough, let the ideas simmer for a while.”

“We’ve almost made it through the year,” Melissa whispered.

“Yes, 1999 is almost on us,” Luke said.

“Not the year one?” George asked.

“No,” Luke answered, “I’ll be announcing it at the next briefing, but the cardinals have spoken. In spite of the fact that we know the year count isn’t exactly right, Umbria will stay on the established calendar. Even if other, uh, ‘jurisdictions’ do something else.”

“Works for me,” Luisa said.

“Stop using American slang,” Luke smiled as he squeezed her shoulder. “Teach us Italian instead.”

The four friends sat in companionable silence then rose and moved closer to the fireplace. Luke added a few small logs to the fire in the hearth and each couple sat on a couch. Melissa tucked herself under her husband’s arm and began to sing. The men joined in and Luisa hummed along.

O little town of Bethlehem,

How still we see thee lie;

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep

The silent stars go by:

Yet in thy dark streets shineth

The everlasting Light;

The hopes and fears of all the years

Are met in thee tonight.

❀ ❁ ❀

The Army of the Umbrian League Chapel, Umbertide, Umbrian League, 8 January 1999

Captain Luke Hutton stood near the altar of the chapel. Married. Before long, I’ll be married. That’s a little scary. Luke was dressed in what Colonel Clarke had defined as “dress uniform.” Not much different than duty uniform. I’ll probably still get harassed because of the riding breeches. Over the breeches was a battle dress uniform shirt. At his throat was a field scarf in cavalry yellow. He wore what used to be called a pistol belt with his saber. There was some lively discussion with the padre about that until Clarke said, “An officer’s uniform includes his edged weapon.”

Luke watched as George Carson escorted Melissa down the aisle. George’s uniform, including the scarf, matched Luke’s. Melissa’s dress was a pale pink. George says she’s showing, but I can’t see it. When they reached the front of the chapel, they briefly squeezed each other’s hand and parted. George stepped to the right to stand by Luke as his best man and Melissa stepped left to serve as Luisa’s matron of honor. A quartet of soldiers of the America Battalion played the Wedding March on their harmonicas. Who would have thought? Luke asked himself. He saw Dorothy Patterson, the woman whose husband had died in Perugia the day of the Change, make a motion. He looked at her and she silently formed the word smile.

He did smile then smiled wider as he saw Luisa start down the aisle on the arm of Colonel Clarke. He’s in BDUs but with an infantry blue scarf.

I have absolutely no idea how to describe that dress except that she looks beautiful in it. She’s covered from her neck down to the floor. I’m glad I didn’t see her in it before today. It’s borrowed because the priority for textiles doesn’t include wedding dresses. It goes back into a “lending locker” when she changes into her traveling clothes.

His commander and his bride arrived at the top of the aisle. Clarke shook his hand and said, “Congratulations, Luke.” He then kissed Luisa’s cheek, placed Luisa’s hand in Luke’s and sat in the first row on the left side of the chapel next to Dorothy Patterson.

Luke and Luisa turned, faced Father Michael Connolly and knelt. Connolly began to speak.

❀ ❁ ❀

After the reception, which was kept short at the request of the new couple, Luke and Luisa prepared to depart for Luisa’s horse farm. For Luke, that meant putting on his new morion helmet. Colonel De Angelis had liked the morions worn by the Swiss Guard and added them to the list of combat items. The colonel may not always be right, but he is always the colonel. Luke smiled.

“What’s that, sir?” George Carson asked.

“Nothing important and certainly nothing to do with this day of happiness.”

Luisa’s preparations were only slightly more complicated. She had changed into traveling clothes and surrendered her borrowed wedding dress to Melissa. “Do you really think you will need the helmet, Luke?”

“No, my sweet, but I think I need to get and stay used to wearing it.” He smiled. “Ready?”


He picked up their luggage — his backpack and her duffel — and walked toward the door of the building.

“Now I get to learn the secret of our transportation to Sant’Anastasius Farm?”

“Our carriage awaits.”

They walked through the doorway and Luke stopped cold. “A carriage? An enclosed carriage?”

“Yes, a carriage.”

“Who’s driving and… and are those Andalusians?”

“The drivers are Antonio and Roberto, two of our employees. And yes, the horses are Andalusians and are brothers. They are a part of our breeding program.”

Our breeding program? Our employees?”

“Yes, il mio amore, our breeding program on our horse farm. Where did you think the horses came from?” she smiled.

“Luisa, how big is this horse farm?”

“Oh about twenty square kilometers, but much of it is forested. Hurry, I am growing cold and there is a foot warmer in the carriage.”

Luke handed Luisa up into the carriage and climbed up next to her, closing the door. “Won’t Antonio and Roberto be cold?”

“They have a foot warmer, also. And they are dressed for the task. Luke, this is our staff’s wedding gift to us.”

“How large is ‘our staff?’”

“Oh, five permanent, including the housekeeper, and six temporary refugees.”

“Five. Housekeeper? Six refugees?”

“Housekeeper. Stefania worked for my parents. How could I let her go?” Luisa pulled a lap rug over Luke and her. She leaned forward and tapped on the window of the carriage then snuggled in against Luke as their journey began. “The refugees, who brought seven children with them, have been allocated to us because everything requires more work — muscle work. They, and we for that matter, work for food, shelter and clothing. Eventually, someone is going to have to figure out money.”

“Maybe I should have asked you how big everything is.”

“Would you have loved me differently if you knew?”

“Of course not,” he answered, “but I would not want anyone to think I married you for your wealth.”

“I know the truth. You know the truth. That’s all that matters. If anyone wants to be nasty, I can honestly tell them that you did not know the size of the — of our — property.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Six hours later, the carriage rolled through a gate with an overhead sign reading “Sant’Anastasio.”

“Saint Anastasia?” Luke asked.

“Mother and Father thought it would be better than Brusio because Brusio is not Umbrian.”

Luke nodded and the couple stepped down from the carriage. “Thank you, Antonio, Roberto,” Luke said as Luisa smiled at the men. “Please go get warm.”

The men saluted Luke and he returned the courtesy. “They both served in the Italian Army,” Luisa explained after the men had led the horses and carriage away, “They have heard of your bravery. They respect what you did, even though they are both extremely anti-clerical.”

As he surveyed the residence in front of him, Luke whistled softly. It was a single story structure. Obviously designed to look like an Italian farm dwelling, but bigger. “It’s beautiful. There’s a lot of space under that roof.”

“Yes. There is a space for the family — for us and ours — and a space where well-to-do guests were allowed to stay. My parents learned that people who wanted to spend a lot of money on horses spent even more if they were given a room for free for a night. The guest area is like a hotel but there is nothing resembling a ‘front desk.’”

“Who took care of all this?”

“Mother hired extra staff during the high season. The temporary staff lived in cottages that are smaller than those used by the full-time staff. The refugee families live in them now. Stefania has a cottage similar to that used by the full-time married couples because her husband had also been an employee, but better equipped. Of course, it is equipped with things that no longer work.”

“Like I said, nice.”

Luisa slipped her hand into the crook of Luke’s arm. “Let’s go meet Stefania. She has probably prepared a meal for us and the others. After we eat and chat for a short while, they will go to their homes and we will have each other.”

They walked to their home. An older woman opened the door. Luke stopped, swept Luisa up into his arms, and stepped across the threshold.

Luisa said, “Luke! You will hurt yourself.”

He grunted and set her down. “I had to, my sweet, but I will hurt in the morning.”

“If I take you back to Umbertide with a ruined leg, Colonel Clarke will never forgive me.”

❀ ❁ ❀

The meal was a light one and was soon finished. The permanent staff, the refugees and Stefania bid their employers good night and left for their own homes.

Luisa took Luke by the hand and led him into the master suite.

He closed the door and thought, I will be very happy in this room, with this woman.

Luisa snuggled against him and whispered, “Make a baby with me.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Cavalry Post, Umbertide, Umbrian League, Pasquetta (Monday in the Octave of Easter), 5 April 1999

“So,” George Carson said as Luke Hutton flipped through the morning distribution, “a little over a year ago, we were two devil-may-care bachelors sitting in some very old barracks in Vicenza trying to decide if we were going to stay in Uncle Sam’s Army. Now we’re two settled men with wives— ”

“Pregnant wives,” Luke interrupted.

“—pregnant wives,” George nodded. “When’s Luisa’s first appointment with the midwives?”

“This afternoon. She’s going with Melissa.”

Luke scanned the piece of paper in his hand while he kept talking.

“The politics have been settled. The Umbrian League will consist of a capital, Perugia, and a number of chartered cities. The first will be Siena. Other communities may be established, but primary emphasis on defense will be for the cities.”

“No list of cities?”

“No, just that Siena’s first.”

“The duty company at Fort Siena can’t guard the road and defend the city,” George said.

“No, defense of a city is the responsibility of the city’s militia to be trained by the Army but — big but — they can call for reinforcements. Using fire towers and smoke signals.”

“More work for us and who’s gonna live in Siena? And how many?”

“No work for us, as in cavalry us. The militia will be trained by the infantry and artillery. ‘No cavalry training required,’ says the letter. They’re going to seek volunteers from the farms. Each city is supposed to be self-sufficient in food production, eventually. Oh, about three thousand people growing to five thousand in time.”

“I hear a lot of words I’m not comfortable with. ‘Volunteers, self-sufficient, eventually.’”

“I hear you, George. In late spring they’re gonna take the city back from the wildlife. That’ll be a major movement. We get to support that one.”

“He who excels gets another task.” George sighed. “I just want to be back here when Mel gives birth.”

“Should be,” Luke said and the two friends looked at each other and smiled. Shoulda, woulda, coulda, Luke thought.

❀ ❁ ❀

Aboard Umbrian Yacht Giacomo Bove, Adriatic Sea, between Fano and Venice, 8 April 1999, early morning

I am not certain that Giacomo Bove was the best name for the vessel, Lieutenant Davide Bernardi thought, but that is the name Admiral Marangon chose and the admiral may not always be right but he is always the admiral.

“Land, ho!” called the watch and Bernardi went on deck.

Chief Pavan smiled grimly when Bernardi approached. “Soon, sir,” he said. “Not many cities survived. I am not honestly certain why you expect Venice to be any better off.”

“The sea provides nourishment and the island provides security. Admiral Marangon and I think that if the population got through the dying times, they may have been able to stabilize and begin to recover from the Change.”

“But you thought the same about Fano, yes? But it was…” Pavan shook his head.

“Agreed. It was eerily deserted. Or at least it seemed to be. The interesting aspect was that it did not appear to have burned. Exploring that city will be a mission for the Army.”

“I don’t know how I let you talk me off Vespucci and onto this glorified life raft, sir. I was happy as a chief on our flagship.”

“Because you are a patriot, even if our country has changed. Besides, you don’t get seasick on a small vessel.” Bernardi picked up his binoculars and scanned the horizon. “I see a skyline and I do not see any sign of a city on fire. We will have to get closer to answer the question of whether Venice is deserted.”

❀ ❁ ❀

As Giacomo Bove entered the main channel, Bernardi was gratified to see people waving. On the southeast tip on Isola San Pietro, a flag flew from a pole. Something tells me I should recognize that flag but… “Raise the colors, Chief,” he ordered and Pavan ran the yellow and white flag of the Umbrian League up the mast. “We will wait for a reasonable amount of time for them to come to us,” he explained. He looked at his watch. “We will allow one hour.”

Little more than twenty minutes passed before a large skiff approached Bove. Besides the oarsmen, the boat contained a man wearing a business suit and another in a cassock.

Chief Pavan helped the two passengers from the skiff into Bove while seaman Benedetti held the painter. The man in the business suit offered a package. “Ham sandwiches,” he explained. “I presume you have been eating a lot of fish.”

“Thank you,” Bernardi said. “I can offer you fish in exchange but I suspect you have all you need.”

The men nodded. The group exchanged introductions and pleasantries for a few minutes.

Giacomo Bove represents a very small part of the Navy of the Umbrian League,” Bernardi explained. “The first part of my mission from Admiral Marangon is to survey the coast of the Italian peninsula for signs of life. I am pleased to have found some here.” But I am not sure I trust you, yet.

“How large is the Umbrian League?” asked the man in the suit, who had identified himself as Lucio Scarpa.

“Sadly, our census is not yet complete, but we believe our population to be between fifty and sixty thousand.”

“Do you have many communities?” the priest, Father Basso, asked.

“Our largest city is Perugia, which may have been designated as the capital by now. I’ll learn more at the end of this mission. We enjoy control of the communities in the valley to the north and to the southeast. And we have established presences near Siena and Grosseto in Tuscany. The cardinals saw a benefit to a navy, and a navy requires a port.”

“The cardinals?”

“Ah, I am telling this tale badly I fear,” Bernardi explained. “First, is Cardinal Zampieri well?”

“His health is good but he has a chest cold,” Father Basso answered. “I, by the way, am his aide. His cold is not bad and he is expected to recover, but we have adopted a policy of isolating anyone who is ill. Otherwise, I am certain he would be pleased to receive you.”

“That is understandable. Please give this letter to His Eminence. In essence, it tells him that ten of his brothers of the College of Cardinals were able to escape Rome when ordered to do so by His Holiness, who refused to leave the Vatican. The Holy Father is believed to have died when the Vatican burned. Cardinal Ratzinger has been functioning as Cardinal Camerlengo. Cardinal Leonardi has visited from Palermo and Cardinal Zampieri will be invited, but we — as in the military — have asked the cardinals to defer a formal invitation until the roads are secure.”

“Do you know when that will be?” Scarpa asked.

“I do not. Road security is the responsibility of the Umbrian Army.”

“The Adriatic coast is closer to Perugia than the Tyrrhenian coast is. I am surprised you did not attempt to establish a port on the Adriatic,” Scarpa said.

“That was briefly discussed, but the concern was the extra time required to sail around the peninsula and Sicily. We fully expect the cardinals to ask us to search out others of their brethren in the world. The cardinals hope to call a papal conclave sooner rather than later.”

“Have you had contact toward the south?”

That’s interesting. There was a flicker of annoyance on the priest’s face. I don’t think Scarpa was supposed to ask that. “No, the Army of the Umbrian League is heavily involved on security missions in southern Tuscany.”

“What of Tuscany?”

“There is a population in Livorno that, sadly, is less than friendly toward the League. We hope that will improve over time.”

“And Sicily?”

“Sicily is doing well. I have been there. That brings me to the second part of my mission.”

“How far does the League expect to expand? Are the cardinals hoping to re-establish the Papal States?” Scarpa asked.

Ah, the meat of the issue, Bernardi told himself. “No, communications are too poor. Imagine, not that you want to, a Mongol invasion similar to that in the thirteenth century. How would a city as far away as the Po River tell us it was being attacked? How would we get relief to it if it could notify us? The Umbrian League is a secular state. The Church is the preeminent religious body, but not the only one. My oath of office is to defend the League, not the Church.”

“That is reassuring,” Scarpa replied.

“I would hope that Venice — and the territory surrounding it — could be a trading partner of the League. When the time comes, perhaps a trade delegation will be received.”

“Perhaps,” Scarpa nodded. “Is there anything you need today?”

I think I am being dismissed. “If possible, we would like to take on some fresh water. We have much to do and the sooner we depart, the better.”

❀ ❁ ❀

When they were well out to sea, Pavan offered, “Interesting man.”

“Scarpa? Yes, Chief. The priest, too, in his own way. Scarpa offered us food we did not ask for — then virtually invited us to leave.”

“We know Ancona burned. When Scarpa said ‘south,’ I think he meant Fano. Are we going back there?”

“No, we’ll let the Army handle Fano but we will be able to tell them to expect, uh, something. Now that I think about it, there’s a fortress in Fano. We are sailing for Grosseto to deliver our news. With luck, Admiral Marangon will have returned from England.”

“Yes, sir. By the way, Seaman Benedetti was looking at the harbor while we were talking. He thinks that the Venetians are stripping hulls to equip vessels — vessels as large as Amerigo Vespucci — with masts. They have built some impressive cranes.”

Bernardi pursed his lips. “That’s important intelligence. I’m glad he was observant.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Fort Siena, Greater Umbria, 6 May 1999, late afternoon.

First Sergeant Jeffrey Michaels of 2nd company looked at First Sergeant Ernest Krause of the Engineer Company with a smile. “So, you got from staff sergeant to first sergeant real quick.”

“I know it’s kind of an insult to —”

“No, no, don’t think that way. You were doing real well as a squad leader and now you’re doing something that doesn’t have much to do with carrying a crossbow. When we get some real down time and get enough first sergeants together to activate the ‘alternate command post’ you’ll be as welcome as any of us old farts while we pour beer on the battalion’s problems. That applies to Potter in the Cav and — what’s his name — Hamilton in the Artillery as well. This ain’t the old Army. We don’t have time to grow new first sergeants by bringing them up through the ranks.”

“I appreciate it,” Krause answered. “But to answer your question, when I first joined they sent me to combat engineer training because I had worked in my Dad’s construction company for what seemed like my whole life. It wasn’t physical enough for me, so I requested a transfer to the infantry. Trouble was, I still hauled ‘engineer’ around as a secondary specialty. Between the sergeant major’s memory and that ratty old printed roster the adjutant’s still carrying around, when they needed a first shirt for the engineers, my name popped up. And here I am.”

“So, you guys are going to fortify Siena? Not all of it, I hope.”

“No, far from all of it. We’re going to take the Medici Palace back from anyone who happens to be living there, including the wildlife. Hopefully, that doesn’t include wild men. There are some nasty stories going around.”

“You’re not starting tomorrow?”

“No, Colonel De Angelis ordered that we not take chances. One of the infantry companies, the artillery battery and the cavalry troop will be up tomorrow. We’ll start Monday.”

“What’s the artillery gonna do?”

“Fire on the buildings that are too close to the palace and turn them into rubble. When we install a garrison here, we want them to have good fields of fire.”

“And the cavalry’s coming to provide security,” Michaels said.

“Right, Hutton takes those guys to the field every chance he gets. I need to remember to call him ‘Captain Hutton.’ He’s a good commander. Hasn’t had any discipline problems.”

Michaels nodded and checked his wristwatch. If this thing dies, there’s no replacement. It’s 1650 hours. “Patrol’s due back,” he said. “Our company commanders should be with the troops.”

The bell on the wall rang twice. Smart of the engineers to figure out how to manually ring these things at a distance. But why is the patrol returning at a run?”

Michaels walked toward the main gate of the fort. No reason to get there out of breath. When he arrived, the platoon leader who owned the patrol, Lieutenant Lee, was already there.

Lee said, “You don’t like it either, huh, First Sergeant?”

“No, sir. I can’t think of a happy reason for a patrol that’s been on its feet all day to run just to get here for field rations. Uh, who told you?”

“No one. I was on the wall.”

As the patrol neared the gate complex, two privates opened the outer door. After all the members of the patrol and the two captains were in the sallyport, the two privates closed the outer door. When they called out that the door was secure, Michaels and Lee, who were closest to the inner door, opened it and everyone exited to the courtyard.

Staff Sergeant Bill McMasters looked at Michaels and shook his head. He looked at Lieutenant Lee. “Sir, there’s a force of approximately two hundred approaching from the north. There’s a good chance they’re at the north side of Siena now, right by the rail station. Well armed but no cavalry or artillery support. Pole arms, swords, but no distance weapons that I saw.”

“Intentions?” Lee asked.

“Sir, I think they’re going to occupy the rail station,” McMasters answered.

“And then cut off our communications with Perugia,” Lee suggested, looking at Captain Schultz.

“I think you called it right, Lieutenant. Did you see any transportation, Sergeant McMasters?”

“Bikes, sir, but only about ten of them. I’d say for the leaders and the scouts.”

“Okay, First Sergeant, get the duty messengers out by rail. Add a reminder to the spot report that we’ve never seen a force this large from the Tuscan Republic before. Tell the messengers to come back when the response does. Put that in writing so our guys don’t get hassled.”

“Got it, sir.”

“Lieutenant Lee, put a fresh patrol out in the trees just this side of the gas station. While you’re putting everything together, tell Lieutenant Brunner to report to me here.”

“Yes, sir.” Lee turned and walked away. The rhythm had changed. There was no saluting. Without Schultz having to say it, 2nd Company was preparing to fight.

Captain Roger Avery walked toward his command post set up in the fort’s open area with First Sergeant Krause at his left side. They’re getting ready to fight, too, Michaels thought. It’s handy when two officers understand each other. Avery’s senior but it’s Schultz’s post, so Avery will let the boss take the lead.

❀ ❁ ❀

Fort Siena, Greater Umbria, 7 May 1999, early morning.

Jeff Michaels watched as half of the overnight patrol approached from the south. I wouldn’t have split my patrol like Akers did, but we teach them to use their initiative. The young ones are going to adapt to this kind of fighting better than the old ones — like me.

Akers and his troops processed through the gate and he nodded at his assistant patrol leader, who had already brought in his half of the men.

“Report,” Lieutenant Brunner ordered.

“Yessir, the enemy put a holding force of about fifty just on the other side of the intersection that leads north. Crack troops these ain’t. I can’t swear to it, but I don’t think they had a guard out last night.”


Akers shook his head. “I didn’t try, sir. If I’d called it wrong, I coulda lost everyone.”

Brunner nodded. “Okay, get some chow. The rest of your patrol wouldn’t eat ‘til you got back.”

“Yes, sir,” Akers said to Brunner and turned toward the chow area. He signaled his troops, waited until they were all in line and stood at the end of the line with his assistant.

❀ ❁ ❀

Near Siena, Greater Umbria, 7 May 1999, mid-morning.

Ed Clarke was near the front of the Umbrian Army’s column, conferring with Colonel De Angelis and the other two battalion commanders, when he heard a horse galloping. They all looked toward the sound. One of Roma Battalion’s cavalry lieutenants came over a low rise and reined in by the group of commanders. “Enemy force of approximately fifty deployed across the road this side of the intersection leading to Siena. On the other side of them is a blocking force from Fort Siena. The America Battalion soldiers exchanged recognition signals with my patrol. The enemy commander appears to have planned poorly. He has no troops facing the Americans, uh, the America Battalion.”

“No offense taken, lieutenant,” Clarke replied. “We probably ought to try out ‘Romans,’ ‘Livornans’ and ‘Americans.’” He looked at De Angelis. “Over the long term, sir, it might not be a bad idea to cross-attach units and maybe integrate them.”

“Excellent idea,” De Angelis replied, “but first things first. Colonel Parodi, please prepare to attack the enemy with one company. Colonel Pintus, please deploy cavalry on our right flank. Colonel Clarke, please deploy your cavalry on our left flank and try to establish contact with the force from Fort Siena. Platoon strength for both cavalry elements. Colonel Parodi, we will attack when you are ready.”

❀ ❁ ❀

“Good morning, sir,” said Staff Sergeant William McMasters.

“Good morning, Sarge,” Luke Hutton answered as he patted his mount’s withers. “Any casualties?”

“No, sir. As a matter of fact, I have three prisoners who are acting very strangely.”

“How so?”

McMasters turned and whistled. His troops spread out and Luke saw three men kneeling with their palms flat on the road surface and their necks exposed. That’s curious. They’re inviting execution? “What are they doing? Correction, supposed to be doing?”

“They say they are awaiting execution by the enemy, sir.”


“They claim to have dined on human flesh and await our judgment. One of my guys, by the way, has made a whole lot more progress on learning Italian than I have.”

“Ya know, this could be useful. Oh, good, Captain Schultz is coming up. Keep your prisoners safe. After I talk to Captain Schultz, I have to talk to Colonel Clarke.”

❀ ❁ ❀

After hearing Luke’s comments, Clarke had asked for a meeting with Colonel De Angelis. Chaplain Connolly and the chaplains from the other two battalions were invited.

“Okay, Captain, give us the argument,” Clarke said.

“Yes, sir,” Luke began. “We’ve learned from our intel that Morelli has been torturing people and feeding their flesh to his people. They don’t seem to be eating enough to actually sustain themselves. It’s a ritual. ‘By consuming human flesh, you become and remain one of us.’ It’s a kind of perverted communion. After the, uh, initiate has consumed his first flesh, he’s told that he has permanently separated himself from the rest of mankind. That he has nowhere else to turn. And, if we’re to believe what those panic-stricken prisoners are telling us, they’re told to expect summary execution.”

“And your solution?”

“Get the chaplains in to talk to them. Let them confess. I don’t mean in the sense of the sacrament, but to talk. Tell them they’re not inherently evil, forgive them, tell them to talk to their fellow, uh, fighters and let them go.”

De Angelis asked, “Fathers, is there anyone of you who objects?”

All three shook their heads and De Angelis smiled. “The ones who want to surrender need some kind of sign.”

“Yes, sir,” Clarke said. “Tell them to sit on the ground, lace their hands behind their necks and look straight in front of themselves.”


A messenger rode up and dismounted. “Sir,” he said to De Angelis, “long range recon in the hills reports that more enemy forces are approaching from the northeast. The force is estimated to number one thousand effectives plus trains.”

So much for my great plan, Luke thought. I think our time just ran out.

Luke’s stomach began to churn as De Angelis said, “Gentlemen, our opportunity has arrived. It did not arrive when we expected it to. We do not have time for deliberate planning. We will advance to contact. Notify your staff officers. I want your recommendations by mid-afternoon.”

❀ ❁ ❀


— Shield —

Valley of Death, Northwest of Siena, Greater Umbria, 8 May 1999, mid-afternoon.

Luke Hutton stood with his feet apart, leaning slightly forward, supporting his weight on his saber. The saber was point down, supported on a rock. Not good for the weapon, but who gives a…

Luke’s horse picked that moment to nuzzle the exhausted man’s lower back. Luke turned. “What?” The animal whinnied and pawed the ground with its left forefoot. Luke heard his father’s voice inside his head. I know, Dad, take care of my horse and it’ll take care of me. Looking into the animal’s big brown eyes, Luke relented. Pulling Warrior’s head down, he scratched the underside of the long jaw. “If I had anything you could eat, I’d give it to you. There’s food around here somewhere. You’re more horse than I deserve. I gotta remember to thank Luisa for you.” Luisa! Is she okay? Oh, that’s right, she’s safe at home.

At the thought of food, Luke shuddered as his stomach tried to empty itself. It had done that earlier and all Luke got for his trouble this time was a case of the dry heaves. When Luke finished, he realized he was supporting himself with Warrior’s bridle. “Good boy.” Luke bent, grasped his mount’s left foreleg and lifted it to examine the hoof. “Nothing there. You just looking for attention?”

Luke heard footsteps and turned. Liz Current, the cavalry cook and sometime assistant medic, was approaching carefully. “Do you know who I am, sir?”

“Sure, Liz, you’re the mother of the cavalry.”

“Cute, sir, I know you’re back, now,” she answered with a smile.

“Back? Now?”

“Sir, you’ve been standing here for over an hour.”

“An hour…” Luke’s vision blurred. When it cleared, he saw Jake Potter riding toward him. No, not to me. There’s something behind me. Time slowed and Luke saw a maniacal grin on Jake’s face. Jake’s face dissolved to a skull and his horse turned white. Death… Jake reappeared from behind the mask and Luke realized that Jake’s war hammer was reversed. The sergeant’s horse — a dun again — thundered past Luke, who turned to follow the action. Jake swung his hammer underhandedly through a full turn and kept going until the claw of the hammer met the chin of a man who had to be nearly seven feet tall holding a broadsword. Jake’s hammer ripped the man’s jaw off his face and blood flew everywhere. The world fogged and cleared and Luke found himself facing Warrior with Liz behind him.

Luke turned back to Liz. “I saw death.”

“We’ve all seen… No, you’re talking about something else, aren’t you?”

“Death on a pale horse.”

“You mean like in the Bible?”

“Yeah,” he answered remotely.

Liz shook her head. “You have got to settle down, sir. Maybe you need to talk to the Padre, although he’s kinda busy helping Jacob.”

“God help me. What’s the body count?”

“Grab your saddle,” she said and waited. “We lost about a quarter of the Army. About a quarter of the troop, too.”

Luke shuddered. “And the Tuscans?”

“So far, I think they’ve penned up maybe fifty living men. There were more but guys who still had fire in their eyes… Well, I heard it wasn’t pretty.”

“Who’s been minding the store?”

“First Sergeant Potter.”

Luke sucked in his breath. “George?”

“He’s got a simple fracture of his left humerus.”

“Good. I mean, it’s good he’s alive. You’re beginning to talk like Jacob.”

“Guilty as charged, sir. Let me help you take your mail off. I have to bind that wound.”


“Yessir. That would be that thing on your left arm that’s leaking blood. It’s not bad, but we’ve taken care of the complicated stuff.”

“How did I…”

She shook her head. “Sir, I wasn’t there. Remember? I had to stay up at the head of valley. But Kate said Morelli did it right before you killed the bastard.”

What’s she talking about? Who’s Kate? Who’s Morelli… Oh! Morelli. “I killed Morelli?”

“Yes, sir, at least that’s what Kate told me.”

“Who’s Kate? Where is she?”

“She was over at the troop wagon but one of the guys took her to have her handcuffs removed. We got her a sheet to wear.”

“Handcuffs? A sheet? What are you talking about?”

“Sir, you better talk to Kate. Are you going let me help you take off that hauberk or not?”

“Yeah, okay, if it will get you to talk sense.” Luke removed his helmet, sword belt and jacket. He raised his arms and bent over to let Liz pull his mail over his head. When she had tugged the armor off his body, pain rushed into his left arm. His vision clouded; the strength left his legs.

He came to with Liz Current looking down at him.

“Dammit, sir, don’t do that. I barely caught you before your head hit the ground.”

“Sorry, it… Never mind.”

“Maybe it was better. You wouldn’t have been happy if you were conscious when I poured the alcohol on your wound.”

He looked at his dressed upper arm. “Thanks, Liz. I feel like I’m in my eighties. How far is troop headquarters?”

Liz turned and looked. “Wagon’s less than half a klick.”

“Help me up.”

“You sure? I can get the wagon.”

“I’ll be okay if I hold onto Warrior.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Luke limped up to the troop’s wagon. A cheer went up. He waved. “Okay, okay.” His eyes fell on George Carson, whose left arm was in a splint. “Hi, George.”

“Hi, Luke. Have a seat.”

Jacob Taylor brought Luke a mug with something warm in it. “Drink, sir.”

“I don’t know, Jacob. I…”


Luke nodded.

“I know it’s a problem but you have to get hydrated. And stay that way.”

“Okay, I’ll try.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Valley of Death, Northwest of Siena, Greater Umbria, 8 May 1999, late afternoon.

A cavalry lieutenant from the Roma Battalion approached at a trot and saluted. “Captain Hutton, Colonel De Angelis’s compliments. Please report at your earliest convenience.”

Luke returned the salute. “My respects to the colonel. Do you know why he wants me?”

“Sir, as far as we can tell, you are the senior American standing.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Luke Hutton reined in his horse and carefully dismounted. I hurt everywhere, but my left leg’s worse than my left arm. I’ll have to swear Jacob to secrecy and ask him. If I ask one of the docs, they’ll turn it into something. He dropped the animal’s reins to the ground, straightened himself and reported to Colonel De Angelis, who was having his own wound treated.

“Captain Hutton, sir. Please tell me I am not the senior American left.”

“No, not ‘left,’ ‘left standing,’” De Angelis explained. “Colonel Clarke is seriously wounded. My messenger saw Major Morgan’s body. All of the other captains have wounds of one type or another. None of them are in any condition to command a battalion.”

“That is a relief, sir. But I couldn’t…”

“The history of war is filled with stories of men who couldn’t but did.” De Angelis motioned toward his right. “Colonel Clarke is about fifty meters that way. If he is conscious, he will want to talk to you.” He winced as a medic squirted something on his wound.

Luke took that as a dismissal and looked for Clarke. He found him by first recognizing Doctor Coltrane. He almost lost the contents of his stomach again when he realized what had happened to Clarke. “Afternoon, sir, how are you feeling?”

“Great command presence, Luke. I hurt like hell and don’t even want to know what I’d feel like if Doc hadn’t numbed me up before I came around. I’m glad you got here. In a few minutes, Doc is going to put me under and work his miracles on me. I know about Morgan being dead and everyone else being out of action, so you’ve got the battalion temporarily.”

“Sir, wouldn’t it be better if you let one of the lieutenants — you know, someone who’s been to West Point — do this?”

“And what would that say about my ability to pick my subordinate commanders?”


“Captain Hutton, you are the acting commander of the America Battalion until Captain Douglas is able to return to duty. Your mission is to oversee the taking of the Medici Palace. That’s what you have lieutenants for. When it’s done, please do me the courtesy of letting me know, if I’m available.”

I give. “Yes, sir. Sir?”


“Last night and again this morning Major Morgan seemed different. Like something was bothering him. Do you know why?”

“Because he was looking for a way out. He has… He had bladder cancer, Luke. He’d been pissing blood for almost two months.”

Coltrane frowned.

“Don’t pull a face on me, John. Bill Morgan doesn’t need privacy anymore.” Clarke’s eyes visibly watered. “I’ve known Bill since we were teenagers. I’ll miss his advice and more importantly, his friendship.” He looked over Luke’s shoulder. “I’ll grieve later. Doc is waiting. Back to work, Luke.”

“Sometimes life just sucks, sir.”

“Yeah, it does. Oh, one more thing. Do me a favor when you get to Umbertide. See Dotty. Tell her what you saw here, that I love her, and that I’ll see her soon.”


“Luke, I don’t want her to read about this in some report. Will you see her?”

“Yes, sir, I will.” Luke frowned. “Well, I better get to it.” He saluted with a smile and turned before Clarke could return his display of respect. Can’t have him thinking I’m putting him away. I never heard him call Mrs. Patterson anything but “Dorothy” before.

As he was walking away from Clarke, Luke bumped into one of the medics. “Hey, Doc, you seen the sergeant major?”

“He’s waiting to be buried, sir.”


“Yes, Luke, Jesus.”

Luke spun, prepared to argue. “Oh!  Father Connolly.”

“Jesus Christ, the First and the Last, the Alpha and the Omega, our Saviour. He didn’t do this. We humans did.”

“Yes, Father,” Luke answered, hanging his head.

“Funeral Mass in the morning. Will you read?”

“I… I’m not worthy. I have done terrible things today. I think. I… I need to confess, to be shriven. I…”

“We’ll take care of that this evening.”

“Yes, Father. If God gives me the strength, I will read.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Northwest of Siena, Greater Umbria, 8 May 1999, evening.

They had brought up the trains and units had sorted themselves out. The sergeants had taken over when they’d learned that almost all of the officers were — at least temporarily — down. Company fires had been started to drive away the evening chill. Guards were set and the Army settled in to rest and recover from the day’s carnage.

That includes some interesting situations, Luke mused as he walked back to the troop’s fire. First Sergeant Connors tried to get his son Eric to sit with him at the 1st Company fire, but Eric, whose head was bandaged, said he had to go back to 4th Company and “help take care of the wounded.” I guess that was Eric’s way of telling his dad he’s his own man now. What did they call it? Yeah, seeing the elephant.

Luke groaned as he settled in the place Jake Potter pointed out. One of the troopers poured Luke a cup of warmed, reinforced cider and handed it to him. Luke sipped. “Thanks, that’s good.” He looked around the circle. The group included …Kate. Kate Govorov, Army widow, Tuscan sex slave, survivor. He nodded to her and she smiled. Hesitantly, I think. She’s grabbed hold of us but she’s not sure she’s welcome. Have to work on that one.

“Not hangin’ with the Headquarters weenies?” George asked with a smile.

“Nah, I want to be with real soldiers,” Luke answered. He sat silently for a while then said, “Someone tell me about today.”

There was silence for a minute or more and Luke was about to repeat himself again when Guy Anderson spoke.

“It was the artillery. If you’d been in the 508th, you’d been on exercises and hunkered down when artillery simulators were set off. You knew what 105s and 155s and gunships could do. I won’t even talk about the destruction the Air Force could lay on a target. But that was then, before the Change. This was different. Maybe it was because we were so close. I heard an artilleryman bitching about not being able to fire any ranging shots. They started throwing their big rocks at the Tuscans and I think those were their ranging shots. Then they started throwing that home-made Napalm down range. Those big jugs of nasty hit the ground among the people and the fuses lit off the charges and the world exploded. I guess ‘exploded’ ain’t the right word, but it’s close enough for me.

“Flames flew through the air and landed on people. Their hair caught on fire and their clothes. Some of them fell on the ground and rolled but the stuff stuck and they kept burning. I was disgusted, you know? I wondered how we could do this to other humans, to people, you know? Then I remembered people tried to kill us on the road south. I remembered the day we almost lost the CO. I remembered that all of those Tuscans had a choice. They’d come to the north side of Valley of Death because they wanted to. ‘Cause Morelli told them that victory was a sure thing and they didn’t have the balls to stand up to him. And those people were cowards looking for an easy victory… then I began to cheer.

“When their infantrymen started down the slope toward our shield wall, I yelled for more Napalm. ‘Burn ‘em again! More! More!’ And the gun bunnies heard me. Well, I guess they didn’t really, but they lowered their range and killed more of Morelli’s troops as they advanced. And they kept on coming. The dumb bastards ran up that hill against a shield wall. And they died. But so did a lot of us.

“You gave the order to advance and we rode with our infantrymen hanging onto our stirrup straps. And, and,  we met the enemy and killed… and there was killing. They attacked our little shield wall and we rode around their flank into their rear and… Hell came to Earth.”  He scrubbed his face.  “It’s, it’s like… like telling you about a movie.  It doesn’t feel quite real… and then I remember the feeling of the sword hitting a man’s arms… and …”  He was silent for a moment and shuddered and clenched his jaw.

“And suddenly — or maybe after forever — it was over. I reined in my horse and dismounted. There was a man on the ground begging for mercy and I took my war hammer and crushed his skull. Then I stopped. I looked at my body and there was blood everywhere. But none of it was mine. I don’t have a mark on me. If it wasn’t for all the blood, I’d might have believed I’d been dreaming.”

Anderson looked at Luke with tears streaming down his cheeks.

“You weren’t dreaming,” Jake Potter said. “I saw you.”

Luke cleared his throat, What don’t I remember?  What was so horrible I’ve blocked it? “Over the coming days and weeks, I want all of you to talk to each other and to other soldiers about what we did here today. Don’t make it sound like we did something special, like we were the heroes of the day. Play down what you did and listen to what the other guy has to say. Learn about what it was like on the shield wall. Write it down. It’ll be important some day.”

He waited for the question he knew was coming. It did.  A voice in the darkness said, “Tell us about Morelli, sir.”

Luke sighed. “There’s a lot I don’t remember.” He looked around the circle until his eyes rested on Kate. She returned his stare and it all came back to him. He shuddered as it poured through is mind, white hot and ice cold. “No, that’s not true. I’d rather not remember, but it can’t be forgotten; not really.”

“Just like Guy — and I guess a lot of others — I reined in and swung down from Warrior’s back. I had gotten separated from the rest of you. Remind me never to do that again. That was after Jake saved my life by taking out that giant. I was near the tents that we had identified as Morelli’s command post. I looked around me and thought that the whole place stank of blood and sweat and horse shit. Maybe human shit, too. I looked up at the sky and it was clear and as blue as I’d ever seen with big puffy clouds and I wondered how the sky could be so clean and the Earth so dirty.

“I heard a movement behind me and turned. There was a man in armor. Well, half-armor. And no gorget.

“He said, ‘I am Roberto Morelli. I am the president of the Tuscan Republic. Are you a Moor?’ He was speaking Italian.

“I told him my rank and name and said ‘I’m here to send you to Hell.’ When I say that now, it sounds like something out of a really cheap novel, but it seemed to make sense at the time.

“He blinked. ‘I hate Americans. Prepare to die.’ That sounds even cheesier than what I said and I’m beginning to wonder if either of us really talked that way. He drew his weapon. He was armed with a rapier. There was a movie called The Untouchables about gangsters and cops in Chicago. My dad loved it. Anyway, an Irish cop calls an Italian gangster stupid for bringing a knife to a gun fight. I remember — clearly — thinking that Morelli was stupid ‘cause he’d brought a knife to a sword fight.

“Off to my right, a horse snorted. I took a quick look and saw Warrior. I told him he was a good boy. To my left, I caught movement in my peripheral vision and risked a quick look. There was a woman.” He blinked. “Kate, it was you.”

She nodded.

“But you were…”

“Naked. Go ahead. I’ll explain when you’re done.”

“The woman said, ‘Kill him.’ and Morelli answered that he would. Kate said, ‘Not you, the other one.’ She waved at me and said, ‘Whoever you are, kill this bastard.’”

“I thought taking on a rapier with a saber was easy enough, but Morelli looked fresh and I was about to fold. I wanted a shield, but mine was hanging from Warrior’s saddle. Morelli came at me and I thought he was getting ready to fence.  Sound was sort of coming and going.

“Two things I remembered from our training. First is that sword fights take seconds, at the most minutes. Second is the sword fights don’t have ties; there’s only one winner.

“I started to slip on something wet. I staggered and the point of Morelli’s rapier slipped between the rings of my hauberk. The point got through like a live wire ripping through my left arm. Morelli pulled his weapon back and smiled. I remember thinking he was going to do it again. I sucked in my gut and swung my saber hard at Morelli’s sword hand. He was wearing gauntlets, but his grip sucked. He screamed and  lost his grip. I could see the fear in his eyes, he said, ‘Perla?’ I lunged and drove the point of my saber through his throat, sliced and twisted and opened up the wound.

“Morelli coughed blood once, then again. He sank to his knees and fell over onto his face. He jerked for a few seconds and stopped. Who was Perla?”

“The story going around was that Perla was his girlfriend and that she died the morning of the Change,” Kate answered.

“I remember thinking that I had to sit down. Next thing I knew, Liz walked up to me. Anything else to add, Kate?”

“Just the reason I was naked. Morelli kept us that way. We were his sex slaves and that was his way of humiliating us. He was a vicious man. I saw him cut a man’s throat once with a switchblade after the guy dropped a bottle of wine.”

“How many of you were there?”

“Nine at the beginning. We were down to four. There was talk that after he defeated the Umbrians that we’d be killed because there would be a lot of new women available. I’m the only one he brought on this little expedition. One of the women in the trains loaned me this dress. I’m probably still the talk of the town, but at least it’s not because parts of me are hanging out.”

The circle around the fire grew quiet. Comfortably and eerily quiet, Luke thought.

“Captain Hutton?”

Luke looked up. “Yes, Padre?”

“You wanted to talk?”

“Yes, please.”

Luke stood and followed Father Connolly away from the fire.

Siena National Cemetery, Greater Umbria, 9 May 1999, morning.

“Colonel De Angelis moved fast yesterday,” John Coltrane explained to Luke. “When the battle was over, he looked around, spotted this grassy field with good elevation and said, ‘There.’ He called Signor Rosato of the Siena civil administration and Captain Antonelli of the militia and had told them he was pre-empting the land for a cemetery.”

Luke nodded. Soldiers of all the battalions and the Army headquarters had labored through the afternoon and evening and somehow started a grave for every man killed. All of them were still barely depressions in the ground. But it’s a start.

He saw that Father John Connolly had donned his alb and told Coltrane, “Gotta go.”

❀ ❁ ❀

The Mass in English was underway.

Luke bowed to the altar and went to the pulpit. It, like everything else that day, was thrown together from what was at hand. But a stack of field packs will hold a lectionary as well as a finely carved pulpit. He looked at the book, and moved the red ribbon aside so he could see the words.  As he began — "A reading from the book of the prophet Daniel" — tears welled in his eyes and the stress and horror and fear of the previous day washed over him and his voice broke.  He looked at Chaplain Connolly, who closed his own eyes and bowed his head, his hand resting on his breast and tears flowing down his cheeks.  No help there, he thought.  But as he stood there with tears flowing down his own face, from somewhere within came a feeling of peace, and he found his voice and was able to speak.

“I, Daniel, mourned and heard this word of the Lord:”

“At this time there shall arise

Michael, the great prince,

Guardian of your people;

It shall be a time unsurpassed in distress

Since nations began until that time.

At that time your people shall escape,

Everyone who is found written in the book.

Many of those who sleep

In the dust of the earth shall awake;

Some shall live forever,

Others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace.

But the wise shall shine brightly

Like the splendor of the firmament,

And those who lead the many to justice

Shall be like the stars forever.”

“The Word of the Lord.”

And everyone replied, almost in a roar, "Amen!"

The rest of the Mass of Christian Burial went by in a blur. He stood, he sang, he prayed, he knelt, he received the Eucharist, and he looked upon the bodies of the men and women who had paid the ultimate price for his life, the life of his wife, and that of their unborn child, and all the others who had gathered together in this unlikely and impossible time and place with its uncertain futures. He thought about those who had not made it to this day, who were buried along the way. He thought about First Sergeant Anthony Jones, who died in Verona. And about Antonia, who died in a grove of trees, a victim not of war but of lust. And Aaron Appleby, a Jew who died in defense of a Catholic Cardinal.

Then it was time for the end.  Connolly, led by a soldier crucifer and two others with torches, walked down the row of bodies, his robes flowing in the breeze, the censor billowing clouds of fragrant smoke as the battalion stood at attention while the choir chanted —

“Come to their aid O Saints of God,

Come meet them angels of the Lord,

Receive their souls. O Holy Ones,

Present them now to God, Most High.”

The Mass in Italian on the south side of the cemetery ended at almost the same time.

Then a bugler on the hill sounded Taps; from a nearby grove of trees, a second bugler sounded the echo.

❀ ❁ ❀


— Growth —

Siena, Greater Umbria, 10 May 1999, morning.

Lieutenant Tinkerman, the battalion intelligence officer,  looked up from his tourist brochure about the Medici Palace and said. “The Medici Palace is basically a rectangular fortress that had been converted into a public park. You can see that the big gate behind me is partly open. Open far enough for a human to squeeze through. That means open far enough for animals you don’t want to meet up with in the dark. On the other side of that gate is a corridor about twenty meters long. From there you break into the open area that they used for events. From that open space, there’s access to rooms in the fortress walls. Questions?” Tinkerman looked around. “Captain Hutton?”

“All right, every senior commander in our battalion — including me — is wounded. So are most of the lieutenants who aren’t dead. I just got lucky enough to go up against a guy who thought a sword is a long knife. We lost about a quarter of the Umbrian Army yesterday, but we won. You guys are here because you’re able to stand and walk.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Staff Sergeant Bill McMasters carefully approached the door to the fourth room. Hasn’t been too bad so far. The central area was vacant and all five of the tents looked usable. The lieutenant who’s supposed to be in charge is worthless but his time will come. The first three rooms were empty and that militia captain has set guards on them. Good choice since they were kinda chewed up yesterday. One of the rooms had obviously been a liquor store and it being empty was a real shame. However, this is the first room that’s had an open door.

McMasters pushed on the door with a pike to open it all the way. A hinge squeaked and from inside the room came a deep growl. McMasters yelled, “Torch!”

A gray shape erupted through the doorway and met a yard of arrow from Chuck Abbott’s bow. When everyone started breathing again, McMasters looked at Abbott, and shook his head. The gray wolf twitched and died.

“A hundred and twenty pounds?” Abbott asked.

“Easily,” McMasters agreed. He took the torch he was offered and held it in the door. Four wolf cubs sat in a far corner. Clustered around them were human bones, long and short. “Kill them,” he ordered.

“Maybe we could raise them?” a voice asked.

“They’ve been munching on people. Kill them.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Luke Hutton inspected the interior of the Medici Palace. “Very well executed, gentlemen. Fort taken and zero casualties.”

Recognizing a face, Luke asked. “Sergeant McMasters, how are ya doing?”

McMasters saluted and answered, “Fine, Captain. I could use a bath.”

They shared a laugh. “We’ll be running groups over to the stream east of Siena. They tell me it’s warmer than the Reno.”

“That’s good. Couldn’t be much colder.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Northwest of Siena, Greater Umbria, 10 May 1999, morning.

“I’ve formally relinquished command, Luke. I can… I can’t perform up to my own standards. I’ve sent a note to Colonel De Angelis asking to be retired.”

“Yes, sir.”

Luke thought, Sucks. “From what you said yesterday, sir, ‘Dotty’ is a best friend. Why don’t you take a few minutes to write her a letter?”

Clarke reached under his pillow and pulled out an envelope. He handed it to Hutton.

Luke took the letter, nodded and turned to leave. He stopped, turned back and said, “It was an honor serving under you, sir.” He saluted and walked away.

❀ ❁ ❀

Luke Hutton saluted Sam Douglas. “Good to see you conscious, sir.”

“Thank you, Luke. What happened to ‘Sam?’”

Luke shrugged. “Well, we’re not company commanders together any more. Given your condition, I’ve been commanding your battalion for the past twenty-one hours.”

“Where’s Clarke?”

“Resting comfortably. He hasn’t officially retired yet, but he has relinquished command. And Major Morgan is dead.”

“I saw him go down.”

“If you’re able to resume command, I can deliver some messages, including a personal one to Dorothy Patterson from Colonel Clarke. Colonel De Angelis made me the official messenger.”

“If you see Kathy…”

“Don’t worry, I will see them all.” Luke took another letter.

❀ ❁ ❀

Umbertide, Umbria, 14 May 1999, late afternoon.

Luke Hutton reined his mount to a walk as he approached the Army headquarters building. The two troopers with him did the same. Stopping, he handed his lance to the trooper on his right and dismounted. “You two water the horses and stand by. I’ll only be about ten minutes.”

Inside, Luke walked into the office where Dorothy Patterson sat at a desk. She looked up in alarm until Luke smiled and held up the letter he carried.

Dorothy took the envelope and ripped it open; read the letter. She smiled and asked, “He’s all right?”

“He’s alive. He’ll be all right. He was well enough to write that. He wanted me to deliver the letter. And a message.”

She returned to her chair. “What haven’t you told me?”

“He lost a leg. The left one, just above the knee. But he’s okay. Doc Coltrane did the work and the wound is clean and healing. I talked to Coltrane just before I mounted up — after I left Colonel Clarke.”

Dorothy sniffled just a little. “Have you been to see Luisa?”

“No, my task was to get to you before some rumor did.”

“Mission accomplished. I’ll be all right. Go see your wife!”

❀ ❁ ❀

Luke opened the door of the farmhouse. Luisa was waiting for him. “When I heard the hooves, I prayed it was you.”

Luke took Luisa in his arms and kissed her softly. He pulled back and looked at her face, gently stroking her cheek. He saw that she was wearing a loose-necked blouse and tugged at it, trying to look inside.

She slapped his hand. “Stop it!”

“I was looking for the baby.”

Luisa laughed and moved her lips to his ear. “That is not where you left the baby. Have you forgotten already?”

He placed his palm on her belly. “Not a chance.”

“You can ‘look for the baby’ later.”

“I’m gonna do more than look.”

She laughed out loud. “Let me see you.” She started at his face then worked her way down to his boots then back up again. “You look all used up. And you’re wounded. How bad was it?”

“The wound isn’t bad, especially compared to last time. And I actually feel better after three days in the saddle than I did when I left Siena.”

Melissa Carson came down the stairs and asked, “Is he alright?”

“He’s fine. Well, he has a broken arm and about as many cuts and scratches and bruises as I have, but he’s fine.”

Melissa placed her hand over her belly and whispered, “You still have a daddy, my child.”

Luke gave Melissa a brotherly hug and gave her the second letter he carried.

“Let me wash up and change into something that doesn’t smell so bad. Then we can sit down and I’ll tell both of you the whole thing.”

“I’ll help,” Luisa offered.

Washed, his wound re-bandaged, and dressed in clean clothes, Luke and the two women shared the supper Melissa had prepared. When they had finished he told them the story of the Battle of Siena. I could have left some of it out, but word will get around.

“So you killed him?” Luisa whispered.

Luke held his arm in front of him, imagining the saber in his hand. “Yeah, for a man who had us so worried, he was a lousy leader. And a worse swordsman.”

“And George is really all right?” Melissa asked.

“Yes, really. Almost no one came out of it without some kind of marks. He’ll be bringing the troop — most of it, anyway — back when the Army redeploys. Probably the end of the month. Colonel De Angelis said no more campaigning this year. He kind of drafted Signor Rosato, who was due to run Siena, and told him he would go to Livorno with a Livornan and Roman escort and see if he could finds anyone to surrender to us.”

“And the rest?”

“They’ll stay in Siena, healing and doing light duty until they’re fit to ride. Jake will stay with them. They’ll come back as a unit.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Umbertide, Umbria, 1 Jun 1999, late afternoon.

Luke sat astride his mount in the middle of the road and waited as the Army of Umbria approached. Here comes the America Battalion with Sam Douglas in the lead. I don’t suppose Colonel — Mr. — Clarke will ever ride very well again. Should make life interesting. He saluted Douglas as he neared. “Good morning, sir. It’s good to see you in the saddle.”

“It’s good to see you, too, Luke. Ride with me and I’ll bring you up to date.”

Luke maneuvered his horse so he was riding with Douglas on the right. “Yes, sir, uh, Major.”

“Some things have happened. These leaves are the second. They were Bill Morgan’s, by the way. Colonel Clarke has been medically retired. I was the senior captain anyway, but De Angelis appointed me battalion commander then promoted me. I left 4th Company in the hands of Ed Hutchins. I need a battalion executive officer…”

“Oh, no!” Luke answered. “Get one of those guys who’s had the training.”

“Oh, yes. You have what it takes, Luke. Among other things, you get combat in this era. Some of those guys who have had the all the training are still struggling with swordsmanship.”

“Yes, sir. I’ll serve at your pleasure.”

“The good news,” Douglas said, “is that the people of Tuscany have surrendered to us. That’s a little over simplified. Signor Rosato couldn’t find anyone who claimed to be part of Morelli’s government. It’s possible we could be digging guerrillas out of the weeds for years but we’re officially at peace. Keep riding with me and I’ll tell you more.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Marina di Grosseto, Greater Umbria, 3 Jun 1999, morning

I suppose I’m the junior person at the table, Davide Bernardi thought.  I had better take some notes.

Admiral Carlo Marangon was the senior person at the table, which was in what used to be a restaurant. “Gentlemen,” he began, “we’ve acquired some very useful information. I will prepare a full report on my journey, but the condensed version is that England has survived. The English Army managed to evacuate the Queen and her family to the Isle of Wight. They also occupied other islands. Her Majesty did not survive the winter, but her son has ascended as King Charles III. They have a Royal Navy, mostly composed of vessels similar to Giacomo Bove. But they have some larger vessels and are building more.

“Also important for the long term is that the English managed to retain control of Gibraltar. We were hailed off the Rock by an English vessel. I spoke with her captain and later with the governor of Gibraltar. It was the governor who first told me about the Isle of Wight. He asked me to carry some mail. I agreed. I suspect that they were copies and that we were being tested, but that is acceptable. We proceeded. We are not at war with the English and I will suggest to our civil masters that we endeavor to keep it that way.”

Marangon paused to look at his notes. “His Eminence Rupert Cardinal Cuthbertson was among the officials who were evacuated to the Isle of Wight. I was able to meet with him and deliver the Cardinals’ invitation to visit. He accepted and asked if he might be allowed to travel to our shores in a Royal Navy vessel. I agreed. I suspect that they will attempt to renew their nautical heritage and, while I have no doubt that the English will also attempt to collect intelligence as part of the journey, we will be able to do the same. I left the letter for Cardinal O’Brien of Dublin with him and he agreed to see that it was placed in the Irish cardinal’s hands.”

Marangon spoke directly to De Angelis. “A somber note for my close. We sailed close to Genoa and Marseilles on our outward voyage. Both cities are burnt out shells. If the cardinal archbishop of either city survived, he is living in a cellar. The decision to enter such a hellhole belongs to you, but I wouldn’t do it.”

“I believe you are correct,” De Angelis replied.

“Lieutenant Bernardi?” Marangon prompted.

“Thank you, sir. When the weather stabilized, I took Giacomo Bove around Sicily, taking care to stay out of sight of the island’s shore, and into the Adriatic. We surveyed a number of communities without going ashore. Almost everything we observed matched Admiral Marangon’s description of Genoa and Marseilles except Fano. The city appeared to be deserted, but had not burned. That brings us to Venice.”

Davide stopped and pulled a separate sheet of paper from a file. “As you had thought, sir, Venice has survived. Chief Pavan and I spoke with Signor Lucio Scarpa, who was either a representative of their government or a sacrificial lamb, and to Father Basso, who said he was an aide to Cardinal Zampieri. Basso said his eminence had a chest cold. I left the letter from the cardinals with Father Basso. Both men seemed concerned about an expansive Umbrian League and I took it upon myself to assure them that Venice is too far away for the League to want to absorb it. The most interesting thing for us, I think, is that Scarpa asked if we had had contact to the south. Given that question, the appearance of Fano from the sea, and that Fano has a fortress… I think exploring that area might be profitable.”

“Colonel?” Marangon asked.

“After the carnage in Siena, I assured my subordinate commanders that we would not campaign again this year. Perhaps a field exercise with troops that were not heavily engaged at Siena. I will consider it.”

“I know I’m exceeding my position, sir,” Davide said, “but with the Grosseto area and Siena in our possession, if we can acquire Fano and secure the roads, we will have a country that stretches across the peninsula.”

De Angelis and Marangon both smiled.

❀ ❁ ❀

Badia, Umbria, 1 Jul 1999, late afternoon.

Two men wearing black cassocks with red piping talked privately in a small room.

“We have been fortunate,” said one. “These men stood between Holy Mother Church and barbarism. We owe them something.”

“Well, some of them,” said the slightly older man. “Those that did more than others.”

“The after-action reports tell the tale with brutal frankness,” said the second.

“But we are now truly a mendicant Church. We have virtually nothing to give except blessings. Badia barely produces enough food to support itself. Were it not for the generosity of the people, we would slowly starve.”

“My brother, you have omitted the kind of recognition these men honor. We can…” The older man explained in some detail.

“Excellent idea, Your Eminence. We must bring this to the attention of the rest of our brothers at our next meeting.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Headquarters, America Battalion, Umbertide, Umbria, 15 August 1999, Assumption of Mary, morning

Luke Hutton and everyone else in the conference room snapped to attention when the battalion commander entered.

“Seats,” Major Sam Douglas said as he took his own chair at the head of the conference table.

He listened attentively as each staff officer presented his material, ending with the surgeon.

“And subject to your questions, sir, that concludes my briefing,” John Coltrane said.

“Thanks, Doc,” Major Sam Douglas said. “Sergeant Major?”

“Nothing before you speak, sir,” answered the newly promoted Jeffrey Michaels.

“Okay, now that you’ve all had your turns, I have several items. The first you already know about. My announcement just makes it official.” Douglas picked up a sheet of paper. “‘Yesterday, Task Force Adriatic returned from Fano. Officials in that city accepted the proposal of the Umbrian League that Fano become the third chartered city of the League. One company of infantry was left in Fano to assist in training. In the spring of 2000, two forts will be built on the Fano Road to secure the road against bandits.’ That’ll be a logistics nightmare for you, Roger.”

Roger Avery nodded.

“Second item is that we probably can expect the Army to get back up to its pre-Siena strength much sooner than we anticipated. Since we have achieved a victory, people are coming out of the woodwork thinking that being in the Army might be better than what they’re doing now.”

“Cleaning up horse dung?” asked Terrance Hodges.

Douglas laughed. “In some cases. These are people who we didn’t know about. People who had gainful employment — in Perugia mostly. Sergeant Major, you have some numbers?”

“Yes, sir,” Michaels said. “We have applicants for enlistment. Thirty American men and ten women. Twenty-three British men and seven women. Six German men. And one Filipino man. The Filipino says there are others who are interested. There are also Brits walking into Siena. Some of them look a little malnourished and they’re all wearing not much more than rags. Their stories vary but they talk about having fled various towns in Tuscany to avoid Morelli. They also say there were a lot who didn’t get away.”

“We are going to keep this battalion English speaking for as long as possible, but it is ungracious of us not to be able to speak to our hosts in their language. Learn. There will be a quiz. The day I open the staff meeting in Italian is the day you had better be prepared to brief in Italian. Don’t worry. It’s not imminent.”

Douglas waited a very few seconds for the murmuring to die down. “Long term, non-specific stuff. In the spring, Colonel Brandenberg intends to send a company of the Swiss Guard north in search of intelligence and, hopefully, recruits. He is understandably concerned about how running out of young native Swiss men will affect the definition of his command.”

❀ ❁ ❀

The Farmhouse, Umbertide, Umbria, 29 August 1999, late morning

Luke and Luisa followed George up the stairs to the room the Carsons called home. George knocked on the door. Melissa called, “Come in,” and George opened the door to reveal his wife and their son.

“This,” George said, “is Georgio Lucio Carson and, of course, the lady who made it possible.”

“He’s almost a day old!” Melissa said as she smiled.

❀ ❁ ❀

Cavalry Post, Umbertide, Umbria, 1 September 1999, early afternoon

The Huttons and Carsons sat in the living room of the farmhouse after lunch.

Hard morning of training and more to come this afternoon, Luke thought. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Melissa, who was nursing Georgio, move him from one breast to the other without exposing herself. That seems so casual. Something else new about the world. Acceptance of obvious needs. No formula for babies. For mothers who have trouble, wet nurses are back in business. He looked at Luisa, who smiled and winked. She looks good pregnant. If all goes well, we need to do it again. Children aren’t a choice. They’re a necessity to keep civilization alive.

Hearing a knock at the door, he called, “Enter.”

The duty corporal stepped through the doorway. “Gig coming, Captain. Looks like Father Connolly.”

“Thank you, Corporal.”

“Sir.” the trooper left.

Melissa stood, Georgio still at her breast. “I better go into the office while I nurse. Father Connolly hasn’t adapted real well to some things. I do think it’s endearing the way he blushes.”

George smiled as she closed the office door behind her. “She’s a good mom, too. I got lucky.”

Father John Connolly announced himself and entered.

“Welcome to our home, Father,” Luke smiled. “Melissa would join us, but she’s caring for her son.”

“Wonderful. If there’s an opportunity before I leave, I’ll offer my blessing. I have a document for you from the cardinals.”

“Me?” Luke asked, accepting the item. He broke the seal on the very large envelope, looked at the document, and said, “Father, this is Latin. I can’t read it.”

“No but it was addressed to you and the seal was yours to break.” Connolly took the document and began to read. After reading each sentence, he translated.

When Connolly was finished, Luke said, “They’re doing what? They want me… Why me?

Father Connolly looked at him with a smile.

George Carson said, “Who better?”

Luisa Hutton smiled, her eyes brimming with proud tears.

❀ ❁ ❀


— Honor —

Badia, Umbria, Michaelmas (29 September) 1999, early morning

Captain Luke Hutton had spent most of the night in prayer on his knees in the abbey sanctuary. A succession of “duty monks,” as he came to call them, stayed with him. They had taken pity on his aching left leg and allowed him to rise periodically. He now stood in a small room in the abbey. The single most important fixture in the room was a marble bathtub filled with steaming water. The only other person in the room was a monk he had not seen before, who had identified himself as Brother Roberto. The monk held a stack of clothing.

“For after your bath, Captain Hutton. The undergarments and uniform are yours. Mrs. Hutton provided them. I took it upon myself to write a short note explaining how to tie the cincture after you don the alb. If you have any problem with the knot or anything else, please don’t hesitate to call. I am one of your escorts and will be waiting outside the door. The water in those tubs is notorious for cooling very rapidly. One of your, uh, troopers will collect your discarded clothing.” He nodded and left the room.

A Knight of the Grand Cross of the Pian Order. How do these things happen to me? All I wanted was to serve my country for one hitch; to pay my dues and then go home and raise horses with Dad. Dear God, help me, guide me.

Luke stripped and bathed. The water was cooling as he stepped out of the tub. He dried himself with a huge bath towel. They better not let the women find out where the good towels are. He donned his underclothes and uniform then the white alb. I wonder if they’re making this up as they go. He studied Brother Roberto’s note and tied the cincture around his waist, setting the knot at waist level halfway between his navel and right hip.

“Brother Roberto.”

The door opened. “Sir.”


A bell rang. “And it’s time. Brother Antonio is in the hall. We’ll proceed down the corridor to the sanctuary. I’ll lead you and Brother Antonio will follow. We’ll enter from the side of the sanctuary. There’s a chair and a prie-dieu for you in front of and to the right of the altar. We will leave you there. You’ll be escorted from the church by military officers.”

“Thank you.”

❀ ❁ ❀

The choir entered and sang the introit. Luke could hear the sound of a procession behind him. Mom taught me young not to swivel my head around at Mass. Luke did allow himself to move his eyes left and right as the cardinals reached the front of the sanctuary and turned toward near throne-like chairs and prie-dieus placed in front of the first row of pews. All of them? Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger ascended to the altar, the other cardinals sat, and Ratzinger began celebrating the Mass.

After delivering a short homily in English and Italian, Ratzinger paused the Mass. He said, “We are here today, in part, to pay honor to a soldier who has fought, been wounded and nearly died in service to God’s Holy Church. In doing this, we pay honor to all of them.”

Ratzinger began the Accolade. Cardinal Stankowski read a document appointing Luke Hutton, Captain of Cavalry, Army of the Umbrian league as a Knight of the Grand Cross of the Pian Order. Very flowery, Luke thought and tried to keep from smiling. And thereby looking stupid, he added to himself.

Lieutenant George Carson buckled a finely tooled leather belt around Luke’s waist with an empty scabbard hanging at Luke’s left hip.  Luke walked and knelt on the top step of the dias.

Chaplain Michael Connolly escorted a very pregnant Luisa Bruzio Hutton, who carried a longsword on her extended palms. Luisa extended the sword to Cardinal Ratzinger, who grasped it and kissed the cruciform hilt. Ratzinger lowered the sword’s blade to Luke’s right shoulder then his left. Luke rose and Ratzinger placed the sword on Luke’s extended hands, with the hilt at Luke’s right. Luke kissed the hilt and slipped the weapon into its scabbard.

Colonel De Angelis brought a dark blue silk sash bordered with red and placed it over Luke’s left shoulder, positioning it so it hung to his right hip. The star of the Pian Order hung from a rosette on the sash.

Major Samuel Douglas and Captain Charles Erickson knelt and each fastened a golden spur to one of Luke’s boots.

Lieutenant Colonel (retired) Edward Clarke limped forward with a pillow upon which rested a badge. Ratzinger pinned the badge to the breast of Luke’s alb. He then blessed Luke with holy water. He extended his hand. “Congratulations, my son.” He winked, leaned closer and whispered. “When we are done, someone will escort you to an anteroom, where you can get out of the alb.”

“Thank you, Your Eminence — for everything,” Luke smiled at him in return.

❀ ❁ ❀

The Farmhouse, Umbertide, Umbria, 12 November 1999, near midnight

Luke Hutton sat next to his and Luisa’s bed. Luisa was propped up with pillows on the bed, well into her labor, gripping Luke’s hands firmly as she writhed with the contraction.

“You’re going to crush my hand,” he said.

“Oh. Sorry.”

“It’s okay. ’Member, that’s my sword hand.” She looked up at the ceiling and grunted as she pushed and Nancy counted.

Luke looked anxiously over at Nancy Avery. She smiled at him and said, “Relax, Luke. There an old line from before the Change: I’ve never lost a father yet.”

Luisa groaned and gripped him harder and Luke squeezed her hand.

Nancy pressed her thighs further apart.  “Make like a frog, Luisa, remember?”  She looked and said, “The baby’s crowning, I can see the hair.”

“Is that good?”

“Yes, Luke, that’s good. You should have a living, breathing baby in well less than an hour. You were paying attention when I told you about all this four hours ago, right?”

“I thought I was.” Luisa groaned again, a suddenly sharply rising sound at the end. “She has to go through this for an hour?”

“Or less.”

“I hope it’s less.”

“We women are tougher than you guys think.”


Twenty-five minutes later, Luisa groaned and pushed, her whole body vibrating with the need to give birth.  And pushed, and pushed again and Nancy moved busily, “Wait! now, wait!  You don’t want to tear.  Don’t push, just let your body do it’s thing.”

Luisa panted, and panted.  “I have to push!”

“Yes, push, slowly, gently, turn, baby, turn… There!, there!  Now rest.  The next push will be the last one as the shoulders come out!”

Luisa panted and Luke could hear the old clock ticking.  She suddenly breathed and let out a grunt of effort and Nancy laughed.  “Gotcha!”

Luke turned to see the baby, dark wet limbs and large head dangling from Nancy’s hand.  The limbs moved, hands waved and feet kicked and suddenly the baby let out a low wail, coughed and cried harder.  Nancy smiled, a smile like the sun had come out at one am. “Luisa, Luke, meet your baby!

She tucked the butt up and curled it on a clean cloth on Luisa’s breast.  The cord, thick and white, led back to Luisa’s nether parts.  Nancy busily wiped the baby’s nose, put a stethoscope to the back and chest, and reached for the limbs, looked at the eyes, leaving him… HIM! it was a boy! on Luisa’s breast.  And Luisa was doing her own inventory, giggling and chortling and cooing at her baby.

Luke stared in wonder.  I — we — have a son! “Guglielmo Edoardo Hutton,” he said reverently.

Nancy deftly tied off the umbilical and tested it before shaking her head. Luisa played with her son’s fingers and toes as tears flowed down her cheeks. She laughed with sheer joy.

Luke ran his hand down Guglielmo’s back and took the child’s little hand in his big one. I’m so afraid I’ll break him.

The clock ticked and Luke and Luisa loved their son.  Luke watched in amazement as the baby wiggled, purposefully! That little dark mouth nuzzled Luisa’s breast and the head moved, and he found the dark nipple.  And suckled.

“That’s a very good sign.  He should be a strong nurser!” said Nancy with satisfaction.  “Luke?”

“Yes, Nancy?”

“Would you cut the cord?  The placenta is detaching and the cord is dry enough.  It will feel like cutting a thick rope.”

He hesitated. “Yes.” When it was done, he told Luisa, “He’s beautiful. You’re a miracle worker.”

We are miracle workers.” said Luisa.

Luke smiled. “Mine was the fun part. You did all the work.”

“I had fun, too. We’ll have more fun.”

“Time for Luisa to rest.” said Nancy.  “I’ll be watching her for hours yet.  You go sack out, now. Your couch awaits.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Headquarters, America Battalion, Umbertide, Umbria, 14 March 2000, morning

“Gentlemen, the battalion commander.” Everyone in the room stood at attention.

Major Sam Douglas entered, took his place at the head of the conference table. “Seats, please.”

Douglas looked at the adjutant and nodded. The briefings began. When the last briefer had finished, Douglas said, “Thank you, gentlemen. I have information and orders. Amerigo Vespucci will sail on 1 April on a survey mission. She has an impressive task list. The cardinals, I think, are edging closer to calling a conclave. They want to know who’s out there. The list of cities will be attached to the briefing summary.

“A company of Swiss Guards is going on that recruitment mission I first spoke about last year. They’ll leave on 15 May, following the route we came south on until they get to Bologna, then cut northwest toward the alps. Should take most of the summer. There may be a cardinal in, uh, Sion, so they’re taking that carriage that Sir Luke probably remembers so well.”

“Oh, that carriage,” Luke replied, shaking his head. The first time he called me “Sir Luke,” I thought he was pulling my chain about being knighted, but he’s serious.

“I hope the following will come as a shock to all of you. Colonel De Angelis is dead.” Douglas waited for the reactions to subside. “His housekeeper found him. He had apparently wedged his sword into a piece of furniture and run onto it. I talked with Colonel Parodi of the Livornans and he thinks that De Angelis started, in his words, ‘a slow descent into Hell.’ A personal Hell. Sometime around Christmas last, Colonel De Angelis visited the cemetery at Siena. When he returned, he would often take on a ‘haunted look’ — Colonel Parodi’s words — when he thought no one was watching him. Word will get out. Officially, he committed suicide but we don’t know why. That’s what you may tell your people. He left no note, by the way. My charge to you is to remember what Colonel Antonio de Angelis did for all of us. He could have offered us individual opportunities to enlist — not be commissioned — in an Italian-speaking army. He could have offered us nothing at all and let us walk into Livorno in search of Camp Darby. Instead, he offered us what we have today. We owe him.”

Douglas waited for a few moments.

“That’s it, gentlemen.” Douglas left the room.

❀ ❁ ❀

Badia, Umbria, Michaelmas (29 September) 2000, morning

Captain Sir Luke Hutton escorted Consuelo Martinez Hamilton, who was carrying the knight’s longsword to be presented to her husband William Hamilton as a part of his investiture as a Knight Commander of the Pian Order. They stopped when Connie was within half a meter of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger.

Connie held the sword out to Ratzinger, who took it, kissed its hilt, tapped each of Hamilton’s shoulders and handed the weapon to the new knight. Luke escorted Connie back to her place in the pews.

He then escorted the lady sponsors of Ernesto Perrella, Jeffrey Michaels, Edward Clarke, Giuseppe Parodi, George Carson, David Nakamura, Bill McMasters, and Marco Bernardi.

Some of the selections surprised me, he pondered as he stepped through the ceremony. I’m surprised that they selected four former NCOs. Commissioned them ’cause all knights need to be officers — I guess. They were going to include De Angelis, but… I’m happy that they picked George. That makes two of us from the cavalry out of a total of ten.

When it was all over, Ratzinger held up his hands and pronounced a solemn blessing. “May God, who inspires and brings to completion every holy design, guard you always with His grace, that you may faithfully discharge the duties of your calling.”

The assembled people responded, “Amen.”

The deacon said, “The Mass is ended. Go in peace.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Headquarters, America Battalion, Umbertide, Umbria, 30 November 2000, morning

Amerigo Vespucci has returned from her survey. Slightly over eight months to sail around the world. The news is not good. Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Havana and Santo Domingo are burned out ash piles similar to Genoa and Marseilles, only, in the case of the cities in the States, bigger. Same was true of Ernakulam, India. Colombo, Sri Lanka was getting by. Admiral Marangon laid over for a week for maintenance. He also took aboard a passenger, Nicholas Cardinal Gomis, the Archbishop of Colombo, who desired to confer with his brothers in Badia.

“Enroute to Sydney, signs of life were observed on Tasmania so the admiral made his way to Hobart where he learned that Sydney and virtually every other coastal city in Australia were destroyed. There are small communities on the continent, including Darwin and some others on the coast. Same thing with Cebu and Manila in the Philippines and Tokyo. The admiral decided to stop at the Hawaiian Islands for water and, if possible, provisions. There’s a thriving nation on the Big Island. Another layover in Hilo, where they gave him food for some yew to be provided later. Trusting people, for now. And obviously interested in trade. There Marangon learned that Los Angeles is also a wreck. From Hilo, he made two more stops off Lima and Rio de Janeiro. From there he came home.

Here goes, Luke thought. “So, we have eleven cardinals in Badia, including Cardinal Gomis, and five cardinal archbishops, including the one up in Switzerland. When are they going to have a conclave?”

“And you actually think I know the answer to that one?” Douglas responded, smiling.

Luke shrugged. “But, seriously, sir, do they think they’re going to find any more cardinals anywhere?” Luke asked.

“I think they know the facts. It’s hard for them and none of them are young. There are — were — four cardinal archbishops in Germany alone and Cardinal Ratzinger has had to come to terms with their loss, both professionally and personally.”

❀ ❁ ❀

Headquarters, America Battalion, Umbertide, Umbria, 14 Mar 2004

“Do you two gentlemen have time for an intel update?” Sergeant Major Jeffrey Michaels asked, sticking his head through the doorway of the conference room where Luke Hutton was eating lunch with Sam Douglas.

Jeff’s little intel items are always valuable, Luke thought but waited to nod his head until Douglas had nodded his.

Michaels sat in his usual chair at the table and began. “We’ve all been briefed about the visit by the British. The Sergeant Major Almendinger of the Guard had some details that weren’t in the official report. I don’t have their report handy, so some of what I have will probably overlap.

“About two weeks ago, the British tied up at Piombino. They disembarked about a hundred men with wagons and horses. They headed inland. Well uniformed, good march order, good scouting, good bivouac discipline. They marched south toward Grosseto, but took the turn toward Siena.”

“Which had also been warned,” Luke remembered.

“Right. Good watch commander.”

“Anyway, Captain Antonelli — you know that militia captain who had our backs at Siena — moved his troops down toward Fort Siena. Captain Dal Lago had the watch there.”

“Sometimes you live right,” Douglas said.

Michaels nodded. “Everyone exchanged courtesies and Dal Lago told the Brit colonel — named Loring by the way — that he would be met in Magione by officials of the League and Church. Little did Dal Lago know what was going on at this end. Ratzinger said he was going to represent the Church. Colonel Brandenberg almost crapped his pants and fell out the entire Guard. They beat the Brits to Magione easily. This Colonel Loring goes through all the right forms and explains that his mission is to protect art works. Well, Loring’s kinda short and you know how tall Ratzinger is. His Eminence tells the colonel that the Umbrian League is quite capable of protecting all the Italian works of art on the peninsula even though he appreciates his Britannic Majesty’s interest in our welfare. One of the Guard then hauls a table off a wagon and Ratzinger offers Loring a cup of tea. He says, ‘It’s from Sri Lanka, you know.’ Loring didn’t quite know what to make of that. My opinion, of course.

“Loring asks about any British subjects in the area and Ratzinger explains in a kind of off-the-cuff way that we’d had to put down a rebellion in Tuscany and how sad it had been that so many foreigners had died in the first months because they had no family connections. The part I like is that, as far as we know, Loring never found out about the America Battalion with its many British personnel or all those Brits who decided to stay in Florence.”

“And Loring’s Brits left?” Luke asked.

“Headed back up the road toward Siena. Marched back to their ship and left. Now, what they did other places…” Michaels shrugged.

Douglas asked, “Thoughts?”

“Too easy?” Luke offered and, following his commander’s nod, continued. “I suspect that Colonel Loring had orders not to be pushy if he encountered real civilization. I also think that the version we’re hearing has been simplified in parts and embellished in parts. I’m not saying that the Guard sergeant major lied, just that he wanted to make Ratzinger look as good as possible. They’re all sworn to the Holy See and the good cardinal’s about as close as you get right now.”

“I think that this mission had as much to do with intel collection as it did with saving works of art,” Michaels said. “I don’t doubt that the Brits have been ashore in other areas. I also think it’s curious that our League prime minister wasn’t invited to the party.”

“He does tend to fade into the woodwork when there’s a cardinal around, especially Ratzinger,” Douglas mused.

Luke nodded. “If Ratzinger was in the Army — any army — I’d say he had ‘command presence.’”

❀ ❁ ❀

Umbertide, Umbria, Thursday, 5 Mar 2005

Luke and Chaplain Michael Connolly looked around intersection of two streets where they stood with a crowd.

“Easily a hundred people standing around who really have work to do,” Luke offered.

A murmur ran through the crowd at people began pointing at Badia on the hill above Umbertide. Within seconds, the murmur turned to groans as black smoke poured out of the abbey chimney.

“Well,” Luke said, “I would have expected an election on the first ballot.”

“Politics, Luke. First they have to pay their respects to those closest to them. A votes for B; B votes for C; C votes for A.”

Sounds stupid, Luke thought and added aloud, “What does that have to do with voting for the ‘man most able to lead God’s Church,’ or whatever it is they say?”

“Nothing, but it’s part of the dance. Your candidate will be elected.”

“I don’t have a candidate, Padre. I’m just a simple soldier.”

Connolly snorted. The two men saluted each other simultaneously and parted.

❀ ❁ ❀

The next day, Friday, 6 March 2005, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was elected Bishop of Rome and Vicar of Christ on Earth. He took the name Benedict XVI.

“Bishop of Rome”, Luke Hutton thought. I don’t even want to think about that operation.

❀ ❁ ❀

The Hutton Quarters, Umbertide, Umbria, March 14, 2009

“Say that again?” George Carson begged.

“Okay,” Luke Hutton responded. “His Holiness decided that the inability to properly define ‘Catholic Swiss male’ meant that the ‘Papal Guard’ — his term — would accept guardsmen, including officers, who are not of Swiss origin. Colonel Brandenberg responded that the Pope had effectively disbanded the Guard and that he and any of the Guard who wanted to accompany him would be returning to Switzerland.”

“How many are leaving?” Melissa Carson asked.

“Colonel Brandenberg plus about thirty others, including a company commander and a first sergeant, all German-speaking. My guess is that Brandenberg expected a greater response or a change in Benedict’s position but now he’s committed and is too proud to take back his words.”

“And then?” George asked. “There’s always gotta be an ‘And then.’”

“Yeah. ‘And then,’ I bumped into Cardinal Stankowski about an hour later. That little meeting was, in my opinion, about as coincidental as the Sun coming up this morning. His Eminence told me that the Holy Father was considering making the Pian Order responsible for the Papal Guard.” Luke shook his head. “I am not ready for this.”

“Luisa, you’re very quiet,” Melissa said.

Luisa wrapped her arm around her husband’s and looked at him. “You are ‘his most excellent knight,’” she said with a smile.

“Luisa, my love, please do not lay that burden on me.”

“I didn’t. His Holiness did.”

“He just got carried away at his inauguration.”

“I do not think Benedict XVI gets carried away. I was there, remember? He spoke from prepared notes from which I am certain he did not stray,” Luisa answered.

“So what does that mean for your future? And maybe mine? And the other knights?” George asked.

“It’s an absolute muddle. Colonel Brandenberg and General Parodi coordinate on everything. But Parodi’s a knight. In the Order he’s subordinate to me. Does he come to the new Guard? If so, who takes over the Army? I need another cup — or jug — of wine.”

❀ ❁ ❀

The Hutton Quarters, Umbertide, Umbria, March 31, 2009

Luke Hutton walked into his home with his mind in a whirl. I have to sit down and think about this. I have to figure out what’s happening. I have to… “Luisa! Where are you?”

“Luke, I’m right here. You walked past me when you entered our home. You acted like you didn’t even see me.”

“I didn’t see you. I…”

“Sit down. Take off your boots. Close your eyes. I’ll make some tea.”

Luke did his best to get his emotions under control as he listened to Luisa preparing tea. Taking care of me, as always.

Luisa returned with a tray. She smiled as she handed him a steaming mug. “Now, my love, tell me.”

Luke took a deep breath and held it for a moment. “My parents are alive — in Oregon. My sister is there, too.”

“Luke, that’s wonderful!”

“It is. But there’s more. Cardinal Stankowski…”

❀ ❁ ❀

The next day, while eating a light lunch, Luke looked at his scribbled notes, two previous attempts at writing to his parents, and the list of events that was the result. I’ll just include the list. That makes more sense. He began to write:

Dear Mom, Dad and Luann,

I’ll admit it up front. I cried when Cardinal Stankowski told me you were alive in Oregon.

A lot has happened to me — and I guess you — since that morning in ninety-eight. Well, I guess it was still the previous evening to you. Anyway, I was on duty and awake when the Change hit. A lot of people thought they had dreamed about the pain, but I knew it had really happened.

The owner of that riding school I had been going to let us have his horses if he and his daughter could come with us. On the way back to Ederle there was a mob. I killed a man. The sergeant major was kind enough about the way I felt but looking back on it, he was basically telling me to get over it and that there was more to come. He was right.

Two things happened. 1) I got promoted to captain. 2) When I was wounded, the lady that was providing horses for the Army took real good care of me and we got real close. Her name was Luisa Maria Bruzio and, to make a long story short, she became Maria Bruzio Hutton in January of 1999. In addition to what Luann has done (go, Sis), you have two grandchildren, Guglielmo Edoardo Hutton was born on 12 November 1999 and Angelica Caterina Hutton was born on 11 January 2002. "Guglielmo" is Italian for "William" in case you didn’t know. "Edoardo" is for Lieutenant Colonel Edward Clarke, a man I respect almost as much as I do Will Hutton. "Angelica" should be obvious. "Catherine" was Luisa’s mother’s name.

Anyway, it’s weird. I’m a Knight of the Grand Cross of the Pian Order and officers who outrank me in the Army are junior to me in the order. Several NCOs were honored. They were commissioned first. The only knight in the order who "outranks" me is King William V of Britain. Pope Benedict conferred the Knight with the Collar on William after he defeated the Moors. His Majesty writes me a nice letter for my birthday. I return the favor. (Actually, it’s Luisa who keeps me straight.) We have about fifty knights in the order. Eventually, His Holiness (Can you believe I actually talk to the Pope?) wants 100 knights in the Order, maybe in several chapters. This all makes my head hurt.

Now comes the hardest part. Cardinal Stankowski (from Nebraska) told me that, since the Holy Father has learned that you are alive and well, he will release me from my obligations and allow me to return "home." My problem, Mom and Dad, is that Oregon isn’t home. Texas was home and now Umbria is. When I die (years from now I hope), my bones will rest in an Umbrian national cemetery. Please don’t be angry for my decision. I will always love you and miss you.

Love to all, including Luann’s husband (Eric?), my nieces and nephews, however many, and anyone else I should have included.

Your loving son and brother,


“That’ll do for now. I gotta go. Mounted swordsmanship this afternoon.” After kissing his wife and children, Luke charged out the door of the family quarters.

❀ ❁ ❀

Luisa picked up the letter and read it. When she got to the end, she put down the letter and shook her head. Oh, Luke, you are God’s humble warrior.

She wiped her eyes, sat, pulled a sheet of paper from the desk drawer and began her own letter.

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Hutton and Luann,

Let me start by telling you how much I love your son and brother, and what a wonderful husband and father he is. I can not imagine what my life would be like without him.

I must correct a few things he told you:

Firstly, when Luke was “slightly wounded,” he saved the life of Cardinal Leonardi of Sicily by placing himself and his mount between the cardinal and the attackers. His horse was killed under him, his leg was badly broken, and, to quote the cavalry troop medic, he tried to dig a furrow in an asphalt road with his head. He was unconscious for 26 days. It was four days after he awoke that we first professed our love.

Secondly, when my dearest killed Morelli, he had first led his troop in a cavalry charge and was nearly spent. He dismounted to fight Morelli, who drew the first blood. The point of Morelli’s sword went into the muscle of Luke’s upper arm. An inch to one side and it would have gone into his artery. Luke Hutton stood his ground that day and killed the most reviled man on the Italian peninsula.

Finally, as you probably know, the Holy Father has long been protected by the Swiss Guard. Switzerland has ceased to exist and the definition of a Catholic Swiss male has become uncertain. Luke will probably be appointed in the near future as the Commandant of the new Papal Guard.

I wish you could meet your Umbrian grandchildren. One of the soldiers in the America Battalion is a sketch artist. We are enclosing the picture he drew for us last night. I know what you three once looked like. Luke still carries the family photo from Christmas of 1997 in his wallet. It is faded now but he often looks at it in private moments.

When Luke returns for supper, I will show him this letter and he will bluster that I have “over-inflated the facts.” I know better and I suspect you do as well.

My parents had flown (that now seems such a strange word) to Austria the Sunday before the Change and I never saw them again. I trust you will not be offended if I close,

Your loving daughter and sister,


❀ ❁ ❀


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Umbertide, Sunday, April 9, 2017 (Palm Sunday), Afternoon

Luke Hutton, Knight of the Grand Cross of the Pian Order and Comandante of the Papal Guard reined in his mount at the entrance to the Umbertide National Cemetery.

In the center of the road stood a monument with the map of the Umbrian League carved into its marble face. The territory claimed carefully excluded the area around Venice, whose people continued to maintain that their city was allied with the League, not a member of it. The capital of Perugia was marked with a star. The chartered cities of Umbertide, Siena, Fano, Grosseto, Mercato Saraceno, Florence, Ancona, Pistoia, Pisa and Livorno were marked with circles. The people who maintained the map — and others like it — made no attempt to represent the small homesteads started by and beholden to the cities. The most distinctive detail on the map was the city of Rome, which was still a burned-out shell. The Pope wants it shown, Luke thought.

There were no exclusions to the south. Umbria had extended its claim all the way to the toe of the boot. Only Sicily was omitted.

“The claim is as valid as our ability to control the area, of course,” Assistant Comandante George Carson said from slightly behind him.

“They had to lay claim at least as far south as Rome. How else could the Pope be the Bishop of Rome?”

“Still, they kind of overdid what fifty thousand people can call home. Well, we’re edging closer to a hundred thousand now.”

Luke said. “I’m told a tale of a young nation that once purchased a huge area west of a major river and called it the “Louisiana Territory.”

“Oh, that nation,” George replied and the men smiled at each other.

“A long-range patrol found evidence of campsites down in the toe of the boot that showed the kind of discipline Eaters have never exercised,” Luke said. “Had to be Sicilians.”

“Queen Serafina, or her nobles, pushing north a little.”

“‘Maintaining a presence.’ Her Majesty pretends she wants to re-establish the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies but she has a bigger interest in northern Africa than she has in southern Italy. I wish she’d take more of an interest in Africa. There’s something going on in ‘South Sicily’ that none of us really understands. But time for that tomorrow, George. We came to pay our respects. I also want to talk to you and the rest of the chapter council about who should be knighted to replace our departed brother.”

“Yes, I’ll summon the council in your name tomorrow.”

Luke looked over his shoulder and smiled.

Luisa Hutton and Melissa Carson, who had stayed back to give their husbands time to speak about military matters, walked forward to join the men. Four Carson and four Hutton youngsters followed their mothers. Luisa had to caution the seven year-old twins to be quiet. They were a surprise after years of barrenness. Guglielmo Hutton was walking close to Benedetta Carson Hutton, who had always been the love of his young life. Guglielmo was in the uniform of a lieutenant of the Umbrian Army. He wants to be in the Guard, but he’s going to have to convince Dave Nakamura that he’s good enough and I’m not going to help him. Guglielmo’s boyhood friend Georgio Carson was also a lieutenant and was absent on patrol north of Umbertide. Luke studied his son and the girl who would be his daughter-in-law. They’re children! Okay, they’re not children. Benedetta smiled contentedly at Luke and held Guglielmo’s hand.

The party walked to the area with the most recent graves. The trees lining the road were in bud with an occasional new leaf standing out. The grass was beginning to show a tinge of green. The first migratory birds had returned. In spite of the date, it’s not quite spring.

Dorothy Clarke was kneeling in the grass near the still new grave of Ed Clarke. Her teenage daughters were with her. Dorothy rose with her daughters’ help and the mourners greeted each other with kisses on cheeks. The newcomers knelt at the grave and Luke read the inscription on the headstone to himself:

Sir Edward Clarke

Lieutenant Colonel




Between the rank and the accolades was the badge of the Pian Order. Rest in peace, sir. Luke crossed himself and stood with a groan.

“Do you need help, Papà?” Guglielmo asked quietly.

“I’m okay, son, but thank you.” Luke turned to the new widow. “How are you and the girls doing, Dorothy?”

“We’re doing fine in all things except having him near. He was such a… well, a presence. There’s a huge hole in all our lives.”

The two girls nodded. The entire family was still in black.

Luke and Luisa both placed their hands on Dorothy’s forearms. “We know what you mean,” Louisa smiled. “We all sensed it.”

Guglielmo said quietly, “Papà, rider coming. Fast. Looks like a guardsman.”

The younger Hutton was right. The mounted guardsman rode through the gate and reined in his horse several feet short of Luke and his party. He dismounted and came to attention. His eyes were moist. “Sir Luke, Sir George, ladies, I…” He choked.

“Take a deep breath, corporal,” Luke said.

“Yes, sir. It… it pains me… to tell you that His Holiness collapsed while celebrating Mass. He has been carried to his bed and physicians have been called.”

Luke closed his eyes briefly then looked at the messenger. “Acknowledged. Tell the Holy Father’s secretary I’ll will be there as soon as possible.”

“Yes, sir.” The guardsman saluted, remounted and rode off at a canter.

“Lieutenant Hutton.”

Guglielmo turned and came to attention. “Sir?”

“Half armor, helm, longsword. Meet me at the abbey. Hustle.” The last word was in English, a loan word from the old days.

“Sir.” The young man saluted, rushed out of the cementary to where he had left his horse hitched, sprang into his saddle and rode away at a gallop.

“Don’t kill the beast,” George muttered.

I wasn’t that good when I was his age. Luann was. Maybe better. We’re due a letter soon. Luke took Luisa into his arms and kissed her tenderly. He looked at her careworn face and kissed her again. “I love you.”

She stroked his graying hair. “I love you, too.”

Luke looked at George Carson. “My respects to General Parodi. Ask him place the entire Army on standby.”

“Yes, sir. Wilco.” Another loan word, Luke thought, and radio procedure at that!

Luke reached out and grasped Luisa’s hand. “I’ll send a messenger if I can.”

Luisa held his hand and placed her other hand on top of his. “You take care of that leg.”

“Is it that obvious?”

“Only to me and our children.” She flicked her eyes toward the Carsons. “And to others who love you.”

Luke nodded. “I’ll probably be late.”

She squeezed his big hand. “I know.” She smiled.

Luke walked through the gate and unhitched his horse. It was going to be a long night.

❀ ❁ ❀

❀ ❁ ❀ The End ❀ ❁ ❀

❀ ❁ ❀ Ende ❀ ❁ ❀

❀ ❁ ❀ Finis ❀ ❁ ❀