Maryza grunted as she pulled her chin up over the metal bar hanging from the rafters in her office for the hundredth time. She lowered herself slowly, then dropped to the floor for her final set of one hundred push-ups. It was a routine she followed twice daily, once in the morning and once in the evening. Commanding a world-spanning peacekeeping force involved a great deal of sitting behind a desk issuing orders and signing papers, which, combined with her age - she was solidly into her middle years - threatened to turn her hard soldier’s physique very soft indeed. To combat this, she had been keeping to the recruits’ training regimen as much as her schedule allowed.
She pushed herself up off the floor into a standing position just in time to hear a knock at her door.
“Come in,” she called, grabbing a towel and rubbing herself down.
Her squire entered, carrying what looked to be a ream of paper.
Maryza moaned and rolled her eyes. “Oh, Lyra, you cannot be serious. I only just cleared my desk this afternoon!”
Lyra smiled. This was a very common lament. “My apologies, Lady Commander,” she said with a slight bow. “I see you have finished your evening exercises. Perhaps the work might go more quickly if I assist you while you relax in the bath?”
Maryza grinned. “I knew I chose my squire well,” she said. “Yes. A bath will be just the thing.”
Later, as Maryza lay in a large stone tub built into the floor of her bathing chamber, Lyra sat on a bench along the wall, a portable desk on her lap. Electric lights cast a warm glow over the room.
“All right, Lyra,” Maryza said. “What do you have for me today?”
Her squire lifted the first sheet from the pile. She had organized the papers by urgency while Maryza had washed, so as to spare the Lady Commander any trivia. “Captain Helios of the Fifth requests permission to take action within the borders of the Despotate of Trigus.”
“On what grounds?”
“The current Despot, who seized power in the latest military coup, has rounded up all members of his political opposition and sentenced them to hard labor camps,” Lyra said. “He has promised reforms that will benefit the people, but, as with most of his predecessors, he distributes wealth among his own elite while the people starve. Any who protest are executed, publicly.”
Maryza sighed. “And has the Despot crossed his borders? Is he persecuting his neighbors in a similar way?”
“No, Lady Commander.”
“Has he attacked, imprisoned, or otherwise molested any member of the Legion?”
“No, Lady Commander,” Lyra said. “In fact, he has been very generous in his tithes since seizing power.”
“I’m certain,” Maryza muttered, scowling. “Well then,” she said. “I’m afraid, no matter how much I may sympathize with his situation, we must deny Captain Helios his request.”
“Of course, Lady Commander.”
“The Owlsmoor Republic has refused the traditional tithe, and is demanding a toll from any Legions seeking to cross their lands.”
Maryza nodded, her eyes closed. “Yes, I’d expected this. Their Consul campaigned hard for reelection on ‘curbing the excesses of the Legion’.” She shrugged. “Tithes have always been optional,” she said, “and Owlsmoor, while somewhat central, isn’t terribly large. We can bypass their territory.”
“Ah, yes, but...”
Maryza opened one eye, which she turned toward her squire. “But? Why am I hearing the word ‘but’?”
Lyra grinned mirthlessly. “It would appear a Commander Fellas, second to the Ninth Legion, has been agitating for an armed response. She’s gotten the rest of them all worked up over this ‘insult to the honor and dignity of the Legion’--”
“Oh, for gods’ sake.”
“--and it is all Captain Icenus can do to keep them in line.”
Maryza sighed again, pinching the bridge of her nose. “What has gotten into my commanders? Perhaps I should lock Fellas and Helios in a room and let them beat each other senseless.”
Lyra chuckled, pen poised over paper. “Shall I give the order, Lady Commander?”
Maryza splashed her, a mock-scowl on her face. “No,” she said, “you shan’t. However, summon Commander Fellas back here, please. A month or two of administrative duty should cool her temper a bit.”
“As you command, Lady.”
Maryza settled back into her bath, relaxing and closing her eyes again. “What else?”
Lyra flipped through the bulk of the papers. “A number of orders and requisitions for you to sign, some communiques you need to initial before I file them...” She set those papers aside, and took up another bundle. “Only two more pertinent issues remain, the first being the self-styled Emperor Indovus and his so-called Imperium Novu.”
“Yes,” Maryza said. “Him. As I recall, we sent an envoy to warn him against any further expansion of his ‘empire’.”
Lyra nodded. “It would appear he sent the envoy back to us...” her eyes widened as she read further. “In pieces, Lady Commander.”
Maryza sat up abruptly, water splashing over the sides of the tub. “In pieces?”
“Yes, Lady Commander.”
“This Indovus not only attacked a Legionary envoy under banner of parley, but had the audacity to send me pieces of his mutilated corpse?” She rose, stepped out of the bath, and threw a thick robe around herself. “Is that jumped-up little warlord challenging me?”
“It would appear so, Lady Commander.”
Maryza stormed toward the door that led to her office. “He will soon see the folly of his...” she stopped, closed her eyes, then took a series of deep breaths. “No,” she said to herself. Turning back toward Lyra, who was busily gathering up her desk and papers, she said, “Dispatch the Fifth to deal with this,” she said. “If Captain Helios is spoiling for a fight, this should satisfy.”
“How should they deal with Indovus?”
“I want him arrested and brought to me, alive, for trial,” Maryza said.
“And his ‘empire’?”
“Have Helios set up a provisional government. I will consult with the neighboring territories regarding long-term plans.”
“Very good, Lady Commander,” Lyra made a note on the paper.
After a moment, Maryza said, “And?”
“You said there were two more pertinent issues. What’s the second?”
“Ah, right,” Lyra nodded. “Sorry. Yes, there is the matter of the Coronation in Pash. You’ve been invited by the Kings.”
“Honestly, I don’t think now is the--”
“If I may...” Lyra offered.
“The Coronation marks the first official contact between the southern Kingdoms and our lands since they broke away from the old Imperium,” Lyra said. “It presents an opportunity to build alliances, and perhaps expand the jurisdiction and mandate of the Legion.”
Maryza nodded. “I’d considered that.”
“In addition,” Lyra went on, “if this situation with Indovus escalates, we will need the other lands in our current jurisdiction on our side. The Coronation promises to be well-attended. It is unlikely you will find another such gathering of world leaders.” She grinned. “Who knows, perhaps the Owlsmoor Consul will be there. It could be a chance to smooth over some ruffled feathers.”
“You did break her nose.”
“Then perhaps she shouldn’t have had her hand on my ass at every opportunity,” Maryza growled. “That last time, she gripped it so hard, I thought she’d left a bruise. As it was, you could read her fingerprints off my ass for the better part of a day.”
“To be fair, Lady Commander, she was rather drunk. It was her election celebration, after all.”
“It was a state dinner, not a fertility orgy! To be fair,” she tossed Lyra’s words back at her, “I thought I showed considerable restraint.”
“Again, you broke her nose.”
“Yes, but I wanted to break her arm.”
“Of course,” Lyra tried unsuccessfully to hide a smile. “Well, thank goodness you restrained yourself. At any rate, the Coronation might give the Consul a chance to apologize for her behavior, you to apologize for the... punching, which, in turn, could lead to improved relations with Owlsmoor.”
Maryza smiled. “Indeed,” she said. “I suppose it could. Well, that settles it then. Pack our bags.”
Lyra blinked, taken aback. “‘Our’ bags?”
“Of course,” Maryza said, opening the door to her private chambers. “If I am to attend such an auspicious gathering of world leaders, I would hate to be without such an insightful advisor.” She glanced back over her shoulder before entering. “Besides, who else is going to keep me from punching all the important dignitaries?”