When you take a dispassionate look at the legal rights of a citizen of the First Empire they are few and on the surface of limited use. The 'spacing' rights, the right to vote in local and Senatorial elections, the right to arms, and the 'passage' rights were the result of service.
It was rather in the unspoken rights and responsibilities that arose from an oath that had no true end save death that the legend of the Imperial citizen was truly forged.
The Coming Twilight-Understanding The Fall of the First Empire
Tara looked down at her guidebook and then looked again at the long, narrow boat. She was still somewhat chagrined about missing the omnibus. The Fodor's said that the canal barge would get her and Claire from this village to Brest before evening. She put the guidebook away and shouldered her pack. Tara leaned against her staff and went to speak with the boat's owner.
She found a sturdy woman of late middle age directing the loading of cargo into the last spaces in the barge's hold. A blonde girl just a little older than Claire with a blade of a nose sat astride a draft horse, sketching the scene. The woman turned to her as the last bundle was stowed aboard.
"Can I help you?" she asked bluntly.
"I'm looking for passage to Brest for my guide and myself," Tara said quickly.
"Missed the omnibus?" the barge woman asked with a slight grin.
"Yes, ma'am," Tara admitted with a weak smile. "I've never traveled on a canal before."
"You will ride aboard and not smoke," the woman said in a commanding tone. "The fee will be one Imperial credit."
Tara looked at her with for a second, then nodded and smiled.
"It will be w-worth it to see the countryside at a sensible pace," Tara replied.
"Get your things aboard," the older woman said as she moved to the tiller. The woman waved at a girl on a horse. The child clucked her tongue at the old gelding and the horse leaned against the weight of the barge.
Tara stowed her rucksack and Claire found a place to sit out of the way of the barge woman and the towing line. In a few minutes they were slowly moving down the canal. The girl on the horse pulled a book out of a satchel and started to read.
The Breton landscape sauntered by. Tara was soon lost in her sketching. For a while Claire watched scenes they were passing flow onto Tara's pad with rapt attention. Then she found herself looking at the children riding or leading the horses that pulled the barge along each section of the canal. She wondered what their lives must be like with a steady place around them and a world that wasn't touched with power and danger. The thoughts made her worry. She shook them off and went to the barge woman.
"Is there anything I can do to help?" she asked the tanned woman at the tiller.
Willow watched the lines go taut as the schooner was finally warped to the dock. Buffy was across the gangplank even before it was fully secured. The lithe blonde seemed to dance across the shifting structure. Alexander held onto the small rope handrail with a death grip and steadied himself on Willow's arm. Giles seemed to roll easily with the now very slight movement of the ship.
As they stood on the docks Willow oriented herself to the landmarks Giles had given them from the last time he had been in Brest. The commercial docks were busy with many small ships like the one they had just left. A harried man in a blue uniform with a badge approached them.
"Papers please," he demanded as he took out a small rubber stamp and pad. Without really looking he quickly stamped their passports and hurried down the dock.
Willow watched him as he scurried off towards the small steamship that had followed them to the dock. Half a dozen men hurried off the ship with a lone woman in riding breeches coming up behind them. The lone customs official was overwhelmed by seven people yelling and waving papers in the air. Willow could just hear the loudest voice saying something about "the people's right to know".
"Will?" Buffy asked touching her shoulder.
"I think that's your competition, Miss Reporter," Willow said nodding toward the gaggle of shouting people.
"I don't think I can be that rude," Buffy said after a moment of observing the group browbeat the official.
"I have faith in you to tap unknown depths," Willow said cheerfully.
"Thanks?" Buffy said as they eased back out of the way of the hurrying representatives of the press.
"Hey, honey, where's the post office in this town?" a disheveled man with his hat pushed back called out as he passed with his colleagues.
"Just up Rue de la Mer," Willow said quickly, pointing vaguely to a broad street.
"Thanks babe," he said as he hurried off.
"What's with all the commotion?" Alexander asked.
"I don't know," Buffy said tightly. "Nothing good if the vultures are out. Let's get moving."
The four moved into the town. Willow saw a handcart with mail and a bundle of newspapers head up the main thoroughfare to a marble building with the Breton flag waving listlessly in the morning air. Nearby was a storefront with books in its windows and a throng at the door. Everyone was coming out with a newspaper and what looked like maps. Willow looked up the street and saw the entrance to the hotel Giles had mentioned.
"I'll get the papers and meet you in the hotel," she said with a grimace.
"Are you sure?" Buffy asked looking at the bustling store. She knew Willow hated crowds and tended to get shoved aside at the best of times.
"Yeah," Willow said resignedly. "May be I can get some information while I'm being trampled."
"I could go with you," Alexander said. "I'm good at carrying things at least."
"Good idea, Alex," Buffy agreed quickly. "You go with Willow, Giles and I will get checked in. Keep an eye open for shops. We'll need more clothes and stuff soon."
"Modestly priced shops," Giles interjected.
"Yeah, what with us living on Buffy's writing skills," Willow said with an urchin grin.
"I passed Composition," Buffy insisted. "And on my own. Mostly. Kind of."
"Kind of?" Alexander asked.
"Kind of with help, but I did type it myself," she added brightly, then she frowned. "After Willow fixed the ribbon and made the shift key work and tightened the roller. Other than that it was all on my own."
Alexander did not ask any more questions. He followed Willow to the bookstore and tried to find words he could say to a pretty girl far outside his station. Inside the narrow aisles were choked around the maps and guidebooks. Willow picked up a stack of newspapers and had Alexander stand in line. The redhead looked at the people around the maps. Two men started pushing over the last large map book.
"Need that thousand florins to pay off your last bar tab, Gunderson?" an observer called out.
"Thousand florins?" Willow asked as she tried to figure out just how much a thousand small gold coins would buy.
"It's for reporters only, honey," a hard faced woman insisted as elbowed the small student out of the way.
"That's not what I heard," a cold voice said. By the squabbling reporters a figure in a leather jacket reached in and took the last large map book from winner and set it down on the counter. Willow felt her eyes widening as she saw a brace of high tech cartridge pistols under the man's coat.
"A thousand florins to who ever finds this Summers chick is what the Bugle said," the man added. Willow could now see the Imperial sunburst on a subdued patch on the vest under the coat. Alexander's eyes were following the man with the pistols. The rest of the reporters backed up a bit from the Imperial mercenary. Willow grabbed a Guide to the Food and Inns of Breton from a section of books on cooking and a Guide to Breton Birds With Maps. She slipped forward as the reporters watched the man in the leather coat leave. She grabbed Alexander and placed the newspapers on the counter.
"These please," she said with a smile.
As she counted her change and left amid the growing din of the reporters she placed the bugle on top of the guides to conceal them. A gust of wind opened the Bugle and she saw Dawn's official photograph. In the picture Dawn was looking over her shoulder with her elaborate hairstyle for court covering her ear and trailing down her back. She looked just away from the camera with large eyes and a somber look. The photo in the paper had been slightly highlighted to suggest a halo.
She hates this picture, Willow thought. She says it makes her look like she's a ten year old martyr. Now it really does.
With that thought the redhead shivered as if an icy wind screamed through her soul.
Prince William of Oldenberg sat heavily on the bench. The omnibus passengers were getting back aboard. Dawn Summers had not been among them, and there was no sign of someone the correct size wearing high tech boots. He tried to think about what to do next.
"Where would she go?" Riley asked quietly.
"What do you mean?" Liam interjected in a soft tone. "She's thirteen. She'd try to go home."
"She's of a ruling house," William said with a frown. "There were plans to get me out of the country when the last crisis with Silesia and Prussia flared up."
"That was a decade ago," Liam said with a thoughtful frown.
"I was twelve, almost thirteen," William said with sigh. "There was the public one, and the one that I and two others knew about."
"Summers isn't a royal house officially," Liam pointed out.
"No, but the position as rulers of the split nation of Sussex makes them more important than half the thrones on the planet," William replied with a deeper frown. "Besides being the current deciding vote in the United Kingdoms, West Sussex is on the borders of the French Coalition and the German League of Nations as well."
"I'd send her to a neutral party," Riley mused. "With the Wessex and Mercia crisis it wouldn't be the United Kingdoms."
"It's winding down," William said. "The kings of Mercia and Wessex are coming on a `coincidental' visit. But your point is valid."
"Oldenberg then?" Liam guessed.
"Perhaps, or..." William closed his eyes in thought. "We need to move."
"Where?" Riley asked quietly.
"Brest, and the post office," the prince said standing with a wince. "Remind me to be very kind to dispatch riders after this."
Tara nodded her approval as Claire very carefully split kindling for the barge's tiny stove in the cubby. With her mind on a task the girl had less time to fret. Tara herself put away her worries and concentrated on the beauty in the everyday things passing them. Tara took off her patched jacket as the day grew warmer. They approached village with a series of locks.
"We'll have lunch here while we go through the locks," the woman at the tiller called out.
Tara nodded and flipped to a new page in her pad to capture the scenes of the village.
In the square of the village a hard eyed man lifted a small pair of binoculars to his eyes. The one called Tyrrell had made it clear the man's health depended on his being alert. The barge came into focus. There was peasant at the tiller, a pretty girl sketching with a jacket over her lap and what was no doubt some child relative of the peasant making kindling at a slow, steady pace. Nothing, as usual. He put down the binoculars and looked at the watch on his wrist. It was almost noon. He would be sending a very short telegram in a few minutes and then he could retire to the café for lunch.
The man sighed. Spy work had sounded so glamorous a dozen years ago. Now he knew mostly it was days like this were you watched for something important where nothing important ever happened. He shrugged at his train of thought. He decided a nap after lunch would keep him alert should something happen that evening.
"We know where she was," Buffy said looking up from her assigned newspaper. "Let's go find her."
"No one's found her," Giles said levelly. "We need to know who attacked the train in case they try again."
"She may be hurt," Buffy insisted.
"She isn't," Willow said surely. "I don't know how I know but I do. She's okay."
"And you know where she'll be going," Giles added cryptically. "This is the best embarkation point. She won't stay in the hills with the... attempt and the bandits."
"This doesn't make any sense," Buffy snapped as she tossed the newspaper to the bed. They were all in Giles and Alexander's room with two narrow beds and a pair of chairs. Alexander had stayed carefully away from the beds where Willow and Buffy were reading.
"Unfortunately, it does," Giles said evenly. "Not very much, but it does unfortunately make some sense. Especially with Sussex being a split nation and connected to all three power blocks in this part of the world."
"I know that," Buffy said wearily. "East in the British Isles, West on the Oldenberg Peninsula and both being too damn small to do anything. I mean these rags. I can see why Walsh banned them at school. This one claims all the German states have to do is show up and their armies' spirit and dash will frighten the French into surrender. And if there's no surrender the only thing that will take any time is getting the wording on the peace treaty correct."
"According to this one the French just have to dust off their jackets after the fighting and bring enlightenment to all the poor savages who don't have the honor to be part of the French Coalition," Willow said frowning. "The Gazette on the other hand gives some figures for how much the combined armies have on hand to fight with. If the fuel consumption on these tank things are right and you take into account a ten percent failure rate and don't give those machines any fuel and don't use any powered ambulances or anything else the bio-diesel runs out in... six point five days. Roughly, I mean, if the tanks travel, ah..."
"We'll take it as a given," Giles said with a small smile.
"Tanks," Buffy said in a small voice.
"That's a big war," Alexander said with a sober voice.
"Yeah," Willow said softly. "Has anyone used tanks recently?"
"Gascony against Navarre," Giles said without hesitation. "Burgundy against the free city of Basel."
"We still have some of the bonds Gascony had to issue to pay for their war afterwards," Buffy said distantly.
"What about Armenia against Bulgaria?" Alexander asked. "I've heard the old soldiers talking about it."
Willow and Buffy shivered at the thought of a war raging for an entire two years. Giles just looked at something only he could see. The others looked towards him.
"There were tanks at the start," he said after a moment. "The war ate them up along with all the artillery ammunition reserves and half the railroads. Neither side had enough troops after the first few months. Their allies sent some, but it became static and everything was being used up. It became mines and barbed wire with raids, and counter raids. Then things got worse. The storm crows came. Idealists, bandits, mercenaries, or just young toughs who wanted to play at war to see how tough they really were."
"That guy in the store!" Willow said excitedly. "I forgot about him."
"He was the worst news there," Alexander said with a shudder.
"What guy?" Buffy asked urgently. Giles said nothing but his gaze was as intent as Buffy's.
"He was an Imperial mercenary-looking type with two guns that I saw," Willow said quickly. "There was this fight over the last good map book and there were catcalls from the other reporters, or I think they were reporters, anyway we're grabbing newspapers and I see these guide books and think, 'hey, they'll have maps and we can use them as a cover 'cause I can be a birdwatcher', so I get them and then this guy, the one with two guns under his coat and he just takes the last guide book and nobody complains but then he says something weird, because of one of the catcalls I asked about."
"What did he say?" Buffy asked more patiently than she wanted to. Willow's face was showing her worry and that made the small blonde even more uneasy.
"He said the thousand florin reward for Dawn was open to whoever could get her first," Willow said softly.
There was silence in the hotel room. Buffy looked up with a scowl after a second and brushed her eyes.
"We need to get moving," she said flatly.
"We need to find the truth," Willow said firmly, then ruined the effect by swallowing and looking at Buffy with wide eyes.
"Truth first," Buffy agreed. "Then we kick somebody's ass."
"She even sounds like a reporter," Alexander said with a small smile.
William looked at the cable and sighed. All the other two could make out was a collection of letters and numbers in an almost random fashion.
"We're not going back to Oldenberg without the girl," he said tiredly. "And we're not to let anyone know we've got her."
"That might be a trick," Liam said as he held up a newspaper with Dawn's picture on the front page.
"A clever plan?" William suggested without much hope.
"Dumb luck?" Riley asked stretching his legs and wincing.
"Now that sounds like something an Irishman can hope for," Liam said with a weary grin.
"So every rag put out this reward at the same time?" Buffy asked with a smile as she leaned forward over her crossed arms.
"Yep," the half drunk reporter said looking at her carefully arranged blouse with the top three buttons undone. "All of them. Every bitch and bastard with a press card from a cutting edge paper is chasing up to the hills looking for this kid and they've taken everything that moves except the rescue dirigible. Stupid Coast Guard, I need that flying gas bag for my story, errr, the truth."
"What about him?" Buffy asked pointing to an older man writing on a pad at a table in the bar nearby. "Isn't he famous?"
"Stanley Taylor is a dinosaur like the paper he works for," the reporter assured her. "The Bugle will bury the Times in a year."
Just then a disheveled man hurried to the table, ogled Buffy and grabbed the reporter. He bent down and whispered something into the intoxicated newsman's ear.
"A mule?" the reporter whined. "And a florin for it? Shit. Sorry, honey, gotta go."
Buffy waved at him in a friendly way and gave him her most vapid smile. When he was gone she buttoned her blouse. She looked up as someone sat at her table. She looked up to see Willow frowning.
"He won't be able to describe me this way," Buffy said evenly.
"I just wish I could be as sure it would work for me," Willow said her frown turning to a pout. Buffy felt herself on the verge of laughing. Willow grinned at her friend.
Suddenly there was the sound of a falling book. Willow reached down and picked up the splayed volume and looked at the bent page. Her eyes widened but she said nothing as she read:
Follow Me LADY Summers
Willow looked up at the old, vaguely familiar man who had dropped the book. She placed the book on the table when she stood up. Buffy glanced down, closed the book and followed Willow.
"Hey, mister," Willow said earnestly. "Dropped this."
The man feigned not hearing and left the tavern. The girls saw him walk unsteadily into an alley.
"Oh, God, I hope he's not... you know, boys can do that," Willow said nervously.
"If he is he won't be able to after I'm done with him," Buffy said coldly.
The two girls looked into the alley. The door that was just closing was in the mid afternoon shadow. Buffy and Willow followed to the door. Buffy looked at Willow, who nodded in the half-light. Buffy shoved it hard and both rushed in to find the man seated at a rough table with a lantern. He shook his head.
"Good God, I could have been anyone," he said with a rough voice.
"You're Stanley Taylor, the war correspondent and reporter at large for the Times" Buffy said carefully. "Why the message?"
"You're playing a dangerous game, Lady Summers," he said tiredly. "There were several bad actors in that bar. There's talk of a warrant for you as well."
"Reporters can get a bad reputation," she replied with a smirk.
Taylor looked at her for a long moment and then laughed. He stopped after a few seconds and pulled at his collar. He took out a small pillbox and set a pill under his tongue. Willow went to the door and looked out. Giles was at the opening of the alley. She shook her head and closed the door.
"Can you actually write?" he asked seriously but with a tired smile.
"I can write, she can spell," Buffy said as Willow stepped forward looked closely at the aged reporter. "Is he all right?"
"No," Willow said softly.
"Quite right, miss," he confirmed.
"I'm sorry to hear that," Buffy said honestly. "I read your 'Dispatches From Too Many Fronts' in..."
"History class," Taylor said with a shrug. "It's all right. The Bulgarian war was twenty-five years ago. Even so, one of the minor nasties from that war, then a young tough called "Ripper" was in the bar tonight. He and every other hyena on two legs are probably after your sister. Are you sure you're up to this?"
"Why?" Buffy asked.
"Because this is bigger than anything I've seen, or could be," the old reporter said. "Because my paper needs a fresh young newshound on this. Because I'm a grandfather with a grandson who's seventeen and stupid enough to join the army. Because somebody's behind it or every editor in the region got the same idea at the same time. And mostly because my heart won't let me finish this."
"You need to get to the hospital," Willow said quickly.
"There's a Sisters of Charity one here, my mother does some of their fundraising," Buffy said as she came to Taylor's side. "Which is kind of strange since we're C of E."
"Not until I have an answer," Taylor said urgently. "Are you up to this?"
"I don't have a choice," Buffy said flatly. "I have to be."
"And I'll help her," Willow said firmly.
Willow watched the old man being wheeled down the hall of the hospital. Taylor's long overdue heart regeneration therapy would have to take place off planet. Buffy was watching him leave as well, her hands clutching a small, worn plastic folio. Inside the folio was her letter of acceptance as Stanley Taylor's intern, the codes for cables to the Times, and the press credentials of Europa's best reporter.
"You okay?" Willow asked in a hushed voice.
"I don't know why, but I'm more scared of failing right now than I was an hour ago," Buffy admitted.
"You won't fail," Willow told her with a cocksure smirk. "I'm not gonna let you."
Buffy smiled and put on the brimmed hat she'd borrowed from Giles. In the band was a laminated card marked "PRESS".
The barge now chugged along the widening estuary that led to Brest. The smoke from the small engine reminded Tara of EZ Foods and an order of fried pods. Claire was looking around at the increasing number of boats and ships and telling Tara which boat was which. The girl could tell the difference between a sloop, a schooner, a smack, and a dozen other ships Tara would have just called sailboats.
The barge pulled into place at a low floating dock on the river. The barge woman gave Tara directions to the main docks as Tara gave her a drawing of the barge done in colored pencil. The woman smiled at her and wished her good sailing. Tara and Claire looked down the broad street and started walking towards the docks.
"What does your guidebook say about traveling to Oldenberg?" Claire asked.
"There's a steamship which is fastest if this is the right night but its the most expensive," Tara said reading. "They only take Imperial credits for payment or gold or... oh."
Claire's heart sank. She needed to get to Oldenberg quickly for Dawn, but it wasn't fair to ask Tara to spend all of her money to get the two of them there, and Claire did not want to leave Tara behind now. She looked at Tara and knew the older girl was struggling with something.
"I can get us there," Tara said evenly. "We'll need to get you some luggage though."
"A rucksack?" Claire asked brightly.
"A rucksack," Tara answered with a repressed giggle.
"Yes!" Claire beamed.
Willow was in a hurry. She already had a portable typewriter, spare ribbons, correction fluid, and paper for Buffy with different colored pens and a blue pencil for herself. Now she was on a mission that she hoped would mean something soon. She stopped at the bookseller and news-agent's. She had seen the latest copy of a Claire Durano novel. Dawn had been longing for it. As she left with her purchases she saw a dark blonde girl approaching in a most pleasant manner. Something about the color of her hair made Willow look closely at the girl's face as she walked by. Even in the long shadows of late afternoon she could tell the girl's eyes were blue.
The golden light of the sun nearing the horizon seemed to be appropriate for the blonde. She looked at Willow and smiled shyly, then looked down. Willow's eyes followed her, not aware she was staring. Then the girl looked back at her and gave another smile. Willow smiled back and remembered to breathe. Then a younger girl ran up to the blonde with a newspaper. Willow just glanced at the girl then watched the blonde gracefully take the newspaper.
"I found the Shipping News on a bench," Claire said excitedly. "There's a steam ship out tonight."
"We need to hurry to get our tickets," Tara said evenly. She tried not to think about the redhead with the pretty green eyes who had looked at her so... Tara shook her head. She had to get Claire to safety. As they headed for the shipping line's office Tara couldn't help but wonder if the redhead was a native or a traveler like herself. She resolved to come back to Brest and find out.
Liam was slaking his thirst near the shipping line's office when he saw the two girls. He cast a look downward and noticed the older had on high tech military style boots. The skirt she wore didn't go with boots nor did the blouse. He studied her for a long moment and then almost choked on his beer. Beside her was a girl that might be Dawn's twin. He tossed a few coins on the table and stood up.
"Liam?" a soft voice said hopefully.
"Julia?" he replied, hoping his memory served.
"I hope you're following me," she said with a smile. "I regretted leaving your... charm behind me. I hope you can forgive me."
"I had to travel too," he said with a smile.
"Are you still hopeful?" she asked as her eyes got large and a touch of sadness seemed to waft over her.
"More than ever," he said kissing her hand with a smile. "I've got to go."
"I understand," she said with a wistful smile. "Are you going by steamer?"
"I am now," Liam answered as he hurried to find the prince.
Willow looked where the blonde had been. Then she felt a cold wave. The girl with the paper had shorter hair, and Willow knew somehow Dawn should have had shorter hair. Willow's mouth got dry and her heart thudded as she rushed to the corner where the two had turned. The ache in her arms from carrying her purchases vanished as she reached the corner. At the steps of the shipping line a gust of wind plucked off the young girl's hat. She turned and grabbed it with a smile and a laugh that was swallowed up by the noise of the crowd at the office. A memory of Dawn on Violet clearing a small jump at the equitation ring of Walsh Academy on her visit sprang up.
The two smiles were the same.
Willow looked up only to see the two straw hats enter the office as more people arrived for tickets. Willow bit back the urge to call out Dawn's name. She turned and ran for the hotel as fast as she could.