concluded. Acid churned in his stomach. "In the meantime, it's an early day tomorrow. Gerrin, you'll take half the 5th Descott and the 2nd Cruisers—"
* * *
"You think too much, my darling," Suzette whispered in the dark.
"Well, Starless Dark take it, somebody has to," he mumbled, with an arm thrown over his eyes. The bedroom was dark anyway, and the arm could not block out the visions Center sent; nor the images his own mind manufactured.
They've got artesian water and supplies for a year in there, he thought. How—
"I can't tell you how to take the fort," Suzette said. "But you'll think of a way, my heart. Right now you need your sleep, and you can't sleep until you stop thinking for a while," Suzette's voice said, her voice warm and husky in the darkness, her fingers cool and unbearably delicate, like lascivious butterflies. "That I can do."
And for a while, thought ceased.
"Surely 'tis brave to be a king, And ride in triumph through Persepolis," Bartin Foley quoted to himself.
"Ser?" his Master Sergeant said.
"Nothing," the young officer replied; it was unlikely that the NCO would be interested in classical Old Namerique drama.
He bowed left and right and waved to the cheering citizens of Perino. Sprays of orange-blossom and roses flew through the air, making the dogs of the 5th Descott troopers behind him bridle and curvette; two hundred men and a pair of field-guns followed at his heels, less those fanning out to secure the gates and the warehouses. Perino was a pleasant little town of flat-roofed pastel-colored houses sloping down to a small but snug harbor behind a breakwater, and backed by lush vineyards and sulphur-mines in the hills. The walls were old-fashioned, high narrow stone curtains, but the inhabitants hadn't shown any particular desire to hold them against the Civil Government anyway—even the few resident Brigaderos had mostly been incoherent with joy when they realized the terms allowed them to retain their lives, personal liberty, and some of their property.
The town councilors had been waiting at the open gates, barefoot and with ceremonial rope nooses around their necks in symbol of surrender. The clergy had been out in force, too, spraying holy water and incense—orthodox clergy, of course, not the Spirit of Man of This Earth priests of the heretical Brigade cult, who were staying prudently out of sight—and a chorus of children of prominent families singing a hymn of welcome. One of them was riding on his saddlebow at the moment, in point of fact, held by the crook of his left arm. She was about eight, flushed with joy and waving energetically to friends and relatives; the wreath of flowers in her hair had come awry.
"Stop wriggling," he mock-growled under his breath. "That's an order, soldier."
The girl giggled, then looked at his hook. "Can I touch it?" she said.
"Careful, it's sharp," he warned. Children weren't so bad, after all. For that matter, he was the father of two himself, or at least had a fifty-fifty chance of being their father. It wasn't something he had expected so soon, not being a man much given to women. He grinned to himself; you couldn't exactly say he'd saved Fatima from a bunch of troopers bent on gang-rape and revenge for a foot in the testicles and an eye nearly gouged out, back at the sack of El Djem. More in the nature of the Arab girl insisting on being rescued, when she came running out ahead of the soldiers and swung him around bodily by the equipment-belt. It had been Gerrin who talked the blood-mad trooper with the bayonet in his hand into going elsewhere, with the aid of a couple of bottles of slyowtz; he'd wanted Bartin to get used to women, since he'd have to marry and beget for the family honor, someday.
Somehow the girl had kept up with them during the nightmare retreat from El Djem after