Lewy watched her cross the snowy plaza.
The soldier wasn't sure what it was that attracted him to the young woman. For one, Jaromira didn't look young. Her face was in an almost permanent scowl, black hair pulled back so much in her braid it seemed to add a decade to her appearance. Not that he had anything against mature women. Widows could be the most fun, freed from having to find a man to latch their claws into. The King's new policy called pensions seemed to see to that. Jaromira, though, was still quite a few years from spinsterhood. She was just ... mature for her age.
Maybe that was it. It was a change from the giggling girls who hung around the soldiers. He hated giggling.
The teen vanished into one of the temporary communal homes. Lewy straightened. Once again he had not gone over. Not introduced himself. Not started the process that would lead to anything productive. Somehow, he knew it would be wrong. Drive her away, instead of drawing her to him. Jaromira was different.
He saw the flakes coming down harder. Time to get back to the fort, see if the Commander was back yet. If there was finally news of their new mission. Spring was almost here, and with spring, came change. Shoving himself away from the wooden storehouse, he began to walk.
Spring. Spring in a new city. His eyes took it in. Ugly. Winter had taken its toll. The streets were mud. Most of the buildings had that "good enough" feel to them, many patched after that storm. He pitied those holed up in Fredrick. If things had gotten this bad with the new island capital surrounded by hills and mountains, he couldn't imagine what it had been like in the open on the coast like that. The storm just before Christmas had been horrific. Made you miss the solid grey stone of Nowy Kiev.
Still, rebuilding was already ongoing, even if he thought it added to the ugliness. Sturdy wooden frames and brick walls rose all around him. His path took him past the new Hussar barracks. Damn, that was going to be nice when it was finished. He almost wished he was still a regular, and not with The Dark Hussar's 1st Cavalry.
The gate was open when he arrived. Empty supply wagons were leaving, oxen not having much of a problem with the snow and mud mixture where the road used to be. Lewy frowned. Today wasn't a supply day. Did ships make it into Visvang harbor already? He knew the Kikker fishing boats were already at sea, but cargo captains tended to be more cautious. It would still be a few weeks before the lock connecting the city to the ocean was finished.
The parade ground was busy, three wagons still waiting to be unloaded. That ... was a lot of supplies. Something was up. Something he probably shouldn't poke his head into while on leave. But, he was the curious type. He caught the attention of Czcibor as the soldier climbed into a wagon.
"What the hell's going on?"
"No idea. Lady Shanna's not back yet. These guys just showed up." The blond soldier pounded a fist onto a wooden barrel. There was a solid thud. "Spikes and nails. We'd better not be going on construction detail."
"Every unit rotates through it." He ignored the cursing reply as he headed for the main building. Czcibor was right, though. One of the perks of this unit was they avoided some of the worst duties. Not all. They'd find out what was up soon enough.
He sat in the common room, dinner a memory, contemplating the sounds emanating from the Koziol in his arms. He inflated the bag again, changing his fingering on the wooden tube leading to the brass horn. He kept it low, not that the sound would be noticed much among the general noise. Off duty soldiers were not the quietest of groups.
"Can I have your attention?"
Except when Shanna spoke. The room was instantly silenced as Lady Shanna entered, Piotr at her side. Lewy's eyes as always went to the stub that was his left arm. It wasn't that noticeable, the Royal Guard uniform tailored quite well to hide it. Lewy's gaze migrated to his face. He could still see some of the young man there, the boy who seemed to have captured their leader's heart.
Mostly, though, he saw the man the last year had made him.
"You all probably want news," Lady Shanna said. The brown skinned woman pulled out an empty chair, spinning it around so she could sit straddling the back. He felt those around him lean forward. "Well, there's two things. First, the King and I talked it over, and we're moving the fort." Moving the fort? It would take more than nails to do that! "Specifically, we're going to build a stronghold up the Orlan river, next to that six building village with the dock and crossroad. I'm sure you remember it from the Exodus. That's going to be our northern most outpost, and it'll be our job to keep the fucking Elves away."
There were rumbles of approval, Lewy adding to them. Being safe and comfortable was all well and good, but he longed for patrols that mattered. Shanna nodded.
"Me too. The villagers have agreed to help. We'll need more men, naturally, soldiers and hussars. Recruiting will start after Easter. Which brings me to the second thing." She gave a wicked smile. "Dyngus Day."
Lewy looked around. A few of his companions seemed to at least have heard of this. Most had expressions as blank as his. Lady Shanna laughed.
"Ah, and you call yourself Poles! Dyngus Day is an old, old Polish celebration resurrected in our old home, and James wants to bring it here." He cringed a bit at her use of the familiar name for the King. SHE might be able to get away with it, but the rest of them... "It's the day after Easter, which is coming damned early this year." He agreed with that. It did not look like Spring out there. "Basically, a big party celebrating the end of Lent and the renewal of life, of fun. An excuse to drink and dance. More importantly," she added, her voice almost sounding obscene, "a time for young men and women to hook up and get to work popping out the next batch of kids."
A cheer went up among the single soldiers, which was most of them. Lewy was silent. His mind went to Jaromira. Would she be agreeable? Would the mood of the day have some influence on the silent girl? Piotr held up his right hand.
"We want stable bonds, not a sea of bastards."
.... There is more of this story ...